When you want to promote your expertise to customers and prospects, blogging and regular publications such as email newsletters can be powerful tools. (Print newsletters can still be a wise choice in certain situations.)
I’ve worked on hundreds of blogs, newsletters, and other publications over the years, and watched other organizations grapple with them. I’ve learned that successful publications share five characteristics. You may be able to limp along with only three or four of them, but sustained success demands all five.
1. A specific objective.
I’ve lost count of the number of meetings I’ve attended in which someone suggests starting a blog or newsletter. Everyone agrees it’s a good idea, but nobody can offer more than a vague sense of what it should accomplish. “We can have posts about our products” is not a specific objective. Nor is “We can share stories about our people.” Programs with vague objectives invariably become a mishmash of this, that, and the other. That makes it tougher to sustain a steady flow of content, and readers never quite know what to expect.
Compare that to “We’ll explain recent regulatory actions to C-level managers and provide basic advice about compliance.” Or “We’ll strengthen our brand image among employees by sharing stories of how other associates have delivered excellence to customers.” Now you’re moving in the right direction.
2. A firm schedule.
I’ve never seen a well-thought-out program die because nobody could think of anything to say, or because there wasn’t an audience that needed to hear it. Instead, most blogs and newsletters fall apart because they lack a firm schedule.
To be an effective communications tool, a blog or newsletter must be consistent and regular. That’s not for the readers’ benefit — it’s for the organization producing it. If distribution plans are vague (“let’s send one out sometime this month”) or hazy (“we’ll send another when we have something new to say”), the program is destined to die.
Management must commit to a certain number of posts or newsletters each year and determine exactly when they should arrive on readers’ displays or desks. The communications team can then develop a schedule outlining when every step must be completed, making sure every participant knows what he or she is expected to do and when.
3. Empower an enforcer.
Someone must drive the process, keeping everyone on their toes and on time. When people are told that they have to complete something by a certain date, and they know they’ll be held accountable, they’re much more likely to do it.
Choose that enforcer carefully. A lower-level employee with little perceived authority may not be able to motivate a powerful vice president into action. A staffer with an already-overwhelming workload will give this new responsibility a low priority, watching with cynical satisfaction as it quickly dies.
An alternate approach is to outsource management of the process to a freelance writer, graphic designer, ad agency or public relations firm. Outsiders don’t face the same internal pressures as staff people. Because they aren’t face-to-face with the staff all day, they can afford to be the “bad guys,” pushing, prodding, and even nagging.
4. Get buy-in.
If top management decrees that the program is a priority for the organization, it will get the attention it needs to succeed. If the CEO makes it clear that she expects everything to get done on time, it will. That gives your enforcer powerful, effective leverage against the most recalcitrant manager.
5. Make it relevant.
If your posts or newsletter contain current, practical information that will help your audience do whatever they do more effectively, they’ll make the time to read it. If they provide examples of the expertise you offer, they’ll keep you in mind when they need help. If they know that each issue contains valuable insights, they’ll trust you.
But if what you develop is nothing more than a thinly veiled “gosh, aren’t we wonderful” missive, not even the best schedule and most skillful enforcer will save it.