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BRANDE : Corporate Communications

February 1, 2017

Yes, You Can Do a Communications Audit.

brandemix communications audit

Don’t Fear It—See It as a Tool of Empowerment

Don’t be threatened by the idea of an internal communications audit. It’s not something that will undermine the great job you are already doing as a communications professional. You do a communications audit because it will showcase and help you prioritize the great work you are doing and to help give you more time for the projects you want to focus. If you are working on a branding or rebranding initiative, this is the perfect time to embark on a communications audit and tie the two events together.

Do a communications audit because you are a leader and want to show it—to your team and your boss. This is your chance to do even more—despite what I know are your limited resources and lean staff.

Ready to get started? Read on for communications audit tips, so that you can do your best work yet.

Set a Goal and a Timeline

Set some deadlines around when you expect to start and end your communications audit—meaning when will you start it and when will you present your overall findings. Does your mid-year or annual performance review make sense? Should your summary be timed with a business priority such as having it completed before you begin the annual planning or budget process? You may identify projects that need a complete overhaul that warrant a separate timeline, and certain activities that you think can stop may need wind down time.

If you have a team, this is the time to engage them in the overall vision for the audit and let them know they will be a part of the process—and the decisions.

Block time on your calendar to work on the audit. Even if it is just an hour a week or part of the time of your weekly team meetings, dedicating focused time to it will make feel like the priority it needs to be—but not overwhelming.

Gather What You Have

You have more than you think to get started. Here is a short list of items to start assembling.

• Annual Editorial Calendars

• Communications Plans for specific groups/departments

• Individual Project Plans/Trackers

• Schedule for Compliance and/or Routine/Repeating Messages

• Company Events Calendar

Pull the Details and Dive In

This is where you are going to roll up your sleeves and pull the details on your projects—the brochures, the intranet stories, the postcards, the email messages, etc.

You will want to put together a grid for each project that outlines the following:

• Goal

• Channels used and effectiveness

• Gap analysis (What could we have done better? What should we try next time? What audiences were reached well? Who wasn’t? How can we be more digital?)

• Writing style (What was it? Did it work? Should it change if the project comes up again?)

• Tone of voice (Was it effective? How should it evolve?)

• Branding and Design (Did it follow the guidelines? How did it fit with other materials? Did it all work as a campaign?)

• Message consistency

• Make a recommendation: Does this project stop? Can the communication be combined with something else? Does it continue in a similar way? Does it need to change significantly?

This is a good place to do a “client” or “stakeholder” review and evaluate your relationship with those you are creating content for and what feedback you may need to share with them to have an even better outcome next time.

Some thought starters:

• Did they clearly articulate their goals and objectives?

• Did they own their subject matter and give you the facts/content you needed?

• Did they give you enough lead time?

• Did they meet the review deadlines?

• Did they take the time to review the results?

What Can You Stop?

The only way you can go further on your priority projects is to stop doing some work. Use the facts to back you. Find ways to combine or streamline messages. Or maybe it just means YOU need to stop doing it—but it’s a great learning opportunity for someone on your team.

Where Do You Need to Go Further?

For campaigns that need a revamp, you’ll need to set aside time separate from your communications audit to evaluate how you will make these projects sing through the channel, voice, tone, branding, design or writing changes and where they fall on the list of priorities. This is a great opportunity to look at the workload of your team and redistribute work so that high-potential team members have stretch opportunities or the visibility they (or you!) need.

Share Your Results and Put Them into Action

I know you know this but before you make a lot of changes run it by whom you need to—your boss, your boss’s boss, etc. Get agreement and have an action plan for going forward for what you will stop, start and continue, and when you will be talking to your stakeholders.

Still need more help? Let us do it for you.

