Using the Message Matrix in Communications – An Overview

Political season is well upon us in the United States (for my International readers, both of you, you might find this interesting as well) and one of the tried-and-true keys to developing a message in a political/issues campaign quickly is to use a message matrix.

A message matrix lets you set up a grid and take a look at your situation and helps you answer the following questions:

1. What can your opponents/activists/competition say about your organization/product/etc?

2. What can your opponents/activists/competition say about themselves?

3. What can your organization say about itself/product/etc.?

4. What can your organization say about your opponents/activists/competition?

A basic message matrix

 

When you take the time to sit down and look at your matrix, this is the time you need to take a critical look at your organization and your competition. Be honest with your organization’s strengths and weakness, and develop your potential messages accordingly. As a part of the message box, you might want to conduct a SWOT and/or PESTLE analysis, depending on your time.

If you look at your competition or activist groups in advance, a message matrix can help you organize your thoughts as you prepare questions, responses and talking points before you need them. It’s always good to show the executive leadership you’re prepared in advance for any media problems they might run into. It can also help you determine those messages, talking points, and possible responses on the fly if you need to.

This is just an overview of the message box, we’ll get into closer detail soon enough. But keep in mind, these messages will probably need to be vetted by your legal department, executive leadership, etc.

Where Does PR Go From Here?

“The Road goes ever on and on…”
J.R.R. Tolkien

(We’re taking a break from our usual lovable business advice column to bring you the following message)

Public Relations has a PR problem.

I know, a lot of people have heard that very lead over the years. But we really have a problem, and it’s getting worse, not better. In the past few years we’ve seen things from prominent PR firms astroturfing online campaigns to loosely-termed “PR Reality TV” shows provide an unrealistic view of public relations, an ABC show that portrays us all with a fine veneer of “we’ll do anything to save our clients” BS, and some of our worst representatives getting the most attention from the press. (Lizzie Grubman ring any bells?)

And what do we in PR do about it?

Not enough.

I remember when I finally received my degree in PR and advertising. Not more than thirty minutes after commencement I was talking with my dad, who congratulated me on finally getting the degree and then dropped a verbal pipe bomb of his own on me.

“Congratulations. You’re now a professional bullshit artist.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to step up and take back what it is public relations professionals do for a living. We have allowed this to happen. Years of not pointing out the weak actions of public relations professionals have allowed the media, and those activists who love to attack us as corporate liars, to frame us as unethical, lying bastards.

But these same people never want to be held up to the same standard of professionalism. The irony in this is that the same members of the media and activists (right or left, anti-corporate or not) who decry public relations as craven “spin masters” and liars who are busy “telling people what to think” use many of the same tactics created by public relations practitioners throughout the years on their own supporters. If we’re going to hold PR people up to a predisposed view, then these detractors need to be held to the same standard.

(It’s called the “Agenda Setting Theory” and we’ll get into a soon enough. But let me say with the increase in digital media, PR people have many new means to hold the media up to our own standards.)

It is because of public relations’ poor image that those professionals whose work is exemplary, people who should be held up as examples of ethical practitioners with a strong work ethic are immediately under suspicion of being “just another flack.” It’s true that there are poor PR professionals, those who haven’t been trained in PR (yes, a successful PR pro is trained beyond just the regular view of “I’m a writer” or “I’m a people person”), just like there are unethical journalists, or bad teachers, or misleading activist groups.

“If we’re not running offense, we’re running defense. And if we’re not playing defense… there’s some clever sports analogy that explains what happens then.”
Allison Janney as “C.J. Cregg”
“The West Wing”

Our default view as communications professionals appears to be one of “we’re writers. We communicate. We’re ‘people’ people.” What we don’t promote enough, or study enough, is the importance of strategy in communications and in business. (which involves quite a bit of research (which you’ll learn when you start to study for your APR or a business degree)

We are rarely brought into the upper echelon decision making, because we’re not only seen as, but want to promote ourselves as, just “writers.” According to a 1999 white paper by crisis management expert Jim Lukaszewski, a management consultant explained to public relations professionals why they would rarely be able to address the concerns of the C-Suite. And it was a shock to many of the PR professionals in the audience. For all of our talk about the importance of communicating and writing in public relations, few professionals are able to show the C-Suite the impact that we have on those numbers that are important to them. Finances, sales, increase in profits.

(And don’t give me the “advertising equivalent” argument – that’s the biggest load of BS that public relations has ever come up with)

I give PRSA some credit for trying to improve the professionalism of practitioners around the country, with the APR program and now the organization’s new MBA initiative, tying public relations closer to business schools (where it needs to be). This is only the start of the necessary push to improve public relations’ image. It took us a long time to dig into this hole, it’s going to take us a long time to get out of it.

Why should PR professionals stick up for what we do? I’ll let Ron Silver’s character from “The West Wing” respond for me. (please ignore the politics if it’s not your thing, but the underlying sentiment is solid.)

Final Cut Pro X – Is This Finally Adobe’s Moment?

Recently, and to much early acclaim, Apple released the newest edition of their professional video editing market standard Final Cut Pro editing suite, Final Cut Pro X. A long needed update to the Final Cut product line, it was eagerly anticipated by video editors for what it might provide for the next generation of projects.

