Purposeful communication

It really bugs me when organisations and individuals don't have a clear aim in mind when they're planning and developing communication activities and products.

Without having a definite reason for communicating, and knowing what result they want out of it, it's not going to be effective and they'll end up wasting time, effort and resources.

A news release may still get column inches, but if it doesn't have a real impact on the target readership, is it worth it?

The point of any communication is to achieve a certain outcome (or more than one) - something we don't often consider in everyday communications. If you want something, you ask for it - whether verbally or in writing ('Please can you pass the butter', 'I'd like to make an appointment'). The response you want is clear.

We exchange information in a very straightforward way ('How are you?' 'Fine, thanks'). We air our opinions to change other people's attitudes, and make demands to alter their behaviour ('Sit up straight').

But when it comes to more formal, planned communication, there's a risk of believing the act of communicating is reason enough. It's not - there's little point writing a newsletter, email, leaflet, website, blog or whatever without having a clear idea why you're doing it.

Simply to inform is usually not a good enough reason - do people need or want this information and how are they expected to use it? Be clear exactly who you're trying to communicate with and what response you're after, or it can become a tick box exercise that is ultimately a waste of time and money.

Think carefully about what you really want to achieve through all elements of your written communications. Do you want to change people's views? Encourage them to act differently? Teach them something new that will have a real impact on their lives?

Having a definite purpose in mind will help you identify the best way to deliver each specific piece of communication, not just the content but the tone and language and the format in which it appears, and how to measure whether it has been effective.