Monday, December 17, 2007

Putting the Relations in Public Relations

By Ben Delaney © 2007

There is one nearly sure-fire marketing tool that many public service organizations fail to exploit. Public relations is the great bargain in the nonprofit MarCom tool bag.

PR is an essential tool in your kit because press mentions are seen as much more credible than advertising. They also bolster other marketing efforts very effectively.

Public relations is an area of communications that most NPs know to focus on. And well they should – PR packs the most bang for the buck, and is relatively easy to do. However, doing it well is not without cost. That cost is more time than money. An investment in good PR is essential for the successful MarCom team.

The cost of good PR is the time it takes to build engaged private relationships with journalists and editors. This is essential, because journalists, and especially editors, are gatekeepers to the public you so much want to reach. Establishing good relationships with the journalists who cover your area of interest will make a huge difference in the success of your communications efforts.

Every story in your local newspaper, on Google and Yahoo news, on TV and in your favorite magazine was written by a real human being. Where do you think all of those writers get all of those ideas that become all of those stories? Some are real news, of course, ferreted out from reluctant witnesses by intrepid reporters, or bursting into their consciousness like a collapsing bridge. But most of the news you see has been supplied, in part or in whole, by people who are not journalists. Those people include public relations professionals, communications departments, and the various “special interests” we hear so much about. They make up any good reporter’s most valuable asset, her contact list.

(An aside: In truth, every organization that has information it would like to publicize is a special interest. In the case of 99% of the nonprofit and public service organizations, those interests are benign – and newsworthy. What’s important is to make your “special interests” interesting to the media.)

Reporters rely on their contact list of reliable sources because they can’t be everywhere at once. To do their job, they need people to tell them when important things are coming up. That’s where you, as the communications person in a nonprofit organization, come into the picture. You need to be on those contact lists.

Have you ever noticed that some organizations seem to be in the news all the time? They do that in a couple of ways. One is to be incredibly newsworthy, like say, the mayor’s office. But few organizations have that inherent news appeal. The way an organization can get more coverage is by becoming essential to the reporters in your area of influence who cover your stakeholders and their interests. Let me give you some examples.

At one nonprofit where I worked, the External Relations Director spent the better part of a year working on a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter to take a look at the organization’s work. There were calls every week or two, special mailings, regular email updates. Then the reporter was reassigned, and the whole drill started over. But the perseverance paid off. The Director got several calls with general questions from other NPR people. Being available helped to inspire trust, and to create a good professional relationship that led, after months of low-key effort, to a national, two-part story on NPR about one of the nonprofit’s clients, as well as a follow-up on-air interview with the Executive Director. The national coverage resulted in several potential client calls, impressed donors, and we believed it helped close some contract negotiations.

At the same time the Director of External Relations was working on NPR, he was also stalking a writer at a national trade magazine, who eventually visited a client of our organization in the Central Valley and wrote a flattering, multi-page article and sidebar. While that was going on, I was staying in touch with local journalists, and by keeping in touch with one local TV reporter, was able to have the Executive Director’s comments as part of about a half dozen evening news stories over an 18 month period. During the same time, a national PR wire solicited the organization for commentary on stories several times, proving more coverage for the organization. I had made a point of being extra helpful to the person managing that program, and she always included me on her “request for comment” list.

PR, as you can see, is very much a “you help me, and I’ll help you” kind of business. When its done right, and with a high regard for ethics, everyone wins: the journalist gets a good story, the nonprofit organization gets a nice mention in the media, and the public knows about an important service or person of which they might have otherwise been ignorant.

Here are a few items to include on your PR to-do list:

  • Build a great press list. Get to know the journalists who cover your area of interest. Go to the websites of TV and radio stations and locate stories on your efforts or related work, and note the names of the reporters who wrote the stories. Most media websites provide contact information – phone numbers and email addresses of reporters are common. Find the magazines and websites that cover your cause, and use their websites to find the same information. Do the same for your local newspapers and papers in other areas where your work has an impact. Record all of this information in a database so you can easily look up reporters in specific locations or with particular interests. Be sure to add notes on stories they’ve written, points of view, causes espoused, etc. You will find this information very useful as you build relationships.

  • Segment your press list by interest, demographics, and location. Reporters are most interested in things that will appeal to their local readers. If you do business in several locations, be sure to develop a press list for each of those locations. Likewise, cultivate press contacts around the functions your organization performs. For example, you may know a journalist who covers events, while another focuses on your primary mission. Yet another may need backup when reporting on government issues that affect your constituency. Each of these reporters will have very different issues and needs, matching those of their readers. Organize your list accordingly. And don’t bother reporters with releases you know they won’t find interesting.

  • Create a PR plan for the year. Most organizations have a decent forecast of what they intend to do in the next year. Be sure your marketing plan includes press outreach with enough lead time to have articles printed before your events. The media will seldom use an after-the-fact press release, so give them enough time to read and understand your release, and to call if they need more information. Plan a couple of opinion pieces to shop around and be ready to write letters to editors. Your plan should also include targets by which to measure your PRs’ effectiveness. These goals can include the number of print or broadcast mentions, articles in specific places, follow-up calls, and the amount of print space garnered. There’s more on measurement below.

  • Keep up with current events. Your organization may not be the main story, but you can still get in the news by providing a comment, expert opinion, or adding another dimension to someone else’s story. If your organization provides food for starving children in Central America, you may want to point out that a recent hurricane has caused a number of children to be orphaned, and many others to be without food. A news release to point this out, a call to interested journalists, an opinion piece or letter to the editor, can all get your organization in the news.

  • Put together a useful press kit. A press kit is the place reporters look for background on your organization and its people and work. I have found that press kits on CD or DVD are often the most appreciated, though sometime a paper package will break through the blizzard of emails that most reporters struggle with. Your press kit should contain, at least:

    • Your mission, vision and needs statements
    • A brief description of your key programs
    • Bios of your key people
    • A list of major donors
    • A few historic examples of the good work your organization has done
    • Complete contact information
    • Some recent press releases
    • Audio and video clips that help explain your work.

  • Use your list to provide backup to other marketing efforts. When you are planning an event, send a press release to the media in the geographic area of the event. Include a personal invitation to attend.

  • Don’t inundate your list. One release a month is usually the most you want to send to any journalist. More than that looks like clutter. And be certain that the subject is of interest to the journalists you send it to. If you respect their time, they are much more likely to consider you a serious source.

  • Pick up the telephone. At least twice a year, contact every person on your list. Check in to see if they are still covering topics related to what you do. Ask them what they cover and how they like to get information. Offer to be a background source for them. And be sure to ask if anyone else on their paper or station would be interested in getting your stuff.

  • Track results. Like any other marketing effort, PR is an investment, and as such, needs to be accounted for. There are many ways to measure PR effectiveness, including but not limited to:

    • Number of articles or broadcasts mentioning your organizations
    • Number of follow-up calls
    • Inches of print space obtained
    • The value of print space (measured as the cost of equivalent advertising space.)
    • Increased visits to your website
    • Inquiries
    • Event registrations
    • Mentions in the ”right” publications

In the next chapter, I’ll talk about how one writes a good press release, and how the media looks at them.

A well executed PR program will boost your MarCom effectiveness at minimal cost. Don’t scrimp on it.

Thanks to my friend and mentor on all matters PR, Daniel Kennedy of Daniel Kennedy Communications Services in New York City for his ideas on this chapter .

Monday, December 3, 2007

Marketing Versus Sales

Ben Delaney © 2007

Marketing ands sales go together like a teenager and MySpace. But they are substantially different, and most organizations need both.

Sales has a bad reputation. At one nonprofit, which included in its mission providing consulting services to public organizations, I had a senior manager tell me directly, “We don’t do sales.” (That organization is now on a downward spiral.) Now, in your work in a nonprofit, you may also be thinking, “We don’t do sales.” But my friend, you are wrong.
  • If you have a development team working to raise money for your organization, they are doing sales.
  • If you have a program for which you recruit qualified people, you are doing sales.
  • If you have a book or report that you are trying to get people to read – for free – you are doing sales.
  • If you have an event for which you are trying to fill seats, you are doing sales.
  • If you are recruiting people to sit on your board of directors, yes, you are doing sales.
Get the picture? Selling is nearly precisely equivalent to persuasion. You don’t have to ask for money to make a sale. (Remember when you “sold” your mate on the vacation you really wanted?) Sales occur when someone is providing value to you or your organization at your bequest. That value can be a donation, the most obvious “sale”, or it can be volunteering to help, or sending someone to meet with the Executive Director. When you are persuading people to work with your organization, or support it, or make use of its programs, you are making a sale.

