Strategic communication = right audience + right channel + right message + right time. Got it?

I’ll work hard to see this post doesn’t turn into a rant. But it won’t be easy.

stray.jpgWhat tripped my trigger today was a 6-page newsletter, the old-fashioned paper kind that doesn’t come with a delete key. And because I couldn’t delete it, it sat by my desk like a hungry dog waiting for the leftovers. Finally I had to pick it up, if only out of respect for the trees that died to make it possible.

From what I can tell, the newsletter was issued by the HR department of a large public university. I’ve changed names and identifiers to keep from embarrassing anyone — a trick I learned from the Bad Pitch Blog.

This newsletter has all the characteristics of an internal/employee rag, including a page-one story, with photos, from the summer picnic. But it was addressed to faculty members who weren’t invited to that picnic and who have no vested interest in the HR department other than getting their paychecks on time. Yeah, I’m scratching my head, too.

I don’t know who produced this newsletter because it has no identifying tagline and no masthead containing information about the publisher. The writing is so-so, but the design is fairly crisp for a template. I might give it “B” if only the writer and designer had considered some minor elements like audience, objectives, message and timing. Details, details.

The flag of this newsletter proclaims it the Project XXXX Update. The newsletter assumes I know what Project XXXX is. I do not. But I read on and was happy to learn that large teams of students and managers are hard at work on Project XXXX. In fact, the newsletter lists their names — three columns in all. Maybe I’ll call one of them and ask what the heck they’re working on.

On the inside pages, I learned that one of the main “modules” of this project will be “going live” in January. I was pleased to hear this, too, because going “dead” is never good news. Also, one of the “implementation teams” is evaluating something called the “business process review.” I’ll sleep better tonight knowing that. At my age, process problems are the last thing I need.

One more important item: The finance implementation team has been slaving over its “module” that will enhance “core processes for procurement,” and a long list of equally cool and engaging jargon.

This newsletter took me back to the many Pat Jackson seminars I attended early in my career. If we’d bother to do readership studies, Pat once told us, we’d stop producing 90% of the crap we put in newsletters. Instead, we’d focus our time and our messages on things people really care about.

Of course, following Pat’s suggestion would require critical thinking. The newsletter on my desk required only Microsoft Publisher 2002 (Template No. 54, to be exact). Maybe someday Mr. Gates will invent Microsoft Strategist, but I haven’t seen anything on the blogs about that yet.

I guess this newsletter will be one more of those real-world case studies I’ll take into the classroom next semester. If nothing else, it’ll keep the students reading my blog. They like an occasional rant.

One Response to Strategic communication = right audience + right channel + right message + right time. Got it?

  1. Bill – that’s a classic example of “Look Mommy!” communications — it serves no purpose other than to draw attention to itself. It’s devoid of any connection to its readers — or to the broader organizational strategy. It has no context.

    And I didn’t even have to invest any time actually reading it to know that.

    Readership surveys in for-profit publications are critical, because the reader has to want to read them if the publisher expects them to pay to get them. Internal “rags” (G-d, I hate that word…) should have organizational strategic context — there should be a reason why the organization wants its employees to read the internal pub.

    It’s up to those of us who are internal communication specialists to connect the overarching strategy with the writing and design of the pub. We have to tell the organization’s story in a compelling, interesting and valuable way — it’s the only reason we exist.

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