As a university PR instructor, PRSSA Bateman competition and PRSA Silver Anvil I’m going to let you in on a little secret: “raising awareness” doesn’t do anything for your boss. It’s become a lazy way to write objectives that doesn’t help you demonstrate the success that you know you’ve achieved. It’s what you do with that awareness that matters to your organization. You need to move beyond awareness and into real action – and it’s that difficult. All it takes is a slightly different way of looking at what you’re doing.
Think for a moment about how you craft key messages for your target audiences when you’re preparing a PR campaign. Would you use words and terms they don’t understand? Of course not. So why would you do that when communicating with CEOs and other non-communication executives? You need to treat your colleagues like a target audience, because they are one, and can possible have the biggest impact on whether your campaign will succeed or not. You understand the implications of increased awareness, reach, and impressions, but what about your CEO or CFO? Probably not, so it’s up to you to both educate them, and to use terms they understand, namely, dollars and cents.
What are your organization’s business goals? Sales objectives? New accounts? These are what you should be incorporating into your communication goals, because they are results that non-PR managers understand. They have no clue how awareness impacts on what they’re trying to achieve. In the case of nonprofit organizations, this is measured in terms of overall donations made, new donors, additional donations from existing donors, etc. CEOs of for-profit organizations. You can slice and dice it any way you like, but money is the crucial element for all organizations.
If you remember, a couple of years ago the internet and news media were filled with the Ice Bucket Challenge. Seemingly everyone was doing their best to turn themselves into human Popsicles® and to convince others to do the same. It was fun to watch, it was interesting, and it went viral. Within just a few weeks, it was hard to find someone who hadn’t seen at least one video of someone dousing (or being doused) with ice water, especially as celebrities started joining in and ever more elaborate ways to drop the ice and water were dreamed up. Increased awareness? Absolutely. But awareness without action is an empty objective. The whole world can become aware of your mission, as happened with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but if they didn’t convince people to take action beyond the act of dumping ice water on their heads, they’re no better off than they were before.
Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret: we’re human. I know… big surprise. We’re attracted to the shiny things in PR. Who wants to slog through boring plans, when there’s all kinds of bright, shiny tactics just tantalizingly hovering out there, waiting for us? It’s much more fun to film human Popsicles® than it is to develop donation materials. But those donations are what the people at the ALS Association need in order to fund their mission of finding the cause of and a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and to support ALS patients and their families. Building those donation amounts into your objectives gives you something to work toward and measure how effective your tactics are.
By the simple act of building a forfeiture option into the challenge, allowing those challenged by friends to make a donation to the participating ALS organizations instead of being doused, increased awareness was converted into action, as donations poured in. And dollars and cents are easy to count – especially for CEOs. The New York Times reported on July 27th that the Ice Bucket Challenge raised $115 million for the ALS Association, with $77 million going to research and another $23 million to patient and community services. Even better, the ALS Association just announced that the money raised had funded the discovery of a gene tied to ALS. Those are numbers to make any CEO – and Silver Anvil judge – ecstatic.