Since starting my career in creative project management over 15 years ago, I can confidently say that this field definitely keeps me on my toes. No two projects are ever the same, and no matter the road you take to get there, it’s always satisfying to see the end products out in the world. These finished pieces are the direct result of many hours of research, brief creation, content scripting, concepting, reviews, revisions, approvals, and finally, things of beauty to see on a shirt, online, in print or on a billboard.
Here are my top five tips for running a smooth, successful project from concept to completion.
1. Start with a clear and focused creative brief. For a project to start on a track built for success, all stakeholders need to have reviewed and approved a creative brief. The brief will most likely include some background on the brand and overall project objective, a list of deliverables with accompanying formats and design specifications, a timeline, a budget, tone and style notes, required elements, and any relevant brand research and supporting elements, such as the target audience, customer demographics, and desired outcomes or goals.
Creative briefs can vary widely depending on the desired end product, but having one is essential to make sure that everyone involved in approving the project agrees on the overall objectives. Large experiential pieces, like our USGBC booth on the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo floor, would have very different brief content than a traditional print ad.
Our USGBC booth area at Greenbuild.
2. Ensure that you have compelling (and final) content. This is one of the most important pieces I look for, before starting a project. From a design perspective, we need to know that we have all the content that needs to be included. Having final content helps to cut down on creative rounds for review once the design is in layout. It’s much easier to make text edits in a document before it goes into layout, after which the text edits must go through several hands to be implemented on the designer’s side. In my ideal world, there would be only design or layout-related edits once a project is put into layout.
For example, with information-intense pieces like an infographic, having final content is important at the start of the project, since all the design elements are based specifically on the content provided. Making content changes once an infographic is in layout usually impacts more than just the text alone.
Our recent infographic on LEED residential spaces.
3. Have clear and open communication with all stakeholders. I have always felt that one of the more important aspects of being a creative project manager is your ability to listen to and communicate well with others. By having open lines of communication with the clients, reviewers, copywriters, designers and anyone else involved with the success of your project, you’re often able to troubleshoot and solve problems before they become a larger issue, as the project comes to a close.
4. Champion the brand standards. This can be a bit of a balancing act when you have a variety of stakeholders and reviewers, and it’s also where a creative project manager can spend most of their time. In the end, you want to make sure the creative piece you’re managing is showcasing the brand in its best light, while delivering on the objectives outlined in the creative brief. With this top of mind as you review and adjust throughout all of the project stages, the creative project manager’s path will stay clear and focused.
5. Have flexibility! Despite having all of your ducks in a beautifully designed row, things happen. Timelines change, content goes through a major rewrite, requested assets come in at the last minute and notes can throw a whole project back several rounds. A successful creative project manager knows that things like this can happen, no matter how organized they’ve been, and they are able to pivot, revise, reorganize and regroup to get the project back on track.
For me, focusing on these things goes a long way toward making for a smooth and seamless project from start to finish. And in the end, you can be proud of the amazing work you’ve helped bring to life!
On May 21, the AP Stylebook released its annual list of updates. Although the online edition is updated throughout the year, the release of new categories that coincides with the hard copy version is eagerly anticipated by writers and editors.
At USGBC, we use AP style to make sure our content is internally consistent, as well as in keeping with current journalistic practices. I check the online guide pretty much daily on matters large and small (“How do we refer to COVID-19 accurately? And does ‘PhD’ have periods in it?”).
Here’s a breakdown of some of the recent changes and additions that I’ll be keeping an eye on:
Digital technology and security
With more than 100 new and updated entries on digital technology terms, the stylebook has an answer for just about everything, so if you weren’t sure whether to refer to virtual assistants such as Alexa with feminine pronouns, now you know. The different meanings of apps, platforms, services and sites is all explained, and you can now refer to “the cloud” in lowercase. The modifier “cyber” is considered largely out of date. View more new entries.
A new special section on digital security for journalists offers guidance on things like passwords, multi-factor authentication, VPNs, phishing and secure data storage, in a time when maintaining secure digital connections is an increasing challenge for web users.
Current medical terms
Because an enormous amount of media coverage is now in reference to the coronavirus pandemic, the updated stylebook contains a “Coronavirus Topical Guide” to help writers navigate the new terminology with accuracy. Where appropriate, we refer to this new reality in our articles, so it’s very helpful for me to know how to style references to COVID-19. (All editors are human—but I was embarrassed that I needed be reminded that “global pandemic” is redundant!)
Particularly relevant to our work at USGBC is the new section on climate change terms. It differentiates global warming and climate change, adds that “climate crisis” is now an acceptable alternative term and explains that single occurrences cannot be attributed to climate change. For example:
Don’t: “The spring hurricane season was the result of climate change.”
Do: “The increase in extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, floods and wildfires, is an effect of climate change.”
