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As protected landscapes and the rural economy re-open after lockdown, sustainable communications consultant Mark Sutcliffe explains the importance of clear messaging in managing visitors …and their expectations.
The last few months have provided an object lesson in how to – and how not to – execute a coherent and consistent communications strategy.
Saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time to the wrong audience is the most obvious risk, but in this era of media saturation, saying nothing can also create problems.
The risk is that in the absence of any guidance or information, people tend to draw their own conclusions: disposable barbecues haven’t actually been banned, therefore I am free to use one for my socially distanced picnic.
Perhaps the key learning is that getting it wrong can be enormously costly – in terms of reputational damage and lost credibility – but also in terms of the additional resources required to get your messaging back on track.
Our sector is fortunate to attract extremely committed, passionate, intelligent people but it is not usually blessed with an abundance of resources – for anything – let alone delivering a communications strategy.
The focus is on delivering for the environment and the community. Media and marketing rightly take a back seat. And yet for the majority of the lay public, if they can’t see the valuable work of National Parks, AONBs, NGOs, charities and rural enterprises, they remain blissfully unaware of it. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Viewed from this perspective, many managers accept that a budget is needed for communications, but only a small one. So how do you deliver as much awareness and engagement as possible within the constraints of that pretty modest pot?
What do you prioritise? PR, newsletters, events, social media, your website? The answer – perhaps surprisingly – is: all of them.
Now this may seem like an impossible challenge, but by using a streamlined, content-led agile publishing model, all of it is possible.
The first step is committing resource to the creation of a strategic media plan with accountability for delivery integrated from the outset. Too often, organisations embark upon a comms strategy full of enthusiasm and passion and for the first couple of weeks, it’s great… and it works. Engagement levels soar; people begin to notice; you become part of the conversation; memberships, subscriptions and donations soar.
But then, the reality of crafting a dozen tweets and social media updates a week becomes a chore, the team member who championed the cause gets re-deployed to another project, you run out of news.
So what does an agile, content-led model look like? Essentially it means getting it right first time, every time. It means being able to get consistent messages out across multiple channels and platforms quickly and accurately. It means being able to respond rapidly to external events and devise crisis communications that land within hours, not weeks.
This means adopting a disciplined ‘create once – publish many times’ approach to the content to incorporate clear messaging, inspiring calls to action, vivid photography, short bursts of video and short and long form writing that is suitable for use across websites, newsletters, the internet, social media and YouTube.
The overriding aim is to create an agile, efficient publishing model that is designed to generate a constant stream of focused, useful, engaging content across multiple platforms and ensure that all this content is managed efficiently to enable rapid distribution and re-purposing.
You may be lucky enough to have people with the skillsets required to make all this happen, but it’s highly likely they will also have a ‘day job’ that involves delivering the important stuff.
Having someone in-house to initiate all this stuff is invaluable, but there will be times when this team member might be overwhelmed with other work and simply can’t keep the comms strategy on track.
It’s at this point where flexible external resources – perhaps just for a limited period – may be worth considering.
The risk is that the entire comms strategy falls over and within just a few weeks, you’re back to square one and facing a significant investment of time and resource to restart the process from scratch.
After months of disruption during lockdown, that’s where many organisations now find themselves and as core operations and demands roar back and staff return to their day jobs, the danger is that communications will again take a back seat.
During lockdown and over the coming months, the dedicated teams across the landscape and countryside sectors will be working overtime on essential habitat creation and restoration and keeping visitors safe in the face of increased footfall.
Don’t let all that hard work go unnoticed. Now is the time to shout about it.
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