Story is King, but Smart Outreach Rules

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What good is a compelling story without a proper strategy to help you achieve your goals?

Oscar Wilde once said, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”  There is some truth in that. I have seen some incredibly creative work come out of Greenpeace, Charity: Water, and the One Campaign, to name a just a few. Videos and campaigns that wrap you in a warm blanket of fuzzy feelings that show how development funding or visibility of a topic can profoundly impact a community, and about how communities can flourish once the funding –or an awareness effort – has ended.

We have seen impactful work, such as the UN Women #HeforShe campaign, which reached beyond the confines of the much-pilloried development worker. It inspired millions to take action. Also, the powerful Girl Effect video that the ONE campaign produced to highlight what happens when women and girls control their own futures.  Lastly, millions of people around the world continue to be inspired by the annual holiday video (grab a tissue) that John Lewis, a UK department store, produces. The video focuses less on driving sales revenue and more on the power of kindness to affect profound positive change on a global level. (Of course, these videos often do help their bottom line.)

Most importantly, these creative approaches have reached more than just their intended audiences: they have galvanized the support of much broader audience groups like policy makers, funders, and the general public. They have created long-lasting impact.

So, how does this happen? Is it, “fingers crossed this will go viral,” like the woman in the Chewbacca mask that blew up the internet?  Everyone remembers. The Ice Bucket Challenge as a great example of a campaign that succeeded beyond a defined strategy for raising awareness of, and money for, Lou Gehrig’s disease. But when can you succeed with a strategy of, “if we post it, it has a chance to take off, right?” Almost never.

I have been thinking and talking about this a lot with the Taoti team. We have discussed and sorted through how designing a specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART) outreach strategy will raise the odds of getting your video, website or campaign to show measurable results.  So, how do we do that?

Effective advocacy hinges on something we strongly believe in at Taoti: the power of story. Good stories provide meaning in a complicated world. They turn our attention to things we may have missed. They open our minds to new ways of thinking and acting in the world. Unfortunately, many organizations and companies are afraid to embrace the enormous power of storytelling and do not demonstrate the necessary mental, emotional, and financial capital to unleash it.

Best intentions don’t translate into impact. Getting stories passed peer-to-peer is not something that just happens. But they can be jump-started by SMART outreach. This requires planning, skilled execution, coordination across channels, evaluation, adjustment and old-fashioned on-the-ground determination.

So, how do you conduct SMART outreach?

First, line up and prioritize all of the specific components of your effort so that the launch is well coordinated and seamless. A strategy team can help develop a plan that will reach your target audiences and help promote the campaign. A clearly-defined strategic plan acts as the blueprint to guide all of the subsequent promotional activity and marketing strategies.

What are the metrics that will show success for your program? For some, it’s just getting views and likes on Facebook. For others it’s more specific, like raising a certain amount of money through donations. Make sure what you choose what can realistically be measured.

Pick an approach within your means. Recommendations may include Facebook and Twitter, and Instagram strategies, email distribution, blogger relations, search engine optimization, online advertising, traditional broadcast PR, and even games, contests or guerilla tactics. Just don’t try to tackle everything at once unless you know you can cover it all. The fewer, the better, in most cases. Building on small successes is sometimes better than failing at an unachievable goal. Wherever possible, you should also bake in training and evaluation, ensuring that you are setup to execute and evaluate outreach successfully in the future. It’s also good to set proper internal expectations around what’s possible. For example, it’s very rare to both drive engagement with Facebook and also drive traffic away from Facebook to another site.

Knowing the appropriate timing for building a strategy and then executing on it are both crucial to success. Moving as fast as possible into action is the way to go, but only after you’ve thought through the opportunity and grounded the program in a strategic plan. As part of that plan, it’s also a good idea to ask your internal team, “What do we do if it works?” (This became the dominant theme of the immediate aftermath of the small group of people who first started the Ice Bucket Challenge.)

It’s critical to integrate marketing and distribution plans while moving through the creative concepting phase of the project. To see the most success, marketing and distribution should be an integrated, intentional tangent to the creative process, not just an afterthought.

If you follow these foundational tips for creating a smart outreach strategy, then the next and most important step — implementation –has a much better chance of working efficiently and effectively, and can position you to quickly build on your success.

-Stacy Whittle, Business Development Strategist, Taoti Creative

At Taoti Creative, we love this stuff. And we love working on it with brilliant partners. So chime in with questions, comments, and other ideas, because the only way we’re going to make this happen is when we do it together. Give me a call at 202-664-4013.