April 5, 2016

Is your Message Getting through to Remote Employees?

hammerWith the influx of millennials and an emphasis on work-life balance, remote workers are becoming an increasingly vital segment of the workforce. This year, Global Workplace Analytics cites 63 million Americans (or about a third of the workforce) as working remotely. Analytics, workforce demographics and communications are crucial elements of Brandemix business, so we’re tickled to delve into strategies for reaching and engaging all the segments of a staff.

First, make sure everyone knows they are included
According to an Inc. article, one difficult aspect of managing remote workers is how to loop them in. Be sure to include everyone in meetings (using videos, your Intranet or a conduit like Go To Meeting), and publicly acknowledge the contributions of each remote worker. Take steps to keep them informed of what is going on back at the office, especially when it comes to epic staff events like a JCAHO audit, benefits open enrollment, or your summer outing.

Next, launch an enlightened Internal Communications Plan
A solid internal communications plan captures attention and bolsters employee engagement. At Brandemix, we have a four-phase process to identify and promote your objectives and reach your employees—wherever they reside. Today’s plans are increasingly social and interactive, enabling real time conversations between on and off-site staff members. The savviest companies communicate with a multi-channel approach to advertising and marketing; equally important when broadcasting messages inside the company.

Use Your Intranet, Blog and Social Media
From sharp videos to updates on your blog or Facebook pages, internal information can be made into something that is compelling and memorable. Use posts to remind people of forthcoming deadlines, new bids/projects in the house, or an ongoing employee referral program. Celebrate social events like weddings, new hires and promotions, or the team who ran that half-marathon. Integrate activity streams (also called news feeds), puzzles and quizzes if you really want to get people enthused, say the experts at My Hub.

Create a Buddy System
Remember as a child when you were paired with a swim/trip buddy at school and camp? Accountability Partners is a similar strategy that pairs different workers in different places to ensure they stay on track. From checking in on project status, to asking probing questions, buddying up works to everyone’s advantage. We learned of this concept from Freelancers Union, possibly the largest collective of remote workers around.

Brainstorm
The best way to make sure your messages are getting through is to create remote ambassadors who can let you know if you’re getting through and come up with ideas on how to improve your cascade.  Thinking about creative solutions is a great way to unite people in different locales.

Give us a shout and we’ll brainstorm more on your Internal Communications efforts and objectives.

February 2, 2015

Transformational Trends in Internal Communications

Many communications professionals aren’t aware of the new technologies and new philosophies that will transform internal communications in 2015 and beyond. I’m a big believer in the power of employee messaging, so to help you better engage your workers, here are the latest trends in internal communications.

Getting visual

While emails, intranets, and employee newsletters are still important, many companies are moving beyond them with visual communications. This means more photos of employees at events, volunteering, or celebrating milestones. It also means creating infographics, a visual trend that I love. Infographics can make any subject interesting and are great for conveying complex information — like, say, changes in leadership or company benefits — in simple, eye-catching ways. Organizations are also speaking to employees through video, since it has become so easy to create, with a camcorder on every phone. The HR Trend Institute calls these “Explanimations,” and recommends they last 75 seconds or less, and “avoid talking heads!”

Speaking of which, these photos and videos should feature real employees, your real workplace, and real events. Many HR experts and forecasters agree that stock photos are on the way out, since they seem insincere. This dovetails with another trend of transparency, which means communicating bad news to employees and making messages less polished and more human.

Employe benefits infographic on Pinterest - small

Going mobile

“BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is a grass-roots movement that is happening in your organization whether you like it or not,” writes organizational communications expert Shel Holtz. While some workers are being issued mobile devices from their employers, more workers are simply using their own phones and tablets at work. This presents an opportunity to send them internal communications via text message. It also allows you a chance to let them access the company intranet through their mobile device — even when they’re out of the office. To optimize this opportunity, companies must make their intranets and company emails responsive, so they can be read on a phone screen without having to zoom in and scroll around, one of my pet peeves.

With text messaging, there’s nothing to design. Open rates usually increase because the message goes to the employee’s phone, not their (probably crowded) inbox. And it gives the employee more chances to see the message and engage with it, such as on the commute to and from the office.