Sales is not a dirty word. Everything you wear, everything you eat, everything you drive, virtually everything that surrounds you, was sold at one time.

Don’t be bothered that your organization has to make sales. Just be ethical and honest and the rest is easy to handle.

So back to the initial question, what is the difference between sales and marketing? The terms are often confused, but there are important and substantial differences.

Let me define what each of these essential activities is.

Marketing is:
  • The inside part of the sales process
  • The preparation to make a sale
  • The communication function that drives sales
  • The research that helps an organization know what to sell
  • Deciding where, when, and whom to approach regarding your services and products
  • The backup information needed to make a sale
  • Working with a journalist on a story about your organization
  • Publishing a newsletter
  • Advertising to gain support
  • The analysis of sales results
  • Creating a great annual report
  • Publicizing events
On the other hand, sales is:
  • The outside part of the sales process
  • Discussing a product or service face to face
  • Structuring a deal
  • Asking for business or support
  • Negotiating the details of a transaction
  • Asking a policymaker for help, or to support a position
  • Following up with customers
  • Looking for new customers
Like a horse and carriage, sales won’t go far without marketing. And likewise, marketing without sales is usually ineffective. In a nonprofit, the MarCom efforts provides a foundation for development work, program outreach, event management, and many other functions. While you may not think that convincing a policymaker to read your white paper is a sales function, I assure you that having a strong MarCom effort that has previously acquainted that policymaker with your organization will make your task much easier.

So remember. Those of us who work in the social services sector DO do sales. And we need a strong MarCom function to make our sales work more effective.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Marketing Mix

By Ben Delaney © 2007

In which we become the DJ of our own exciting MarCom hit parade.

Today must be the best day ever to be a marketer. And tomorrow will be even better. Why? Because at no time in history have there been as many tools at our disposal, so may ways to reach our audiences, and so many ways to measure our effectiveness.

The key to successful marketing is using the appropriate medium to reach your audience. All the buzz these days is about using the internet for marketing. Apparently no one ever recommended a product or service before the internet enabled that process! If you believe the hype, no one communicated before email, and the only advertising that matters are banners on web pages and text ads on Google. But I’ve been around awhile, so let me assure you that old-fashioned technologies – paper, face-to-face communications, and the postal system are still fine ways to get your message to people. And when you combine modern electronic communications with those older, proven technologies, you can build strong and effective campaigns that meet your objectives and fit in your budget. That combination of tools and techniques is called your Marketing Mix.

For those of us working in nonprofit MarCom, it is essential not to waste any of our typically too-small marketing budgets. I take pride in getting the most from every MarCom dollar by creating an effective marketing mix for every project. Sometimes you need print advertising, and sometimes you augment it with on-line ads. Usually you email press releases to journalists, but sometimes you need the in-hand impact of the printed sheet to cut through the noise and make an impression. In this age of constant email, I have found that an old-fashioned brochure in the mail can really get people’s attention. But adding some well-placed advertising, and perhaps a press release announcing the event or program you are soliciting support for, can create a powerful marketing mix that gets better results.

Working in nonprofit MarCom, I have found that there are a few constraints that one seldom deals with in the business world. In high-tech marketing, it is hard to be too brash, to make a sales pitch that is too strong, or to be too flashy. In the social service world, people expect you to be a bit more modest, to not conspicuously spend money on marketing, and to be less blatantly competitive. Cultural issues also abound, with people’s feeling to be considered. And of course, one must not upset the big donors. How you construct your message and what tools comprise your marketing mix are dependent on being sensitive to these issues, as well as to getting the response you need.

I’m going to list the most common tools available to the NP MarCom team, give you some examples of what they are good for, evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, talk about their cost versus other methods, and give you some ideas about measuring effectiveness. Remember that in many, if not most cases, you will be combining several of these tools to achieve the best result. Also, keep in mind that few organizations use all of these tools – it’s important to determine which ones best meet your objectives and fit your budget. This list is by no means exhaustive, and the best MarCom minds are always thinking up new ways to communicate. So take this list as a starting point, and let your imagination run free as you create your own marketing mix.

The Marketing Mix Checklist is pretty long, so I invite you to download it as an Acrobat (PDF) file. Click her to download the Media Mix Checklist from

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Blowing my own horn

The 2006 Springboard Schools Annual Report, which I conceived and wrote, won two gold awards from the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals:
  • Writing, Annual Report
  • Nonprofit Annual Report
Thanks to everyone who helped make this such a strong document, especially Jon Rendell’s winning design, and Kathy Cole’s critical input.

Find more information, and a PDF copy of the report, here:

Building Your Messaging Foundation

By Ben Delaney © 2007

In which we go deeper into our organization’s messaging

In this chapter, I come back to messaging, by addressing how you put together your message. Every service organization has a mission statement. Most have vision and needs statements as well. In this chapter we’re going to look at developing those three statements, and build a case statement from them.

In the earlier chapter, You May Have Heard This Before: The importance of consistent messaging, I talked about Mission, Vision, and Needs Statements. In terms of donor communications, they are the foundation. All of your communications must be based on these three statements.

Let’s briefly reiterate: Your Vision Statement is where your messaging starts. It should be brief and to the point. It explains what you hope to accomplish, the 10,000 foot view of your raison d’etre. It might sound like, “Ending hunger in Central America.”

Your Mission Statement describes what you do, how, and for whom. It too, should be short and sweet. Do NOT build a “one sentence” mission statement that includes a bunch of dependent clauses and runs 150 words. Read it out loud. If you need to take a breath in the middle, it’s too long. You might say, “We will end hunger in Central America by teaching the indigenous peoples how to farm more effectively.”

The Needs Statement is the next level of explanation. It demonstrates that your organization is meeting a critical need, and doing it better than anyone else. Your needs statement is the rationale behind the vision and mission. In our example, it might read like this: “Thousand of children in Central America go to bed hungry every night. If their parents were to use different seed corn and learn a few new farming techniques, they could produce 50% more maize and feed their children every night.”

Building the emotional case: the Case Statement

The Vision, Mission, and Needs statements build a logical case for people to support your organization. But logic is not enough. In fact, virtually no one buys (or donates) anything based on logic. People open their wallets when they open their hearts. So, how does your organization provide that essential tug to the heartstrings?

If you’ve ever stayed up watching late-night TV, you have probably seen ads for the Christian Children’s Fund. I can’t tell you if this is a good charity or not. But I can tell you that they have set the bar high for forging an emotional connection to their donors.

The Christian Children’s Fund’s TV spots typically start with a bearded, grizzled, world-weary man walking slowly though a third-world slum, passing ragged, possibly starving children who gaze at the passing camera with wide, sad eyes. He might be an off-duty reporter, or an explorer. He speaks directly to the camera and looks like he means what he says. He was chosen to do this ad for his apparent sincerity and trustworthiness. He proceeds to describe the miserable lives these hungry, dirty, unschooled, apparently orphaned children endure. He paints a vivid picture of disease, hunger, abuse, poverty, and general despair. He brings tears to your eyes.

But wait! There is hope! If only you would send a small donation, barely enough to buy yourself a decent lunch, you can “adopt” one of these tykes, and save her from a life of horror. Now we see him holding a child, and her face is clean, and she’s smiling. And you did it! Your tiny donation, that sum of money so paltry that you won’t even notice it missing, has saved this poor child. Now, don’t you feel better?

That’s how you build an emotional case. The Case Statement is built on just three points, what I call the Key Three, the Need, the Solution, and the Ask:
  • There exists a terrible situation that needs to be fixed. Our hypothetical organization might explain it like this: “In the highlands of Central America, farms have become less productive over the past ten years. Soil is depleted and water is hard to come by. Changing climate in the area will probably make this dire situation worse. Children are already getting less to eat than they need, and infant mortality is high. Per capita income is less than $800 per year.”
  • We know how to fix it. Working with a team lead by Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Marie Curie, we have developed a new, natural hybrid of maize, that will grow in the increasingly warm and dry conditions expected. As a bonus, this new breed of maize is more insect resistant. Using this new seed, and some revcently developed, simple techniques for managing their hill-side farms, the indigenous farmers in Central America will be able to grow more corn, feed their families, and lift the standard of living of the entire region.
  • With your help we will fix it. We can help the indigenous farmers of Central America remain in their centuries-old family homes. We can help their children get enough to eat, and because they are no longer hungry, a better education. We can help these proud people live longer, more productive, happier lives. All it takes is $329 to help an entire village – 200 people – live better lives. You can help an entire village, for less than a dollar a day — won’t you pitch in?
Obviously, your Case Statement will be very different, but the three key points should be the heart of your messaging to donors. Once they are in place, it is vitally important that all of your messaging connects to them. I often suggest the development of an abridged version of the Key Three, which becomes a motto or slogan used on event invitations, your annual report, advertising, and brochures. This makes a pretty good elevator speech. It can then be distilled down to a tagline, a shorter format yet.

