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Innovation: 4 Tips For Every Communications Professional


‘Innovation’ has been the word on everyone’s lips for some time now.  Individuals and organisations alike are being challenged to adopt innovative approaches to keep up with a fast-paced, flooded and fragmented business landscape.

This is true more than ever for communications professionals, who must find new ways to connect with stakeholders, communities, media, government and the public. So what are these new ways? And what exactly does ‘innovation’ mean for communications practitioners and the future of the industry?

Answering these questions was the goal of the year’s Public Relations Institute of Australia conference, and some of the Consultation Manager team were lucky enough to be there. Below are some of our key takeaways.

4 tips for being an innovative communicator

The overarching message of the conference was this: the channel you choose to communicate with your audience is important. But with an ever-growing smorgasbord of tools and technologies to choose from (did you know there’s now over 400 social media platforms?) what’s really important is the approach you take.

1. Be honest and authentic

To quote Jane Caro (author, lecturer and Q&A panellist), the desire of corporations ‘to be relentlessly positive is boring and everyone can see through it, so stop it’.  This applies broadly across communications, and more specifically when engaging with online communities. Sometimes you will get it wrong, but Caro strongly believes that if you get it wrong and are authentic in your acknowledgement then people will forgive you. The way organisations deal with negativity in public is much more impressive than when they do things perfectly by the book.

Tip: if you want to build an online community, set guidelines and boundaries for the community (for their behaviour and yours), but get involved and be human.

2. Tell stories

Humans are not rational thinkers. 90-95% of decisions are emotional (even if we think we are being rational). This is because it takes less brain processing power to make decisions based on emotion as opposed to weighing up all available information. This means emotion should drive all communications, according to Chris Graves (chairman of Ogilvy PR US, and conference keynote speaker).

What does this mean for communications practitioners? Use narratives to communicate your messages.  Stories, and in particular stories that use characters who we identify with, spark an emotional connection in the brain and allow the audience to imagine what it’s like to be that character.

Tip: If your goal is to change minds, presenting data and facts alone won’t do the job. Narrative is a much more effective and subtle way to get people to consider new ideas.

3. Focus on the customer experience

David Hawkins, author and Managing Director of Socom, brought to the table in his presentation the less–than-positive consumer attitudes towards big business and big brands.  He highlighted that although as consumers we have more ways than ever to get in contact with businesses with our questions, queries and quandaries, we feel let down, and at an alarmingly increasing rate, we are getting angry.

Let’s take the example of one big telco whose fastest growing team is their dispute resolution team.  This seems unnecessary when you look at the research behind outrage, like that of Dr Peter Sandman, which indicates that it’s often not the issue at hand causing the discontent; it’s the communication. Consumers feel they aren’t being heard and the personal touch has been lost among the corporate clutter. Sandman says that only way to decrease outrage surrounding an issue is through effective communication.

Tip: Shift the focus (and budget) to the customer experience.  Innovative public relations and communications is about the approach we take to building positive, one-to-one relationships with stakeholders.

4. Why measure?

Measure relationships, outcomes and engagement, and use this to drive budget allocation.

Here are a few tips from Kahli Sakkas from Isentia and Peter Lewis from Essential to get your hands on data and make it mean something:

  • Embed research and evaluation throughout your campaign and project (don’t wait until the end)
  • Bust some silos to access the data in your organisation. Talk to the other teams in your organisation who have data at their fingertips
  • Intuition is great, but data is better. Have confidence in your decisions with facts and figures
  • Kahli Sakkas swears by getting up close and personal with excel … (or, ditch clunky spreadsheets altogether with CM!)
  • Tell a story with your data – use graphs, infographics, tables, and images
  • Facebook topic data takes you from beyond your feed to what everyone else is talking about
  • Use feedback forms, focus groups, and talk to people. But be careful with low-cost research and survey tools (they can be dangerous because you’re not using a representative sample)

Want more tips to take you to the next level? Learn more about innovation in community engagement and some of the benefits of proactive engagement and subscribe to our blog to keep learning.


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