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Big Picture Thinking from the Trenches

January 25, 2011

“Voice from the Trenches” is written by Alex Moore, a freelance writer and the Marketing/Communications Manager for Prellwitz Chilinski Associates.

I love January. After December’s crush of pre-holiday deadlines, January lets us think big picture and set an overall marketing direction for the year. For those new to the industry, the month’s strategic planning conversations offer opportunities to advance new ideas, or at least achieve a larger understanding of the goals and benefits of our day-to-day toil!

One way I do this is by creating a “messaging summary” – an easy-to-read one-sheeter listing significant current projects, key office initiatives, and 3-4 concise phrases about our firm’s identity and direction. As a practical document, it provides the DNA for my work throughout the year: key positioning words and messages and ready-made content for emails, proposals, and PR efforts. As a strategic exercise, sharing the summary with my team helps me influence the firm’s big-picture direction and serves as a springboard for planning discussions with Principals and other marketing staff.

So, where does the “messaging summary” start? With a blank page and a few questions:

  • What are your most significant recent projects, and what do they say about who we are?
  • What projects are going to be completed this year, and what do they say about what the firm can achieve this year?
  • What’s happening in the studio that core clients need to know?
  • Who would be an ideal new client? What type of project would be a perfect fit in 2011?

I recommend giving your brain a running start by reviewing the previous year’s marketing plan and a list of current projects. Then dive in. List your most significant work and write freely about your company, its reputation, and its positioning in the industry. Return to the document over the course of a few days and share it with Principals and your marketing team to identify the words and ideas that ring most true and best unite the projects, clients, and activities.

I’ve found all the work is well worth it. In the short-term, the process of developing the document influences the overall marketing plan – clarifying the firm’s direction and providing a menu of content for your marketing vehicles. Over the longer haul, it’s a valuable baseline reference. Stuck on a question about relevant experience for a proposal? Presentation feeling too generic? Pull up the marketing summary for ideas.

The document is also valuable as an internal communication. A comprehensive marketing plan makes for a dull presentation, but a few simple, concise messages that speak directly to your firm’s direction and differentiators are powerful. They reinforce the office culture, foster office pride and lift day-to-day morale, and support business development. Don’t be bashful about presenting it an office meeting or emailing it around.

Looking at a blank page and thinking about a company’s soul isn’t everyone’s idea of a warm winter tradition, so I understand if you don’t adopt this exact approach. But, before diving into another year of putting out day-to-day fires, at least consider the simple exercise of stepping back to ask questions about your firm—what makes it unique and why it matters in the industry. How you document your conclusions is up to you, but the process it’s illuminating and empowering. It will make you happier to leave the holidays behind and take on the year ahead.

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