How do you get messaging to take hold within your organization?
Join Farra Trompeter, co-director, and Jennifer R. Hudson, president of Think Beyond Public Relations, as they discuss how nonprofit staff can create messaging that gets people to engage with that organization’s mission. Together they discuss important frameworks on developing messages that bring in perspectives of all stakeholders and offer tips about training others and operationalizing core values.
Farra Trompeter: Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. This is Farra Trompeter, co-director and worker-owner at Big Duck. Today we’re going to ask the question, “How do you get messaging to take hold within your organization?” Whether or not you’ve just gone through a messaging process or you’re starting this new year and you want to get that messaging to really stick, I think there is something in here for everyone. We are going to learn from and talk to Jennifer R. Hudson today.
Farra Trompeter: Jennifer uses she/her pronouns and is passionate about helping leaders communicate with greater intentionality, empathy, and focus to strengthen and grow their brands. For more than 25 years, she has developed and implemented strategic communications programs, facilitated workshops, launched businesses, and secured notable media coverage for corporations and nonprofits. Prior to launching her company Think Beyond Public Relations, Jennifer served as vice president of communications at British Airways where she oversaw external and internal communications in 18 markets. Jennifer is a certified mentor and coach with a number of organizations in South Florida that support entrepreneurs and social impact leaders. She’s accredited in public relations or an APR, and is a past president and board member of the Greater Fort Lauderdale chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Jennifer, welcome to the show.
Jennifer R. Hudson: Thanks Farra. I’m really glad to be here with you today.
Farra Trompeter: Wonderful. Well, Jennifer, you describe yourself as a “big strategic communications advocate and PR geek who is on a mission to ensure every person who works in our field sees themselves as a strategist.” Love that by the way. And I’m just wondering, like can you talk a little bit more about who you are and this lovely mission of yours?
Jennifer R. Hudson: Yeah, thank you, Farra. I learned years ago when I was working with both companies and nonprofits that even though there was an art to PR that people thought was media relations, there wasn’t a lot of science to the way that they were actually practicing it. I believe I always say this, PR is more than news media, that what we do is so much more important, so much deeper and you know this than just engaging with news media. It’s employee relations, it’s crisis communications, it’s community relations, it’s donor relations, it’s all of those things. And there are so many PR professionals themselves who don’t know that there is a structure and a framework that we can use in our work to professionalize what we do, to root out inefficiencies, to ensure we’re targeting the right audiences, to ensure we’ve got clear crisp messaging. And more importantly, which is something I’m very passionate about, that we have an opportunity to do this in an inclusive way where we’re listening to the diverse voices behind the brand, the varied voices in the organization that really make companies, make nonprofits who and what they are. I work with both companies and nonprofits soo I know that there’s some debate about whether or not, you know, I always say nonprofits should look at themselves as businesses and there are people who like completely disagree with that.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, I mean I think businesses have a lot to learn from nonprofits too.
Jennifer R. Hudson: Thank you. They do. They do. Exactly. They really do. I started my career in American Airlines corporate communications. In the corporate communications department, while we focused a lot on media relations, we also engaged with every other department. We had a great deal of respect in the organization. The leaders in the organization knew that we needed to be brought to the table for all of the big decisions that were being made because the brand could be impacted if we didn’t provide our input. And so coming from that kind of environment has just really informed the way that I practice PR. It’s like, why wouldn’t you have me at the table? I’m used to being at the table. Why wouldn’t you bring your communications department in before you make decisions, not after the fact? I just believe that we should be a part of every aspect of an organization. That we are the accountability holders.
