Rosemary Plorin

Before Putting Your Best Foot Forward, Wipe Your Shoes

By Rosemary Plorin

If you’ve ever put your house on the market, you know a thing or two about staging a home. Before you invite prospective homebuyers across your threshold and show them around your — or perhaps, soon to be their — domain, you need to make sure every square inch is in tip-top shape. No stains on the carpet, no scratches on the walls, no strange odors wafting up from the basement — heck, no dust in the corners, even.

Branding a business, nonprofit or government entity isn’t all that different from selling a house. Audiences don’t actually get to peek into your organization’s closets or sift through the dirty laundry, to be sure. But, if they’re paying attention, they’re likely to get a pretty clear picture of what your organization stands for. That, in turn, provides them with a frame of reference — a benchmark by which they can compare your organization’s public face with its actual actions and outcomes.

Image Follows Culture

The key is to align your internal culture with your external brand — or, more accurately, design an external brand that reflect your internal culture. If you want to be authentic with your organization, customers, and prospects, this requires a hard look at how you’ve been running the place up to this point — prior to the start of your public-facing campaign. And of course, it requires “walking the talk” and living the brand on a consistent basis moving forward.

Here’s how to create an internal culture that’s worthy of your public brand — and how to get your team on board without making perfect the enemy of the good.

Invest in Good Governance

Like most organizational initiatives, effective branding demands support and buy-in from leadership — otherwise, it won’t get out of the gate. This isn’t news.

What may be news: effective branding also demands leadership that leads by example. Executives who merely pay lip service to a revamped communication strategy or public-facing brand can fool their teams and the public for only so long. Leadership needs to walk the talk, and boards that care about their organizations’ futures need to hold them accountable. No matter how well they’re performing on other fronts, leaders who refuse to buy into a consensus branding and communications shift are a liability to their organizations.

Put Core Values in Writing

It’s easier to follow instructions, and to hold folks accountable for following instructions, when they’re in writing. Before launching your new branding and communications strategy, put your organization’s best minds together (with or without the assistance of a communications agency) and devise a core set of values and principles that guide your organization’s activities.

Even if you’ve never taken the time to do this, you can probably think of some choice inclusions right off the bat. Concepts like “integrity,” “inclusivity,” “accountability,” “teamwork” — among other corporate buzzwords — will likely come to mind. Start the effort out on the right foot and ask your employees to share their thoughts as well – through facilitated discussions or a simple-online survey.

As you refine and perfect the words and phrases that reflect who you are and how you operate as an organization, be sure to hardwire these concepts into your day to day operations and processes. Remember, they form the core of your brand now.

Communicate Transparently (Whenever Possible)

I admit: transparency may not be appropriate in all places and at all times.  A period of crisis may require a tightly controlled communication strategy, and detailed financial discussions are rarely appropriate for all-inclusive groups.

But transparency is crucial to a healthy organizational culture.  Study after study shows that employees who feel informed about their employer’s’ goals are more engaged, positive and loyal. Rank-and-file employees want to understand their organization’s “big picture” and deserve to know about management decisions that affect their work and well-being.

The beauty of transparency is that it’s undisputably a two-way street. When transparency is the norm, it’s much less problematic to hold employees accountable for opacity — even when the lines between “transparent” and “opaque” aren’t bright and clear.

Hold Employees Accountable for Cultural Expectations

Transparency isn’t the only measure on which your tightly run ship of an organization can hold employees accountable. Your core cultural values — the concepts you’ve drilled into your internal communications from interview to orientation and evaluation — should all be non-negotiable.

Recognize and reward employees for living your culture, and make it clear that employees who choose not to embrace your values are likely not on a long career path with your organization.

Test Brand Elements & Communications Strategies Internally

It’s never a good idea to roll out a new public-facing brand or communications strategy without extensive testing. Fortunately, your internal housekeeping efforts can be a great opportunity to dive into the brand-building process and test any strategies about which you may not feel certain.

