Part of a series on key takeaways from The Communications Plan session 

Our communications plans live in master calendars – both external (we looked at VMFA’s long-range exhibitions and programs schedules) and internal (we looked at a departmental planning calendars).To be effective, calendars must be integrated and dynamic (aka subject to change).

A giant white board in Cecilia's office keeps exhibition dates and deadlines for media, promotions, and events top of mind. Coffee helps too.

Suzanne agreed that the optimal internal calendar layers working schedules across channels, such as press announcements, story arcs for social media, drop dates for major elements of ad campaigns, and promotions roll-outs. It goes without saying that communications timelines are all always subject to change. Being (appropriately) responsive trumps sticking to the plan.

Electronic calendars (I use Google’s) are free and sharable. Each channel can be color-coded and easily hidden or expanded for a focused or comprehensive view. So far, my team mostly has used our shared Google calendar to coordinate and track meetings and programs, a more informal and dynamic counterpart to our institution-wide Outlook calendar. Since The Communications Plan session, I’ve started to experiment with additional layers. In my calendar at left below, orange indicates meetings/programs and blue is a revamped news release timeline. In the coming weeks, I’ll play with three additional layers: social media, advertising, and marketing promotions/events. 

(left) Cecilia's shared Google calendar has become overwhelmed with meeting planning so will evolve to include additional layers (right) Suzanne's calendar captures a month of exhibition, program, and release dates.

Potential challenges:

*Organizational structures can make integration tricky –> as a result calendars don’t tell the whole story and can reinforce institutional silos.

*We often need to respond to trends and issues faster than we can document a plan –> calendars fall out of date. Digital tools make staying on track easier than ever before, but coordinating and sharing updates requires finesse. I predict (based on previous personal experience and Suzanne’s evolving practices) that the social media layer will be the most challenging on this front.

What do(es) your communications calendar(s) look like? What kinds of procedures do you have in place to integrate and share updates? To stay on track?


Communications: Back to Basics

Our first topic session took place by old-fashioned phone call. All those plans to innovate with Google hangout or Skype were sidelined when I lost internet (for a week!). My mentor modeled a positive WiFi-free attitude: “More time to read, dream and sleep!” The night before we were scheduled to convene, I accepted that Comcast wouldn’t resolve the issue in time, and we brainstormed a “plan b” by text message:

SH: Neither of us can Skype from work. I have never done Google chat. Let’s not make this more difficult – innovation required?

CW: Shall we just be old fashioned and talk by phone from the office using email to share links if needed and I’ll take good notes?

Our call lasted just over an hour, and we covered a lot of ground–too much (and too attuned to our specific day-to-day procedures) to hold your attention here. Instead of a play-by-play, we’ll share key takeaways in a series of posts over the next week.

UPDATE: First takeaway topic is calendars. What kind of communications planning calendars does your team maintain? And what are your mechanisms for coordinating and sharing updates? We’ll integrate your input into the upcoming post.

On the Docket: The Communications Plan

Coming soon, our first scheduled conversation. Topic is The Communications Plan, including:

  • Strategy
  • Long-range scheduling, sequencing, timing
  • Written/electronic materials
  • Social Media
  • The Press Room
  • Vocus for contact list research and management
  • Harvesting coverage
  • Measuring results

Who needs to know what, when? And how do we tell them so it sticks? If there’s a backbone to our profession, this might be it. Continue reading

The Story of Self, The Story of Us, The Story of Now

Another discovery from the storytelling workshopMarshall Ganz, community organizer and lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Ganz believes humans tell stories to convey hope and motivate one another to act. He identifies three types of stories as powerful tools for social change (from a 2009 article “Why Stories Matter” published in Sojourners):

1. The Story of Self. Why do you do what you do? How are you (and your commitment to your mission) unique? How did you become who you are? An organization’s leaders should know their stories of self. We all should. A clear, compelling story of self helps others understand and respect our motivations for acting and may motivate them to act as well. The story of self builds relationships. Season 5 of The Wire presents a terrific example. Continue reading

3 Ways to be a (Better) Storyteller

The big takeaway of Andy Goodman’s workshop: your organization should have a handful of stories (5-6) that every one of its staff, from leaders to volunteers, know by heart. These stories verify that we’re making good on the lofty promises of our mission and values statements. (Take a quick look at any nonprofit’s mission, usually posted on its website, and the need for concrete proof with a human face becomes obvious).

So how to craft these stories? Turns out, we all already know how, instinctively. In the workshop, we had two minutes to think of a story on a designated theme, then two minutes each to recount them in rapid succession around our tables. We brainstormed qualities our stories had in common: a hero, an emotional hook like humor or nostalgia, a colorful sense of context, obstacles to overcome, a resolution.

The best stories are not necessarily original or complex. Pixar packs a masterful, timeless, and very simple story--capturing the complete arc of a relationship--into six minutes in its 2009 animated feature "Up."

While the basics come naturally, Andy talked about bad habits he sees over and over again in nonprofit storytelling. Here are three common pitfalls to avoid: Continue reading

Once Upon a Time

At Suzanne’s suggestion, I’ll spend tomorrow morning at an AAM workshop, Storytelling: The First Big Thing with Andy Goodman, an author and advocate for nonprofits, educational and cultural institutions, or in his words “good causes.” Here’s a trailer from the session presented for another group last year:

Before the workshop, we’re to come up with 2-3 short ideas for stories about our museums’ contributions to their communities and visitors’ lives. Here are my first attempts: Continue reading

Is being mission driven important?

There’s nothing like being the expert from out-of-town to provide perspective. I was in Chicago on an American Association of Museums peer review assignment last week at a venerable museum, meeting with the staff and reviewing their work. While intended to be a service to the host museum, the experience invariably clarifies matters back home as well.

Evaluating the public dimension of an organization requires viewing the impressions from its many activities, actions and messages. One automatically goes first to the mission statement but there are almost always other missions being fulfilled by staff.

  • What is your mission statement?
  • What is your vision statement?
  • Are these reflected in the strategic plan?

And most importantly, does anyone pay attention to those guidelines? How do you stay on mission (or not) at your institution. Is it essential or are there exceptions?