7(ish) Steps to take the headache out of comms planning

In our last blog, we talked about the fact that only half of all businesses have a written communications strategy - and five reasons why you should have one. 

We get it. Sitting down to write a strategy can be a daunting prospect - where do you even begin?

A glance at Google will reveal examples from the most basic strategies-on-a-page, to 90-slide powerpoint decks put together by giant consulting firms. Figuring out the right approach for your organization is a critical first step.

The key thing to remember is a strategy has to be USEFUL: if it’s on a single page there’s probably not enough detail to help you really achieve your goals; and if it’s 90 pages long, no one’s going to read it.

As with most things the truth is in the middle, and it is a manageable task. 

So with that said, here are our seven(ish) tips for crafting a communications strategy that’s right for you. 

 

1: Do your homework

Understand your business’s strategy

It might seem obvious, but it’s surprising how often we’ve seen departments develop strategies that vary wildly from their organization’s overall strategy - sometimes to the point of contradicting it directly. You don’t need us to tell you that this isn’t going work.

A communications strategy should nest directly underneath the corporate strategy. If you have the opportunity to be part of the corporate strategy development process, seize it, because it’s an unparalleled chance get your head around where the business is going, and how leaders think. 

Even if you can’t do this, spend time with the most senior people you can get access to, and get their input. Simply reading the strategy on the intranet will only give you part of the picture: leadership insight will tell you the real story. What’s more, you’ll be sowing vital seeds for when you need sign-off on your final strategy, not to mention building important relationships.

Know your audiences

A corporate communications strategy isn’t just about speaking to one group of people. Spending the time to segment the groups and sub-groups of audiences will ensure that the tactics you eventually implement are targeted and effective.

Depending on the nature of your organisation, your strategy is likely to address the communications needs of:

  • Customers (this includes clients, members and donors - anyone who’s you giving money)
  • Stakeholders (partner organisations, community groups, alumni) 
  • Investors 
  • Board members
  • Employees

It’s really helpful if you can get to know members of each audience group. Speak to them in person so you can appreciate why their connection to your organization is important to them. This is immeasurably valuable when it comes to selecting the right time and manner in which to communicate with these groups. After all, the best communication develops lasting connections with people, rather than just acting as a megaphone.

Once you’re clear about your audience, pulling together a stakeholder map is a very useful way of prioritizing messaging and campaigns.

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2: Have a purpose

It’s easy to get lost in the ‘soup’ when developing a strategy. There are so many elements to pull together that you can lose track of why you’re writing the damn thing in the first place. 

Setting a clear purpose as the first thing you write down provides a very helpful ‘north star’ when you get tangled in messaging matrices. 

Here are some examples:

To position our organization as the leading authority on wheat trading in our chosen markets

To support our business’s expansion into Asia within three years

To influence climate change policy in North America

3: Look around

It’s important to understand what’s happening both within and outside your organization when preparing your strategy. There are common methodologies you can use to do this - for example SWOT and PEST analyses. These can be useful but they should ideally be covered in the corporate strategy, so we’re not going to cover them here.

What we do suggest though is to be able to answer two key questions:

  1. What barriers might there be to achieving your objectives; and
  2. What specific, communications-related opportunities might support you to deliver your objectives? 
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4: Tackle the WHAT

You’ve invested good time in understanding the ‘why’ behind your strategy. Now that you have a solid grasp of your organization’s strategic goals, you’re in a good position to align these to your communications goals. 

There should be a range of strategic communications objectives based around the major organisational objectives. Each of these should address the relevant communications needs of the audiences you’ve identified.

For example: if your organization aims to be a leading authority on wheat trading, your corresponding comms strategy might be to contribute a feature article to a highly regarded trade publication. The tactic that would support this objective would be regular thought leadership pieces published on your company’s website and promoted via appropriate social media channels, and sent to your board and investors in newsletter format. This then gives you authority to pitch to the trade publication.

5: Tackle the HOW

The example above gives you a flavour of how you might start to deliver on your objectives. You should consider:

  • The key campaigns you’re going to run throughout the year
  • Your communications mix: which channels (segmented by audience) will you focus on?
  • How you’ll measure success

This last point is critical. As a strategic advisor to the business, you need to have a clear understanding of what it looks like to achieve your goals. Knowing when you’ve reached your destination is essential, but so is a good understanding of the milestones along the way. Being able to measure your progress and correct course where necessary is essential to implementing an effective communications strategy.

6. Get buy-in

This is where your early work connecting with leaders pays off. You might have written the most world-beating strategy ever seen. But if your stakeholders haven’t signed off on it, it won’t mean a thing. And by sign-off, we don’t mean the CEO just acknowledging the email you sent and telling you to get on with it. It’s vital that leaders buy into the communications goals you’ve set, so they can support you when you get that inevitable push-back six months into delivery.  

7. Go!

So now you’re an expert, it’s time to put pen to paper! So, errr… how exactly do you do that?

There are loads of free templates online, and these can be a good place to get your thinking started. But they aren’t tailored to you, and generally they’re not comprehensive - what one strategy has in spades, another lacks entirely. One option is to download a few and piece them together, which is time consuming but definitely more effective. 

Or, you can invest in an expert who can pull one together for you. Of course we’d like it if you asked us for our help. But if you do opt to seek advice, whoever you choose to work with should take the time to get to know your business, speak to both leaders and team members, and be willing to support you as you deliver your strategy.

The benefit is that an outside adviser sees your organisation with fresh eyes. They have the time you don’t to speak to large groups of stakeholders and mull over strategic options, without being drawn into the day-to-day firefighting that exists in house. They’re unencumbered by the baggage that can come with even the best organisational relationships, and can be honest in ways that isn’t always possible when internal reputations are on the line.

Good luck! We’d love to know if you decide to develop a strategy for the first time, and how it goes. Drop us a line!