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Private Foundations Sharpen Their Brands, Core Messaging, and Communications

July 28th, 2015

CoverOptions-Asmall2Progress reports. Annual reports. Grantee communications. Media relations.

The world of private, nonprofit branding is a unique area of strategic communications with its own distinct set of needs and marketing language. In fact, the word “marketing” is not always considered a relevant term in meetings with executive managers of cause-based organizations. With such a finite number of constituents comprising what is generally known to be a small base of audiences, “strategic communications” would be the more appropriate way to refer to our work for these revered institutions.

IridiumGroup – Resources

If traditional marketing has undergone a revolutionary transformation in the way it approaches brand, private foundations have spent the last 20 years or so being far more restrained and thoughtful about the expression of their mission and work. Precise, targeted initiatives have been more of a surgical process than full-blown marketing exercise — and funded investigators or grantees have dominated the universe of audiences. Communication tools are often restrained to a flagship website and a few simple, but substantial, printed communications.

In fact, for many foundations, the idea of branding is an unfamiliar idea, as families that spawn these foundations are often uncomfortable with having any attention drawn to the entity itself. Historically, it’s the grantees that are showcased through featured case examples of work highlighted in annual reports, or on the flagship website.

Unlike public charities, private foundations have one important marketing requirement removed from the mix: They do not require fundraising. Still, there is an interesting evolution of branding practices currently taking place. Private foundations are beginning to adopt more conventional strategies to sharpen their image and articulate their mission, vision, and values more effectively. This all seems driven by an innovative approach in operations and grantmaking, with an emphasis on creative strategies for achieving the mission of various programs.

This may entail more expansive networking among peer organizations and functioning as a convener or leader to organize work around one tactical goal, which in turn calls for out-of-the-box tactics to tell their stories.

For years, our team designed the Prospectus for one of the largest private foundations in the world. For private organizations like Nathan Cummings Foundation or V. Kann Rasmussen, we developed ten-year reports that focused on accomplishments of the past and the roadmap for challenges ahead. We designed limited brand identity systems and created flagship websites and annual reports for the Simons Foundation. These traditional strategies focused on exclusive audiences and were limited in the scope of desired outcome. In a few cases, our work amounted to spending months in development of a printed annual report, for distribution among a highly select (albeit influential) group of Board members and grantees.

As one would expect, perhaps, the expression of brand at many of these foundations resembled more of a whisper than a multichannel, coordinated effort to project a strong image.

Increasingly, we are being asked to develop brand strategies, deliver core messaging, or even create community microsites for one initiative or focus area. Several of the foundations that have contacted us in recent years have expressed a desire to build stronger alliances with media outlets and proactively manage their own brand story, sharing their own version of an elevator pitch. They seek greater transparency and full disclosure of the work they are doing to fulfill their original purpose.

New communications ideas require thoughtful planning and design, and with those efforts, a holistic plan or strategy for which messages are being delivered to what audience.

In one instance, a leading executive at one of the largest foundations proposed an innovative way for our group to assist. We were asked to consider how Iridium might become a preferred agency — working not for the foundation, but for their grantees — helping these smaller satellite teams do a better job of branding through improving core messaging and platform design.

Finally, as one might expect, the Boards of these organizations are comprised of some of the world’s top business minds, representing deep experience in large-scale corporate brands in many cases. The influence of those Board Trustees can be far reaching; it begins at the executive management level of the organization and trickles down to senior managers and the agencies they hire.

Innovation and contemporary best practices are gaining traction in the world of philanthropy. Private foundations are rethinking the way they go about delivering on their mission. Increasingly, the way they communicate with all audiences is bound to follow — along with branding strategies, messaging, communications tools, and media channels.

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The Power of Event Marketing

June 8th, 2015

iridium_blog_facebook_2It’s difficult to conduct a marketing meeting these days without the discussion turning to integrated, 360-degree programs. Optimizing all products and tools deployed across multiple channels is clearly the delicate, complex balance that we seek, but in our offices lately, we’ve been noticing and discussing the distinctive power of events.

iridium_blog_facebook_1With so much attention turned to digital — almost blindly so, it would appear at times — an annual conference presents us all with the opportunity that the Internet will never afford, no matter how many technological advances are made: The power of meeting face-to-face. It’s perhaps the most important opportunity and outlier among all available touchpoints that can present the ability for customers to truly experience and connect to a brand.

iridium_blog_facebook_3IridiumGroup has designed, produced and installed dozens of exhibits and displays for our clients. We’ve created powerful animation to launch annual meetings for global organizations catering to members, institutional investors, shareholders, and trustees. We have designed branded conference visual identities and event marketing campaigns that are aimed at maximizing attendance and generating user engagement.

iridium_blog_facebook_4Shown here are design options for exhibit created for an International Math Conference held last year in Seoul, Korea, and sponsored by the Simons Foundation.

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Dancing With the Genie (or The Ongoing Plight of the Omnipresent Media Brand)

March 2nd, 2015

DVI0775032The New York Times recently debuted its re-launched weekly magazine with the February 22 edition of the paper. Besides the usual self-aggrandizing about the new typefaces, columns, departments, and paper stock, the publication presented a compelling statement about its multichannel strategy on page 44 titled, “Beyond the Page.”

