Passing on the nuggets

Earlier this week, I facilitated a workshop called Marketing in McMurray for a group of about 25 folks either working in or volunteering for the nonprofit sector, or as some of us like to call it, the social profit sector.

I talked about a lot of things including the fragmentation of the local media landscape since the days when we only had two radio stations (owned by the same company), one daily newspaper and various old school marketing options like direct mail, posters, temporary signs and myriad labour intensive advertising choices.  Those were the days when Internet was in its infancy, email was emerging as an important form of communication, and cell phones were morphing from large chunky things into the smaller, more compact, flip variety.

Things today are a lot more complicated: more media outlets, publications, and a smattering of social media channels and websites that you need to pay attention to.  Of course, you have to do all this with the same time, people and money that your organization had "back in the day".  With that reality in mind, tapping into best practices and the lessons-learned of compadres in the field is a great way to get a few steps ahead without having to spend more money.

After 25 years in the marketing and communication business, here are a few of the nuggets, among many, that I've picked up along the way, in no particular order except that this is where they landed in the slide deck.


Early in my tenure as publicist at Keyano Theatre, some smart person suggested that there needed to be a sense of continuity through the posters we created for the plays we were doing.  At a glance, you should be able to recognize the style and be able to associate it with its organization.  It was a great thought, one that has affected everything I have done since.

There is no question that after a decade of working on visual continuity with a team of marketing and design professionals, we've become pretty adept at doing this at Keyano Theatre and Keyano College, whether it's for theatre posters or advertisements for our programs, athletics teams or Foundation.

The example I used above is Events Wood Buffalo, an organization that does an exceptional job of building brand.  Their Facebook page jives with their Twitter profile which connects to their website. There is no question they've invested a lot in design, but it has paid off with a recognizable, trusted and powerful brand.

At a glance, can your customers/clients/community recognize you?  If they can't, it might be something you need to address.


I had a light bulb moment when Fort McMurray United Way Executive Director Diane Shannon was giving a keynote speech at a launch event for new nonprofit leadership program a couple of years ago.  Maybe the weather was bad, maybe it was bitterly cold, but attendance was modest at best.  Sitting at the back of the room, I realized that we were still looking at events in the old-school way, measuring their success by how many people showed up.  However, using the power of social media, capturing and sharing her salient and compelling points as she went along, the event all of a sudden had an impact far beyond the confines of the four walls that surrounded us.

The Government of Alberta could just as easily have opened the newly completed twinned stretch of Highway 63 in the fall of 2012 without a lot of fanfare.  But they were smart.  After spending hundreds of millions of dollars, they spent a wee little bit extra to bring concurrent buses full of media folk and leaders from Edmonton and Fort McMurray to cut the ribbon, providing a human backdrop and communications juggernaut to announce the unexpected fast-tracking of the complete twinning of the highway by 2016. After the firestorm generated following the horrific loss of life earlier in the spring, they needed to step up their game, and they did.  To their credit, they maximized their assets, under promising and over delivering.

Another example of leveraging assets occurred on the opening weekend of Hometown...The Musical! when we filmed a 30-second Harlem Shake video.  It was the brilliant idea of publicist Misty Oakes who convinced her boss and the stage manager to go along trying to get it done.  The Harlem Shake craze was at its apex and we had over 100 people gathered who were perfectly suited to act wild and crazy on cue.  From start to finish, the entire exercise took about 20 minutes following the ensemble's physical warm-up but before the matinee performance.  The video was uploaded before we finished the first act and added to a tidal wave of momentum for the production that vaulted it to #5 on Keyano Theatre's all-time list of box office champions. To date, the video has been viewed over 5,300 times.

Whether it is taking the poster you spent money to design for print purposes and get it posted on your Facebook page, or spending a little extra time and creativity maximizing your trade show booth, review the things you're doing and ask yourself how you can maximize your investment.


"What is the most important piece of how you market your business?" I asked Heather last week about her small home business called the Ananda Center for Balance.

"The website, no question," she said.  "It saves me so much time because when I get inquiries I can direct them to a web page where they can get the exact information they are looking for."

In Heather's case, she uses a website service called Intuit, or what they call a content management system (CMS).  I use the same for my personal website.  It requires some acclimatizing, but generally is easy to pick up and maintain.

When I asked the question of whether workshop participants were using a CMS system or one that required a third-party to update and maintain, most hands went up for the latter.  I would respectfully suggest that moving into a CMS environment will allow you way more flexibility, responsiveness, and choices when it comes to making optimal use of your website.

You can have the fanciest website in the world, with all the bells and whistles, but if your web developer is off on a Caribbean holiday for a month when you desperately need something posted, you're hooped.

The one thing I find about websites, is that they naturally become an object of derision, internally and externally.  They are often never perfect and almost always changing.  Rather than getting frustrated with what it isn't working well, focus on what it should and could be doing.  In other words, expend your energies on adjusting, improving and innovating.


Tell them what you're going to do.  Do it really well.  Tell them what you did.  When I hear that promotional maxim I think of my former boss at the OK Radio Group, Kelly Boyd.  I attribute it to him, though I have no idea where it originally came from.

As a small organization, if you could create a big sign to hang in the office with this maxim, and focus on it as a primary marketing tactic, you will be well-served.

Your entire team is working on a fundraising event.  About two weeks out, start drafting a compelling news release that highlights the particulars and sets "the hook".  What is it about the event that will grab the attention of the media and give them what they are looking for: a great story?  What is the headline you'd like to hear on the radio or see in the newspaper the following day?

