Inside the value of a strong communications strategy
By ATB Financial 10 August 2020 5 min read
From building a Facebook page to securing media coverage to developing your company narrative, an integrated communications strategy can make a difference to the success of your business.
When a company launches, crafting a solid communications plan should have a place in the timeline of “things to get done,” and the earlier the better, suggests Karin Põldaas, Director of External Communications at ATB.
“In the beginning of a business, entrepreneurs need to think about how they are going to create awareness and attract customers. So, building a communications plan might help,” Põldaas says.
“First, understand your goals and who your audience is, then you can start thinking about the communications tools and tactics that will help you achieve them. Getting that all written out helps. You’ll end up with a well-considered approach, one that is integrated and can leverage all of your efforts for a stronger result. ”
“This stage of planning will take time. You’ll be asking some key questions like, ‘What do you want to communicate? How will you measure results? What does success look like overall?’ But once you’re finished, you’ll have developed a strong approach that achieves results, not a fragmented one.”
Knowing your audience is central to a smart strategy
It may sound obvious to entrepreneurs, but part of planning a strong communications approach is realizing who your customers are and what they want from your business, and that comes down to getting to know them better.
“Understand who your customers are. That includes finding out where your customers “live,” where you’ll find them,” Põldaas says. Some folks listen to podcasts, some folks prefer congregating on Twitter. Clearly defining your audience takes research and effort but this will ensure that you take the most successful communications approach--and avoid blasting your message out to everyone and hoping it lands.”
A “spray and pray” approach is often used by the unprepared and isn’t the best way to achieve your goals.
Communications = storytelling
We’ve all come across inspiring stories of business leaders rising from the ashes of failure to propel their careers to entrepreneurial stardom. Your story arc doesn’t always have to be flashy, but customers want to know about your trajectory to become the business owner you are today. And that piece of the puzzle has to fit nicely with telling the company saga as a whole.
“Honing and sharpening your story is important to capture attention and build awareness,” Põldaas says. “Think about what sets you and your business apart, what is your point of differentiation, how do you stand out? Being different is good.”
Showcasing how you’re working towards changing the world, in your own way, is a great place to start. It will make the company feel more human, which is always an important part of building awareness for your business. If you’re helping people’s lives become easier, that theme should be part of your or your company’s narrative, which can live online in About Us sections or peppered throughout social media posts and press releases.
Mastering media coverage
Every business thinks about attracting media attention at some point. Before seeking it out, ensure your company has a strong story to tell, one that resonates with readers or viewers. Time it to when you’ve reached a milestone of some sort or made a breakthrough in research and development, say, in order to have a news hook to attract media coverage.
If you embark on this path, you’ll want to research and build a list of key reporters who work in your space. For example, if you’re an AI startup, there’s no point in collecting emails of health and nutrition reporters, so instead focus on technology writers and editors who might be more keen on covering artificial intelligence news and innovations.
The next stage is all about preparation for your interview. Põldaas has worked with some of Alberta’s top media spokespeople and says it’s critical to map out what you want to say and then practice it (ask a colleague or friend to interview you over a Zoom call). “Practice makes perfect, so go through it again and again until you feel confident that you’re delivering your story confidently and clearly,” she advises.
Don’t forget about other platforms, like stages
An oft-neglected opportunity for businesses is spreading your narrative through speaking engagements. From major conferences to smaller keynote addresses to lunch-and-learn meetings, B2C and B2B events can give entrepreneurs a platform reaching captive audiences.
Põldaas says speaking gigs create word-of-mouth buzz. “If your story is compelling, people will catch on to what you are doing,” she says.
Also, many of these conferences capture talks and panel discussions on video, giving you and your business another nice piece of media coverage to post on your website or social media channels.
To bootstrap or outsource your communications?
A decision every business owner has to make is whether to develop their communications approach or whether to hire a professional.
A report in Forbes notes that finding the right PR professional “should work within your budget parameters and maximize results while preserving your resources.”
So if you go this route, how can you vet applicants effectively? The Forbes writer goes on to suggest, “Start by asking the PR pro for case studies of past clients so you can see a snippet of the strong relationships they have.”
Põldaas adds, “In Alberta, we are lucky to have amazing PR professionals that offer solid expertise. I highly recommend this route—especially if you are looking to approach media—if it fits within your budget.”
Go big on data
When it comes to evaluating the success of your communications approach, don’t rely on gut instinct. Using hard data to measure what worked and what didn’t is always sound advice, especially with the many tools available for business owners.
Whether it’s Google Analytics or proprietary software, analyzing the reach of social media campaigns and website promotions is available at your fingertips. Curating media coverage clips and sound bites could also be part of that strategy. And remember to track if certain activities (for example a Facebook ad campaign) lead to more sales or increased visits to your website.
Building awareness isn’t as complicated as you might think when you first launch your business. By understanding your goals, and understanding the many ways to get your company message out to your audience, you can start giving your business a nice booster shot of recognition.
Whether you’re getting started from scratch, or building on your entrepreneurial journey, our Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business provides a detailed roadmap of everything you need to know to set yourself up for success, both in the short, and long-term.