EXPECTATIONS: Setting a goal that aligns with the calendar and resources

Perhaps the most important decision of a communications campaign is setting the goal. Seem simple? It can be — but it requires answering a lot of questions, all about making sure that goal is actually achievable.

The most important questions about that goal is whether it’s a realistic expectation given the calendar and the resources going behind it.

In many cases, the trade associations, corporate offices and nonprofits that make up the animal kingdom of DC’s political landscape aren’t asking themselves the right questions when developing their public affairs campaigns. Is the goal granular? Is it specific in both time and metrics? Knowing how crowded the daily media menu appears, are their messages compelling enough, and appearing with the proper frequency and weight?

Concrete goals, answering the right questions about time and money, prevent “campaign fatigue” from setting in, and prevent stakeholders from walking away from the campaign commitments. That’s especially true if the communications goal is written into a strategic brief that can become a management tool.

I’ve witnessed organizations invest millions into smart, creative ad campaigns — but walk away when they failed to allow enough time for the campaign to work. In those instances, it was a failure to invest the calendar. Their expectations were unrealistic because their calendar was too short. Capturing what should be the appropriate time period as an activation calendar in a strategic brief, approved by internal stakeholders, is critical.

I’ve also watched organizations agree to reasonable calendars, but then inexplicably deprive their campaigns of even modest budgets, in the midst of activation, without adjusting their goals. In those instances, that was a failure of leadership by starving their campaign of the financial “nutrition” it needed — the actual funds to make a difference. A detailed budget in a strategic brief, again approved by internal stakeholders, should have prevented that.

[You can read my earlier post about the importance of COLLABORATION with stakeholders here.]

It is absolutely true that you can be effective with limited means, but you have to be realistic in establishing a longer horizon to meet your goal. If you are going to have a modest budget, you have to allow more time in the activation calendar to allow that investment to grow. Brand equity, or message value, can accrue over time.

And it is absolutely true that you can reach an ambitious goal in a limited time, but you won’t be able to do that without putting muscle behind it in the form of both money and manpower.

There are real costs to the business of reaching people, influencing them and moving broad public opinion.

Organizations that set out with limited means should establish limited goals over longer calendar periods.
Organizations that are flush with manpower and cash can move in a shorter time period, but they have to commit to the full cost, and not expect to reach that goal despite turning off financial support at the midpoint.

Setting a goal is just the start of a conversation. Set the goal, then ask the questions that matter about time, manpower and resources. Then capture that thinking into a brief that serves to maintain alignment among competing issues with your internal stakeholders. That’s the best way to manage expectations, and launch a winning campaign.

#media #advertising #strategy #publicaffairs #communications