Five questions to ask before outsourcing communications

by Meg Fowler Tripp for the Center for Association Leadership

Developing a suite of communications that meets multiple departments’ needs but consistently reflects your organization’s brand can be tough—but the right communications partner can streamline the process. Consider these questions when you’re looking for the best partner for your organization.

The life of a communications professional is a busy one—especially if you’re fielding requests from across your organization, including ones with alarmstyle deadlines. How do you craft a coherent, strategic brand when the pressure is on?

How do you ensure that each communication you create resonates with your key constituents? How do you keep your visual and verbal messaging consistent when different departments have different things to say?

An experienced branding and marketing partner can help you overcome your creative hurdles, but finding the right partner is an important first step. You want a collaborator who will equip you for success, not leave you with assets or a system that you can’t use on your own.

Whether you’re assessing agency pitches, sifting through responses to RFPs, or meeting with prospective collaborators, make sure to ask questions that will connect you with the best possible partner.

Getting to Know You

An authentic brand reflects the key facets of your organization: who you are, who you have been, and who you hope to become. Ask your potential partners to share how they’ll gather information and soak up all that makes you, you.

You want a communications collaborator who will equip you for success, not leave you with assets or a system that you can’t use on your own.

Focused conversations—both internal discussions and external chats with partners or members—are fundamental to any discovery process. Whether you give your team the chance to express themselves as individuals or in thoughtfully selected groups, their perspective on what defines your organization is invaluable.

With interviews underway, an audit of the various forms of communications you use (both print and digital) is a solid next step in your partner’s discovery process. A competitive audit, which identifies the other organizations or media sources that compete with you for your audience’s attention, can provide your communications partner with an even greater sense of the landscape in which you operate.

While it can be beneficial to work with a partner who knows your industry through their other clients, you don’t want them to think that they have you all figured out before the collaboration begins. Ask your potential partner about how they plan to share with you what they learned through the discovery process, how they plan to act on it, and how that plan will be specifically tailored to you. They should be prepared to review the details of their process, the information that they gathered, and their direction for the future.

Clearing for Takeoff

You might only have one individual or a small team working with your communications partner, but you’ll need to gather feedback and approval from other parts of your organization along the way. Ask the partner how they plan to gain buy-in at critical points in the creative process.

Whether that plan involves regular checkins with a broader circle of stakeholders or a scheduled set of presentations, you’ll stand a greater chance of success if you include the right people at the right time.

Telling Your Never-Ending Story

Your communications partner should be in the business of storytelling, but developing compelling, authentic, and sustainable content is a job they can’t do alone. That’s why it’s important to ask upfront how they’ll approach every step of your collaborative content creation process. A carefully mapped out content strategy keeps both teams on the same page and ensures everyone knows:

  • the content vehicles you’ll be focusing on (website, print pieces, social channels, and any others)
  • the content types to fit those vehicles (for example, information about your vision and mission, first-person stories, nuts-and-bolts administrative information)
  • the content formats you’ll use (words, images, multimedia, and so on)
  • who will gather, produce, edit, verify, and approve each piece of content
  • how you’ll keep that content updated and refreshed.

Setting You Up for Success

However fantastic your finished brand and communication system might be, it’s not truly ready until you’ve got tools and training for implementation. Find out at the outset how your potential partners plan to get you, and those you work with, up to speed.

A thoughtful approach to rolling out, training, and organizing resources is necessary in a communications partner. If you’re not comfortable taking the baton from them as your project concludes, you might not finish the race. During your vetting process, ask your candidates for specifics about their approach to documentation and training. And if your organization needs something specific to be successful, don’t be afraid to ask for it.

If you’re ready to embark on a branding and marketing collaboration, a candid, detailed conversation about each candidate’s approach, and how that approach fits your needs, will provide you with the confidence necessary to choose the right partner. After all, the goal is to make your busy life as a communications pro a little easier, not more complicated.


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