Being social

As with so many other aspects of business, social media is seeping into internal communications — and from both directions. On the inside, more companies are using ESNs (enterprise social networks) like YammerChatter, and MangoApps. Social networking engages employees, helps them collaborate, lets them learn from each other, and is often more productive and efficient than email. Engagement is important, since Gallup just found that nearly 70% of American workers aren’t engaged in their jobs.

On the outside, some companies are speaking to employees through public social media channels. UPS has led the way with its @UPSers Twitter account, which “celebrates the heart and soul” of the company — its people. I’m also a fan of Marriott, which poses questions to its thousands of employees on Facebook, with no fear of inappropriate or snarky responses. These are bold moves, and the workers appreciate them. I think both peer-to-peer communications and real-time responses will be part of the future of internal comms.

UPsers Twitter

Gaming on

Gamification is the one of the latest trends in corporate wellness and employee rewards, and I’m beginning to see it in internal communications as well. Companies can reward employees for simply reading internal communications, or for sharing them with their peers (using an ESN, perhaps). You can create quizzes based on recent messaging and publicly recognize the winners. What about giving prizes to employees who live the company’s values — which are communicated through the intranet or newsletters?

Accenture is implementing some of these ideas in its Spain office. The company created a solar system on its intranet of company values. It created a game to help employees reduce their carbon footprint, an initiative that I don’t think would have worked as well as a brochure or an email. Finally, Accenture turned its recognition program into an internal communications tool, making it both individualized and team-based, and basing it on the company’s values, which were communicated through a video and a blog.  “Level of participation is higher when the initiative entails gamification, beating participation in other internal communications initiatives between 30% and 50%,” says Paloma Cabrera, the company’s marketing and communications director.

Which of these four trends can your organization take advantage of? Do they all sounds scary or difficult or expensive? My agency, Brandemix, has done internal communications work for Chico’s, Estée Lauder, and Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. I’d love to share my expertise with you to help you engage your employees and increase productivity. Contact me for more information.

Jody Ordioni is President of Brandemix.

March 28, 2014

An Internal Communications Guidebook Will Save Your Culture

Internal communications can be challenging for large organizations. It’s sometimes difficult to speak with one voice and reflect the organization’s mission, vision, and values when corporate communications are created by many different people, sometimes in locations scattered around the world. Internal communications reinforce the business strategy to all employees, enhancing and reflecting the culture, so it’s important that they’re consistent, effective, and on-brand.

The solution for many organizations is to create a communications guide or toolkit. Sometimes called a brand book, brand equity playbook, or internal communications guidebook, it’s a compendium of guidelines and templates that’s continually updated to reflect creative components, copy and design specifications, and identity guidelines that make up the company’s brand assets. It helps any team or person painlessly refer to and create communications that properly reflect the appropriate style and messaging.

That’s how a communications guidebook can save your culture. It simply has to contain the following content:

Overview of the Brand

An employee can’t write something that reflects the organization’s brand if they don’t know what it is! The first part of any guidebook should include the company’s mission, vision, and values, as well as its employer branding. (Don’t have an employer brand? Start here.) This will give anyone creating HR communications a foundation for their material, ensuring the information matches the company’s organizational culture and outlook.

Development of the Creative Brief

Creating internal communications is harder than it looks, and some employees will be unfamiliar with the process. I recommend breaking down the creative brief to show the value of each step. These include:

– Identifying objectives, which helps determine what the material will say, who will receive it, and at least one metric for measuring success.
– Clarifying the message, to focus on exactly what the material will say.
– Preparing the budget, since a text-only email has a far different cost from a full-color brochure.
– Planning distribution, whether it’s electronic, “snail mail,” or posted on employee bulletin boards.
– Developing a baseline for scope, schedule, and cost, to get agreement among all stakeholders  for the project’s purpose, requirements, and deliverables.