Jennifer R. Hudson: I learned this in graduate school that there is a framework for the work that we do. It blew my mind, like literally blew my mind. Back then we called it the “RACE Formula: Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation.” Now we call it RPIE. And I just want every single PR professional to know about RPIE. I’ve used it in my career for a couple of decades now and I think that it’s so important ’cause it helps us make sure we know what we think we know in that research phase. Are we doing a communication squad? Do we know how we’re communicating effectively? Do we know really what our stakeholders think of us? Are we asking them in that planning phase, do we really understand what the messaging should be? Are we bringing people into the room who need to be a part of those conversations in the implementation phase? Are we ensuring we really have the resources to do all this great stuff we said we wanted to do in the planning phase? And then what does success look like? How are we going to measure that? How are we going to know that, you know, as Katie Delahaye Paine says, I love her, she’s a measurement guru, like when we pop that champagne cork at the end of the year, what are those champagne moments and how do we reverse engineer to ensure that we are measuring in the right way to know that we’ve been successful? Why is that important? And so I just think every PR professional should know how to do this so that when leaders come to us and they’re like, and this actually happened to me, I had a leader once who wanted his picture in the Wall Street Journal back in my corporate career. So when leaders come to us and say we want more media coverage, do you? You know, there might be more communications work that needs to happen to “get our own house in order” and ensure that our employees understand where we’re headed as an organization, how their work fits into where we want to go as an organization, whether or not we’re targeting the right people. I’m just passionate about that and I want every PR professional to approach their work with that same level of boldness and confidence and realize that when we do, we have greater impact. That we help nonprofits reach more, raise more, serve more. That there is an art and a science to our work.
Farra Trompeter: Well Jennifer, I really hear your passion coming through undoubtedly, and I think there’s so much we can say from that answer. You know, one thing I’ll just name, you’re talking a lot of this under the banner of “PR”, I think we often use “Communications” or “Communications and Marketing”. But again, a lot of the same themes that you’re identifying about being really clear of your context, knowing your goals and audiences, understanding the best approaches. And I want to pick up on something else you said a moment ago, which was you talked about varied voices and I’m just curious, how can staff create messaging that is inclusive of diverse voices and gets people to engage with that organization’s mission? What are some new ways maybe folks can approach developing messages that bring in perspectives from everyone on staff and who do you often see getting overlooked in these messaging processes? And again, how do we flip the script and bring them in?
Jennifer R. Hudson: Yeah, there are a few different things that happen when it’s time for us as communicators to create messaging. We will develop it directly with the CEO, we might develop it with senior leaders, or we might develop it with our other communications team. And all of that in my view is in a vacuum because we haven’t brought in, for example, if you’re a nonprofit, a programming person or we haven’t brought in HR or we haven’t brought in legal. All of the people who are outward facing who really have an opinion and an idea and are hearing from folks and from their stakeholders about the brand, we want those people in the room to hear from them. And so I think it’s important to consider not just the role but the level as well. We don’t only want senior leaders in these sessions.
Jennifer R. Hudson: I will give you an example: I facilitated a messaging session at the beginning of this year. There was a woman who works in the field with the clients that this nonprofit serves. Someone like her would’ve never been invited into a corporate messaging session like this had it not been for a corporate communications person like me saying we need to hear those voices. And so having her in the room speaking about how happy she was, that she actually reflected the people that she served, how she knew the impact that she was having because they would tell her. Having her in the room, made it so much validated really the messaging that sometimes I hear from folks about how they want to communicate about their organization that is not necessarily validated. Like we understood very clearly from her that you know, if we say for example, that “we really listen to our clients” or “we provide X to our clients” or “we serve them in this way,” having her say that and really give us a testimonial about her experience, validated that.
Jennifer R. Hudson: And it also did something else that was really beautiful Farra. It allowed us to validate her and to let her know that the work she was doing was important. It also gave her an opportunity to hear about the larger goals of the organization, which she may not necessarily hear if she’s out in the field unless you’ve got a nonprofit that’s doing a really good job of communicating that with their staff. She had an opportunity to hear that. She had never, for example, heard the story of the CEO and how that CEO started the organization. She had never really worked in a space like that with her colleagues in other departments and didn’t really know what they did. And so getting folks together in a room to talk about how we communicate about ourselves, what we do, why we’re unique, why people should listen to us, why we’re deserving of funding media coverage, whatever the channel is, is just so important When we involve staff in these sessions, it’s really also a boon to organizational culture, staff are more engaged. What happened in one of the instances is that the words that she used actually made it into the messaging that the organization uses. And so what comes out of these sessions when folks are engaged and involved, the messaging really needs to run like a thread everywhere they communicate. So it shows up on websites, it shows up in their grand applications, it shows up everywhere. And some of the language that she used actually made it in, it was very powerful.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, that’s great.
