When I was a young federal employee back in the early 90’s, I was all about the process of preparation and planning. Now that I’ve been self-employed for going on a decade, I lean more toward the “just do it” camp. By necessity, lots of nonprofit communicators are there too, because they don’t have the luxury of time to carefully plot out a strategy before acting. They need to leap into it and try to make something happen. Getting by with a half-way decent solution is better than no solution at all.
But sometimes, “just do it” is a really bad idea.
Last week, I met a bright-faced young man who was an outreach coordinator for a drug and alcohol rehab center. He asked me if I thought it was a good idea to do a newsletter. His boss had asked him to do one, so he was working on it, but he wasn’t sure it was the way to go.
I asked him who the audience for the newsletter was, and he said he didn’t really know. So I asked him who was on the mailing list. His reply: “Well, that’s the problem. There is no mailing list.” Yikes.
So here we have a young staff member, trying to do what his boss says, writing a newsletter for nobody. A very scary waste of time.
Even if you don’t have the time or resources to do a complete communications strategy, you simply MUST take 15 minutes to answer some basic questions before launching any new communications program. A good communications strategy answers about 10 different questions, but at a minimum, you need to answer three for everything you do:
1) Who is the audience?
2) What is the message?
3) What’s the best way to deliver the message?
I talked with the outreach coordinator about what his goals were (getting more referrals to the center) and who in the community could be helpful in meeting those goals. We talked about two categories of people specifically (law enforcement and parents). I explained how he should chat with some of the people he knew in these categories to get some ideas on what they cared about, so he could refine his messages to them. Then he could decide whether a newsletter was really the best approach. We talked a little bit about email newsletter mechanics, assuming that, in fact, would be a decent way to communicate with at least part of his target audience.
Even in the Nike commercials, all those “just do it” people still take a few minutes to sit down and put on the shoes. Sit down and take a few minutes to think it through before you launch your next big marketing idea.