For our example organization, our distilled case statement would come down to three sentences: There is a terrible problem for Central American indigenous people. Their farms are failing and people are hungry. Our organization has developed new seed and farming techniques that can solve the problem, and let these people and their children lead longer, more productive lives.
As a tagline, the message would be boiled down even further, to the essence: Feeding the indigenous people of Central America by providing seeds and knowledge.

Spread the Word

The most important aspect of coordinated and cohesive communications is System Marketing. System Marketing is based on the concept that every communications function in your organization has a marketing impact, good or bad. That means that everyone in your organization, from the receptionist to the executive director, needs to be aware of the impact of what they say and how they say it. The person who answers the phones (and PLEASE, don’t use one of those awful automated response systems!) needs to be knowledgeable and friendly. Everyone in the organization needs to know the elevator speech. And all of your communications need to be keyed to your mission, vision, and needs statement. That’s the “system” in System Marketing – all communications at all times, in every environment, by every member of the team provides the same message.

For most nonprofits, development, or fund raising, is the primary outbound communications function. But it is seldom the only MarCom effort, and so all of your communications need to connect and strengthen each other. System Marketing, informed by strong Vision, Mission, Needs, and Case statements, will ensure that all of your communications are cohesive and consistent. It will ensure that all of your people understands the foundation of your communications, and as an added benefit, it will make it easier to do your job, since you will not have to rethink the basis of your communications whenever you create a new program or communications vehicle.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stickiness: Your Website Needs It

By Ben Delaney © 2007

How to get people to stay for a while when they visit your website

Let’s assume that you have optimized your website so all the search engines find it, and you’ve started a pay-per-click ad campaign to help bring more visitors to your site. Now, the question is, how do we direct people to what they are looking for, and what we think they will find useful. We are asking for more of our visitor’s time, and getting people to give up that most precious commodity is not easy. In the web-management business, the trait of people staying a while is called “stickiness.” Your website needs to be sticky.

Log files: the marketer’s friend

Almost all web hosting services provide detailed logs of events related to your website. Log files tell you how many visitors have come to your site, which pages they have looked at, what browser they use, and much more. Data may be organized by time, requestor, directory, file type, or any number of other parameters. Some of this data are more important that others. Here is a list of items, along with brief descriptions of them, that you may find in your web server log:
  • Browser used: Did your visitor use Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Mozilla, or some other browser?
  • Entry page: The page in your website that your visitor saw first.
  • Exit Page: The page from which the visitor left your site.
  • Failures: The files that were requested that could not be served. (These are “404” errors.)
  • Hit count: The raw number of files served over some period of time.
  • Number of pages viewed: the number of .html or other viewable files presented.
  • File type analysis: A listing of files types and the number of times they were served. Types include: .html (web pages), .gif, .png and .jpg (images), .cgi (forms), .pdf (Acrobat), .mov (QuickTime movie), and several other types, depending on the types of files you offer.
  • File requests: This is a list of each file served to visitors. This is a key item – showing you exactly what people are seeing when they visit your site.
  • Hit count: The raw number of files served over some period of time.
  • Referrers list: The previous site you visitor viewed.
  • Source IP: The IP address of the visitor’s computer. Often this is incomplete, to preserve your visitors’ privacy.
  • Time on site: How long the visitor stayed on your site.
  • Visitor count: The number of individual visitors to your site.
The most important of these statistics, in my opinion, are file requests, visitor count, entry and exit pages, and referrer. Analysis of these data can tell you what the typical visit to your site looks like – which pages are looked at, what files are downloaded, and how long the visit lasted. These stats make it possible to tell if the things you think are important are those that your visitors look at. These stats can also tell you if a press release increased visits to your site, and by how much. These are the minimal, bottom line numbers you need to determine if your website, and particular sections and pages in it, are doing the job you expect. The other data in your web logs gives your further insight, and can be very useful as you analyze your website performance over time.

Analysis of your web logs tells you how sticky your site is – that is, how long visitors stay and how many pages they look at. That obviously raises the next question: How do we make our site stickier?

I believe that there are two key to website stickiness: good content and good navigation.

Good content is pretty obvious. Interesting articles, enticing headlines, offer of contests or games, intriguing possibilities – these are the types of content that make people want to read more. If your website bores you, it will bore others. Make it interesting, and be sure that it is relevant and unique.

A good technique to keep your website interesting is to have frequently changing content, especially on the home page. This can be as simple as a slide show, perhaps pictures of volunteers on a project, or your staff at work. Also good is a up-to-date list of news items, a calendar of events, and ad-like sections that promote your programs. What you use will depend on your organization, but changing content encourages people to check your site frequently, and increases the chance that they will find something interesting and stay awhile.

Another good way to keep people on your site is to include user involvement techniques, collectively known as Web 2.0. there is a lot of hot air being blown about on Web 2.0, but essentially it means that there are interactive features that encourage visitor participation. Such features include:

  • Blogs: A blog is simply an area where people can freely discuss whatever is on their minds. I strongly recommend that this be moderated to avoid liable profanity, and spam. I strongly DO NOT recommend censorship of any comments simply because you disagree with them, or they conflict with what your organization thinks about an item. Free speech keeps blogs going, and people will quickly stop bothering to comment if you censor their remarks. Possibly worse – they make a big deal of your redactation, and spread nasty remarks and rumors elsewhere on the web.
  • Video uploads and sharing: This is a simple feature that encourages your visitors to get heavily involved in your organization. Again, be sure to look at uploaded content before it goes live to avoid embarrassment.
  • Podcasts: these are audio files that are easy to download for offline listening on an iPod or similar device. Same rules apply – be careful about what you allow to go live, but encourage free commentary.
  • Photo sharing: This can be a great way to have people document your event, and otherwise share good times.
Also important is good website design. I always recommend that you work with a good web designer, either on staff or on contract. Web designers know the ins and outs of making things look good on computer screens, which is a somewhat different science that print design. Here are a few key design factors to keep in mind:
  • Use a different font for headlines and text and make them big enough to read easily.
  • Keep your site design narrow enough to fit on a standard screen and moderate resolution. Not everyone is using the hottest new screens, so design for the lowest common denominator.
  • And finally, be sure to test your design on Macs and PCs and in Internet Explorer, Safari, Mozilla, and Opera – the most used browsers.
Good navigation enables your visitor to find and go to the information she is looking for as easily as possible. Here again, a good web designer can make a great contribution by providing navigation that is easy to use, works well, and looks good. While there is no simple manual for good navigation, there are a few rules of thumb:
  • Build your main navigation so that visitors can see where they are going. Drop-down menus or similar tricks make if possible to see what each section of your website contains before going there. This makes navigation through your site much quicker and easier, and helps to keep your visitors from getting frustrated and leaving.
  • Keep your site shallow and broad. If you diagram your site like an org chart, you want to see many second level (below the home page) choices, and you don’t want to go beyond three or four levels deep. Keeping the site shallow means it takes fewer clicks to get to information, and that makes for a more satisfying experience for the visitor.
  • Have a feedback mechanism that shows when a button is pushed. You can change the button color, or use sound, for example.
  • Make your navigation big enough for boomers to read.
  • Have a search box. Often your visitors will not know exactly where to find what they want. A good search function helps them get what they’re looking for with minimal effort.
  • Have an easy to find site map. And be sure your site map is detailed enough to be truly useful.
Once your site has good content and good navigation, and you have optimized it for search engines, it’s stickiness should increase. And the longer each visitor stays, the more opportunity you have to tell your story, and solicit donations. So go to it. Get sticky!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Making Search Engines Work For You

The ABC's of SEM

By Ben Delaney © 2007

We all use search engines to find stuff on the world wide web. Search for restaurants, search for clothes, search for old boyfriends, search for a place to get parts for that 1957 Lionel steam locomotive. You can search for recipes, songs, even nonprofits that deserve your support.

According to Search Engine Watch, (

In March of 2006, there were more than 200 million searches done every day. Undoubtedly, these numbers have been greatly exceeded by now.

Per Day (Millions)
Per Month (Millions)

As nonprofit marketers, questions we need to ask include: how do we get good ranking in search engines, and how do we ensure that our site shows up when someone searches for a related topic?

We talked about search engine optimization (SEO) in the last chapter. SEO techniques ensure that our site is properly seen and indexed by the search engine programs that wander around the web and look for changes. (These programs are called crawlers or spiders.) SEO helps us ensure that our site shows up in searches where our stakeholders are likely to find it. The next step is to find ways that we can use the search engines as marketing tools, to improve event attendance, increase donations, add new members, get more attention, or sell products.