Send out the release.  Invite the media (including bloggers) to the event at a time when they are likely to get the best perspective, photograph and soundbite.  Knock your event out of the park.

Then grabbing the best anecdotes, images and outcomes, tell them what you did.  This could take the form of a post-event news release, a blog post, posts on Facebook and Twitter - whatever works well for your organization.

I used Hometown...The Musical! as the example above.  We communicated with the media several times along the way and had a news release in their hands the night the acclaimed production closed.  In fact, more words were written by more people and organizations about this show than any that had come before.  Three weeks after the curtain came down, the story is still being told, most recently via a story in All Stages magazine, a Theatre Alberta publication that also included a photo essay on their website.


Depending on the "what" you are wanting to market, you'll need to decide on whether frequency or positioning is the better approach.  While these are radio terms, they certainly can apply to a print campaign, social media strategy, or many other advertising mediums.  Frequency is essentially hitting your target audience as much as you can over a clearly defined (usually short) window of time.  Ideally, you want them to see and hear your message as often as possible within the confines of the dollars and deals you have in your war chest.

If you're putting your major fundraising party on sale on Monday morning, you'll want to hammer the airwaves, social media universe and print world in the days leading up to it.  The more people who get exposed and inspired by your call to action, the more successful you are going to be.

Positioning is a very different approach for an entirely different objective.  Stretching your ad dollars over a long period of time - often an entire year - is a way of building brand recognition, customer/client loyalty, and strengthening your position in the marketplace.

Most larger organizations will use a mixture of these two approaches, but as a small social profit, you may need to decide which best suits your needs and available resources.

If you go back 15 to 20 years, the bulk of what we did in organizations was paper-based.  Filing cabinets and storage closets for reams of documentation and records were ubiquitous. Today, filing cabinets are to a degree, relics of a bygone era, taking up space rather than serving a functional purpose.  In 2013, the vast majority of what we do exists digitally: emails, spreadsheets, Word docs, databases, photographs, video, etc.

There are digital assets related to marketing that can help elevate your business, get you closer to meeting your mission, vision and mandate.  But you need to ask yourself some hard questions.  Where are your digital assets stored (photos, videos, logos, news releases, website)?  Who has the keys?  Do you have access?  What happens if your computer crashes, gets stolen, spontaneously explodes?  Are your digital assets backed up somewhere?

The online tools available to us today are incredible, and in many cases, absolutely free to use.  Photos can be stored and shared on myriad sites like Flickr, PhotoBucket and others.  I pay a small fee for an service called Phanfare, which includes unlimited storage and the opportunity to have my photos burned on to DVD if I happened to lose everything.

YouTube is an excellent place to store and share your video assets, though there are many other sites including Vimeo.  Gone are the days when you have a section on your shelf with multiple copies of promotional DVDs.  Today, we all expect and rely upon instant access online.

I've begun playing with Soundcloud for storing and sharing audio assets.  As an example, I used my iPhone to record some speeches during Keyano Theatre Company's season launch media conference.  Sherry Duncan gave an unforgettable talk about what being involved in Hometown...The Musical! had meant to her.  I used simple audio editing software, isolated her speech, posted it on Soundcloud and shared it on Facebook and Twitter.  It has been listened to almost 150 times.

I was listening to CBC radio recently when they were talking about the issue of what happens to our digital world when we die. What happens to our social media profiles?  Or, do they live on in perpetuity?  I know of more than several people who have passed on, but their Facebook profiles continue to exist.  I'm sure the same goes for Twitter profiles.  The notion of digital executor was discussed, someone charged with shutting down your digital life once your physical life has come to an end.

Similar to this line of thought would be organizational access to your online assets.  Where do the passwords get stored?  Who has access?  What kind of policy do you have that can ensure the continuity of your website, social media accounts, and digital assets?  These important components of your business need to survive inevitable staff turnover and organizational change.


One of the things I've learned in my professional life was recently validated by David Horsager during an interview with Darren Hardy of SUCCESS magazine.  He said that "it's the little things done consistently that make the biggest difference."

The little things matter:  how you answer the phone, what you say on your out-of-office message (and how you say it), how you reply to emails, etc.  Have a think about those things that you do every single day that over time lose their sense of freshness and importance.

An example I like to share is when someone is looking for directions at the college, which happens a lot as we have so many people coming here for the first time looking for program information or assistance.  There are two ways to assist a lost soul.  First, you can either explain the route they need to take, or possibly draw them a little map.  Second, you can stop what you're doing and go for a 2-3 minute walk and take them where they need to go.  What is going to leave the stronger impression, provide the greatest opportunity to make a personal connection and lead to the best outcome?

In those short few minutes walking with a stranger, you can have a brief chat, show some interest in what they are doing or looking for, and get on a first name basis.


I've been spending a lot of time talking about the power of stories in building organizations.  If the great things we do are the beautiful petals, stunning richness and entrancing fragrance of the flower, then the stories are the stem and roots.  Without the stories, the flower and all its beauty, is put at risk.  Stories sustain, elevate, support, enrich, nurture.

Who is telling your story?  Is your organizational essence and importance clearly understood by those who matter?  Are the amazing achievements and interactions with your clients making it into your narrative, or are they confined to the four walls of your workplace?

A great story told with compelling language (written, spoken, visual) can be the strongest marketing tactic of them all because it will be shared, repeated, and retold over and over again.

I could go on and on, but as this was the end of the nuggets included in my slide deck, I'll bring this post to a close.  My hope is that some of these ideas provoke questions, inspire thoughts, and maybe, lead to action.

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