For structural elements of your brand and communications architecture, such as website layout and marketing automation tools, A/B testing can be a great way to try new ideas in parallel. This kind of research allows marketers to see what design schemes, words, offers, etc. appeal most or best elicit the desired behavior you want from your target audiences.

If you don’t have the time or material resources for a full-on A/B testing campaign, simply asking employees for honest feedback is a solid fallback. There’s nothing like a bracing round of candid criticism to dispel preconceived notions about how your brand should look, feel and operate. Of course, there’s no guarantee that your employees will respond like your clients and prospects, so this internal work isn’t a full substitute for traditional market-testing.  But it can go a long way toward identify a marketing misfire before you fully load your cannons.
Are you prepping for a public communications campaign by getting your own house in order?

Starting a Business? Don’t Make These 10 Rookie Mistakes

By Rosemary Plorin

By some measures, there’s never been a better time to start a business. Whether you’re starting a business in the hottest industries around or taking an incremental approach to your lifelong passion, there are plenty of tailwinds working in your favor.

Interest rates are still low, so capital is cheap. Though the labor market has tightened somewhat, wage growth is subdued, so labor costs – particularly for non-executive salaries, are fairly manageable. Smart cities and states are falling over each other to offer tax breaks and fiscal incentives to new or relocating businesses. And consumers are reaping the financial rewards of the lowest gas prices in more than a decade, meaning they have more cash to spend.

In short, it’s a favorable environment for many budding entrepreneurs. (Well, it feels that way, at least. Things can always be better.)

A favorable entrepreneurial climate doesn’t mean all pain and no gain for entrepreneurs themselves, though. On the contrary: Starting a business is a major challenge in any economic environment. The first few years of any company’s existence are a veritable minefield, replete with pitfalls that can spell disaster (or at least a serious setback) for business fortunes. If you’d like to traverse this “danger zone” and escape with your company (and life savings) intact, make sure to avoid these 10 common rookie mistakes.


Starting a business_ Rosemary Plorin

1. Trying Too Hard to Sell Yourself, Not Your Product

Reality check: Investors, customers, and even prospective employees don’t necessarily care about you. They care about your product or service — and your ability to deliver and improve it. Many entrepreneurs find it hard to suppress their egos and admit this. The sooner you turn your focus to selling your product, not yourself, the sooner you’ll find the traction you always knew was right around the corner.

2. Trading Time for Money

What’s more valuable: time or money? Most people assume the latter. But, for entrepreneurs, time is very much the prime variable. Whenever you’re presented with (or create) an opportunity to save time without compromising quality, take it. Saved time is scaled time — and that’s great for your bottom line.

3. Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good

Whether it’s actually true that Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times before his first success, the moral here is clear: If you don’t try, you won’t succeed — no matter how many attempts it takes. If you tinker with an idea until it’s absolutely perfect, someone else may beat you to market with a good facsimile.

4. Skipping Market-Testing

This is a walk-before-you-run type deal. If you don’t do your due diligence on your target audience, you could set yourself up for a huge belly flop when it comes time to release your product or service. That’s not just humiliating. It’s also very, very costly.

5. Playing the Waiting Game

Successful entrepreneurs know they can’t expect opportunity to fall into their laps. They need to create opportunity. They also know how to be opportunistic and seize the day – even if that day comes unexpectedly. Put another way: if you sit around waiting for the “right moment,” whatever that means, you’re likely to be disappointed.

6. Failing to Secure Your IP

Whether your business is built on a black-box process or a simple product, it’s ultimately dependent on intellectual property. Before you take your idea to market or even real its details to investors, do a thorough patent search and, if you’re not stepping on anyone else’s toes, apply for a patent of your own.

7. Trying to Do It All Yourself

When you’re in startup mode, it’s entirely possible that “you” and “your company” will be one and the same. But as soon as conditions allow, you need to delegate and scale — even if that means working with a rotating cast of contractors or tapping the internship markets for some free labor.  Remember that you’re the CEO: try to focus on strategic matters and business growth (not buying supplies and going to the post office every day – if you can avoid it.