In addition to SEO, there are two legitimate ways to be included in search engine results: Paid Inclusion and Paid Advertising, also known as Pay Per Click (PPC).

Paid Inclusion

Paid inclusion is simple. It means you pay the search engine to accelerate its indexing of your website. Currently, Yahoo is the major engine offering this service, charging $299 a year for a business listing. But get this: Yahoo doesn't guarantee anything and keeps the deposit regardless. Here's the verbiage from their FAQ on the subject (
"Payment is for expedited review only and does not guarantee inclusion in the directory, site placement, or site commentary. It only guarantees that Yahoo! will respond to your suggestion within seven business days, by either adding or denying the site."

In addition to Yahoo's paid inclusion system, there are many internet entrepreneurs offering a variety of submission services, with varying promises and prices ranging from nothing to several hundred, or even thousands, of dollars. As I mentioned in the SEO chapter, I use these services sparingly, and refuse to pay large amounts for their sometimes dubious services.

Another way to get on to search engine result pages is banner advertising. I'm going to talk about advertising in general later, but keep in mind that paying for an ad on a results page can give you very high page rank, at a price. Only a few general engines accept banner ads, but many special interest sites are happy to have them.

Paid Advertising (PPC)

Paid, or Pay Per Click, advertising is chosen to appear on a page because it is relevant to the search being conducted. For example, If I search for "hunting boots" I may see ads for a hunting lodge, a shoe store, an outdoor supply company, a boot manufacturer, and a rifle. You get the picture. The ads are often sold in a type of auction. I'm most familiar with Google's AdSense program, so that's what I'll use for examples.

A major concern in search engine advertising is where on the page your message appears. Page ranking refers to how high on the page your message or website appears. Obviously, being listed first on a search result is best. Being the first ad on the page is also good. Keep in mind that you want your message to appear on the screen of the searcher, no matter what screen resolution (which controls how much information is displayed at once). I call this "above the fold," a phrase which was stolen from the newspaper industry. What's above the fold on your newspaper's front page is what you see first - that's where the lead stories are. You always want your message above the fold. You can't buy placement in the search results on the major engines, so instead, you buy advertising.

When you buy ads to run on Google, after establishing an account and a budget, you create an ad or a series of ads. These are text ads of three short lines. It doesn't cost any more to run many ads, so this is an excellent place to test messages and offers (remembering the ideas from the testing chapter). Ads can be grouped into campaigns, and turned on and off. There are too many options to cover here, but the system is very flexible. For each ad you offer a bid, the most money you will pay each time someone clicks on this ad, and thereby visits your website. Bids start as low as a nickel per click.

If your competitor bids more than you did, his ad will run higher on the page. The key is bidding enough to stay above the fold.

Attached to each ad is a string of keywords. These are the triggers that are used to associate your ad with search results. These will come to match the keywords used on your website. I find that by using Google's keyword optimization tools, and testing many different ads and keyword combinations, I can develop a set of keywords that I use on both the website and in PPC advertising.

What I really like about PPC advertising is that it is almost as testable as direct response. All of the major players provide extensive reporting capabilities, so that you can tell who responded to each ad variation, when, and at what cost, as well as many other variables. Because you pay only for ads that elicit a response, and because the report systems provide so much useful information, testing PPC ads is extremely effective. And, as a bonus, seeing which ads evoked the best response provides feedback to your entire organization, because it tells you what people were looking for when they found you. That is valuable information.

A few other ways to get into search engine results

The discussion above is about getting your name on the first page of a general search. And, really, that's the very best place to be. But search engines are multi-splendored beasts, and offer many other opportunities for you to get your name and your message in front of people.

I frequently use search engines to find out what people look like, to get directions and see a neighborhood, to find merchants and services, and to get the news. Many of your constituents do too. And each of those specialized searches offer you another opportunity to get your message out.

I don't want to take too much space here to talk about secondary SEM opportunities, because I think their appropriateness to your message will be obvious . Here are a few additional paths to search engine pages:
  • Blogs & Social Sites: Comments from or about you on these sites is often indexed.
  • Business description map placements: Many engines will put a description of your business on a map.
  • News: Press releases are almost always indexed when submitted through press ires services.
  • Pictures: The pictures on your site can be indexed, as can photo sharing sites.
  • Product catalogs: Many search engine companies also provide shopping information, including catalogs.
  • Secondary engines: Many professional organizations and common interest groups run specialized search engines. As a bonus, these are often free.
  • Video and Podcasts: Video and podcasts on your site can be indexed.

When your site is SEO'ed and SEM'ed, and you have people visiting it in droves, the next challenge demands your attention. The next chapter will talk about stickiness, the art and science of getting visitors to stay a while at your site.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Websites 101: Making Your Website Findable

By Ben Delaney © 2007

We all know that our website is important. But do we know how to make it really work for us?

I’ve got a website (two actually). You’ve got a website. Everybody ‘cept Granny has a website. But have you ever asked, why?

There are a lot of good reasons to have an organizational website. It has become a requirement of a serious business, replacing the once-ubiquitous yellow pages ad with a colorful, ever-changing multimedia extravaganza. That’s the website bottom line: We exist.

But there are many more reasons to have a website, and a good website can be a tremendous booster for your organizations. I’ll cover the basics quickly, then talk about a few advanced techniques that can really improve the ROI on your website. There are two main issues relating to a successful website: getting people to it, and keeping them there. In this article, I’m talking about how to get people to your website. In a later one, I’ll talk about keeping them there, what is called the “stickiness” of the site.

Like the front page of a newspaper, your website needs to include the Five W’s – or links to them. If you ever took a journalism class, you recall that the five W’s are:

  • Who: Who we are, “Allied Rooster Breeders of Tulsa”
  • What: What we do, “We assure the purity of rooster bloodlines by maintaining records. We also produce events that enable the rooster breeding community to meet, do business, and socialize.”
  • Why: The reason we exist, “Rooster breeders have long needed a voice, and a standards board.”
  • When: Not always appropriate, but this could mean, “Since 1841”, or “We protect rooster breeders 24 hours a day.” Your call.
  • Where: Where are you located and where do you work, “Contact us at this address, email, or phone number,” or, “We serve rooster breeders in the Tulsa River Valley area.”

Hitting each of the five W’s on your home page will enable visitors to know immediately where they are and why. Then they will need to know how to find the information they came for, using what is called the Site Navigation. Another key element, your site navigation includes:

  • The buttons and links that take visitors to various items and pages. These should be easy to read, and ideally should provide audio or visual feedback when used.
  • A menu that is obvious, and takes people where they want to go as quickly as possible. Don’t get too cute with the menu. Especially as the population of over-40’s increases, you need a menu that is easy to find and not challenging to use.
  • The site navigation is based on a logical and shallow hierarchy of information and pages, so that it is quickly apparent how to find things. Try to make your site organization shallow – more wide than deep. By that, I mean that you don’t want to build a site that forces a user to click after click after click after click to find what she wants. Many rich sites are only three or four clicks deep. To build a shallow site, make your second levels large and scalable. For example, you may have only two programs now, but your programs page could have room for ten.
  • Have a site search function. Google offers a free site search widget, as do several other companies. You can customize the look and limit search to your site, or the entire internet. Having a search function makes it really easy for visitors to find a name, date, place, or other bit of information that could take hours to find any other way. Having a search box is just being a good neighbor.
  • Finally, site navigations should always include a site map, detailed to at least the second level of your site. I believe that a site map should provide a primary navigation for visitors who want to go directly to a bit of information. A site map to the third level will cover a lot of pages, and enable quick navigation.

Back to “Why”

Once you build a website with all of the five W’s and good navigation, your basic internet version of the yellow pages ad, you may have looked at it and thought, “We still have infinite room. How do we fill it?” This is when the “Why?” question must be faced.

Ideally, you addressed “why” before you started. But it is better to have your internet shingle hung out than not to exist in cyberspace. Let’s talk about “why” now.

By “why”, I mean, what do you want your website to do for the organization? We have the basic function: we exist. Now you can use your website to fulfill a number of missions of different sorts. Here are a some of the most frequently seen:

  • Most organizations have a lot of information they are trying to get out to people – their sites have a library function.
  • We all have seen online shopping sites. Many organizations sell books and other merchandise using an online store.
  • Nonprofits typically rely on donations. Those organizations have a donation processing system.
  • If an organization produces events, or provides classes, it would benefit from an online registrations system.
  • And by the way, you’ll need a calendar of those events. Integration with common downloadable and online calendars is a nice calendar bonus.
  • People flock to nonprofits for the communities that form around them. Make it easy for your community to meet and talk by including Web 2.0 features like a video upload section, blogs, text message delivery, podcasts, and other items your community will find useful.
  • People have questions and suggestions. To give them quick answers, you provide a FAQ, a page of Frequently Asked Questions, and their answers. To help visitors find people, add a complete list of staff and provide email links and/or phone numbers. Also provide a contact/feedback form that makes it easy for visitors to get in touch with you.
  • Most importantly, most organizations have a program of activities in which visitor can participate. A detailed explanation of what your program comprises, including when and where it occurs, who it is best suited for, what it costs and why people should attend. (There’s those five W’s again.)