What editors got was, apparently, a steroid-ramped version of iMovie. Don’t get me wrong, iMovie is a nice little video program, and well worth the money you don’t have to spend to get it (when you get a Mac). To state that video geeks were upset is putting it mildly, with so many people complaining about the new product, and doing something really out of character for rabid Mac fans, rating the product one star on the Apple App Store. (a large number of ratings for this product are currently one star).  And no less a video blogging master, and Apple fan, than Robert Scoble has come out stating that heads need to roll for leaving out basics from Final Cut Pro X, such as removing the ability for multi-camera projects. (and the discussion on his blog has been lively, to say the least)

(As I’ve pointed out in the past, there are programs on the PC end that do what iMovie does – some take a little more work to get there, but you have a better editing experience (aka – they are a couple of steps above grandmaware). Primarily Sony’s Vegas Studio suite, and maybe Avid. But Vegas is only available on the Windows platform)

So where does Adobe fit into this?

Adobe’s Premiere Pro CS 5.5 is fairly comparable to Final Cut Pro, and has the added benefit of working on Mac and PC systems. As part of Adobe’s Production Premium Creative Suite, it comes bundled with After Effects, Adobe’s visual effects graphics program, Photoshop, a newly-revamped Adobe Audition audio editing software and many other programs.

Could Adobe fill in the gap now left open by Apple, who’s response to the Final Cut Pro X outcry has been, in typical Apple fashion, to state that

How dare you question the glowing Apple? You’ll take your Final Cut Pro X and like it, or you can stick with Final Cut Pro 7 for your old projects. For your questioning, you must purchase two Macbook Pros, an iPad and an Apple TV (for the hell of it). Now go forth and sin no more…

If Adobe’s smart, they’ll leap at the chance to point out how Premiere Pro will allow you to continue multi-camera projects and other details that Apple left out of Final Cut Pro X. Apple has left some wondering if they are willing to slow their support for the professional market, which they have done in the past, and if another company will step up to the plate and take advantage of this opening.

Using Technology to Save Global Languages

We’re taking a quick break from our usual social media and communications strategy posts to look at an amazingly cool use of technology.

Today I stumbled across Endangered Languages – an effort by the folks at Google to help preserve the over 3,000 languages around the world that are on the verge of going extinct, threatened with extinction, or at risk or becoming extinct. According to Google, 50% of the languages that are in use today are expected to vanish off the face of the Earth by 2100 – silent forever, echoing in the past. And these languages aren’t just located where people might expect them to be, in small third world nations (though this is just as true there), but throughout the United States and Europe as well.

Check out Google’s video about the importance of a project like this, and then check out Endangered Languages for more info.

Is this a Post-Blog Era?

An interesting question to ask, but it’s something that I’ve been pondering for a while. Ev Bogue brought this back to the front of my mind recently with his Google+ post stating his belief that we are in a post-blogging era.

I thought about it – I haven’t posted on here in a few months, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been creating content. In fact, between my Facebook page, Twitter account, InstagramTumblr (which currently is where I’m sorting through Instagram) and even Google+, I’m creating a lot more content and engaging with a lot of people, even if my blog doesn’t reflect that. (And this doesn’t even count my top secret new project or the Rugby SuperSite)

Is this really a blog-free era? And if so, what does this mean for companies (if GM is to be believed, buying Facebook ads doesn’t help with sales) or personal brands/regular people who are interesting in elevating their profile? These are some of the ideas I’ll be tackling in the near future here.  I’m curious about what your thoughts on the issue are.

– BH

SEO is a “Window,” not a Destination

As ever in social media, there is an ongoing argument – this one about the importance, or non-importance, of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in your social media efforts.  Those on the “pro” side stating that without SEO you will never receive traffic to your Web site, and those on the “con” side countering that SEO does not allow you to be truly engaging in your communications and that it’s just “gaming Google” and selling products like ScribeSEO. I tend to look for a middle ground.  SEO can play a part in your social media planning, but without additional communications streams, be it blog posts or other engaging modes, SEO is worthless.  Gearing every post with special SEO rules and ignoring the fact that your readers are mostly regular people who are checking your site out. And SEO does help when you are working in tags, such as YouTube, or even tagging blog posts.

My take on this is simple, yet as complex as you wish to make it.

SEO gives your reader a glimpse through the window of your house.

Reader engagement (including social networking engagement) invitingly opens the door for them,

Compelling and storytelling content keeps them returning for more.

All need to be in balance, all need to be approached in different ways – depending on your needs. Providing your social media communications a level of harmony that people find irresistible.

Playing the Numbers Game

It’s easy to be lured into playing the numbers game in social media, or any kind of communications activity – basing your success on how many Facebook fans you have or how many people follow you on Twitter. These numbers tend to be arbitrary. Many times an organization will see a level of success with how they run their social media program and use those numbers to validate a need to not examine, tweak, or improve an organization’s program – often to their detriment.

This kind of strategy is a double-edged sword, because invariably other companies in your industry have larger follower numbers and those numbers can easily be used to detract from your accomplishments.

One of the best ways to avoid falling into this trap is to properly prepare your social media strategy, complete with an audit of your organization’s needs and how you are meeting those goals and objectives.

But you have to have a plan first. What do you want your social media campaign to accomplish? Very few organizations have the leisure to engage in social media without having a clear and measurable goal with a return on your investment in social media. It requires that your organization start off by asking some questions.

Continue reading “Playing the Numbers Game”