Friday, March 23, 2012

Marketing could be your salvation

There's trouble brewing.

That's what I took away from a presentation by one of Canada's best economists, Don Drummond. A former banker and ex-civil servant, Drummond was the leader of the recent omnibus review of government finances in the Province of Ontario. The Drummond Report, like many others in many other jurisdictions in Canada, the US and the UK, tells pretty much the same story. Governments are awash in red ink. Economic growth is slowing. The answer is to cut spending. A lot of spending. Drummond says that when it comes to making the world a better place governments will increasingly only do the minimum. The rest of it is pretty much up to communities to figure out for themselves. And things will not get a heck of a lot better for some time.

In short, we’re on our own.

This is not new. We’ve seen this message play out in the UK with the Big Society. In the US, many state governments have said the same. Government is becoming less and less of a player in our work. More precise, government funding will be an uneven and challenging way to pay the bills for many non-profits in the foreseeable future.

The knee-jerk answer for many non-profits is to simply slash and burn. The first target is usually marketing and communications. Hold spending and cut jobs, many non-profit leaders will say. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

In this new environment one thing will separate winners from losers – results.

The non-profit that can show it does the best job will win. But there’s a catch. How do you show success?

Here’s where marketing and communications comes in. Success has to be public. If your non-profit tells its success story to three government mandarins than you will surely fail. You need the politicians to know. And your stakeholders. And the entire community. The one who is the tells the most people how successful they are will survive. To do that they will need the best communications possible. And you can’t do that if you just laid off your communications people.

There’s more. Most non-profits I know have poor communications to start with. They don’t connect well with their stakeholders and they rarely connect with the community. So, keeping the status quo for them isn’t an option. More of this kind of communicating won’t save them.

So, what needs to happen is an investment in new communications. Don’t blow the budget on ads or fancy new logos. Just get a plan together that tells your story and then figure out a way to go and tell everybody as cheaply and effectively as you can.

In these troubled times, non-profits have to communicate more, not less.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

New For Us

I’ve been basking in the glow of my new eBook, The Revolution, for a few weeks. Surprisingly, the one big question that has come out of the book launch is whether anything in it is actually “new”. My answer is that it is “New For Us”.

The free mini-book has now been downloaded 600 times. Thanks to the people who pointed out all the typos. I’ve had lots of feedback, most of it positive. The more critical thinkers among my many readers have pointed out to me. and now through this blog to you. that there is nothing novel in the book. Everything that it says has been said before. After thinking about it, I have decided that they are right.

It is more than true that the message of The Revolution is not new. However, it is also true that the acceptance of the message has not been universal.

If you are an web guru or deep marketing thinker than this is all old hat for you. The death of advertising, the fractured media landscape, the mounting cost of “free publicity” and the dearth of strategy in favour of tactics – these will all be familiar.

But most of us in the non-profit world are not gurus or deep thinkers. We toil in the trenches of community service, health care, education and international development. We know the world has changed, but we aren’t sure how. For us, we know less than what these gurus forget in a single day.

Worse, there was no one place where all these ideas live. I have read dozens of books, attended many webinars and viewed too many blogs that carried these messages. What seemed to be missing was a single, easy-to-understand narrative designed just for non-profits.

Finally, the hard truth is that too many non-profits just don’t get it. I know too many charities who have foolishly wasted their money on old strategies and tactics that have no hope of doing anything except spending money they don’t have. And they don’t even know that they’re using out-of-date communications.

So, this isn’t new and yet it is.

And because of that The Revolution has done its job.