By Stephanie Conner
Ten years. That’s a lot of brochures, newsletters, feature articles, websites, annual reports, blog posts and other materials. Active Voice Communications made its official debut in March 2009. And in the past decade, I’ve been fortunate to work with clients in various industries — healthcare, technology, higher education, real estate, banking, marketing and more. The journey has yielded opportunities to learn about different brands, deepen my understanding of content marketing and develop an expertise in strategic communications.
In honor of Active Voice Communications’ 10th anniversary, here are 10 things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Working with great people is the best business goal.
A lot of agencies have goals around revenue and growing their client list. What I have found is that working with smart, strategic marketers who understand the value of good copy and the creative process is invaluable. When you work with the right people, the rest seems to fall into place.
Today, I am fortunate to work with people with whom I have long-term relationships. We are true collaborators, who learn from one another and generate great work together. Everyone wins.
2. Content remains king.
When I started my career (years before Active Voice), “content marketing” wasn’t even a thing. But over the years, it’s become clear that content is as valued as other communications disciplines in brands of all sizes. Even those with limited budgets recognize that content is essential, that content drives marketing and sales.
This is particularly exciting for me as it means I spend less time convincing executives why content marketing is an important investment and more time getting to work on strategic campaigns.
3. Quality is paramount.
I can’t stress enough the importance of quality. Would it be ideal to have oodles of well-executed content in varying lengths and formats and written for each of your target audiences? Absolutely. But most of us don’t operate in the ideal.
It’s not the number of articles, blogs, podcasts and videos you launch into the ether that matters. It’s what gets through. It’s what resonates with your audiences. It’s what gets bookmarked, shared, read and reread. It’s what keeps your customers coming back for more. I remain convinced every day that quality is more important than quantity.
4. All marketing is P2P.
We often categorize communications as B2B or B2C. And for some reason, when it comes to B2B content, we feel it’s OK to be boring or dry. Sometimes that’s practically a requirement.
But all content should be written for humans (sorry, Google). And if you are to make an impact with actual humans, you have to write in a way humans will read. You will of course want to alter your voice, tone and language for different audiences. But at the end of the day, it’s a human being on the other end of your copy. It’s a human being who must sense that sincerity or emotion or humor in whatever you write.
5. Grammar does still matter. Really.
There is a lot of sloppy copy on the internet. Typos, text-speak and social shortcuts are everywhere. Some companies are choosing not to hire proofreaders, feeling there’s no value in the spend. I’ve even seen people comment that grammar has fallen out of favor.
I am here to tell you that it has not. In fact, if you take nothing else away from this post, please let it be that grammar matters. Too many errors make a brand look unprofessional, uncaring and cheap. (Note that we’re talking about consistent sloppiness. Mistakes happen, and we can forgive them.) When I see typos in a brand’s content, I assume they don’t take great care in their products and services either. Trust me, grammar and punctuation rules do still matter to many people. And it’s really not that difficult or expensive to be a grammar stickler. I could write a whole post on this topic. Oh wait … I did! Check out Yes, Grammar Matters for more of my ranting on the subject.
6. Communicators work really, really hard.
I am always astounded by the number of late-night and early-morning emails I receive from my clients: marketing professionals who are up late thinking about their companies’ communications plans and agency colleagues who are programming websites in the wee hours. Communications and marketing require creativity and skill. But as much as anything, they require hard work and passion. These traits are evident and infectious. I love that I get to surround myself with them.
7. We need to slow down.
There is so much content to create and so much work to be done, and we are all having a hard time keeping up. This results in shortened timelines, flustered staff and less-strategic work. If you ever have the luxury of working on something that doesn’t need to get done by “yesterday,” you’ll start to get a glimpse of just how valuable it is to have time to be strategic up front.
Slowing down and taking the time to be strategic feels like a luxury. But we all need to find a way to slow down so we can do our best work.
8. Communication matters.
It’s amazing how many people in the corporate world have very poor communication skills. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received compliments for the simple fact that my team keeps in close contact with our clients, shows up to meetings on time, meets deadlines and alerts our partners when there are potential schedule delays.
These habits seem like no-brainers to me — basic business, common sense, common courtesy. But not everyone does this.
9. It’s all about planning.
The best, most effective communicators are the ones who have a plan behind them. The ones who have strategy. The ones who started early enough so the right people can do their best work.
Now I know what you’re thinking: best-laid plans, etc., etc. But the truth is, a good plan will allow you to adapt and accommodate requests that are unplanned. A good plan will allow you to be more nimble than you are now.
Planning may not be the sexiest part of the process, but it makes everything else so much easier to navigate, and easier means we can have more fun doing what we love — content creation.
10. There is no school like the old school.
Take a look around any office nowadays and you’ll see everyone walking around with their laptops, tap-a-tapping meeting notes on their smartphones, connecting to meetings via Webex. Everything is about the latest platform, digital hub, online resource, app … whatever the latest and greatest is, that’s what we are all working with.
And I love some of my online tools — after all, they connect me to my other writers and proofreaders, designers and social media gurus, and to my clients. But there is still value in putting pen or pencil to paper, to using a whiteboard or flipchart in a meeting, to sitting face-to-face.
In fact, sometimes the old tools allow us to work more quickly. They often let us connect with others more authentically. I know for me, they help me remember things more easily. So, for all the new technology that is now available, it’s important to take a step back and remember that sometimes our old-school methods still work the best.
10 More Years, 10 More Lessons
I’m excited to embark on this next decade at Active Voice Communications. Who knows where new communications tactics and technology will take us? One thing is for sure, though. We will never stop learning. I can’t wait to see what my 10 More Years, 10 More Lessons post will be about in the future. Cheers to an educational decade ahead!
What about you? What have you learned about communications in the past 10 years? What do you hope to learn in the coming 10?