Jennifer R. Hudson: Can you imagine like the pride that she must have in knowing that and the engagement that she must feel with the organization knowing that she was seen and heard? I think it’s very powerful.
Farra Trompeter: Yeah, what I hear in that answer is both thinking about the roles people have and not just limiting who’s in a messaging, developing, or branding process to the senior staff, to the board, to executive leadership, really thinking about everyone and also considering proximity, who really understands your mission by like the actual work that’s happening. And you know, we often also talk about how do you engage people in the community, people who are clients, people who are program participants, people who are activists? And considering that in your process too and we’ll, we’ll link to an article if you go to bigduck.com/insights where this transcript will be, we’ll link to a whole resource guide we did on inclusive branding where we talked a lot about it, these things. But let’s just say a communication staff has just created the kind of messaging you’re describing. They developed a messaging that was informed and shaped by people across the organization, again including those who work most closely with the community, that that organization helps. How can staff make sure that messaging is used and alive throughout the organization? We often talk about getting your brand to stick, right? What are some ways you can think of that really help organizations engage their colleagues internally?
Jennifer R. Hudson: I think one of the most important things is after you’ve gone through a process like this and you’ve got your messaging, it’s important to then take examples of what was done before and rework it, re-engineer it with the new messaging so people can see. I do this in the corporate world, I even do ads. You know, this is what this ad might look like now, you had this quote, this post on your social media site, this is what it might look like now. And then giving people cheat sheets throughout the entire organization and ensuring that every employee knows because you can’t have everybody in the sessions. It needs to be representative of roles and positions and levels, ensuring that everyone in the organization, I mean I would love it if they could also validate it and agree to it. That’s a massive process depending on the size of your organization. But that’s one critical way. And I like to do them through lunch and learns or breakfast and learns, but showing them the examples, letting folks ask questions, and then finding ways in your internal communications to consistently promote the messaging. Finding ways to consistently embed it into the way you talk about the organization. Ensuring that if someone’s giving a speech or an interview or a podcast interview, wherever someone’s talking, that that messaging has a central point of contact with hopefully someone in a communications field and department who can guide the talking points that are used.
Farra Trompeter: That’s great. You know, you and I both share, I know passion and love of teaching and training and building other people’s skills. And I’m curious, what are some ways you’ve seen that work to build people’s skills to really help them learn how to use and apply messaging?
Jennifer R. Hudson: I actually have a program where I teach corporate messaging and it’s called “Corporate messaging for communicators.” And even though I’m teaching people the framework that I use, what I find, especially with communications leaders, is the need to build up confidence. The need to build up confidence that they can even convince their leaders that this kind of strategic session is necessary. The confidence that they can even guide it and lead it. You have to bring something to the table, you have to have led meetings, you have to have some level of a senior level role in order to be able to facilitate these, I think effectively, a number of years of experience of doing it. But we role play, we role play in these sessions to give people the confidence and you know, there’s a little game I do called “Convince the CEO.” A little role play, and they use what they’ve learned in the program to convince me why we should lead a corporate messaging session.