What should the home page of our website include? What should it look like? Those are among the most asked questions whenever I help people work on their websites. Everybody has an idea, everybody wants to put the most important programs front and center. What makes this a real conundrum is that there is seldom an easy answer to this question.

There are crowded websites, like Craig’s List and that have every inch covered with text or pictures. Those are portals: like an airport, once you enter the gate, you have many destination options. Other sites make more use of white space, and direct your eyes to a few, very important words or images. Google’s site is an extreme example of this.

There is no good rule for deciding how much goes on your home page except say what you need to say, and nothing more. The design should never detract from your message and should keep your community and constituencies in mind. If you work with a lot of over-40 people, keep the type size fairly large.

On being seen

So you’ve had a beautiful website built, everyone agrees that it is a work of art, and easy to use. Now, how do you get people to see it?

I have been surprised several times by people who launch their first website and then, a week alter, ask me why they are not getting many visitors. Well, it goes like this. When a website is first published, it can take several weeks for the search engines to find it. It can then take days more before the site is listed in search results. And unless you have a very prominent site, it will be way down in those results. So, the likelihood of a new site being found immediately by lots of people is very low.

But all is not lost. There are several techniques to improve search engine ranking (how near the top you are) and to use search engines to draw visitors to your site. The first is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and the second, Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Both are key to successful internet marketing. I’ll talk about SEO in this chapter, and address SEM in a later edition.

SEO is intended to make it easy for the search engines to find your site and recognize its content. There are several factors that can make or break your site in regard to search engines:
  • Don’t get too flashy. Flash is a technology that allows a great amount of freedom for web designers. It makes really nice, fancy transitions, like fading pictures with sound effects, and it display animations and video. But Flash has a big drawback. The content of a Flash animation cannot be read by search engines. Sites that rely heavily on Flash must go to extraordinary lengths to be indexed properly for search. If you use Flash go easy. And be sure to use the other tools I talk about here.
  • Use meta tags: Meta tags are information your web pages include that helps them be displayed properly and found and indexed for searching. There are three key meta tags every site should use. They are:
    • Title: The title appears on the top of the browser window when your pages are displayed. It should say something meaningful. “Welcome to our home page” is NOT meaningful. A good title will describe the page contents very briefly, and include your organization name. A good title might be, “Why Roosters Are Important – Allied Rooster Breeders of Tulsa,” or “Meet the Board of Directors -- Allied Rooster Breeders of Tulsa.”
    • Description: This meta tag contains just what it says, a brief description of your site. This will appear when people bookmark your website, and is used by search engines to help categorize your site. Take some time to write a good, short description, and then add it to every page of your site. If you like, each page can have a unique description.
    • Keywords: Keywords are the simple words and phrases that describe your site. Think of how you would search for your site on Google or Yahoo. Those words should be your keywords. While some search engines are moving away from a reliance on keywords, some still use them. I like to have a basic set of keywords that are used on every page, along with a group for each page that focuses on that page’s content.

  • Remember those five W’s. You recall the five W’s we talked about earlier. Be sure that each of them is on your home page. They don’t have to be large or prominent – you might have your contact information in a very small font at the bottom of the page. But search engines read your pages, and build their indices based on what they read. It is absolutely essential that you home page contain enough information that the search engine knows what it is reading, and what it means. And by the way, your visitors will find your site more easily, and when they get there, they will find it more useful.
  • Have a machine readable site map. A somewhat recent development, a machine-readable site map is an XML file placed in the root directory as your website. Now that sounds a bit technical, and it is. But your webmaster will understand how to build and where to put your XML site map. Search engines use these site maps to understand the structure and content of your website. They will help ensure that your site is cataloged correctly, and result in better search results. Use them.
  • Use a submission service: Submission services automate the process of telling search engines about your website. I like them when things have changed dramatically, and when I launch a new site. I also use them every year or so to help keep my listings fresh. I have never spent more than $50 for a submission service, and don’t recommend that you do either. These services send your site information to about a dozen search engines. So, while Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL have about 90% of the search market, a submission services will get you them, plus another 7-8%. It’s not worth a lot, but it is worth something.
  • Exchange links: Look for the sites of organizations that are similar, but not competitive with yours. See if they offer a resource page with external links. If they do, offer to trade links with them. You show theirs and they show yours. It makes your site look stronger to search engines when more external sites point to your pages. And it will help you and your sister organizations do better by providing a richer user experience.

That’s it for Search Engine Optimization. Using these techniques I have increased website traffic dramatically,. You can do the same. In a later chapter, I’ll talk about Search Engine Marketing, the flip side of adding value to your website, and website stickiness, the science of keeping people on your site longer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

By Ben Delaney © 2007

The importance of testing your ideas and delivery, and how to do it.

How do you know what’s best in your marketing and communications? You test, test, test.

MarCom testing is the research that makes MarCom a science. You can test message, demographic selections, imagery, different media, and different options within a type of media. You do this testing by setting up small, controlled experiments, and evaluating the results.

You can test almost every part of your marketing. Where to place your advertising can be tested by running the same ad in several publications and gauging response. The content of the ad can be tested by running different versions, with different response tracking, in the same publication. Website ideas can be tested by alternating web pages to see which one works better. New product ideas can be tested with focus groups. Pricing can be tested by varying prices to see if one elicits more sales. Almost any marketing idea can, and should be tested.
Direct response is one of the easiest media to test, so let’s use that as an example. Direct response marketing means that you send an offer directly to your prospect, and attempt to get a response. That response could be a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, a donation, or buying tickets to an event. Direct response can be sent by email, postal mail, even a telegram.

Running a test

Let me give you an example of a very simple test of a direct response campaign. Keep in mind that real life testing can be much more complex that this, testing each part of a campaign to optimize your results. For important campaigns, I test the list, the message, the presentation, what is in the envelope, pricing, incentives, and even the color of the envelope. In this example, we are testing the quality of our mailing list, delivery methods, and the impact of our message. The same ideas and techniques can be applied to every aspect of your effort.

Let’s assume that you are tasked with raising money for a children’s vaccination campaign in Tracy, California. You need to test your mailing list and your message.
Let’s assume that you have available three lists of about 6,000 people each. One is high-value donors to health campaigns in the Bay Area. Another is parents of kids in school in Tracy. The other is doctors in the Tracy area. Each list has both postal and email addresses.

We take the three lists and do what’s called a random Nth name selection to cut each into four groups with approximately the same number of names in it. This gives us 12 lists of 1,500 names each. Each is coded so we know which name came from each list. (I’m assuming there are no duplicates.) We call these lists A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, B2, B3, B4, and C1, C2, C3, C4.

Now we create two message/image combinations. For example, one mailer has a picture of a sick child and the headline: “Don’t let this happen to the kids in your neighborhood.” Number two shows a group of mixed race children playing together. Its headline reads, “Illness doesn’t recognize income, race, or gender.” We create a printed and email version of each. We set up a website with a landing page for our test group.

The test runs like this. We take lists A1, B1, and C1 and email message one. To lists A2, B2, and C2, we postal mail message one. Lists A3, B3, C3 get message two in email, and the last group gets message two as postal mail. What we have done is send statistically identical groups one of four possible message/media combinations. The return mailer for the postal efforts are each coded so that we know which list that person’s name was on, and which mailing they got. The email versions have a similar code that we ask be inputted on the web page we direct our prospects to.
We expect email response to be faster, so we send the postal mail a week before the email goes out. Now we wait. As the results start coming in, coded so that we know from which list and which message/media combination was received, we count. And we look for which lists performed best, both in terms of response and amount of donation. We wait a predetermined time, typically 2-4 weeks from the first response. And then we tabulate our results.

What we’re looking for is this:

  • When did the response come in? Response rates typically follow a bell curve, so this will tell us when to expect the bulk of the responses for the full effort.
  • How many responded to each test variant? This tell us which message, list and delivery style worked best.
  • Who responded to each test? This will show us if people in different demographic groups or geographic locations responded differently.
  • What was the value of the response from each group. Specifically if you are soliciting donations, or selling something, this will tell you which variant provided the most valuable response.
  • Anything else in those numbers? Looking closely at your results may yield more information. If you tested two web pages, did one perform better? Did more women than men respond? Did particular zip codes exceed expectations? Did people seem confused or respond in unexpected ways? There’s gold in them numbers. Mine it.