If the title sounds like a Harvard Business Review whitepaper, it’s a vision statement that all publishers aspire to — and which is easier said than done. The perfect recipe is content distribution through print, website, daily emails to mobile, podcasts, events — a 360 degree universe of readily available, current information services. Doing it all well and managing costs is an enviable dream for any organization charged with keeping the paying customer — its readers and sponsors — satisfied.

Even as the universe of ad dollars is being stretched across a burgeoning community of niche media properties, publishers like The Times have also had to contend with increased costs to populate content in multiple forms. As the saying goes, best practices means “giving the reader what they want, when they want, however and wherever they want it.” The old joke about putting the genie back into the bottle rings true. In 2015, the challenge is evident: The genie ain’t going back in, so we might as well enjoy the dance. Editors are charged with delivering well-researched, well-written, specific information for what amounts to an audience-of-one, catering to all levels of knowledge and specialization, meeting all reader expectations across many channels — and they need to do this on a publishing cycle that is as close to 24/7 as possible.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, publishers have the age-old challenge of trying to attract new readers to the pipeline, infusing the existing audience with younger members and ensuring that the development path is replenished and healthy for the future.

The Times announced another round of staff layoffs, letting go of about 110 newsroom jobs and closing its popular “Home” section this week. According to Keith Kelly and The New York Post, The Times print ad revenue fell 4.7 percent last year as readers continued to migrate to other digital venues. Sports Illustrated, an industry icon for its prose and breathtaking action photography, recently announced that it was letting go of the six remaining staff photographers, along with another round of cuts to the editorial staff.

Associations, as non-traditional publishers, are in a similar position. With an easy twitch of their Google-bound finger, members now have access to thousands of sources of news, analysis, data, shared insights and networking that professional memberships once exclusively offered. Reeling from the changes caused by technological advances and ubiquitous communication, executive management teams at these professional organizations are looking beyond traditional sponsors and turning to something called “non-dues revenue,” or ancillary revenue streams.

It’s all a necessary adaptation. Revenues will need to fragment into smaller pools just as the reader communities have fractured into their own niches. While events continue to produce successful sales results for associations and other publishers, these companies will need to establish and grow alternative ways to monetize their content. Ad agencies have done the same thing. If there was once a handful of revenue sources, many more streams were cultivated over the last twenty years and today, it’s not uncommon to see a plethora of offerings like research, data and analytics, mobile services, SEO, social, tie-in’s and cross-promotional deals, product placement, event marketing, and more — each profit line being mostly smaller in value for the agency.

One would think that conference and event strategies might be more prominent for associations, since in-person, face-to-face interaction is not the one thing that the Internet can’t offer.

In our office, we get a lot of queries from associations asking for our recommendations or best practices in multichannel publishing. Catering to their customers hasn’t been an easy task. Microsites and magazines are constantly being created to serve smaller, targeted segments of their universe of readers. Perhaps chasing their members’ ability to access niche content in the field of interest, publishers have continued to launch and sustain specialized technical and trade media properties. In this way, professional publishing has followed the path of its consumer counterparts. (Fishing magazine becomes Saltwater Fishing magazine, which becomes Eastern Saltwater Fishing, which becomes Florida Saltwater Sports Fishing, and on and on.)

Association managers need to know that they are in good company. Virtually every content-based organization is learning to manage new, real-time publishing cycles and multichannel strategies. It may not be a pretty dance, but there is abundant opportunity.

If you would like a consultative meeting to review your publishing and content strategy, please contact our office to set up a time to speak.

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Posted in Business, Customer Experience, Design, Media, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized | No Comments »

 

For the Right Audience, a Print Redux

February 25th, 2015

Evercore_IT_Winter2015_low_7We like to say that we’re “media-agnostic,” meaning that we are open to whatever strategy and channel works most effectively. Depending on the audience needs, printed thought leadership may be an important component of a larger, 360-degree, integrated content marketing program. Such is the case with Evercore Wealth Management, which publishes Independent Thinking four times annually.

Our team redesigned the publication in 2014 and through a partnership with the client organization, continues to design and produce each edition. The publication is but one part of a system of content being published by Evercore Wealth Management, with each of the main articles coordinated to appear on the rotating carousel of the firm’s website. The winter edition, featured here, shares insights on Tax-Efficient Wealth Planning, the Investing Outlook for 2015, and Planning to Achieve “The Number” — that milestone which leaves us financially independent.

Evercore_IT_Winter2015_low_4

Elegance With Entry Points: A sophisticated composition can also include a “tiered reader experience,” offering the reader twenty, ten, and one minute engagements

Working with the client team, we’ve collaborated to package a best-practice corporate journal — elegant design fitting for the audience, with a compelling composition of industry insights, thought leadership, arresting photographs, and current data shown as easy, clear information graphics.

Evercore_IT_Winter2015_low_3

For more information, visit www.evercorewealthmanagement.com. If you have an interest in improving the quality of your content marketing or corporate communications, please visit www.iridiumgroup.com.

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DWAYNE FLINCHUM
Founder & President,
IridiumGroup Inc.

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