Creating a strategic communication plan won’t ensure success all by itself. But the lack of one all but ensures failure.
Some communication projects fail before they get underway. It’s usually not for lack of creative power. The writing might be great. The art, too. But these projects fail for the same reason you would fail to reach your destination if you just started blindly driving your car.
Because no one created a strategic communication plan.
Successful communication projects begin with thoughtful, strategic planning. The process starts with research. The communicator learns about an organization and interviews stakeholders to identify the key business issues. This step is not always simple. Sometimes the most important issues are hidden below the surface. It takes careful research and analysis to identify them.
Issue identification leads to audience analysis. Once we know what to talk about, we have to identify the interested parties. It’s not enough just to list them: potential customers, media, labor, etc. Instead we have to analyze these audiences, defining them by demography, geography, psychological factors, and more.
Once we know our issues and audiences, we can define objectives. Once again, it’s important to be specific. It’s not enough to speak of lofty goals, like grow the business or make people love us. Instead we have to be SMART about it—that is, we have to set objectives that are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Otherwise, how will we know if we ever reach them?
From here, we advance to a discussion of strategies and tactics. They’re not the same thing. Strategies are the broad moves you make to reach your objectives, like publicize our efforts using social media. Tactics are the detailed steps in your strategy, like tweet three times a day using such-and-such a hashtag. Or build relationships with financial reporters in key newspapers or blogs and encourage them to report our story.
After strategies and tactics, the conversation turns to messages and channels. We discuss just what we will say to each particular audience and the channels we will use to communicate our message. The obvious (or faddish) channels aren’t always the best choice. Sure, many organizations use social media these days, but the real question isn’t what’s trendy, but rather what is best to deliver your key message to your particular audience. This conversation leads in turn to a detailed discussion of schedules and budgets. Bring on the Gantt charts and spreadsheets. We’re going to get specific about timelines and expenses.
Are we done? No, not yet. We still have to talk about measurement and evaluation. How will we know if your communication program is working if we don’t measure its effects? There are many ways to evaluate effectiveness. Which ones to use depends chiefly on your objectives and tactics. We might use surveys, comment cards, direct observation, or website analytics. The point is to get quantifiable feedback on your communication program. If we’re meeting or exceeding our objectives, we celebrate. If not, we make some changes.
Communicators, do you start your projects by creating a strategic communication plan? How do you think this process adds value to your projects?
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