Nonprofit Communications Today Is Tennis, Not Golf

Nonprofit-Communications-Tennis

I’m pleased to welcome back Rebecca Leet, who helps nonprofits sharpen their goals and connect with the people who can achieve them.  Rebecca covered the importance of knowing your base and nine questions to ask about your organization’s messages in her last posts.  Here’s Rebecca…

It seemed as if every restaurant TV was tuned to the recent Masters Golf tournament. Yet during one such exposure, I realized that the difference between golf and tennis mirrors that between communicating through traditional media versus new media.

Contrasting the two sports gives communicators a way to bring home how different marketing is today than it was 10 years ago.  The contrast may help our colleagues grasp the fundamentally different relationship organizations have with our audiences now.

Golf is the old communications environment in which your organization had great control. Except in crisis situations, you had time to plan, create, and deliver communications.  You had time to create its message. You had time to get ready to launch the message, to “tee it up”.  And you could choose what channels to use – the environment into which the message was launched.

And if the message turned out to be a dud, you could revise it and re-launch – like a golfer who hits into a sand trap, inspects the lie, considers his escape and chips back onto the fairway.

Tennis is our lives in today’s communications environment where there is very little control. Sometimes you can serve up a message, but just as often the communication initiative comes from outside or the “other side of the net.”

Once the communication has begun there’s no pause in the action.  A tennis player has to be able to react immediately to the shot that is coming at her.  She has to be in the right place, at the right time, and have the stroke (read communications skill) if she wants to stay in the game.

Next time you’re building a colleague or board member’s understanding of how the communications landscape has evolved, try the golf/tennis analogy.  Reinforce it with concrete examples of communications wins, and losses, on your part and by colleague organizations.

It’s likely that at the end of that conversation, they’ll have a much greater understanding of the complexity of today’s communication environment and why you’re taking the steps you are to engage your base.

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Guest Blogger on April 28, 2010 in Planning and Evaluation | 1 comment
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1 Lisa April 30, 2010 at 9:59 am

This is a terrific analogy — up to a point. Both golf and tennis are played on static platforms: a particular golf course doesn’t change from day to day and a tennis court has fixed boundaries of play. In this new media landscape, the field on which we play changes rapidly. So if we add this insight to your analogy, new media is like tennis, only that the baseline keeps moving around, the surface of the court can change in an instant, and you need to switch racquets after every game, if not every point.

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