In the rush to be good at all things digital some of the core basics of communications, pr and marketing can be forgotten. So if that's you it's time to put some retro comms back in your life.
By Darren Caveney
We had a huge declutter of the house at the weekend. In the process we ended up saying goodbye to a wireless music system – we used to call them hi-fi’s – which seven years ago was ‘state of the art’. We could stream music all around the house. It sounded great, and the £price whilst high seemed like a good long-term investment. About three years later the software hadn’t kept pace with change and slowly but surely we stopped using it. Now we’re selling it - judging by eBay we’ll be lucky to get £30 for it.
But whilst in the throes of de-cluttering I found our old retro-style radio – pictured above. You know, with a tuning dial and everything. It can pick up Radio 4 for the Today show and I can listen to the test match. It has a lovely crackly sound and there’s not a DAB or docking point in sight. Oh and it’s not apple compatible either.
And do you know what – it’s a joy to use. It knows the basics and it does them really well.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not being an old fart, well, maybe a little. But not all new things are better. Not every shiny new thing retains its shine or lives up to the hype. Not every heralded virtual trend comes to much and there’s a comfort in some of good old fashioned basics.
And this is never truer than in communications. Because some good old skool, retro comms skills, principles and processes will still knock most new fads into the proverbial.
I’m all for innovation – I can remember persuading a CEX eight long years ago to let our organisation have a Twitter account. It felt like I was putting my neck on the line at the time, but I did so because innovation is important.
And I like to think I’m always striving for innovation and creativity with my baby, comms2point0.
But there has to be a balance – the new and shiny isn’t a replacement for sound, planned, measured communications.
You still need to do the hard yards and have a great plan. The tactics will follow - tactics should never lead a plan. They emerge from a good plan. And if we don't do this we're no better than a service area demanding a leaflet or a web site or an app or Pokemon Go.
Some of the questions I’ve been asked by organisations a lot this year include ‘Should we have a Snapchat account? ‘Do we need to be on Instagram?’
My answer is always the same – what does your comms plan point to and suggest? What you’re your research and intel say? It might be the right thing to try but equally it might not.
So we work on the communications strategy and then we take an informed view.
Why being strategic will help your career
There is a second compelling reason for being strategic. In my experience it is the people who nail being strategic - and by this I mean good at planning, smart with intel, clear on the priorities, savvy with evaluation and reporting upwards - who nab the senior roles.
Strategic versus tactical, scientist versus artist, you've seen the debates. Personally I think you need to be a mix of them all to be an effective communicator right now.
What we don’t need to be is all over Snapchat in danger of Dad dancing at a wedding. Virtual trends, new apps, video this, that and the other. We absolutely need to know what they are and where they can help us as a part of the wider comms and marketing mix. But we can’t hang our hat on any one of them alone. Because by the time you’ve finished reading this article there’ll be another dozen ‘comms must-do’ new kids on the block anot whilst another element of traditional comms will fall off a cliff, apparently.
Your chief executive, leader or boss won't be overly impressed that you can tweet, post to Instagram or catch a Wortortle (Google it if you’re unsure). They will impressed that you can quickly pull together an effective comms plan in the space of 30 minutes if a drama lands from left field or that you can create a campaign which delivers against a brief and with a proven ROI.
It's what will mark you out, get you respected, and maybe even keep you in a job in the coming years.
This doesn’t mean switching off to new opportunities to explore
I believe as communicators that we need to know about all of the key platforms, channels and tools open to us right now - understand where they could fit into the marketing mix and support our comms plan. Essentially, exploit them as and when we need to.
But we need to be careful…
Getting too distracted by 'the shiny’, be it gifs, videos, Snapchat, or whatever else we're told is the biggest thing to hit comms ever, distracts us from the sound, business-driven basics of having great comms and campaign plan.
It was true 20 years ago when Anne Gregory spent three-years drumming it into me and my fellow pr graduates. And I think it's even truer now.
What does you communications plan template look like?
Now there are dozens of communications plans templates around. They range from the very simple, such as ROSIE (research, objectives, strategy, implementation and evaluation) through to much more elaborate and detailed.
It’s vital that you have one which you know inside out suits you and your needs.
Here’s one I have fallen back on, time and time again. In fact I used it in the multi award-winning Come Back to Nursing campaign so I know it works and I’m sharing it here in case it’s useful. It’s simple, right? The best things in life usually are.
Don’t get pigeon-holed
So my plea is this: By all means learn new skills and continue looking for fresh opportunities to innovate. But don't just be a magpie. It will hold you back and pigeonhole you. Be the smart eagle who hovers high, watches, makes a plan and then delivers it quickly and efficiently.
OK. Enough with the bird analogies - I'm beginning to sound like Bill Oddie.
Why ‘retro comms’ makes so much sense
So, turning full circle, I’ve decided that the next book I read is The Real Mad Men by Andrew Cracknell. The real mad men and ad geniuses of 50’s and 60s Maddison Avenue. I’ve had the book for two years and not read a page because I’ve been so busy reading about the latest algorithm change or must-have social media app.
But those folks knew so, so much. So I’m going to read all about the way they turned the advertising world, and wider world to a degree, on its head.
Because sometimes looking back and learning is more important than looking forward.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and a creative communications consultant
say hello @darrencaveney
pic by me