8. Going to Market Before You’re Properly Capitalized

You might not have a rich uncle, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding the funding you need. If your idea is compelling, pull out all the stops: crowdfunding, angels, traditional banks, credit cards, you name it. Just don’t go to market before you’ve got enough dough to make a real go of it.

9. Straying from Your Wheelhouse

If you’re not comfortable with the rules, you probably shouldn’t play the game. Translation: stick to what you’re good at, and if you’re not good at whatever your company is supposed to do, hire someone who is.

10. Suppressing Your Sense of Urgency

There’s no better time like the present. Strike while the iron’s hot. Make the most of today.

Whichever metaphor you prefer, the point is obvious: Urgency beats complacency any day of the week. Successful business owners aren’t satisfied when things are going “good” or “fine.” They want things to go great — and get better.

And One Important “Do”

A long list of “do nots” can seem a bit preachy. We all make mistakes, after all. Surely one or two rookie errors from a first time entrepreneur won’t upend a lifetime of ambition?

That’s probably true. Ultimately, the most important rule that any business owner can follow — far more important than any single “don’t” on this list — is an uplifting, affirmative one: Believe in yourself. You may not have all the answers — but, if you have belief, you’ll go farther than you ever thought possible.

Any do’s or don’ts to share from your own experience?

New Year’s Resolutions for the Corporate Communicator

rosemary plorin
Rosemary Plorin
President of Lovell Communications

New year, new you, right?

We’ve all heard the expression a thousand times, and while it may not feel authentic for our personal lives (I’m still not dieting / working out / reading more / cursing less / etc.), office teams are often more open to fresh habits and new projects at the dawn of a new year. Grab onto a few best practices before Groundhog Day to get your team quickly facing in the right direction for 2016.

Conduct an internal communications audit. Are your employees getting the information they need to do their jobs well? Do they receive information and clarification directly from their manager, or have they created inefficient (and often unreliable) work-arounds to access the resources they need? A simple but well-constructed communications survey can help uncover strengths and barriers to good internal comms; services like Survey Monkey and FluidSurveys can provide cross tabulations by department, location, position, etc. The simple process of asking employees how and when they prefer to receive information can provide powerful information to help point your internal communications program in the right direction for 2016.

Review your social media assets. All of them. Kudos if you have a monthly editorial calendar for Facebook, and bonus points if you’re sharing original content on Twitter. But how long has it been since you updated your YouTube channel? Have you optimized photos and graphics on LinkedIn? Does your brand appear on any rogue or auto-generated social media pages? Spend a few hours exploring your company’s presence on social media and make sure your brand is reflected the way you want it to be. Better yet, hire a professional to do an audit for you and learn more about your highest performing posts, optimal post times, follower demographics and psychographics, competitive landscape, etc.

Do a brand standard compliance check. This is a great project for a winter intern. Take an enterprise-wide look at how your logo and key graphic assets are being represented. You may be surprised to find your square logo was stretched a bit to fit the imprint space on a golf hat, or that it has become unrecognizable in a reverse treatment on a black umbrella. Worse yet, you may see it in an odd color on a recruiting site – which means it’s probably been picked up and propagated on other sites and in online search results. The new year is a good time to enforce strong marketing and branding practices and clean up any mistreatment of your company marks.

Clean up the intranet. In the spirit of “fresh starts,” January is a great time to partner up with the folks in IT and see what’s hot – and what’s cold as February – on your company intranet. What files haven’t been accessed in the last year? What are the least productive pages on the site? If you don’t already have retention / deletion policies, now is a good time to look into them. You may be able to decide anything untouched in the last 12 months should be removed, or maybe the least-engaging 20 percent of the intranet gets archived? Corporate policy or regulatory compliance may require holding on to some seldom-accessed info, but also consider that stale, fallow content undermines any site’s value and potential effectiveness.

So corporate communicators, what resolutions are on your list for 2016?

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