From the Trenches: Cats. Cats. Cats.

July 6, 2014. That’s the day I received the E-mail from Kenneth W. Cain approving my application for Active membership in the Horror Writers Assn. In the nearly two years since that E-mail, my involvement with the HWA has evolved from posting Horror Selfies to managing the organization’s public messages. While the former was certainly entertaining (Seriously. Have you seen some of those pics?), the latter is something I thoroughly enjoy.

For any organization, communications (and its subdivision of public relations) is a crucial process, but it is also often a very convoluted process. That the HWA is a volunteer organization (with those volunteers spread across a half-dozen time zones) only adds to the challenge. A typical company might have three-four full-time employees charged solely with managing social media. For the HWA, we have one-two volunteers for each of our social-media platforms—Twitter, Facebook Group, Facebook Page, StokerCon Facebook Page, Pinterest, Instagram. Another handful manage the Web site, another set works with Horror Selfies. Then there’s the newsletter and the special mailers. Getting a message out, across all our channels, at the same time? Well ... two words: herding cats.

A few weeks back, we put out an announcement that hit both Facebook sites, the HWA Web site, Twitter, and the wires at the same instant...nearly down to the second. I immediately had a mini dance party in my home office.

But, before a message can go out, it first has to be crafted and scheduled. Some more cats to be herded. The HWA has several committees, each with their own respective chairs. Those chairs have a vision and, understandably, an eagerness to get the word out ASAP. Unfortunately, ASAP isn’t always possible. We first have to determine what exactly we want to say. That usually involves some give and take as we work towards narrowing the message to a couple hundred words. Often the whittling-down process is easy. But, when you’re announcing something as big as StokerCon, that word limit can be a challenge.

Once we’ve decided what we’re saying, we need to figure out where/how we want to say it. Should we put out a teaser first? Should we issue a full press release? Should the press release go out to the widest possible audience ($$$), or is a targeted approach more appropriate? If targeted is preferred, are our media lists up-to-date?

Then, there’s the timing. Put out too many announcements at once, and we’re diluting the impact of each. Go too long without an announcement, and we’re fighting the perception of idleness. In the past year, we’ve developed a message calendar, which allows the communications team to not only stay on top of plugging and promoting each project, but also gives us a long view idea of what we’re saying and when.

Thankfully, and not surprisingly, the HWA’s committee chairs have understood the constraints under which the communications team works. And each of them has been overwhelmingly supportive of the process and appreciative of the final outcome.

Do we always get it right? No. And, quite frankly, that’s not a realistic goal. Do we get it right more often than we get it wrong? I believe we do. And we’ll continue to work toward improving that ratio. But, for the times things don’t go quite according to plan—news is released before we’re ready, a project doesn’t get the attention it should, a message isn’t received as it was intended—the communications team kicks into high gear.

That high gear is more important now than ever before, thanks to social media and its ability to grant instant gratification. There was a time when a company could reasonably take a day or two to respond to a crisis. Now? An hour is perceived as a long time. And, believe me, I’m the posterchild for Internet Impatience Syndrome. I fume when a Web page takes more than a second to load. However, part of the job of a communications coordinator is managing expectations. In that, too, I think there’s been more success than failure ... but there’s room for improvement.

Yet, for all the potential headaches, I can honestly say I’m thrilled to currently hold this position. Not only do I get to work with an impressive set of elected officers and board members, I also have the opportunity to work with a tireless crew of communications gurus. Together, we’ve launched the incredibly successful Horror Selfies and Alone Is Scary campaigns; expanded our media contacts from a few dozen outlets to several hundred; increased our media reach to tens of millions of impressions; and streamlined a process that has more branches than Cthulhu has tentacles. And ... we’re not done!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tiny peek into HWA’s communications process. And, if any of the above excites you the way it excites me, please volunteer! (You didn’t really think I’d close without begging for volunteers, did you?)

Okay ... I’m off to get our next press release ready. Come here, you darn cats!