On Winning Gold Quills AND Doing Effective Communications: Why “Ready, Fire, Aim” Doesn’t Work

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I recently had the experience of judging the final tier Gold Quill Awards in San Francisco along with 35 other communicators from 6 continents.  The experience of being with such a high-caliber judging group was quite a thrill. But the most critical thing I took away from the experience is the realization that everyone could win a Gold Quill if they understood what is required.

You don’t need to have a million dollar budget or a once-in-a-career mega-project to win a Gold Quill. You DO need to have competent work with measurable objectives. Frankly I expected to be wowed by the entries I saw when judging at the final round. But most of the pieces I evaluated missed the mark in two simple areas: having clear objectives and demonstrating results that link to those objectives. Setting goals that link to organizational objectives is the hallmark of an effective communicator.

Writing your award entry – or carrying out your communications plan – shouldn’t be a “ready, fire, aim” proposition. It was obvious in evaluating that most entrants had not thought about measuring success at the time the program was conceived. Rather they had a piece they were proud of and tried to rummage through the files for any sort of feedback or measures that would help make the case for their award. That is aiming after you fired.

When you have a communications challenge, you need to generate specific intentions about the audience and your proposed solution, and you need to determine BEFORE implementation what success will look like so that you can shape your work around it and measure it afterward. Measurement doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or time consuming. It just needs to ask the right questions or show the right data to demonstrate the success of your effort. Each objective should have a measure. If your goal is increased participation in a program, the measurement should not focus on brochure readership. You might, however, try to uncover in a simple survey card if the brochure led to a change in behavior that led to participation in your program. If your goal was to increase revenues by 10%, the fact that 127 people asked for an extra copy of your beautiful calendar is irrelevant. You can measure that the calendar triggered potential customers to call, which led to closed sales and increased revenues. Thinking through the measures of your success before you execute your piece often gives sharper focus to your communication tools and tactics.

I seldom have clients who take the time to consider measurement of the success of the tools that I create for them…and I suspect that this is more the norm in our profession. I challenge you to consider what the measure of success would be for each article, for each brochure, for each direct mail piece that you create. Taking the time to aim before you fire will result in more targeted and therefore more effective communications…and perhaps net you a Gold Quill award!

Jocelyn Canfield, ABC
Communication Results

Writing|Graphic Design|Photography|Project Management

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