Starting any new initiative can be overwhelming and intimidating. Communicating with your members, supporters, and community can certainly be this way – especially if these are not things your organization has done before or done effectively.
Amber Liebner is the Director of Client Success and Training for NEP Services. She's gotten hundreds of labor organizations and other groups off the ground with website and other communications initiatives. She shared some of her thoughts and experiences on how she gets the ball rolling with new clients.
"I like to start out with some questions. Why are they getting a website? What are some of their goals? Are they looking to grow their membership, build a better relationship with the community they serve or educate their community about something? Are they politically engaged?" Liebner said. "I gauge where they 'say' their goals are by their answers. Then, based on their answers, I gear the conversation a certain way."
Liebner says one challenge is getting clients to understand who their audience is. Of course, a critical audience is the community they serve, especially if they are a public safety labor organization. But an equally important audience is their membership base.
"It is about asking questions about how well the members really know what their dues are getting them. Are they educating and informing their members of what the board is doing?” Liebner said. “More often than not, it is guiding the client to buy into the idea that it is a positive thing to 'market' themselves to the community they serve and to market themselves to their constituents - aka their members."
Another part of these early discussions involves laying down expectations, Liebner said. NEP or other professionals are there to help, but the people who usually know their members and communities best are the clients themselves. Those clients also have to be active in the process for them to see any success.
"Clients rightfully expect these amazing outcomes – a great website, improved relationships with their community, fundraising success, etc. But they need to put in work, too. Many don't give us content – photos/videos to use for articles, social posts, etc. – or just don't respond when we reach out to connect and see how we can do better," Liebner said. "Many clients think they hire us and we will do everything for them. We do a lot, but they must put something into it, too, or it won't be that successful."
Creating a partnership between the client and the communications professionals is key to getting the best results, she said. Not overwhelming a client just starting out with community and membership engagement is also critical.
"We have to create buy-in and give them room to adapt,” Liebner said. “You don't want to overwhelm anyone so they start checking out."
Jim Aleski is a 25-year fire service veteran and career engine company Lieutenant in the Philadelphia metro area. Jim serves as a Branding and Content Specialist at NEP Services and formerly served as the Communications/Social Media Director for the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ), the state affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Prior to becoming a career firefighter, Jim responded as a volunteer while working for more than a decade as a media producer. Jim was involved in the production of hundreds of national TV commercials, network branding campaigns, music videos, and corporate communication projects. Jim holds a BS in Mass Communications from Emerson College and earned a MS in Fire and Emergency Management Administration from Oklahoma State University.