Clarity of Objectives: A Cautionary Tale

As you might have already gathered, I spend a lot of time delivering upbeat exhortations to clients about the importance of well-defined objectives in communications planning. While that’s indispensable, sometimes there’s no teacher like experience. And so I offer here a real-world example—from my own loss column, so it doesn’t have to turn up in yours—of why it’s essential to think through the objectives that your communications efforts will be focusing on.

I once worked with a client who had a very clear objective of securing 300 new registrants for a marketing event. We crafted the objective, got it validated and everyone was in agreement. And yet, following the event, we learned an important lesson about precision in objectives. Although 300 new clients did indeed register, only 200 actually showed up. The event was promotional in nature and as such registration was free—so when the conference event arrived, on a snowy evening in January, it was easy for people to bail out at the last minute. After all, since the event was free, its perceived value was probably low.

In retrospect, had we identified this consideration earlier in the game, and framed the objective accordingly, it would have made a big difference to the analysis, messaging and tactics in the strategic plan. We might have considered a nominal charge so that the level of commitment on the part of the participants would increase. Or perhaps we’d have promoted the uniqueness of the event, which featured an internationally-known guest speaker. We might have suggested a call-out program the day before the event to remind registered guests of the conference, and to entice their participation through a draw or an additional featured presenter.

This small example illustrates the fundamental impact that well- or poorly-framed objectives have on all other elements of a communications strategy. So learn from someone else’s experience in this case—and be sure to think absolutely clearly about what you’re trying to achieve before setting the wheels of your plan in motion.