After all these years, I continue to be disappointed when I hear someone suggest that a communications objective is “to raise awareness.” I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been in a meeting and someone profoundly states, “We just need to get the word out. We need to let the public know about us.”
Let me emphatically state: Raising awareness is NOT a marketing goal. It is a means to an end and should always be regarded as a tactic in support of some higher-level strategy.
Earlier this month I listened as a nonprofit communicator talked about media relations. She used examples from her organization to talk about writing press releases, pitching stories to the news media and developing relationships with reporters and assignment editors. I was tempted to quibble with her implied assumption that the traditional media are not waning in significance. When someone asked about social media, she brushed off the “new media” as not being serious forms of communication. I couldn’t disagree more, but I’ll save that rant for another occasion.
What I found troubling was that this PR practitioner was operating efficiently at a tactical level, yet she was unable to tie her tactics to any strategy. We spent 90 minutes bumping into trees without once having seen the forest. I wanted to see the big picture. I wanted to know the impact of her communications tactics. When asked what she hoped to accomplish by raising awareness of her organization, she talked about the warm, fuzzy feelings that would be evoked in the general public. Still unclear, I asked what she wanted the audience to do with those “warm, fuzzy feelings.” She was at a loss for a solid answer.
Creating warm, fuzzy feelings is not a marketing goal. That’s a means to an end. Warm emotions can only have an impact when accompanied by a call to action resulting in someone actually taking the desired action.
Communicators are naive if they hope their CEOs will be impressed with only soft, warm and immeasurable results. Those communicators will be vulnerable targets when downsizing occurs. Only those who create results and can demonstrate their impact will be of ongoing value to an organization. Everyone else is just a drain on the organization’s precious resources.
So, I will close with this simple question: What impact do you hope your communications will have?
If your answer is “to raise awareness” I would challenge you to dig deeper by asking, “What do I want someone to do with his or her increased awareness?”