Don’t have an account with the AP Stylebook? Follow the updates on Twitter with #APStyleChat.
During a crisis, PR and communications can sometimes feel like an afterthought, but it’s often the most critical need. As the current global health pandemic turns the world upside down, companies and organizations need to rethink their way of operating and how to continue connecting with a variety of stakeholders.
For USGBC, our work and mission have not stopped. Our offices and routines may look a little different, but our vision for the future is stronger than ever. However, just like other organizations, we had to make adjustments and consider what was most important in communicating with our community. Here are some tips for keeping your communications in check during a crisis.
What do you need to communicate?
In a crisis, you can almost never communicate too frequently. Sure we’re all getting a little tired of those emails from airline CEOS and executives, but when you look at the big picture, they’re very committed to keeping their customers updated and aware of changes and new information that might impact them.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What message would you like to hear? A crisis is a complicated and emotional time. Be supportive, show empathy and point people toward resources or information that are most helpful in that moment. USGBC’s CEO sent a message to our community reinforcing that during this crisis, our priority is the health and well-being of one another. The most important thing you want to be is authentic, and remember—a crisis is a time to be human.
Who do you need to communicate to?
Your customers or external community might be the first audience you think of communicating with during a crisis, but some others you don’t want to ignore include employees, boards of directors, volunteer groups and partners. Each of your stakeholders contributes to your success, and it’s important you find ways to stay connected.
In most cases, employees should be your first stop. Make sure they feel supported, then continue to think through tools and resources they might need to keep working. USGBC sends a weekly media roundup to senior leaders with the latest news on USGBC, LEED and sustainability. We adapted the newsletter to include stories on COVID-19’s impact on building and construction. It’s not all-inclusive, but it provides a snapshot of relevant information during a turbulent time.
In addition to your staff, think about what your other stakeholders need from you right now. USGBC posted an article answering the top questions we are receiving about COVID-19. We update and reshare the piece as new information becomes available. We also created a COVID-19 resources section on our website that will house updates related to the pandemic, but that also includes existing information our community might find useful right now.
What do we need to change?
Carefully evaluate what promotional activities you have planned, and determine if it’s appropriate to move forward. Be honest about what might need to be put on pause and what new information or programs you might need to create.
Here are a few questions to ask before making any decisions:
- Does this campaign or program make sense right now?
- What might need to change within our existing plans?
- What new information does our community need, and how can we support that?
One of the first decisions USGBC made was to move all in-person events to 2021. It required outreach to sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, attendees, staff and other stakeholders. Those communications were carefully considered, and each was executed by the appropriate person. In addition, our CEO published a message on our website that summarized these changes and how people could contact us if they had additional questions.
What should we be publishing?
From a content perspective, we looked at what was on the calendar and developed a new plan for highlighting information that would be most useful to our audiences now. We knew our virtual events and legislative updates were going to be critical. We also identified topics and resources that have become more relevant, such as indoor air quality. We developed a plan for sharing information on those strategies to keep our community informed.
It’s also important to find ways to be positive. As Mr. Rogers told us as children, “Look for the helpers.” During challenging times, we all need something that can bring us together and give us a reason to smile. USGBC is a convener for the green building industry, and it was important to us to find ways to keep our community connected. We started sharing the incredible ways our members and community were stepping up to help during this unimaginable time, and it’s a message we’ll continue to share.
What do we say to media?
USGBC decided to hold its announcements for at least a month, knowing that media would be focused on COVID-19 and its impact. Our job then became finding out whether reporters were “all COVID all the time,” or if they still wanted to receive other news. We reached out through email, but also monitored Twitter to see what reporters were saying.
Keep in mind, too, that during a crisis, you never want to force yourself into the conversation. A journalist’s job is to keep the public informed, and crises are times of confusion. So, unless you are qualified to contribute valid, expert information on the crisis, stick to your area of expertise.
Crises are chaotic and often produce a lot of lessons after the fact. If you aren’t sure what to do, be proactive, be human, gather information on what your audiences are experiencing, and know that the crisis will end—so think about what’s next, too.
I find that Cision is a great resource for communicators. You can view their tools and resources and sign up for webinars to dive deeper into topics like crisis communications.
Every year at USGBC, we look forward to the many local, regional and international meetings where we can network with our peers and continue our personal professional development and education. Despite having to postpone our in-person meetings until 2021 due to global health concerns, USGBC didn’t want to miss the opportunity to provide valuable educational opportunities to our partners and colleagues around the world, so we’re moving many of our in-person events to virtual events. Thankfully, marketing and promoting our virtual events doesn’t have to look much different.
Promoting events involves a lot of moving pieces, from graphic design and email marketing to content creation and social media posts. Here’s what to keep in mind to successfully promote your event, whether it’s in person or virtual.
