Six Steps to Wrap Up Smart Client Relations

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The December holidays are upon us. And when it comes to spreading good cheer, this season offers the perfect opportunity  to give the gift that keeps on giving—client contact. Whether you’re a fast-growing, women-owned small business like ours or a large firm with generations of history behind you, a solid plan for client relations is your lifeline—and turning the social good will of the holidays into smart customer outreach can put you and your firm top of mind.

Here are six steps to turn your annual “Ho Ho Ho” e-card into the foundation of a relationship-boosting customer communication strategy.

Let’s get started—pull out your contact list, check it twice, and be sure to send greetings before people start traveling for the holidays.  Then launch your new approach with these six steps:

1. Learn to like and share. Endorse your customers’ online content—everyone appreciates the support, and they are likely to return the favor. Use LinkedIn, corporate Facebook pages, and Twitter to engage with your customers.

2. Join the conversation. Do they blog?  Do you?  Be sure you read your customers’ blogs, leave a comment, and share the content.  And when you post your own material, send your customers an email letting them know the new content is up—with a link to the content to make it easy to find—and why they may want to give it a look.

3. Be inclusive. When you blog, tweet, or post, don’t be shy about tagging a client or linking to their web page.

4. Celebrate success. If you hear about a client success story, award, recognition, or new business win, send congratulations fast and with fanfare. Then: re-read steps 1, 2, and 3.

5. Share your news. When it’s your turn to share an accomplishment, spread the word! This not only creates buzz, it will notify clients and prospects about capabilities or practice areas they were not aware you had.

6. Make it personal. Happy life events your clients have mentioned are excellent reasons to reach out, but only if you follow the golden rule of online communication: be selective (you want to over-deliver on value, not volume); considerate (taking it personal will flop if you seem like a stalker); and genuine (if it’s not straight from the heart, it goes straight in the trash).

Start putting these evergreen tips to use today—and use them to ring in a new customer relations plan for 2016—be sure to check back December 31 for ASC’s new year’s resolutions for business success!

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Keeping in Style with New York State’s Brand Guidelines

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Brand (or style) guidelines have become a standard in the design industry, and since a brand is, essentially, what people think of when they hear or see your name, guidelines are pretty important. However, all brand guidelines are not equal in complexity or flexibility—in fact, each guideline presents its own set of opportunities and challenges.

Brand guidelines exist for a reason.
Brand guidelines serve an important role in the visual and often written language of a government or corporate entity. Their purpose essentially is to maintain a brand’s integrity across all mediums and help deliver the brand message in a recognizable and effective manner.

The best brand guidelines have common characteristics.
Successful brand guidelines have a common set of principles about delivering a brand’s visual message for design and content creators. These include:

• Detailed guidance for design and editorial personnel

• Justification for design decisions

• Strict rules that allow flexibility in how it is implemented across mediums

• Clear and concise examples of usage

• Thorough set of options and variables important to the execution and propagation of the brand’s visual language

New York State branding guidelines serve an important function.
Government agencies are no different than corporations when it comes to brand guidelines. In fact, it may be even more imperative that a government agency employs strict and effective brand guidelines, since multiple departments, divisions, and other agencies may be implementing the agency’s communications. New York State recently rebranded with the purpose of building a cohesive and consistent message. The spearhead to this was the release of the New York State Brand Guidelines and the re-launch of ny.gov in 2014.

For companies like ASC, that work daily with New York State agencies, becoming fluent and skilled in applying the new guidelines required an investment of creative time to become adept at guiding clients in how to give their projects and initiatives an identity within the framework of the guidelines. Our team took on the challenge and dug deep into the brand’s identity to find creative solutions.
How we approached the task, and what we learned, offer some ideas we think others will find helpful.

Designing for a brand leads to creative solutions.
The rules within the New York State Brand Guidelines provide direction, and although some may view rules as limiting, we don’t see them as inhibiting effective design. In fact, when used properly, guidelines don’t hinder creativity at all; they enhance it and push designers to find creative solutions within a predetermined framework.

Recent New York State design products can demonstrate how guidelines can expand design. A good example is the 2015 New York State Energy Plan, which leverages the guidelines to advance public understanding of the State’s roadmap to a clean, resilient, and affordable energy system. Energy-theme icons within the framework offered by the State guidelines further ideas and initiatives, and communicate a sense of forward movement to the reader.

ASC took a practical approach to examining the guidelines that included the following steps:

• Quick overview of the guideline and noted points of interest or concern followed by a thorough analysis for full understanding

• Identify patterns and points of consistency within the copy and examples that can help with design and problem-solving

• Examine the recommended usage of typography, making sure that we legally acquired copies of fonts used

• Identify access to photographic images that follow the guidelines which include client-submitted, contracted photography, and online stock resources

• Understand how color is used to communicate the brand’s message faithfully

• Ensure brand assets such as logos or icon systems in the guidelines are readily available (following brand guidelines without addressing key assets can lead to inconsistencies and risk diluting the brand)

• Research how the new guidelines are applied to existing products

Design decisions should always have sound reasoning behind them, and the State guidelines help support that reasoning when questions occur. With this in mind, keeping the channels of communications open about guideline implementations allows for transparency, understanding of proposed solutions, and helps the client understand how their message can be successfully – and consistently – executed for the public.

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The Inside Story

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At ASC, we’ve learned that the difference between a good communications campaign and a great one starts with what we call the Inside-Out approach.  Inside-Out is a step by step approach that builds employees into a team of knowledgeable ambassadors who embrace and enthusiastically carry key messages to external audiences.

Here’s why building communications programs Inside-Out works, while simply distributing beautifully designed toolkits often produces limited and disappointing gains.

Inside-Out starts by finding out what employees—often the organization’s first contact with external stakeholders—understand about the new strategy or program.  By building outreach around what employees know and how they perceive the change will affect them, a skilled communications strategist can help identify a process that takes everyone in the organization from awareness to understanding and ultimately ownership of the communications effort—before it ever reaches an external audience.  That too often skipped step results in a unified and cohesive campaign that is amplified exponentially by employees who are engaged in the process.

This “success begins at home” philosophy has many benefits.

According to research from Gallup, employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes that are essential to an organization’s success, such as higher productivity, higher profits, and better customer engagement. Engaged employees drive the innovation, growth, and revenue that their companies need. And they become engaged by a company culture that embraces the values of the Inside-Out communications strategy.

“To build a strong corporate brand, you need brand ambassadors—employees who are thoroughly engaged, connected, and committed,” says Forbes contributor William Arruda. Citing a survey that ranks employees higher in public trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO, or Founder, Mr. Arruda says, “If you’re not inspiring your talent to be brand ambassadors, you’re missing out.”

And so is your communications campaign.

Inside-Out is a process that builds trust because it starts with trust.  “Engaging employees in the development of a communications and outreach strategy can catapult a campaign to remarkable levels of success,” says ASC President Nora Madonick.  “Asking employees what they think may sound simple, but doing so demonstrates the importance of their role in informing strategies, messaging, and tactics.  It empowers them to become ambassadors of change—a formula that wins time and again.”

The Inside-Out process is never a one-way street. It circles back to cause a dynamic spiral of success that just keeps on spinning—in the right direction.

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