It's an often misunderstood document that is talked about but a communication strategy isn't just a tick box exercise document to bury on a drive somewhere - it's a vital part of doing business and needs to be a living document that acts as a wayfinder for your organization.
What is a communication strategy?
It's an often-used term but some don't understand what it is, even if they know they need to have one. Even if you're not a professional communicator but you have to regularly engage with a wide range of audiences, it's a good idea to get a basic communication strategy in place.
A communication strategy is critical way to help provide the framework to connect your objectives with key messages as well to support implementation and sustainability.
Measuring success is much harder to achieve without a clear communication strategy and progress can be lost if key stakeholders don't know what the strategy is in the first place.
There is no one way to do this but whether your communication strategy is designed for a one-off campaign or your overall organization communication, there are some key elements;
Statement of Purpose
Be clear about why you have a communication strategy and what you hope to achieve. Work backwards. Set your goal in mind, then look at what needs to happen to get there.
It doesn't have to be a lengthy section, just a reminder of the what and the why of your strategy.
e.g. This communication strategy shows how effective communications can:
- help achieve overall organizational objectives
- engage effectively with stakeholders
- demonstrate or evidence success
- ensure people understand what the organization does
- change behavior and/or perceptions where necessary.
Where are you now? You should start the main part of a communication strategy by setting the scene and giving a background on what your organization does, what the main functions are and key points to understand any possible challenges. Context helps the reader and stakeholders understand your objectives.
Communication objectives should support your organizational strategy. This is where you ensure the strategy aligns with the organizational values and vision.
You then need to clearly outline what you want to achieve through communication activities. Always use the SMART theory for outlining objectives;
- Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
- Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
- Assignable – specify who will do it.
- Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
This section should give a description of the key stakeholders you communicate with or wish to communicate with, both internal and external. Here's some advice on how to carry out a stakeholder mapping exercise.
Understanding your audience is crucial and that's why you need to understand the unmet needs of your audience and what motivates them. Here's some more about how empathy is important in communication.
Once you have identified your audiences, the next task is to breakdown your objectives into key messages for each group. You should think about what each group needs to know from a practical point of view and what the overarching key messages are.
Communication method and activities
For each stakeholder group you need to identify the communication methods you're going to use and who will be managing those methods. It's important to get the timing and the tone right, which is easier to do when you've already identified your audiences and set out the key messages.
You can expect to have multiple communication method for each audience, but always be sure to have a reason to use them - not just because it's the latest medium or it suits you. It has to be right for your audience otherwise it will fall flat.
Evaluation is crucial for measuring the effectiveness of your strategy with all of your audiences. If you don't evaluate you will miss out on demonstrating your professional value and the opportunity to learn from mistakes for next time.
Information you might look at for feedback could be;
- Social media engagement stats (NOT just follows!)
- Was there a direct impact on an action (e.g. did call volume go down, was there a reduction in a particular type of crime, has money been saved?)
- How many minutes of news air time did you receive? Was it positive, negative or neutral?
- Carrying out audience surveys - who saw the activity and did they do anything because of it?
- Do internal audiences feel it impacted their role positively or negatively?
Using all of the qualitative and quantitative data effectively will help you shape the strategy as things change and adapt, which is more likely to set you up for success in the future.
The key to a good communication strategy is being flexible and adapting as you go based on your dynamic learning of the situation.