Jennifer R. Hudson: Separate from this I’m also a “Step into your moxie” facilitator, which is beautiful work. It’s a vocal empowerment system that helps people speak up about the issues and ideas that are important to them. And in “Step into your moxie” experiences, we help people manage the inner critic that sometimes tells us we’re not enough. We deal with the physiological sensations that come up: sweaty palms, heart pumping when you’ve got to speak on a stage. We work with messaging, using the right words that you need to say to move people, to take action, show people how to show up with presence. And it’s a beautiful empowerment system that was developed by Alexia Vernon, a speaker, trainer, and coach. It is trauma, big T and little T, trauma-sensitive because we recognize that people bring trauma to situations that impact their ability to speak up. There’s a social justice component as well because we recognize that just because I say you should speak up doesn’t mean that there aren’t systems in place or people in place who want to keep you from speaking up. And so that’s one of the ways, what I see time and time again is this lack of confidence. I kind of feel, I don’t know if you agree with this, Farra. I host meetups and round-table sessions with communications leaders and we talk specifically about personal brand building. I think it’s directly tied to the fact that people think all we do is pitch news releases and pitch stories to media. There’s a lack of confidence among communications leaders that we are the trusted advisors that I think we need to be, and how to be that. And I believe that the best way to become that is to use these beautiful strategic frameworks that professionalize our work. You know, every major profession has frameworks and a way that they do things. And that’s why I am on a mission to make sure that we all know the frameworks.
Farra Trompeter: Well, and thank you for teaching me about “Step into your moxie,” I’m definitely going to check that out. Kind of want to make it “Step into your chutzpah,” but I’m going to take whatever it is, and I’m going to learn about it. And always, we can all use more moxie in our lives.
Jennifer R. Hudson: Yeah, exactly. And chutzpah.
Farra Trompeter: Exactly. Well, before we go, I do want to like do a slight shift and talk about operationalizing core values. At Big Duck, we facilitate a lot of processes to help identify a nonprofit organization’s values, or we work with organizations on infusing brand personality into how the value statement is articulated. We also recommend ways to use values, which we define as an articulation of the key beliefs and philosophies that guide your work internally and externally. I’m curious for you, what frameworks or approaches do you take when it comes to setting up or operationalizing values?
Jennifer R. Hudson: Yeah, so as I said, I’m a big lover of frameworks and there’s a framework that I also lead core values, vision and mission sessions with nonprofits and either helping them develop them or refresher sessions. And there’s a framework that I love where I ask people to look at the core values and determine for themselves where that value shows up in their lives. How are they living out that value in the way that they’re engaging with their colleagues, in the way that they’re engaging with the people that you’re serving in the community, in the way that they’re engaging with funders and donors, with media. How is it showing up for you personally? And to really think about that because it also gives you an opportunity to question, if I’m not exhibiting it, how can I do better? And then I love doing that also at a departmental level and at an organizational level. Where do the values actually show up in tangible ways? We can say, for example, that dignity is an important value, but if we don’t have budget attached to dignity, if we don’t have a policy in place attached to dignity, then the core value is meaningless in my view. So we have to attach systems and policies and budget especially to values. We see that a lot with companies that are, you know, supposedly doing DEI work, like, are you attaching budget to the values that you claim to uphold? And so again, doing these types of values workshops in collaboration with leaders and teams is really powerful. Getting them to discuss together where the values show up, how they show up, and attaching tangible examples of those values.
Farra Trompeter: That’s really helpful. Well, if you are out there and you’d like to learn more about Jennifer’s work, take a look at Think Beyond Public Relations at wethinkbeyond.com or at Think Beyond PR on Instagram or Facebook. You can also connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn at Jen R Hudson. We’ll be sure to link to that as well. And of course, if you reach out to Jennifer, mention Big Duck, say that you heard her on the Smart Communications Podcast, let her know where you came from. Jennifer, before we go, any other tips or suggestions you want to share with our listeners?
Jennifer R. Hudson: Well, I’m so glad that we ended with core values. I honestly believe that the core values are the beginning of everything and that the stories that nonprofits tell spring from their core values, I think it’s so important to get that right. And I think if I would leave your listeners with anything, it would just be to recognize and to really dig into the core values and to uncover where are we actively living out these core values? Where are they really showing up in our work? And if they’re not, how can we do better? If they are, how can we build on that?
Farra Trompeter: That’s great. Well, thank you so much for being here and everyone out there have a great rest of your day.
Jennifer R. Hudson: Thank you.