What should your communication strategy look like? Well, it can look however you want it to look. It can be a couple of power point slides or an 80-page document. While it’s generally agreed that a communications strategy is built around a sequence of the overall goal or objective, the strategy to reach that goal, and the tactics or actions that will result, there are no restrictions on what it should or should not contain.
The first question to ask is: why do you need a communications strategy? Often, a business setback or burning issue leads to an immediate call for a communications strategy as though it will be a panacea for all the woes affecting an organisation, providing a comforting sensation that something is being done. “Just fix it,” someone cries.
If the issue being confronted is discrete, and clearly responsive to a communications approach, then this can be effective; a well-prepared organisation should already have the mechanisms in place to respond to short-term issues. But in many cases, it can lead to “a strategy for strategy’s sake”, something crafted in isolation from the range of other inputs affecting the organisation – whether they be business, marketing or people-related – and unlikely to deliver meaningful results. It will be more vulnerable to attack from those in the organisation who don’t see their concerns incorporated. It will be filed away and forgotten.
Preparing a communications strategy requires clear thinking, and the hardest thinking usually applies at the outset. What do you want your communications strategy to do? What is the specific challenge that needs to be confronted? Do you have a full picture of the situation? What further information needs to be gathered? All options should be debated at this early stage, including reframing the purpose of the strategy. It’s better to get it right from the start.
Your goal or objective needs to be clear and expressed in concrete language. If the communications strategy is designed to influence the broad positioning of the group, it needs to be integrated with the various business, people and stakeholder factors that can influence overall organisational performance. Your goal also needs to be a realistic and achievable. If it’s not, “spin” is not going to bridge the gap.
Achieving that goal requires a strategy. Again, at risk of beating a dead horse, concrete and clear language is a must. Your strategic approach needs to explain how you will achieve your goal, how it has been shaped to deal with the challenges and risks facing the business, and do so in sufficient detail that everyone will be clear on what’s required. This will often be supported by the messaging that underpins strategy. Finally there are the tactics, the way the strategy will be implemented and how you will approach various stakeholders.
Some will want a massive document in incredible detail. Others will want just a slide of headlines. Both of those approaches have pitfalls. It’s important to get the balance right so that the C-suite is clear about what they are signing up for and how it will be achieved. And it’s important that the strategy is not so unwieldy that it is destined to be nothing more than a doorstop.
By Andrew Stokes who has worked for more than 20 years in the fields of communications, delivering for organisations who seek to advance their interests and protect reputation, often during periods of crisis
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