Sunday, February 14, 2016

Work Your Small—A Case Study: Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, Inc.

Here’s my top take away from my first six months on the job at Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, Inc.:
Smaller, more nimble nonprofits like ours typically know their audiences better—so are far more connected with them—than do most large, complex organizations.

That Was Then
In 2013, I was the Director of Marketing for an international humanitarian development nonprofit. The annual budget was nearly one billion dollars, with our $2.3 million marketing budget funding the work of three departments and 13 staff members. Sounds like a lot, right?

International travel was the norm, and that was how we kept in productive touch with our constituents overseas. So it was a surprise when the marketing department was moved from the Charitable Giving division to a USOPS (U.S. Operations), with our new mandate was to serve the international and U.S. constituencies.

The tension grew by the moment as my team struggled to serve both areas with the same resources. Then, soon after a new CEO came on board, my role was cut in a managerial shake-up.

This Is Now
Now, just over two years later, I find myself at a much different organization— Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, Inc.—working in a much different way. We have a great tagline, More than a meal, and we live it!

In just a few months, I’ve seen Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland’s extraordinary client dedication. Our team goes
beyond ringing the doorbell and handing over a meal to provide wellness evaluations and connections to related services. But there’s even more.

Every step forward we take depends on the strength of our relationship with the citizens of Central Maryland and their relationships with each other. Our volunteers, donors, and clients are linked in multiple ways—via family, business, and community. Together they make our organization strong and our impact significant!

I am working hard to develop a low-budget marketing program that engages each audience segment. But with our community supporters fully behind us, my passion, energy and confidence are high. And my plans are based on what I know works in our region—community events, not multi-million dollar ad budgets.
Thanks to this growing, caring organization, I’m at a new peak in my career. Can’t wait to see what’s next.    G.A.

The Case for a Creative Workflow

The Case for a Creative Work Flow

Many smaller nonprofits don’t always have a solid process for the creative workflow. Perhaps the smaller staff size creates the illusion that a process is not needed.

My career has been dependent on developing a solid process for the creative workflow. I have not experienced the push-back you sometimes get at larger organizations, in fact my colleagues like being involved in communications that feature their voice.

Document Your Media Outreach
For an event in which we participated last spring I wrote a Creative Brief, but I called it an Event Brief. This was new and everyone felt it helpful.

It saved me time explaining to partners and colleagues the what, why, when, and how of that outreach event.

A week later I created a Media Brief for a drive-time radio appearance that included our Executive Director and myself. That simple 3-page document gave the station DJ an overview of our organization and its mission, as well as listing talking points for our interview segment. The Executive Director, a dynamic, busy woman, was appreciative that we had a “script” going into the spot.

Be Ready to Pounce When Opportunity Knocks
Two weeks after that another media opportunity occurred. During Baltimore’s unrest in April of 2015 we made a carefully considered decision to suspend meal deliveries for safety’s sake. 

A group of staff and volunteers made their own decision to deliver meals, their commitment to clients trumped personal safety concerns. This was in the neighborhood that saw the most media attention in April’s unrest.

Paul Gessler from Fox45 News in Baltimore, heard about this and wanted to do a news story about the dedication of our volunteers and staff.

A Media Brief was issued in advance, an overview of the delivery route, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of pertinent contacts. That document saved me so much time and was a great way to get people up to speed on the filming effort.

It Takes as Long as Making a Cup of Joe
By creating a written document, you will not only have captured a history of the efforts, your contacts in the media will appreciate the added information. Remember, they are often in a scramble to shoot, interview and edit their piece on the tightest of deadlines.

It is really a team effort, don’t ask—What can this media contact do for us, but what can we accomplish together?

Here is the link to the news piece:

If you would like a copy of the Media Brief, drop me an e-mail at or leave a comment.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Creative Rationale

Managing client expectations with one simple tool

While working at a very busy, creative shop, we found ourselves pitching up to eight separate projects a week. Multiply that by three fully fleshed-out comprehensive layouts for each.

We began to notice that our pitches, made to lower-level agents were losing their initial power in the translation as the underlings made their pitches to the upper-levels.

We couldn’t always be there when they met with the busy vice-presidents to whom they reported. A good account exec always prefers to pitch to the C-level officers, but in a large corporation, it is not always possible.

So what can you do about this?—A Creative Rationale Document

My solution was to develop a creative rationale document to follow the comprehensives to the top. With this one sheet we could make sure that the finer points of the creative rationale were spelled out— the unique market positioning, the buyer’s proposition, the psychographic landscape, the calls to action.

Once we began to arm our “underling” contacts with this document, we found that they felt more confident presenting our ideas, our work was sailing through the approval process quickly, and we were getting fewer instructions to morph the three separate solutions into one.

There was one other up-side for us, some of the underlings were coming across as polished and poised now, they were getting promoted. They were meeting with us as vice-presidents and felt we were a part of their team!

That is no secret, your clients are part of your creative team!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Step by Step—Analysis of a Creative Team

The bottom line wake up call for any creative team:

Drive the bus, or get thrown under it!

It is always an epiphany to walk into a creative department with fresh eyes and discover just how things get done. So many competing creative agendas and hidden pressures come to bear in the process of delivering dynamite creative.

The first thing I look for is:
• Strengths and leaders
• Creative potential
• Dysfunctional processes
• Communication whirlpools

These are the definitions of core proficiencies for any creative department, whether in-house or hired agency.

Let's take these one by one to clarify:
• Strengths and leaders:
In a creative setting I would have to say strengths fall into four main categories—creative, communicative, strategic, executive. So—make a report card for those four things and give an objective score under each heading. Take note of the leaders in each category, they can help reinforce their own strength and play a part in cross-training the entire team.

