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How to Repeat Yourself Effectively

From Clear Thinking Communications and Susan Parker
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Article: How to Repeat Yourself Effectively

You’ve written a great report or you have fantastic research that people in your field could benefit from. So you put it up on your website, perhaps send out an email announcement, Tweet about it and post a Facebook blurb. Your work is done, right?

But once is not enough when it comes to communicating. You have to find multiple ways, in multiple avenues, at multiple times, to reach the people you most want to reach.  

 “The great paradox of the moment we’re in is that it’s never been easier, cheaper or faster to communicate but it’s never been harder to have your message heard because you are competing against so many other messages and so much other noise in the system,” said Foundation Center president Brad Smith in a recent Communications Network video.

In order to make sure your message is heard amid all this noise, repetition is paramount, Smith said.

“….you really need to figure out what the messages are,” he said. “You need to keep repeating them and get the story out if you are going to penetrate a very noisy media information landscape.”

The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) is one organization that’s doing a good job of repeating its message in different forms at different times. CEP is best known for its Grantee Perception Reports, which provide funders with comparative, candid feedback based on grantee perceptions. But CEP’s broader mission is to provide data and insight so funders can improve their effectiveness and impact.

As a small organization in a noisy media environment, CEP staff must work hard to get the attention of foundation officials.

“I absolutely think repetition is the key to communication,” said Stephen Sullivan, senior coordinator for communications and programming at CEP. “We all are so bombarded by information it’s easy to miss things or dismiss things that don’t seem immediately relevant. We are constantly looking for ways to have things that we think are important be seen by our target audience.”

CEP has taken a number of approaches to repeating its message. Among them:

Slicing and dicing research into short blog posts.  CEP staff produce data-filled research reports that delve into the issues that are central to funder effectiveness. CEP wanted to make these reports more accessible. To do so, CEP staff began writing short “data point” blog posts that highlight one aspect of data in a report it has published. The blog posts point the reader to the full report for more information.

CEP staff glean data that they believe might be interesting to or timely for their audience. For example, in December 2011, right before foundations typically hold board meetings, CEP published a post that featured a research report showing that foundations are likely to send their boards too much material and that much of it will go unread. Instead, the data suggest that staff should focus on the materials directly connected to topics of greatest importance to boards.

“In all of our reports, there is an awful lot of data,” said Ellie Buteau, vice president of research at CEP. “Taking a finding and putting it in a blog post can help it stay in people’s minds. These smaller data points are important if we are trying to drive our point home."

Tweeting, tweeting and more tweeting.  While most organizations Tweet about their reports, blog posts or other news, CEP staff take their Tweets to a new level of energy and thoughtfulness. When CEP has something to say, communications and programming coordinator Addy Ashiru will often send out 8 or 10 Tweets over the course of several days or even months. What I particularly like about CEP’s approach is that they try numerous different Tweets to drum up interest in a report or blog post, rather than relying on simply re-posting the same Tweet at different times. CEP also looks to current events and other news outlets to generate interest in its work. 


For example, in drawing attention to a CEP report on foundation                  assessments, here are just a few of CEP’s Tweets, scattered over a period of several months:

  • 60% of CEOs we surveyed say that too few foundations understand their overall performance today.





  • In case you missed it: What are Foundation CEOs’ Attitudes Toward Assessment?

“Our strategy on Twitter revolves around being a constant presence,” Sullivan said. “As an organization that doesn’t churn out public information all that frequently, it often means recycling old content. I think that’s valuable as long as you mix it up. The more we can get it on different days in different ways, the more likely people will see it.”

Presenting webinars and other engaging events. Another good way to make your research or evaluation come alive is through an event, such as a webinar or presentation at a conference. In September 2011, CEP published a report on its latest research findings on strategy at community foundations. CEP then distributed  the report at the Council on Foundations’ conference for community foundations and has presented it at several other foundation and regional associations for grantmakers meetings.

A few months after they released the report, CEP held a webinar co-sponsored by the Council on Foundations that featured a speaker from one of the community foundations profiled in the report as well as report authors. Around the time of webinar, CEP saw a jump in the downloads of its report. According to Sullivan, the report’s baseline number of downloads is about 150 per month. The report was downloaded 117 percent more than the baseline number the month CEP promoted the webinar (339 downloads) and 294 percent more during the month of the webinar (614 downloads).  

So what is CEP learning so far about their efforts at repetition?

Over the last couple of years, CEP has seen just about all of the numbers they track go up, Sullivan said. From 2010 to 2011 CEP saw a 22 percent increase in publication downloads, a 29 percent increase in unique visitors to their website, and a 168 percent jump in Twitter followers. CEP hopes to see similar increases in 2012, he said.

“It’s tough to really say what led to the increases in our website numbers; working in an office full of researchers, I am always careful not to overstate or mistake correlation for causation,” cautions Sullivan. “My gut would tell me that it had to do with an increased investment in both the quantity and quality of content. I also believe the cross-pollination from our many vehicles for delivery and promotion of content only reinforces and strengthens our message.”

Sullivan added, “There is a downside to repetition if it becomes completely overwhelming and people feel utterly bombarded. But it’s easy for people to avoid things that they don’t want to see. Until we see our numbers going in the wrong direction and shrinking, we believe we are on the right track.”


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