WHY A COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY WILL SET YOU UP FOR SUCCESS
Often when I take on a new contract to lead a communications function, one of the first things I look for is the strategy and often I either find that there isn’t one, or if there is, it doesn’t reflect the organisation’s strategy. And that’s a shame because a good communications strategy can provide clear direction and outlines what the communications function should achieve over a period of time to support the organisation.
It’s important to align the communications strategy to the organisational strategy to ensure everyone is heading in the same direction, after all, it’s a supportive and guiding document. It also makes creating the communications strategy easier – you get a head start as almost all organisations have an overarching strategy.
As a contractor writing a strategy, it’s important to take the time to understand the business well by talking to people in key roles within the organisation. Once you have a good draft, ask for feedback from the leadership team, communications team and anyone else you think would add value. Be clear what you are expecting from the reviewer and provide a deadline for them to come back to you with their thoughts.
What’s the difference between a strategy and a plan?
I’ve heard some people use the words strategy and plan interchangeably, but there is a clear difference. A strategy sets out the current situation, identifies the gaps and sets the direction of action that will achieve a vision over a longer period of time, typically three years. It also identifies the ‘why’.
The strategy should cover in-depth all aspects of internal and external communication and as it is a living document, it should be reviewed annually.
A communications plan helps to fill in the details on the ‘who’ and ‘how’ when executing the strategy within a project or event, and over a shorter period of time – it’s more tactical.
Writing a strategy – the template
How you write your strategy is your choice, but it’s easiest when working from a template that already has all of the headings in place to guide your thinking. Key aspects you can include in a strategy are:
1. Purpose – include the organisation’s values etc.
2. Background and current situation – what’s our story
3. Communications objectives – what we do
4. Communications approach – how we will do it
5. Audience (internal and external) – who we work with
6. Key messages – specific to stakeholders
7. Known risks – include current and proposed mitigations
8. Measurement/evaluation/feedback – what success will look like
Depending on how much you want to do you could also include a media plan (don’t forget social media) and stakeholder engagement analysis in the appendix.
Once you have a signed-off communications strategy let everyone in the organisation know it’s available, or better still invite your colleagues to a presentation highlighting some of the content. It’s important that everyone understands and values what the communications function is doing for the organisation and its stakeholders.
By Kathy Milne, Commtractor and Director of Milne Communications based in Wellington & Wairarapa, New Zealand. Kathy is a highly accomplished strategic leader with over a decade of communications and PR experience in the public and private sectors.
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