1. Create a robust marketing plan.
Most of the work in event promotion comes in the planning process, as creation of key messages and graphic design assets need to be completed ahead of your promotional push. Creating a robust marketing plan early in the process is paramount to successfully marketing your organization’s event.
A marketing plan should include:
- Key messages focusing on what attendees will get out of the event
- Audience segments, including relevant professions and geographic locations of attendees
- A timeline for promotions
- Potential press opportunities and a targeted media list
- A social media plan
- Graphic design assets needed
2. Organize deliverables with a marketing calendar.
Create a timeline for when you want to promote certain aspects of the event, such as keynote speakers or the launch of registration. Make clear the avenues you want to use to share your messaging, whether that be through customized emails, blog posts, social media or any other platforms.
Be sure to share the marketing calendar with any other team members that you will need to involve in the process, like the email marketing team or social media team, and that you assign tasks clearly and appropriately.
Create a marketing calendar to stay organized.
3. Reach the relevant audience with emails.
Emails are one of the most effective ways of reaching potential conference attendees. Almost every email marketing service allows you to target certain email contacts based on the type of content you are sending and whom you want to target. For example, if you’re sending out a call for proposals, you may want to target those in your contact list who are educators or teachers. If your meeting is being held in a specific location or relates to a particular geographic region, you’ll likely only want to send emails to people located in that specific area.
Make sure emails include a compelling subject line, links and graphics, and try not to be too wordy. Most important, always include a call to action—what you want your audience to do when they receive your email (“register now,” “sign up for updates,” etc.).
Use email strategically to reach the right audience.
As for email content, there is no shortage of what you can promote, but some ideas that tend to attract engagement include:
- A feature on the keynote speaker
- A breakdown of education sessions
- Top reasons to attend the conference
- Special events, such as happy hours or tours
The best practice at USGBC is to send a promotional email about an event once a week.
4. Make use of your company’s website or blog.
Similar to emails, online articles and blogs can reach large audiences, but unlike emails, can also provide a hyperlink to further information that you can share with your audience or post on social media. To keep content consistent, consider coordinating your blog updates with your email schedule. That way, you can repurpose much of the same content and reinforce your message to your audience.
Blogs also let you expand on the ideas you are promoting in emails. You can publish a Q&A with the keynote speaker, describe education sessions in more detail, provide additional links and resources your audience can access for further information, provide a wrap-up with key takeaways from the event upon its conclusion, and more. You won’t need a new article to correspond with every email you send out, but consider a blog update promoting your event every two weeks.
5. Leverage social media.
In additional to email marketing, social media marketing is also one of the most effective ways to reach a large audience. Coordinate with your social media team to make sure any content you’re sending out by email or through a blog is also making it onto your social media stream.
Social media posts with images garner a lot more attention, so be sure to create graphics highlighting your speakers, education sessions and any other noteworthy events taking place at your conference.
6. Reach out to news media.
Promoting your event through emails, articles and social media is a great way to garner immediate attention around your event, but engaging with traditional news media is also important to continuing attracting attention around your event and organization in the long run.
At USGBC, we often partner with media outlets to help us promote events through digital and print ads, interview opportunities with key spokespeople and opinion pieces or bylines from organizational thought leaders. Reach out to trade publications in your industry, or publications that cover the topics you’ll be presenting at your event.
You should also create a targeted media list that includes journalists who are both regionally located and who write about the topics that will be covered at your event. Inviting relevant media to attend and write about your event also helps in garnering attention during and after the event, and builds goodwill and publicity for your organization and for any future recurring events.
Promoting events, whether they take place in person or online, takes a great deal of coordination and planning. Over the past few years, virtual webinars and conferences have been steadily growing in popularity, but now, in this unprecedented time where businesses have largely gone remote, we still have the chance to meet with our colleagues and discuss important issues that affect our organizations.
If you work in content marketing but look to sources outside your organization for content, you probably engage in content curation. This can mean simply aggregating and sharing content that you know your audience will be interested in, or it can involve doing research to generate your own content, when you are not a subject matter expert yourself.
Either way, you want to make sure that you are going about it the right way and providing well-sourced information. Here are a few things to keep in mind when curating content from the web to share with your audience:
Use the most authoritative sources.
Example: With our consumer-focused website, Green Home Guide, USGBC publishes articles not just on LEED homes, but on general green living and choices the average person can make to have a healthier home. Our marketing staff often does online research to find the best data and resources for our readers.
When finding content to cite or share, we make sure to focus on authoritative sources—websites from organizations that have a reputation (the U.S. EPA, the International Energy Agency)—and sometimes we also use well-known sustainability blogs. The name/recognizability, Google ranking and professional appearance of a site are all factors that can help you recognize a good source. Never use Wikipedia as a source, since it can be edited by anyone.
