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How to Craft Compelling Messages for Patrons

by | Dec 14, 2022 | 0 comments

by Camille Gamboa, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Director, SAGE Publishing

With constant push notifications, overflowing inboxes, and multimedia coming across multiple devices, how can you make your messages compelling enough that patrons will read and engage?

In my role at SAGE Publishing, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to learn from Victoria Dew, founder and CEO of Dewpoint Communications. Victoria has been incredible in helping my colleagues and me cut through all of the “noise” and improve how we communicate within our organization. I spent some time with her and asked her to share some of her best advice for academic librarians who are working to ensure that their invaluable resources and services are used by students and faculty.

Camille Gamboa: Can you share a little bit about your background, including your work in internal communications?

Victoria Dew

Victoria Dew: I have been working in both internal and external communications, but with a focus on internal communications, for more than 15 years – mostly overseas, mostly in New Zealand. And it might be of interest that I was for a time the communications manager for the National Library of New Zealand and National Archives of New Zealand. So I have some experience with librarians, though not in an academic setting.

Since then, I’ve worked across all different kinds of organizations, different industries and sectors. These days, I run a company focused on the intersection of internal communications, employee experience, and the future of work.

CG: The readers of this blog are doing a lot of communicating within their organizations, yet many don’t have robust internal communication communications teams. What’s the best advice that you can give to those who want to improve how they communicate within an organization but now may not be heavily resourced?

VD: I’ve found that when we don’t feel like we have the head count, tools, technology, etc that we believe we need sometimes there’s a tendency to think, ‘if only I had these resources then I could do these things’ and just stop there. Of course, it’s important to try to get those resources, but sometimes we feel like we can’t do anything right without more resource . But with internal communications, it can be as much about mindset and approach as it is having the resources; sometimes it can be as simple as just shifting the way we think about communications.

One thing you can easily do is decide first what is it that you’re trying to achieve and get into the mindset of being audience-centric before you write your message. In organizational communications, there’s a tendency to think first about what we want to tell people – what we want them to know. It can be helpful to flip that and think, what would be valuable for them? And then the way we communicate shifts because it becomes less about what we want and more about putting ourselves in their shoes and imagining what they are interested in, what’s in it for them, and what is the problem they are trying to solve? Sometimes people know the problems they have and sometimes they don’t – there’s an education piece to undertake. Just that simple switch to understanding the user can be really helpful and can help you to make the communications that you do have work smarter for you.

CG: So this as a follow up to that, is it possible to do that at a macro level? I can easily see how that would work in a one-on-one situation. But how do you do that in a situation where you’re talking to a big group, like through an e-mail, for example?

VD: There will never be a ‘one-size-fits-all,’ so not everyone in a big group e-mail will want the same things or have the same needs. So, wherever possible we want to create smaller groups and audience segments.
When that’s not possible, even in the same communication, when you organize it you can call out what is top of mind for specific audiences. For example, you know faculty will have different needs than students, s o make sure to cover the needs of both groups front and center if you have to do it all in one e-mail.

It just starts with putting yourself in the shoes of the audience and talking to them. Imagine a conversation in which you’re fielding g the questions they would ask you if they could. Try to anticipate those and answer them proactively. It makes the communication more powerful.

CG: Librarians often must be their own advocates within their institutions as they ask for what they need to be successful. Yet, for many, the idea of having to self-advocate or “pitch” an idea to whoever holds power feels unnatural or intimidating. How can people in this situation feel confident as they communicate? What are some tips you can provide them?

VD: The first thing I would say is that there’s a mindset shift needed here. I don’t love the idea of pitching because that creates a power imbalance it assumes and it is going to be intimidating because you behave as though someone else, has the power. But we need to remember that every one of us has expertise in our areas. And so once again, it’s about thinking about the problem that your colleagues are trying to solve.

What’s in it for them? What would be helpful to them in meeting their own objectives and their own challenges? And when you communicate about your resources and services, think about how they help your colleagues solve a problem. How is what you are offering or proposing a solution to a problem they already know they have and are very interested in solving? Because then you look like help. Then it’s being a good colleague. You’re supporting them in being successful. And then it doesn’t feel like you’re pitching, it’s, ‘I have an idea for how you can do your job.’ You know how they can be more successful.

Think of it as being interested and curious about the problems other people are trying to solve and how your expertise is part of solving those problems. That mindset shift will make things more interesting and a lot less scary when we think about how what we do help support our colleagues.

And where you can, go back to the data. If you have data and insight about how what you’ve done in the past has been effective, it makes that conversation easier as well.

CG: People are bombarded with messages and requests on a daily basis, and even if it comes from within your organization, it’s easy for your message to get lost. How do you make yours stand out?

VD: People want to feel like they’re having a conversation. So, tone of voice is really important. Try a tone that is less formal, friendly, and light. Reflect on what you see in the consumer space. It’s accessible, right? On Instagram, sometimes I’m scrolling and there’s an ad for something that I didn’t know I wanted. But it feels like it’s been served to me because they have a sense that it’s something I would want. And their tone makes it feel like they already know me.

A friendly tone meets someone where they are, especially in an academic setting where we’re used to a more formal tone and a higher word count is valued. Wherever we can reduce the number of words it’s helpful. People (even very smart ones!) have very short attention spans, so they want us to get our message to them as quickly as possible, meeting them where they are.

Before planning a communication, always ask:

  • What do you want this person to know?
  • What do you want them to feel?
  • And what do you want them to do?

Make it as easy for them to engage with very clear calls to action. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding the call to action, which is often at the bottom of an email, moving it to the top and putting it in bold. If you do nothing else, you’ll improve an email 100%.

CG: This has all been very helpful. Any other final thoughts that you’d like to share?

VD: Internal communications is part of how we create really strong organizations, no matter whether it’s in a corporate setting or an academic setting. It’s how we help people to be successful in achieving the overall goals of the organization, the university, company, or whatever it is. Communications is really about bringing those goals to life and making them real for people. Having empathy and compassion for what is top of mind for people and what would be valuable to people and meeting them where they are helps everyone to be more successful.


About the Author:

My name is Camille Gamboa (she/her) and I’ve joined The Charleston Hub’s blog to write about all things communications. I am the corporate communications and public affairs director at SAGE Publishing, where I employ various communication strategies to brand SAGE amongst the scholarly community, media, policymakers and public. I also work with groups in the US and across the trans-Atlantic to demonstrate the value of social and behavioral science to those outside of academia. I have a Master of Arts in communication from Pepperdine University and a certificate for women and leadership from Antioch University. I currently reside in the greater DC-area with my husband and two young daughters. @CamilleGamboa

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