Making SOCKOs®

SOCKOs® are Strategic Overriding Communications and Knowledge Objectives. We invented this acronym because terms such as ace, press line, key message or even mission, vision and value statements don’t convey what we want in a message. Qs & As make you question, are not message driven, take too much time and sometimes the question reveals confidential information.

We’re former journalists, political aids, scientists and lawyers. We want your statements to have impact with reporters, estimates committees, regulatory bodies and in the courts. The term SOCKO® captures the idea of impact.

But the term is also an acronym with each word having special meaning. A message is Strategic because a spokesperson thought about it, practiced it, rehearsed it and gave serious consideration to whether this particular message will achieve a measurable result in a given forum. The word Overriding reminds speakers that they need to be giving out the most important piece of information they can at all times. Communication stands for the difference between oral and written messages. Oral communication features repetition, imagery, simplicity, brevity and clarity. Knowledge means facts, figures, history and dates. Objective means a measurable, behavioural objective such as a headline in the newspaper, clip on a newscast, regulatory approval or a court ruling in your favour.

We make SOCKOs® quickly and well – mainly because we invented the concept. We’ve worked on short deadlines for high need clients in world capitals on five continents—governments, international NGOs and multi-national companies. We’re used to reading quickly through stacks of papers, reports, tables etc. to identify the important information, even when it’s hidden by political spin, distorted by propaganda or buried in stodgy bureaucratic prose.

We use the same approach when we’re working for a hospital, city council, board of directors or any other client.

We start with a diagnosis. We’ll take information from your web page, annual reports, speeches, briefing notes or whatever you have. We’ll go through your pile of papers very quickly to see if you have the kinds of messages that can be used to persuade. Sometimes we find good material. Usually, it needs to be sorted and simplified. Most organizational messages are written by different people for different purposes months or years apart. We start with a template—categories of messages, and a first stab at what to say about each. In industry categories might include health, safety, the environment, compliance, training and so on. In government the categories might be benefits, cost, jobs and more.

This first phase is like an audit in accounting. Are your trace documents in the files? Are there two signatures on purchase orders over a certain amount? Have the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles been followed? Organizations are complex and people are busy. Our ‘audit’ determines what messages are being delivered, whether they have impact and consistency.

Usually there are gaps. That’s when we need to work with your subject matter experts. We get information the way journalists, scientists, lawyers, legislators, regulators and academics do—by asking questions. We then codify in your SOCKOs® the information we obtained from your experts.

There’s sometimes a third phase. If there are new areas of the law, science or business practices that you need to address in your SOCKOs®, we’ll do the research and draft positions for your approval or modification.

We can get through your material in a few days. Then we can show you a draft of the SOCKO® format that will work for you. The same is true of the interviews with experts. That material forms a second, more substantial draft, which will get you through many tough situations. The research on new positions features searches of academic, legal and journalistic data bases.

When your SOCKOs® are done, they’ll start working for you. Spokespeople need to be using these messages regularly. SOCKOs® are speech modules, orientation documents for new employees, messages for reporters and so on. They should be a living document, modified as new situations dictate.

In order to make everyone in your organization familiar with the official SOCKOs®, we need to be creative. We’ve used SOCKOs® on screen savers with a different one popping up weekly. We’ve used 800 numbers with recorded messages, mass voice mail, mass email, hyper links, audio newsletters and home delivery to employees and their families.

We’re ready to begin. With your active participation, we’ll have you reading a first or second draft in two weeks. In a crisis you’ll be rehearsing with your first draft in hours.