Feature Article - September/October 2009

Message-Craft From Start to Finish

Continuing Communications Strategies to Improve Program Effectiveness

By Rick Dandes


fficient, engaging and informative communication is at the core of all successful recognition and incentive programs. From the pre-launch phase, through launch, ongoing to the conclusion of the program and post-program analysis, cohesive and creative communication aimed at both participants and senior company executives is critical in deriving the maximum value from the incentive initiative.

"A performance improvement program represents a sizable investment to an organization," explained Paula Godar, director of performance strategy for Maritz Inc. "Getting the return on that investment that is expected and deserved requires the full and enthusiastic participation of the performance improvement target audience."

In order for that to happen, she continued, some important points need to be communicated to program participants. First and foremost, people need to know that the program exists; then, that management is involved; that the program will be exciting in its execution; and finally, that it can yield tangible rewards, both personal rewards and rewards to the overall organization. For the program to work, participants have to see it, want it badly, know how to get it and think about the reward all the time.

"That's all accomplished through communication," Godar said.

Any launch should have a big impact, and news of it has to stand out from all the other communications people get during their workday. You can't change behavior if you don't get a participant's attention and keep it throughout the program.

One way to get attention is to give the program an identity. Either a theme or a logo can work, because that makes it easy for the participant to recognize and identify with the initiative. It's important to keep it simple, especially when making the announcement. Just provide the key information that audiences really need to know, and don't overwhelm them with all the mechanics and details of the program at the launch. Develop interest in the program by explaining goals and the award opportunities that are associated with goal achievement.

In other words, said Godar, "Dramatize the award opportunities."

Goals should be realistic and awards attainable, said Dana Slockbower, director of marketing with Rymax Marketing Services, of Pine Brook, N.J. "No one is going to be excited to be a part of the program if they feel the goals are meant to be set so high they are unreachable. Employees don't typically stay 20-plus years or longer. If it takes someone 10 years to earn a TV, they are probably not going to change many behaviors if they feel they can't ever redeem for an item they want."

Make the program relevant, added Timothy Richter, senior brand planner, engagement and events with Minneapolis-based Carlson Marketing. "Most times, while in a launch mode, incentive participants are interested in learning the timing and the value proposition, which we sometimes refer to as the 'what's in it for me?' factor, and the summary of how to participate," he said.

"It's important to understand timing," Richter explained. "Be aware of what's going on in the target audience's world in order for the message to have the best chance to be received. You don't want this initiative to go unnoticed."

It is also important for participants to see that there is manager support and involvement. Is there going to be a message from the CEO or the top sales performer as part of the rollout plan? When a key leader is involved in the project—someone people respect—participants will understand that this is important to the company, that it's on executive management's radar. A letter from a top company executive shows upper-management commitment.