QUICK QUESTION: The important questions needed by a comms and PR person

It’s been a busy few weeks and over a cup of coffee I was reflecting on what I’d learned.

It’s a useful exercise I sometimes do after a particularly rapid period.

For some reason, it was the questions that people asked during training that really stuck with me.

I was reflecting on how my answers are often around what questions they can ask of the people they work with. All of that points to the importance of building a relationship with people. For some communications is science. For me it’s a lab coat and a piece of cake. The lab coat represents the data and the cake is the soft skills you need.

It led me to what questions I most find myself asking or recommending.

Q: You want half a day from me, I need 15 minutes from you, is that alright?

The comms inbox can be a wondrous thing. It can move from command ‘we need a poster by tomorrow or this thing will fail and it will be your fault’ to ‘can you help me reach young people?’ In other words, some people think they can click their fingers and some don’t.

The question I often find myself reaching for when people prescribe what they want is this: ‘You want half a day from me, I need 15-minutes from you, is that alright?’

The need for 15 minutes is to go through a basic comms planning template. I’ve blogged about this before here. You can rattle through in 15-minutes or take far longer.

There’s a load of supplementary questions in the comms plan but it starts here.

Q: Who are you trying to talk to?

The more aopproachable way of asking: ‘who is your audience?’ It’s a question to pin down who they need to talk to. They know the people they serve better than anyone. Plug into that.

Q: When you say ‘our audience is everyone, can you jot down what that looks like on a piece of paper… and then identify the top three?

The audience is rarely everyone. When it is, you’ll probably need to break it down into demographics and channels to find each audience. This helps them understand this. If you’ve only got finite resource would it be young people on TikTok or the over 55s on Nextdoor? What would you go for?

Q: We both want this to succeed, we know that don’t we?

Sometimes at the start of comms planning, I’ll mention this just to name check the elephant in the room. They may be engineers / clinicians / a station officer. You are a comms person and your expertise is to help people communicate. You both want a successful outcome but it helps to spell it out.  

Q: What does success look like?

A broad question to help them pin down what they’d be happy with. That needs to come from them. Selling 100 tickets? Selling 100 ice creams? Recruiting 100 firefighters? What is success? That’s your starting point. So, if you recruiting firefightersd, how old do they need to be? The questions start flowing from the number.

Q: Who, what, when, where, why, how?

Kipling wrote that everything he learned came from six good men. Their names were Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. These are known as ‘open questions’. They encourage open answers. The question ‘Is your favourite colour blue?’ encourages a closed answer that doesn’t encourage conversation.

Q: Why, why, why, why, why and why?

Toddlers in supermarkets ask questions. ‘Why is tiger bread called tiger bread?’ They are curious. They find out information. Be like a toddler. Ask a why question politely six times and it’s amazing what you find out.  

Q: What is working and what is not?

Evaluation means you can see what works and what doesn’t. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. It’s that simple.

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