Jul 27

Preparation is key: Learning mise en place

This Sunday afternoon, I decided to get a head start on food for the week as I was feeling in a culinary mood. I just picked up Samin Nosrat’s Salt. Fat. Heat. Acid., which is a superb read for any cooking enthusiast, and it inspired me to get out my wooden spoon after a few weeks of dwindling enthusiasm in the kitchen. With my newfound vigor, I set out to make a few dishes I could have at the ready throughout the week.

I am the type of cook who is horrendous at following recipes, rarely measures and probably uses too many spoons. I like to think this has worked to my advantage over the years and has helped me learn to cook instinctually, trusting my senses rather than relying on a recipe as gospel truth. (Samin’s book is all about instinctual cooking, so I think I’ve found my people.) Though I like to approach cooking a little haphazardly, one area I’m trying to get better on is the preparation or, what the French call, mise en place.

This concept, translated in English as having everything in its place, sounds like a no-brainer. But prepping and putting all your ingredients in separate bowls before you even ignite the burner can be a bit cumbersome. It’s often easy just to get the meal going and cut, chop and prep along the way. And while it might save some time, your dish might not turn out as planned. If you’re worrying about chopping garlic and herbs while simultaneously trying to sear a beautiful ribeye, you might end up scorching it – not a great night in the kitchen.

While I’m not always the most planful in the kitchen, today I said I’m going to do it right. I ran to the market and as I returned home, put on my apron and got ready to turn a tableful of groceries into a ratatouille, crispy chicken thighs, tomato cucumber couscous salad and Mediterranean chicken pitas. As I was washing tiny heirloom tomatoes, slicing sweet onions and salting vibrant eggplant, I begin to think about how prepping food is not so different than preparing for communications.

Clients often come to us with a goal: I want to build awareness for my new product or service, I want to improve communication with our team, I want to reposition our brand, etc. While we are ready to help them achieve their goal, there are typically a number of steps we need to take before we can go live. Taking the time to build out communications infrastructure is going to a) make writing the actual content pieces, whether that’s a press release or social media post, much easier and b) create a more consistent, concerted effort, which will ultimately lead to a more effective strategy.

At Sabo PR, we often start with key messages – these are arguably the most critical component to any brand: they distill who you are and what you’re all about. They should rarely change and should be used consistently across all channels. They should also be available to your entire organization – not just marketing. True brand cohesion happens when everyone – and I mean everyone – is speaking the same about the company.

You need to know what channels your audience is using and how they might want to interact with you.  Social media? A good website? Traditional media? All great, but make sure you take the time to learn where they are so you can most effectively reach them. We’ll often have someone come to us and say, I want to be X and we say, that’s lovely, how come? Sometimes they will share a well thought out answer back, but sometimes it’s a “well, that’s where everyone is these days.” Are they? Perhaps, but unless you know for certain your efforts will be feeble.

Good media lists, trained spokespeople, up-to-date and easy-to-use brand guidelines, robust content calendars, the list goes on. All of these are components necessary to building a strong communications campaign. But they take time to pull together. And sure, you could start roaring up that media campaign, but what happens when you’re halfway through and realize you don’t have the right contact or are inconsistent with messaging? You will likely have to make modifications, which can sometimes be expensive and often don’t lead to as strong of a result if it was done properly before. When you go to measure your results, you’ll often fall flat. If you don’t have solid key messages, will your audience truly understand what you’re trying to tell them? If you send incomplete press releases, will the media pick up your news? It’s all in the details to ensure you have a success.

When I began cooking Sunday afternoon, having everything in its place really gave me a leg up. I was able to add ingredients exactly when they needed to be added, was really able to focus on smelling and tasting to ensure it was perfectly seasoned and felt relaxed during the whole process. When it was all said and done, I had three great dishes that gave me a kick-start to my week.

Everyone may see the end result, but it’s the ingredients that make the dish. The same goes true for communications. So, I hope you’ll start thinking about how to be mis en place when it comes to your communication strategy.

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