Friday, March 2, 2012
Too Much to Say, Nobody to Say It
Perhaps you have had the experience of going to a web site for a business or organization and seeing an invitation on the home page to subscribe to its e-mail newsletter. Perhaps you went a bit farther and checked out the newsletter archive on the site and discovered that the last newsletter was put out two or three years ago.
I see this sort of thing all the time in my line of work, which includes helping clients with newsletters, annual reports and other forms of public outreach. It’s part of the overall societal issue of information overload.
Everybody is being told these days that you have to have a web site, you have to be on Facebook, you have to be on Twitter. Not everybody has to, of course. The corner bodega that lives off neighborhood walk-in business can easily behave as if the Internet never happened and do just fine, thank you.
Still, for most businesses, it’s a good idea to get your story out there as much as possible, though I admittedly have a professional bias on that issue. The critical question is who’s going to do it.
Most businesses and organizations aren’t exactly adding people to handle their communications needs. What happens, typically, is that they assign the communication to an existing employee. Chances are that employee is already trying to do 45-50 hours of work in a 40-hour workweek, with no overtime authorized. If that’s the case, something has to give. If the employee is an administrative assistant, rather than a communications specialist, the communication work tends to get put on the back burner until it falls behind the stove and is lost from sight.
In some cases a business will hire a freelancer, such as myself, to take on some of the communications work on a spot basis. Again, I have a bias here, but that makes a lot of sense. Instead of having an employee who is putting off the work until everything else gets done, the organization gets an outside contractor who doesn’t get paid until the job is done. Hence, the job gets done as quickly as possible.
There’s a certain cycle I see, particularly with nonprofit organizations. Such an outfit will typically start out lean and mean and focus its energy exclusively on developing a donor base and establishing its programs. After several years of steady growth and success, people in the organization start to say the same thing to each other:
“We’re doing such great things, and nobody knows we exist.”
I’ve made a lot of money over the years from that complaint, because that’s typically when the organization decides to hire an outsider to take on the information duties. What happens next is that with someone with a financial interest in doing the communicating, the communicating gets done, and the organization sees the benefit in terms of public recognition and resultant growth.
This, then, enables the executive director to move on to a bigger operation at a bigger salary in a few years. In comes a new executive director, who decides the communications work is getting so big it should be handled in house, which often makes sense, and so I’m gone. A staff position at least partially for communications is created, and the outfit moves forward until a sour economy and the loss of a few major donors force the position to be cut or restructured.
Then, a few years later, people in the organization start saying.”We’re doing such great things and nobody knows we exist,” and they start looking for an outsider to take on the information duties. Is this the land of opportunity, or what?