Monday, August 20, 2012

Short, Sweet & Easy to Repeat: cornerstone to association communications

The opening general session at the ASAE annual meeting in Dallas featured a “duel” between political consultants Karl Rove and James Carville.

For many attendees, the session fell short because it really didn’t relate to our day-t0-day association management functions.

It was entertaining (for a while) but many wished (if Twitter is a good barometer) that Carville would have spent less time “clowning around” and more time on serious topics.

This was disappointing to me because Carville offered some very insightful thoughts in his Associations Now interview leading up to the convention.

Here are a couple of key points (from my perspective):

  • "If you want an effective message in your association, you've got to be committed to it 24/7. You literally have to live your message. It's got to be ingrained into all of the branding, all of the marketing, and all of your [workplace]."
  • He tells his students that "for a message to be effective, it has to be simple, relevant, and repetitive. It has to fit all three elements."
  • "Where people get into trouble is when they try to make themselves into someone they're not, [or] when you have an organization that does something that is the opposite of its message," Carville says. "You have to protect that message with everything you do. That's why I always add the dynamic of culture. ... It's got to be authentic to start. That's number one."
  • "I am very much of a content-is-the-most-important-thing [mindset]. You can have the most effective integrated social media platform and every kind of technology, but if you don't have anything to say, you're done. You can hire somebody to do that [technical stuff], but your message is something everybody's got to feel."
  • That narrative also must be short and "contained in a way that people can frame it in their minds," says Carville. "I won't give a word count, but you can't have a 59-point plan. ... Some people don't like that reduction, because they think it devalues the depth and complexity of what they do. 
  • But if you want people to know three things about you, have three parts to your message. If you want people to know nothing about you, then have nine."
I especially relate to paring messages down to three parts (remember, people remember in threes).

Simplifying your messages is not easy. My pr prof in college use to remind us that “easy reading is hard writing” and that was before Twitter trained us to write in 140 characters (or less if you want to leave room for retweeting).

All this reminds me of a quote from one of my staffers at the American Soybean Association: “Steve, make it short, sweet and easy to repeat!” And, that sums up Carville’s message on messaging and communications.