• Assess Creative potential:
Let's be honest about the creative potential.
Are the writing and the design in sync?
Is there a free flow of fresh ideas or are the same solutions recycled?
Is the solution seen as a fire that needs to be extiguished?

Make your observations pointed here, develop a constructive feedback loop to reveal old habits. Do so with a sense of humor, and coach a new attitude toward creative thinking for everyone on the team.

• Dysfunctional processes:
Diagram the process for a creative project together as a group, not how it should be at first, but how it really is in the current state.

This open discussion of the creative process has probably never taken place before, and a good mediator can bring out the gems from the participants that makes consensus a group experience.

• Communication *whirlpool:
How does the creative team communicate amongst themselves? How do they communicate with their “clients”? *Whirlpools exist when two or three team members function as the communicators—a whirlpool.

Assumptions get made about their responsibility for getting the word out.
It is wise to assign communications across the entire team. Everyone is responsible for clarity of communication.

It is important that they are straight forward across all constituencies to be effective. Your creative team is responsible for how well thing go, not the client, not the copywriters, art directors and production staff. The best scenario—the creative team expands to include all involved as long as the project is live.

* A whirlpool—communications never get beyond two or three in a select
group of communicators.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

More About Your Audience...

Your Audience: Starting at the very beginning.
Ask yourself this when developing any communication—to whom am I communicating?

The answer will inform you as you plan, develop, design and edit. Don’t trick yourself—keep asking yourself that question—become objective enough to become one with your audience.

At one time your audience may have been a thesis review committee but you’ve graduated and are in a new arena. The audience for a brochure about food security needs a much more direct approach, content relevant to their experience and understanding.

Center yourself in the task of communicating with someone, not to someone. Success lies in the subtle difference of those two simple words, it all comes down to relevance for your reader.

Who is your audience? What is relevant to them?
 Often organizational communications get trapped in a syndrome that alienates their audience right away. This can best be described as the talking to yourself.

Everything you know about your topic does not have to be conveyed in this communication. Don’t unload all of the technical terms you use in your workplace on your unsuspecting audience. While willing to listen to your logic, your audience may be very unwilling to become fully indoctrinated at this first exposure.

About that call-to-action! What do you want them to do?
Next ask yourself another question—what do we want the audience to do? Do we want them to write to their congressman? Ask them to do that. Do we want them to give generously? Ask them to do that. Do we want them to attend an event and bring a friend?

You don’t ask you don’t get! Don’t count on your readers to do the right thing—it may be obvious to you what needs to be done, but then—you work for an organization that makes doing the right thing part of its daily duties.

You have to help them do the right thing and that means making it simple to act. A clear choice, with a benefit that is comprehensible and means something now not in the distant future.

Three simple guideposts to include in your content:
  1. Audience focus,
  2. Content relevance
  3. Clear call to action.

    guy arceneaux             1.18.14

Sunday, December 15, 2013

3 Questions About Your Audience

The following is a rudimentary approach to developing communications. I have seen many copy decks cross my desk that simply don't start with the audience in mind. Often copy sounds like one employee talking to another employee. Full of acronyms and jargon. So start by asking these three questions:

Who is your audience?
Ask yourself this when developing any communication—to whom am I communicating?

The answer will inform you as you plan, develop, design and edit. 
Become objective enough to become one with your audience.

The audience for a brochure, for instance, needs a direct approach, with content relevant to their experience and understanding.
The task is to communicate with someone, not to someone. Success lies in the subtle difference of those two simple words, it all comes down to relevance.

What is relevant to them? 
Often nonprofit communications alienate their audience with the same jargon you might hear in staff meetings. You audience most likely is not attuned to it, keep language direct and "you" centric.

Everything you know about your topic does not have to be conveyed. What is the one main take away you want your audience to absorb? Truth be told, they probably won't absorb more than one main message.

What do we want the audience to do?
Don’t count on your reader to do the right thing. It is important that you are explicit in your direction. If you don’t ask you don’t get! 

A clear choice, with a benefit that is relevant, now, makes it simpler to take action.
  • Do you want them to write to their congressman?
    —Ask them to do that. 
  • Do you want them to give generously?
    —Ask them to do that. 
  • Do you want them to attend an event and bring a friend?
    —Ask them to do that
Keep the choices few, clear and easy.

Your message checklist:
  • Audience focus—not a focus on the organization
  • Content relevance—the audience should feel involved
  • Clear call to action—a simple way to act
  • Gratitude and appreciation
Three questions frame your message and four simple guideposts act as your outline. Let your message do the hard work for you.


© Copyright 2013 Guy Arceneaux  All rights reserved

Managing Your Creative Teams

There is no real secret to managing creative teams. 
There is a right way to support them and that is what many managers miss. Let us first toss out the myth of the creative person's personality.

I have often been surprised by management types that think there is some secret to managing creatives—they hint around about creatives. They are different and have special needs don't they?

Admittedly, creating dynamic campaigns, headlines and stunning visuals is a unique and separate skill set from say building a spreadsheet analysis of audience segment touch points.

My experience is this—creatives need room to explore, room to make some mistakes, all without judgment. Most creatives I have worked with are very hard on their own output. They work best in an atmosphere that allows unfettered visualization and vocalization.

The optimum creative process is this:
  • Develop a creative brief
  • Pick the creative team (a writer, designer, web site developer)
  • Hold a kick off—establish the goals, timeline, and background
  • Allow the team to set up their own creative brainstorm sessions
  • As creative director, it's up to you to set a review meeting
This is nothing new
It is a time-honored process practiced by agencies all over the world. I am convinced that it can be used in any number of work environments—nonprofit as well as for-profit.

Your organization will be better off if you encourage and nurture a creative culture. When it comes to creativity, constraints are a plus, allow it to blossom with a purpose.

If you want to receive a diagram of the creative process, e-mail me at: