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MarCom Matters

December 2009
Issue: #2

On Preparation

Before embarking on his military career, my father worked as a painter.

Not the Van Gogh kind, but the Eldin Bernecky kind.

Eldin was the eccentric house painter on the Murphy Brown TV show and was as quixotic as he was creative. So much so that it took him six years to paint the inside of Murphy’s house.

One of the things I learned from him (my father, not Eldin), was the necessity of preparing a surface before painting or staining.

Maybe it meant filling the cracks in a wall or maybe sanding and cleaning the woodwork. He always said that good preparation was the most important part of the job. I mean, it certainly didn’t qualify as the most thrilling.

This was the lesson I recalled a couple of weeks ago when I stood staring at the scratched interior doors that hang in our kitchen and family room.

You see, the previous owners had two small children and one large dog – a formidable team when it comes to wanton destruction.

So after five years of executing delicate evasive maneuvers, I once again peeked inside my trusty bag of excuses. This time, sad to say, I found nothing. No way out. It was time to suck it up and do the work.

But when it came to preparing the doors, I really didn’t want to spend time sanding them!

After all, sanding is tedious. Sanding is dusty. Sanding is time consuming. Sanding is tedious. Sanding requires careful attention to detail. Oh, and it’s tedious too.

On my right shoulder sat the good painter encouraging me to take the doors off the hinges and do it the right way. On my left was the evil painter whispering, “Just dab some stain on the doggy scratches. It’ll look fine. Trust me.”

But I knew I couldn’t trust him. And I knew where that dabbing could lead.

And so it is when rolling out new communication projects.

They often begin with a casual, “Hey, we need a…”

It could be a white paper, website facelift, case study, presentation, sales letter, or Facebook page.

The hardest, dustiest and most tedious thing to do is to prepare – making sure the piece has a singular purpose while fitting into the larger messaging framework.

The urge to treat the project like dabbing on some stain is huge because there are so many other things to do.

But what can happen instead is that the finished project stands out like a splotch on the door, adding little value and giving your communication strategy an inconsistent look.

And even if you don’t end up doing it all over again, the project may just sit there unused or ineffective.

So how can you prepare each project while keeping the tedium and dust to a minimum?

Keep it simple and repeatable by asking the three big questions:

  1. Who is our intended audience? No fair saying, “Everyone!” A narrow audience is a happy audience because each reader knows you had him or her in mind when creating the piece.
  2. What is the single most important thing we want to stress? Each of us is inundated with thousands of messages daily – but we recall only a handful. Emphasizing one message makes each deliverable more memorable and more likely achieve your goal.
  3. What action do we want the reader to take next? It’s easy to think that our audience knows what to do next.  But cueing readers to take a specific next step helps guide them along a complex sales process.  A next step could be: Sign up for a demo… Download an ROI calculator or white paper… Ask for more information… Agree to participate in a survey. Highlight and repeat the request so there is no doubt what to do.

The refinished doors look splendid. It was worth the work.

So next time you catch yourself staring at the communication project on top of your to-do list, listen to the good painter and break out the sandpaper.