When a testing is done this way, it shows you which list is good, which message is good, to whom you are appealing, if a particular message was more effective in postal mail or by email, and other results that you can tease out of the statistics.

And don’t consider any result a failure. Testing is designed to show you what doesn’t work, as well as what does. If a test gives you unexpected results, you’ve learned a lot, saved a lot of money, and have new ideas to work with.

Some campaigns are so important you may want to retest to see if your results are consistent. At the end of your testing, you should have a pretty good idea of how to best communicate with your donors. Then you do your big mailing and bank your success.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Best Practices in Nonprofit MarCom, Part Two

By Ben Delaney © 2007

In which we continue our discussion of some of the best practices in marketing for nonprofits, with a focus on PR.

McLuhan was right

In many cases, the medium is the message. Be sure you match the media to the audience.

How long have you had your own email address? Five years? Ten? Do you subscribe to a daily newspaper? How do you keep up with your social community: telephone, email, text messaging, hand-written notes?

How you answer those questions show your preference for media. You are part of several demographic groups, each of which has different preferences and habits. Why do you care? Because if you send a CD-ROM full of multimedia to an older newspaper subscriber, he’s likely to use your disc for a coaster. Likewise, if you send an 16-page brochure to a Gen Z youth, it may just be filed under “recyclable.”

The other aspect of this is that you need to match your media to your message. A long policy discussion is best presented on paper. But an emotional pitch for donors to help solve a chronic problem might best be made on video. The great speech your ED made to the Rotary club would make a fine podcast. An urgent request for donations to lobby Congress is definitely best as email. And trying to understand the opinions of your constituents may be best done through a blog. It is essential in these days of multiple media and multiple information gathering styles that you use the appropriate media to reach the people who need to hear your message.

Balancing mission and MarCom

Crassly commercial. Unethical. Snake oil salesmen. Only interested in the money.
I have heard marketers called all this, and worse. But marketing is not evil. Even the purest mission-driven organization needs to let people know what’s up. And no matter how valiant your cause, your landlord wants the rent every month. Nonprofits need money and their MarCom efforts help keep it flowing.

But as a nonprofit marketer, you need to be especially sensitive to the onus of commercialism. You need to keep the mission and vision in the forefront as you get your messages out. Even if you are selling t-shirts and mugs with a picture of a cute seal pup on them, you need to stress how this purchase benefits the cause, and let your buyers feel good about your organization while they support it.

This point is especially important for people moving from the commercial world to nonprofits. If you are in this situation, remember to stay cool. Downplay the competitive aspect of your personality and your messaging. Keep the mission firmly in front, and don’t EVER bash the competition.

Likewise, if you have always been working for the public good, remember that these days people are overwhelmed by commercial messages, news, and noise. You need good marketing and communications to get your message to the people. Your good work will go for naught if you can’t find the support you need. Nonprofits need marketing as much as any hot internet startup.

Is it news?

Everybody loves to see their name in the paper. Service organizations are no exception. But getting the notice, and being sure it has an upbeat appeal, is not as simple as it may seem.

Journalists are bombarded with press releases. When I was editing a small technical magazine, I often got 20-50 press releases a week. Editors at major publications might get 100 a day. I could use about a dozen every other month. Do the math, and you’ll understand how tough it is to break through to publications.

There are at least 9 factors that are key to getting your news in front of readers and viewers. Keep these items in mind.

  1. Write well. I can assure you that nothing turns off an editor more than a poorly written release. If you are sending your release in English, be certain that your writer knows English. And grammar. And syntax. Know when to use “your” and “you’re. “ Avoid colloquialisms that may be a bit too cool. Check the spelling. And finally, before you send your news out, read it aloud to check for flow.

  2. Spell correctly. I’m not that picky, but a press release with misspellings drives me crazy. Be especially careful of people and place names. Run the spelling checker. Then give it to your pickiest colleague to proofread. Dont luk lyk a dope. Spell wurds rite!

  3. Do some research. Another pet peeve of editors is getting releases that have nothing to do with what they cover. Every week I get releases on cosmetics (don’t care), new financial products (Yaaaaaawn), and breakthrough labor saving devices (sorry, too tired to read). The simplest research is to go to the media websites of the publications that you plan to send your release to, and go to the staff page. Most news media will tell you who covers what. If they don’t, look through some articles until you find the editor or reporter who covers your type of organization or product. That person may care. No one else will.

  4. Pick up the phone. Journalists are people, too. They like to know with whom they are dealing, and they are more responsive to people and organizations they know. So after you have done your research, pick up the phone and call the journalists you have identified as potentially interested in your organization. Ask them what they cover and how they like to get information. Invite them to events. Send them some background material. Make your ED available for background interviews. Do what a friend would do – be helpful. A caution: don’t overdo it. Media people are wary, knowing that their publications are highly desired forums. So don’t push too hard, but do stay in touch.

  5. Make it real. Another issue I have with many companies is that their releases aren’t news. Or interesting. Be sure you really have something to say. It’s really not too hard. A new top-level person is interesting. A big grant award will catch eyeballs. Setting a record, rolling out an important new program, giving away a million dollars – those are all newsworthy.

  6. What’s the subject? If you’re sending your release by email, be sure to use a subject line that makes sense. Don’t get carried away and don’t make a sales pitch. A subject like, “’New XYZ Foundation Program Feeds 10,000 Starving Children” is more likely to get the release read that, “Gala Event Ends Child Hunger.” Believable and interesting are the two key words to remember.

  7. Make it local. Few news stories are national in import. Do your research to discover who covers your kind of news in areas where it really matters. A new after-school program in Stockton is only interesting to people in Stockton. A grant to the Trenton Theater Association may not play well in New York. Keep your geography in mind when you send your releases.

  8. Keep it short. Journalists seldom read long releases. Enough said.

  9. Don’t send attachments. In these days of rampant computer viruses, spyware, trojans, and other maladies, few journalists will open attachments from unknown correspondents. Put your release, in plain text, in the body of an email. If a reporter needs a different format, she’ll ask.

Well, those are the top items on my list on MarCom best practices. There are certainly plenty of other good ideas about how to create and execute good marketing and communications in nonprofits. I’d love to hear about your faves. Drop a line.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Some Best Practices for Nonprofit Marketing, Part One

By Ben Delaney © 2007

There’s a lot to learn from the marketing pros

My first six months in the nonprofit environment was a real eye-opening period. I felt confident that I knew my craft, but I had a lot to learn about the culture and work style of the nonprofit (NP) environment. Sometimes tough, the lessons I learned will help me going forward. But there were a few things that the NP organization can learn from the private sector, as well.

In particular, the best practices of marketing that are routinely applied in the FP (for-profit) world can provide useful structure for the NP marketer, in large or small organizations. MarCom is essential to nonprofits, for getting people to events, encouraging donors, and even selling products. So let’s look at a few of the MarCom best practices that definitely have a place in the NP world.

These are in no particular order, and I may have missed a couple. And this was running long, so I have broken it into two parts. Let me know what you think.

Who’s in charge here?

Responsibility and the collaborative decision-making process.

In a democracy, everyone has an opportunity to speak. Each citizen gets a vote. Each vote is of equal value. After a count of votes, decisions are made.

Most businesses are not democracies. Most businesses are run by dictators, hopefully benign, who have virtual life and death power. Decisions can be made quickly, and responsibility for bad decisions is usually required.

Many nonprofits are run a lot more like democracies than most FP organizations. Staff meetings are held regularly, departments and various groups meet frequently. Everyone has a say. And depending on the leadership style of the top person, decisions are made, as quickly as possible. Responsibility for bad decisions is shared, because everybody bought in, or at least, had a say.

However, in an efficient business, somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to watch the budget and deadlines, and ensure that the work is being done, correctly, on time, and at the right price. Each project needs one (and one only) accountable manager.

Once a decision is made, make one person responsible.


Its not just for accountants anymore.

Many organizations see their marketing budget as a witches cauldron. They throw money in, and magic happens. Many a manager has complained to me that he was spending his marketing budget, and sales were OK to good, but he had no idea what he was getting for his money. Hearing this always makes me cringe. This is the manager who, when times get tough, is going to cut the marketing budget to save money. This should never happen. Marketing is an investment, not an expense. And like any investment, it needs to be closely monitored and managed. Accountability in marketing is not just a slogan. It is a necessity. Each program should include goals, a budget, milestones and deadlines, and a post-action debrief.