Visual Identity

Internal communications should match either the organization’s consumer brand, or its employer brand, or sometimes a seasonal or event brand such as “Countdown to Summer.” A guidebook should include a section that covers the identity and style for all types of communications. Sections often include:

– General design guidelines that explain the unifying characteristics of all communications.
– Logo guidelines, with approved and unapproved examples.
– Color palette, with official Pantone colors for print and their web equivalents.
– Typography, listing the organization’s official fonts.
– Imagery guidelines, such as photos of actual employees vs. stock photography.

Copy Voice and Tone

Equally important as the look of an HR communications project is its sound. If an organization has an official style guide, it should go here. I also recommend providing a list of the most common rules and terms, such as approved abbreviations and acronyms. Often, words from the company’s values or guiding principles make their way into communications, so that “providing customer service,” for example, is always written as “providing fanatical customer service” (the word choice of Rackspace).

This section should also include the proofreading and editing process, as well as guidelines for establishing how different drafts are labeled and approved.

Samples

As clear as a guidebook’s instructions may be, nothing beats seeing actual examples. The last part of the book should include images and templates for every type of communication, from employee newsletters to recruitment materials to websites.

Improving internal communications requires careful thought, detailed planning, and creativity. A good guidebook improves the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization by creating increased cohesion among employees. It arms them with all the information they need to create compelling, memorable, and easy-to-use HR communications. The effect on the organization’s culture is profound; in some cases, a strong communications guidebook really can save a culture from apathy, low morale, or competing visions.

At Brandemix, we’ve created guidebooks for all types of organizations, from global corporations to non-profits. If you’d like our expertise in creating your own communications guide, contact us. Or add your comments with links to samples of ones you’ve created.

January 10, 2014

Brandemix Reveals Best Practices in Award-Winning Annual Report Design

‘Tis the season for…annual reports! Brandemix’s resident expert on the subject is Creative Director Clarissa Zorr, an award-winning designer with more than 10 years of experience. Her team created a report that IR Global Rankings named one of the top global annual reports of 2010. Clarissa is also a member of AIGA, the professional association for design. Today, we turn the blog over to her to get her thoughts on how to create a compelling and honest annual report.

It’s The Start of Crazy Season

Not the holidays, but annual report season. Every year, publicly traded companies must present their shareholders with a report on corporate performance. The date varies from state to state, but it’s always around tax time. Companies often start creating the report during the fourth quarter. The final earnings don’t come until the end, and you can’t really design the charts or graphs until they do, making November through April the “crazy season” for people like me.

What Makes a Great Annual Report

What makes an annual report successful is transparency. All companies have bad years. How do you keep your investors during the tough times? After all, people often want to get rid of bad stock. But a financially sound company will have a plan if, say, a drug didn’t get approved or a merger didn’t work out. The shareholders deserve honesty and it’s the agency’s job to convey that. Of course, there are ways to be transparent while still giving the story a theme or framing information in a certain way. The company wants investors to know that, though it was a tough year, the company still has a long-term strategy for success.

How Annual Report Design Affects Storytelling

The format of an annual report can go in any direction. Some companies talk about their pipeline and look to the future after a bad year. Some brag about their recent accomplishments after a good year. The interior of the “book” will vary depending on the story the company wants to tell.

Whatever the report’s concept is, we tell it with design. That includes photography, typography, illustration, and charts. These all must come together to tell that story clearly. It used to be that all annual reports were physical books, but within the last 10 years, some states have allowed online versions. Interacting with screens instead of paper certainly affects the design and reader experience as well as the cost. For companies that preach sustainability, not printing hundreds of thousands of books is essential.

A sample annual report chart created by Brandemix

New Trends in Annual Report Design

As long as the investors have access to mandatory 10-K tax documents, the report can take any form. I’ve had clients whose annual report was little more than a video; they told their whole story on a website with almost no text.

If you’d like to learn more about annual reports, write to me. Or view some of Brandemix’s design work on our website.