What’s in it for me?

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on January 09th, 2013

Ruth at the White Palace in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

January is the time of year when we receive those end of year/new year messages, newsletters and blog posts. I know in the past week, I have received about two dozen of them. And I have to say, not many have resonated with me or provided any kind of value to me – which is the point of these communication outreach pieces, isn’t it?

I have heard how people are going to spend more time on finding their passion, travel more, make more effort to focus on their family life, live in Europe or Mexico or Belize for half the year, work a three or four-day work week, find work/life balance… And if I were sitting with a friend and hearing any of these things, my response would be: “Excellent! Good for you!”

However, some of the folks telling me these things are service providers – people who we bring into projects with our clients. Some of these lovely people provide support services to AHA, and our small-on-purpose agency relies on them. Some of these messages gave me pause and had me putting “find new option” on my to-do list. We’re all for work/life balance, spending more time with family, discovering your purpose and passion, and seeking out adventure; but there are ways to communicate those personal goals in a professional setting that showcases how this approach will benefit your client, strategic partner or service provider rather than worry them about how they will manage if you aren’t available.

All of our clients know that we’re travellers – both for work and for fun. We also make sure that they know that when we’re not in town, they won’t even notice that we’re not in the room. I have had Skype meetings with clients in Paris, Rome, Bangkok, New York City, Tampa… well, you get it – from anywhere and everywhere. I have co-presented in a Vancouver-based communications and social media workshop from Queenstown, New Zealand and have co-managed the media relations component of a high profile policy forum from The Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

Here at AHA, we feel a strong accountability and responsibility to our clients – and we want to have a full-on life – so we need to find a way that works for us and for our clients. And, in fact, our travel makes us better communicators, which benefits our clients overall. We see how things are done in other places, we discover best practices, we learn what works and what doesn’t work – and we bring it all home and deliver it to our clients. When we make a business or personal decision that impacts our professional life, it is always kept in mind how this can benefit our clients or what we need to do to make sure it – at the very least – doesn’t negatively impact them. And we clearly communicate that.

We got a newsletter from a designer colleague earlier this week that really got me to thinking about the missed opportunities in many of these year-end/new year outreach pieces. He said he and his partner were thinking about living in Europe for six months or a year – which as a human being, I think is a great idea. However, I think he missed an opportunity to clearly explain that he would be back in Vancouver regularly for clients if needed and that his move wouldn’t cost them anything. He could have explained how he would continue to service clients – citing how easily we can connect these days through Skype, GoToMeeting.ca and other technologies. He could have explained how getting some international experience could influence and evolve his skill set and how that would bring more to clients… but he didn’t. What I felt was concern that he was leaving and that I might be challenged by that.

Another professional connection sent out an email saying that they were going to chase their passion for cooking this year. And about three paragraphs in, I realized she meant that she was going to do this as a hobby or personal pursuit – that she wasn’t changing careers. If I had just glanced at this piece, that’s not the message I would have taken away. That could hurt her business development this year.

I think the biggest thing I noticed in this year’s batch of end of year/new year emails and newsletters is that, for the most part, they were all about the person writing them. It didn’t feel that they were about the recipient. There wasn’t anything in it for me as the reader of this piece (or as the client, strategic partner or service provider).

I think this is a key learning: When you are communicating, and you want the other person to care, give them something to care about – something that matters to them. Tell them clearly, even when it’s about you, what’s in it for them.

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