Biggest communication mistakes

October 15, 2008

It’s been two years since I left my communications position at a social services agency to start my own consulting practice. In that time, I’ve been fortunate to be invited into a number of nonprofits and businesses. This has given me a new perspective on how organizations function in terms of communications planning and practice.  Big or small, all organizations have their strengths and weaknesses. I’ve seen a lot of good communications practices but a number of mistakes as well. Here are six that stick out for me.

  1. Thinking of communication as a one way street – Organizations that concentrate only on what they’re saying without listening to what their publics are saying risk sending out the wrong message. Some don’t even have established mechanisms for two-way communication. This means they don’t benefit from valuable feedback about their organizational processes and how to improve goods and services.
  2. Not planning for communication as an organization grows – This seems to be common. Most organizations start out small. Everyone knows what’s going on in the organization because management and staff are in close proximity and formally and informally chat about the business. This changes when organizations grow—particularly when staff begin to work off-site or in satellite offices. Management then gets caught off guard when there is an internal communication problem because they haven’t planned for this area as the organization has grown.
  3. Communication is not an integral part of executive management function – Whenever a decision is made at the management table, the need for communication around that decision should be considered. Ask: Is this something that we need to communicate to staff, shareholders, donors? What’s the best way to do that?  It’s surprising how often this gets overlooked.
  4. Reluctance to look at new tactics/approaches – The influence of social media and Web 2.0 continues to grow and become more mainstream. Organizations ignoring this are going to be left behind. Big players in the corporate and nonprofit world are getting on board but many smaller organizations (who could really benefit from the low cost of these tactics) are lagging behind.
  5. Nonprofits reluctant to invest in communication and good design – There’s no question that many nonprofits have scant resources to address big causes. The priority is to invest in core services and mission. However, the number of nonprofits that undervalue good communication and design practices is remarkable. If you can’t invest a lot of cash in this area, do less but invest something. Getting a friend of so-and-so who designs websites in his spare time to create your nonprofit site is a big mistake. Invest a reasonable amount in professional services. Your donors and other stakeholders will see your organization as more credible and it will result in greater support.
  6. Expecting immediate results from a PR/media relations plan – Public relations and communications planning is a longer term investment. I’ve seen some organizations finally invest in public relations planning only to abandon the strategy when they don’t see immediate results. Not getting that front page news coverage on the first go around does not mean your plan is a failure. Be realistic about your goals and the time lines for them. Public relations planning is a sustained activity with results that are often more solid and lasting than a “big splash” advertising blitz but it requires patience.

What’s your experience as a small to medium sized organization? Do you find it hard to plan for and invest in solid communications practices? What are the challenges? Join the conversation by leaving your comments here.

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5 Responses to “Biggest communication mistakes”


  1. [...] Biggest communication mistakes- There’s a list of seven here but I’ll add an eighth. Organizations need to be more [...]

  2. LGF Says:

    I work for a small start-up and we all work from different areas and, oftentimes, different countries and time-zones! Communication efforts are often disregarded and it stops the business from performing as well as it should.

  3. messagecom Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Sherrilynne. PR is sometimes a tough sell when an organization is more familiar with advertising. With ad buying, you know what’s going to be said and you know it will appear in the space you’ve purchased. There is more risk with investing in media relations, for example, but if your story gets published, your audience will view it as having much more credibility.


  4. You are right on the money with number six. In this Internet age, clients are expecting not just quick results, but instant ones. You have to keep reminding them that PR is about building relationships and this is not done overnight.

  5. Allen Taylor Says:

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor


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