If you are leading a team, do your best to get the right people. Get people, be they staff or vendors, who will do what they say, when they say they will. Be proactive to get the other resources you need to do the job properly. And set reasonable expectations, so that people have a realistic idea of what to expect.

Accountability in marketing is based on measurable goals like: “we expect between 1000 and 2000 leads from this mailing,” “this ad will produce 200 leads and 5 new customers,” “this mailing will bring us between $200,000 and $500,000 in new pledges,” “we expect this press release to result in 2 national stories and 10 regional articles,” or “this campaign will bring us 10 new major donors, 20 renewals, and 200 new, smaller donors.” You see what I mean? These are measurable results.

Every well-planned MarCom effort includes anticipated results. And every campaign should feature a full-team, post-campaign debrief in which you look how the execution went, the results of the effort, and how to do it better the next time. Marketing is a repetitive endeavor. Even an effort that provides better-than-expected results should be looked at to see how you exceeded your goals, and to determine if it was a fluke or replicable. Obviously, efforts that don’t meet expectations need to be looked at closely to see why you missed your estimated return. Remember, while there is still a lot of art to marketing, most of it is science.

Test, test, test

In which the author merely teases...

How do you know what’s best in marketing and communications? You test, test, test.

MarCom testing is the research that makes MarCom a science. You can test message, demographic selections, imagery, different media, and different options within a type of media. You do this testing by setting up small, controlled experiments, and evaluating the results.

Testing is really important, so I’m going to devote an entire chapter of this blog to it exclusively. Stay tuned for it next week.

You (often) get what you pay for

Volunteers, and the hazard of the lowest bidder.

Volunteers are great if they can do the job you need done. However, because MarCom is such a strategic function in the organization, the use of volunteers has to be carefully planned. For example, I think nearly anyone can stuff envelopes properly. But I want a skilled professional designing my website, or writing a press release.

Also, I generally advise against using a lowest-bidder budgeting plan. If your vendors are bidding too little, they may not be making enough money to provide support when you need it. It’s important to build a reliable team of vendors, so that when you get in a deadline bind, they are willing to help you. Low bidders have less loyalty. I typically prefer a low-middle bid, all else being equal.

There are plenty of other best practices in nonprofit MarCom. The next chapter will give you four more.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

More on Messaging

By Ben Delaney © 2007

Effective communications in 4 easy steps

Talking is not communicating. Sending a million emails is not communicating. Yelling from atop a soapbox in the town square is not communicating. Printing a glamorous four-color brochure is not communicating. Sending out a well-written press release is not communicating.

Communication requires a receptive audience. A message has to be heard and understood to be considered communication.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it is remarkable how many pieces of “communication” fail to get their message across. I am constantly amazed by websites that fail to describe the service or product being sold until you dig through virtual reams of copy and pointless pictures. Or how many nonprofit people falter when it comes to explaining their mission, vision, and programs in language that non-initiates can understand.

There are several issues that cause these problems. As a follow up to my last article on messaging, let me go a little deeper.

The 4 C's of effective communications

What you say needs to be consistent, clear, concise, and contextual. I discussed the first C, “consistent,” in the last article. The crux of consistent messaging is that all of your materials, and all of your people, need to be on the same wavelength, providing a consistent message to all comers. The other side of that coin is what your messaging says. In other words, you can be very consistent, but still be saying the wrong things. And saying the right things can make a really big difference in the success of your organizations. Let’s go through the other three C’s of good messaging.

Clear: Is anything not clear about your messaging? You should be able to describe what your organization does so that someone who has no knowledge of your group can quickly grasp what you do. Use simple language and words that are easy to understand. People will not work to get your message, so keep it simple and easy to comprehend. Clear messages look like this:
  • Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.
  • Since its founding in 1881 by visionary leader Clara Barton, the American Red Cross has been the nation's premier emergency response organization.
  • TechSoup Stock connects nonprofits and public libraries with donated and discounted technology products.
  • GuideStar's mission is to revolutionize philanthropy and nonprofit practice by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.
  • Springboard Schools is a nonprofit network of educators committed to raising student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap.

Concise: Remember, even your long-form description of the organization should be no more than 100 words, and (Now, this is important!) each sentence should be no more than ten words. People forget the beginning of your sentence if you haven’t finished it within about ten words. Many nonprofits, especially academically-oriented groups, have a problem with this. One organization I used to work with seemed to need to impress people with their vocabulary. I describe their method of communication as never using 10 words when 100 would suffice. Don’t fall into that trap! Nobody cares how many words you know. They care about understanding what you do.

A good elevator speech is key to successful communication with donors and program participants. This short-form presentation is based on the idea that you are in an elevator and need to describe your organization before your fellow rider departs. You have 30 seconds. What will you say?

The clear messages I noted above are also great elevator speeches. Take another look at them, and then practice getting your descriptive message down to 30 second. Remember, use short, punchy, sentences and unambiguous language. Practice saying it out loud and work on it until your elevator speech flows smoothly and naturally and tells your story.

Contextual: This means that your message fits your audience, mission and vision. Keeping your message contextual means not getting sidetracked. For example, if your organization provides seminars on gender equality for HR professionals, you should not start off by talking about the technology that enables online discussions. A contextual message stays on topic and is not cluttered with interesting but nonessential information. Remember that data and information are not the same thing, and supply just the data needed to back up your information, and not a lot of extraneous facts or opinions.

Contextual messages also relate to whom and when you are communicating. If you are talking to your Senator, you want to address concerns that relate to national policy, how your organization can help, and what you need to get the job done. If you are talking to high-value donors, you want to stress the big picture, the great need, the wonderful work you do, and how supporting your organization will benefit them. If you are promoting an event, stress the value of attending, the reasonable cost, the important contacts to be made there. Get the picture? Context is everything in communications.

To sum up: Your communications are how people know who you are and what you do. Remember the 4 C’s of communications – Consistent, Clear, Concise, and Contextual – to ensure that your communications do the job for you and your organization.

Monday, September 3, 2007

You May Have Heard This Before

By Ben Delaney © 2007

The importance of consistent messaging

Have you ever seen an ad, or a TV commercial and realized you already knew exactly what it was going to say? Have you ever found yourself with a jingle rattling around your brain, hours after you heard it on the radio? Have you glanced at an ad in a magazine, recognized the company, and turned the page? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you’ve been a target of effective and consistent messaging.

One of the prime characteristics of effective messaging is that it’s boring. Boring that is, to those who create it, because it seldom changes. Boring perhaps to those who hear it, because they are constantly being told the same thing. But not boring at all to those who rely on people understanding their organization, because effective messaging creates an image in the mind of your customer that is long-lasting, cohesive, and easy to remember.

Messaging includes every public impression of your organization. That includes your logo, your tagline, what the CEO says at the country club, how your receptionist answers the phone, the sales literature, your trade show presence – essentially, every public manifestation. As a marketer, your goal is to create a consistent and coherent message that hammers a few key points over and over – until your customers know them as well as you do.

Messaging isn’t a slogan, though. It’s much more than that. Messaging is the overall impact that everything you say and do has on your customer. If you use blue and gold on your logo, but your ads are red and black, you have muddled your messaging. If your website proclaims, “The only product you need to create better relationships with your customers”, but your business card says, “Great CRM System”, you have created a dissonant and less effective message.

The keys to effective nonprofit messaging

For nonprofits, consistent, effective messaging is even more critical. Every nonprofit has a Mission Statement. That’s where your messaging starts. But not where it ends. Your organization also needs a Vision Statement, a Needs Statement, and a USP, or Unique Selling Proposition. Let me explain each one and how they differ.

Your Vision is what you hope to accomplish, such as “ending hunger in Central America.” Your Mission Statement describes how you fulfill your vision. You might say, “We will end hunger in Central America by teaching locals how to farm more effectively.”

The Needs Statement is for your donors. Donors need to believe that your organization is meeting a critical need, and doing it better than your competitors. (More on competition in a later installment.) Your message has to evoke a need that is relatively unchanging. Your needs statement is a quick explanation of why your organization exists and why people should support its mission.

Your needs statement is that rationale behind the vision and mission. In our example, it might read like this: “Thousand of children in Central America go to bed hungry every night. If their parents understood a few recent discoveries about farming in their region, they could produce 50% more maize and feed their children every night.” See the difference?

Like commercial enterprises, each nonprofit also needs to have a “unique selling proposition (USP).” This is a few key points that differentiate your organization from others with similar missions – as your customer perceives them. I have heard dozens of clients in for profits and nonprofits tell me that they have no competition. That is bunkum. Your customers will perceive competitors, and you need to offer a unique reason that they should support your organization instead of any other one. There is a limited pot of donor money out there. Your unique selling proposition is key to differentiating your organization from all the others. In our example, the USP might be, “We provided more money to support farmer training than any other organization, and our method has been proven to be highly effective. Last year we helped 8,431 farmers learn new techniques and help their children getter more to eat. Won’t you help?”