Check the footer if you’re not sure—sometimes, sites hide what they are really about and by whom they are run. What seems initially to be an informational article on indoor air quality and health may actually be a marketing piece by a litigation firm. If content is from a website run by a company related to your industry, make sure that the content is not overly promotional.
Search with strategy.
Be smart about the keywords with which you search—focus on the most relevant terms, and avoid emotionally or politically loaded keywords. If I am writing a piece on how new, clean energy technologies are helping to slow the effects of climate change, I will get back more scientific and useful results by Googling “climate change mitigation” and “energy-efficient technology,” than if I look up “global warming disaster” or “how to stop oil and gas industry.”
Also, if you are sourcing data from a news article, follow the links back to the original source: the academic study, publication or release being described. Use that original link in your piece.
Save time by zeroing in on what you need.
There’s a lot of information out there. Save content you come across as you find it, for future reference. I started a spreadsheet of academic studies relevant to our work at USGBC, with statistics on green building, nature and the environment, green jobs, and human health and wellness. I can go back to this document to use quotes and statistics when I’m writing on one of these topics.
When you’re doing research, scan potential content sources quickly, and don’t waste time wading through entire articles to get to the info you need. If what you need isn’t reflected on the first page of an article or clearly pointed out in a subhead, move along.
Then, take the time to craft the piece.
It takes time to create even short articles, if you want them to be useful. After doing your first draft, think about what questions the reader might have, based on that copy, and then answer those questions in your second draft. In my experience, the average time spent researching and writing a 300-word curated content piece is about 2–4 hours, depending on the complexity of the subject.
Structure your article to allow for easy scanning by the reader. Whether it’s a straight curation of other sites’ content, as in a weekly content roundup, or a weaving in of cited sources to an original article, make it simple for the customer to get the point, to scroll down for more detail and to click through to useful links for more information.
When presenting content you’ve researched, never cut and paste. That’s plagiarism. Always rephrase or summarize the source’s information, and link to the page where you found it.
Pro tip: Once you’ve got a good library of content, curate your own content and do a roundup of previous resources that had high engagement.
Doing your due diligence to present the best, most recent and most authoritative content for your readers will pay off! When I began generating more of our content in-house this way, we saw our pageviews almost double. Respect your audience’s intelligence, and they will return to your company for more of what they need.
What is a brand? The professor who teaches my “Branding Concept” class put it really well: If your organization is a pyramid, your brand is the top piece of that pyramid. As your organization expands its operations, it should continue to follow the guidelines set by the triangle at the top of the pyramid.
Scale your brand choices and keep them consistent.
That lesson can help when making small marketing decisions about brand interpretation, like what swag to give away at an event. For USGBC, it makes more sense to promote our organization on a sustainable tote bag or reusable water bottle, instead of a koozie or pair of sunglasses. That’s an example of how this global brand manifests itself in individual marketing choices. Referencing that top pyramid guide can help you make decisions as detailed as what emoji to use in an email subject line.
Create a positioning statement to clarify your brand.
Need help finding who you are as a brand? Try writing your positioning statement. A positioning statement is an internal document that helps clarify what problem you are solving for customers. What “job” does your brand do for people?
- For [a target audience, based on needs]
- Our brand is [frame of reference—category in the consumer’s mind]
- That provides [3 key benefits]
- Because [reason to believe]
For USGBC, that might look something like:
- For professionals in the built environment who need to quantify their environmental impact
- Our brand is the independent green building certification organization
- that provides education, verification and guidelines of environmental standards
- Because we wrote the definition of what is environmentally friendly in buildings and sites
Ultimately, anything your business does can be replicated by some other organization. Your brand is the only thing that cannot be taken or copied. Your reputation is specific to you, and the brand is what people identify you as. Your brand is your identity.
It’s been a busy year for all our communications, marketing and design folks at USGBC. Here’s a handy guide to our tips from 2019, broken down by category.
Tips for graphic designers
- Keeping up with graphic design trends
- USGBC’s new LEED v4.1 advertising campaign
- Designing the Greenbuild booth for a great attendee experience
Tips for social media teams
- Social media strategy for live events: Working on-site
- Social media strategy for live events: The planning stage
- Social media strategy for live events: Post-show reporting
Tips for digital and content marketers
- 3 ways quizzes can help your marketing
- How to edit your own writing
- Sourcing sustainable merchandise and vendors
- Articles that point users to existing resources
- How to enforce brand guidelines
- Top 5 takeaways from Digital Summit DC
- Top 2019 updates to the AP Stylebook
- Tracking your marketing impact with UTM codes
Tips for email marketers
- Create a personalized email experience through segmentation
- The dos and don’ts of email subject lines
Tips for web designers
- Case study: Redesigning the Greenbuild international website
- How different web browsers affect user experience