You mission, your vision, your needs statement and your USP form the basis for all of your messaging. Be sure that everything flows from those key statements, and that every opportunity for communicating your message is clear, consistent, and true to those ideals.

Here are some key questions that will help you evaluate how consistent your messaging is:

  • Do you present your mission, vision, and needs statements consistently?
  • Have you identified and codified your Unique Selling Proposition?
  • Does your logo look the same in every usage?
  • Is your color scheme simple and consistent?
  • How often does your tagline change?
  • Is the look of your website and literature appropriate to your company, products, and customers?
  • Are your customers comfortable with the language you use?
  • Do you consistently make the same sales arguments (your USP)?
  • Do you describe your services differently in different places?
  • Do your service or product names relate to each other and the company name?

If your messaging is consistent, and true to your mission, vision, needs statement, and USP, you will find that soon your customers are parroting it back to you, and even your competitors will start to talk about your organization in your terms. That’s good messaging.

Thanks to Kathy Cole, of West Wind Consulting, for helping me better understand these important aspects of nonprofit messaging.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Importance of Branding

Or how the cowboys got it right.

By Ben Delaney © 2007

In the old west, cowboys needed to tell which cattle belonged to whom on the open range. Way back in the 1880’s most of the American west was a vast, unfenced area – rangeland punctuated by dramatic mountains and perilous arroyos. Cattle roamed freely and often herds belonging to different ranchers intermixed.

Back then, establishing a brand meant marking all your cattle with a hot iron that permanently burned your mark into each animal’s hide. Today, every brand manager longs to create a mark as permanent as that.

We’re all familiar with many modern brands. The words coke, nike, scotch, windows, and many others have had their historical meanings blurred by the simple addition of a capital letter. Now, those are international brands, carrying deep and often complex emotional and intellectual meaning to millions, if not billions of people.

(This branding sword cuts both ways, though. Think of xerox, kleenex, post-it, margarine, and band-aid. These were, or are, trademarked brands. But through carelessness, these valuable properties have become common nouns – with a substantial loss of value for the companies that own them.)

Virtually every successful organization has created a brand. This applies just as strongly to nonprofits as it does to for-profit enterprises. Think about what these brands mean to you, and how you respond emotionally to them:

  • Red Cross
  • YouTube
  • Girl Scouts
  • IBM
  • Salvation Army
  • Apple
  • Greenpeace
  • Google

See what I mean? Whether you like or dislike them, brands rule the mind-space of consumers world-wide.

Building your brand

Whether you are a marketer in the private sector or in the nonprofit world, building and maintaining your brand is the most important function you have. A strong brand creates recognition of your organization and eliminates the need to explain its purpose. It creates trust (when properly maintained), and makes sales and support solicitations much easier. A good brand makes it easier to introduce new programs or products, and it helps to build a strong base of support. In fact, a strong brand makes every aspect of communications and marketing easier and more effective.

Building a strong brand takes imagination and hard work. But more than that, more important than a great logo or an unforgettable tag line is one thing: consistency. To build a great brand, you must watch it like a overprotective grandma – shepherd it through difficult times, stand up for it if bullies attack, guard its reputation, and be sure it shows up at the right place, at the right time, and looking good. Here are few tips for building and maintaining a great brand.

Ensure appropriateness: If you’re selling muscle cars, you don’t want a pink floral logo. If you’re a nonprofit pushing aid to the poor, a gold trimmed annual report is not appropriate. Bold ideas need bold representations, delicate subjects must be treated delicately. Your logo needs to convey the key aspects of your organization at a glance. This is not a place to skimp. Pay a professional, get a great logo. It is worth every cent.

Be sure it works in every size, and in black and white: Your designer shows you some concept ideas and they all look great. Each concept is shown to you ten inches wide. But be sure to look at it one inch wide, as well. And look at it in black and white. You have to use your logo on stationary, advertising, signs, bags, pens, and websites. Be certain it works in every size and every potential location.

Get a great tagline: The tagline is the short description that often accompanies your logo. Be sure it succinctly tells your story in as few words as possible. Try to make it catchy, even poetic. Great taglines take on a life of their own. Remember, “It’s the real thing”? How about, “Breakfast of champions”? Your tagline augments the logo in building your identity in the minds of your constituents.

Use it everywhere: Don’t be shy. Now that you have a great logo and tagline, be sure to use it everywhere you can. It’s OK if it’s small, or tucked in a corner. But be sure your constituents see it every chance they have. That’s what creates name and identity recognition. And it takes more exposure than you may expect.

Use it consistently: Don’t ever change the shape or color of your logo. It will simply muddle perceptions and reduce recognition. During the design process, have your designer do mockups of many likely usages to test how your logo works. Consistency may seem boring to you, but it helps your image stick in the minds of your audience.

Use it long after you’re tired of it: Think about the logos you recognize instantly, like Coke, or IBM, or the Red Cross. They haven’t changed in years. Neither should yours. People don’t like change, and when you change your identity people will wonder why. Stick with it. Consistent messaging pays marketing dividends.

Branding includes other constituents, including messaging, overall look and feel, theme songs, mascots, and so on. Branding is the sum total of impressions your customers and other have of your organization. As I said earlier, your brand is your organization’s single greatest asset. Guard it like gold – for it is worth far more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How Your Nonprofit is Just Like a Hot Internet Startup.

There are more similarities than you might expect.

By Ben Delaney © 2007

People frequently ask me how I went from high-tech marketing to the nonprofit world. In fact, I don’t see that much difference between the two environments. They actually have a lot in common. High-tech companies and nonprofit organizations share many characteristics and face similar challenges. That means that a good marketer, after learning the important aspects of an organization, like programs/products, services, and culture, can handle a nonprofit’s needs as easily as those of a high-tech startup.

Here are a few of the things that nonprofits and high-tech companies have in common:

Mission driven: Have you noticed how often high-tech marketers are called “guru” or “evangelist”? That’s because, just like nonprofits, high-tech startups are driven by the compulsion to get their message out – a message of new hope and opportunities presented by new technologies. Nonprofits are driven by similar goals – to ensure that the right people hear their messages of need and hope. This is a basic factor in communications for both constituencies. And many of the same techniques, carefully tailored to the needs of the organization and the expectations of the audience, will work in either type of organization.

Led by a brilliant, inspired leader: The engineer who invented the technology still leads the company, but everybody knows he really isn’t much of a manager. The Executive Director, brilliant in her understanding of the issues, people, and connections that form the crux of the cause, gets buried in minutiae and looses the reins of the organization. It’s called “founders syndrome.” High-tech and non-profits are led by really smart people, but nobody can do everything, especially during times of rapid growth. Both types of organizations need strong Marketing/Communications (MarCom) leadership.

Limited funds: Even the hottest venture-capital (VC) funded tech startups have to make money, or they end up dumping all those cool Aeron chairs on EBay. Nonprofits are chronically under-funded. There are many smart, low-cost marketing techniques that can quickly help the bottom line. A lot.

Need for strong branding: Every organization needs a strong brand. Brands help establish a family-like relationship. Think about the Girl Scouts, Nike, The American Cancer Society, Google, or the Salvation Army. Each of those brands hold meaning for a lot of people, and because of that familiarity half of the communications job is already done. New company – new cause; both need the same thing: a strong brand that elicits warm feelings in the heart of the organization’s constituency.

Unsure of the value of marketing: Limited funds means that not every good idea can be followed up. Some projects get done today, some are put off, some are canceled. Often the first casualty of financial constraints is the MarCom budget line. That is a huge mistake. When an organization is small, or is dealing with a setback, or has a great new opportunity, marketing helps make it happen. Marketing doesn’t have to cost a lot, and it should be treated as an investment, with goals and milestones.

Need for accountability in marketing: Finally, every organization needs to keep its eyes on the ball of accountability. Marketing results can and should be measured. How many people responded to a mailing? Were they the people we were hoping to hear from? Did our ad bring in X number of inquiries? Does our website provide good quality leads? Those kinds of questions matter in every organization.

So, you see, moving to the nonprofit world was easy for me. I get to use my time-tested marketing tools (constantly upgraded as technology changes) to help an organization that is trying to make the world better. While the objectives of a high-tech company will be completely different from those of a nonprofit, the same tools work to get the message out. An advertisement can sell disc drives or encourage donors. A press release can announce the latest version of the Gizmotron, or let people know that the millionth child has been saved. I can do either. But after decades of selling Gizmotrons, it feels really good to be working to educate children, save the environment, stamp out poverty and disease, or bring peace. I highly recommend it.