Like all functional areas of a company, the Communication Department plays a key role in helping an organization reach its objectives. It makes an organization understandable; it emphasizes its differences; it prioritizes messages for its key audiences. Ultimately, Communications works to package and position an organization – to make sure its messages are clear, coherent and consistent only then, can stakeholders be most supportive.
This packaging and positioning takes the form of a Strategic Communication Plan. Whether it’s focused on the organization in its entirety or its products or services, it addresses two important areas: Internal Communication and External Communication. Internal communication is concerned with creating and promoting a positive, productive workforce. External communication is concerned with the messages directed to outside audiences, with a goal of increasing visibility, enhancing reputation, and influencing perception.
Following is a six-step process for developing such a plan. Every organization, no matter its size, needs to go through these steps.
1. Understand the Challenge.
Don’t guess. It’s important to start by taking the time to determine your mission âEURo the real communication concerns and opportunities for improvement. Are stakeholders confused and can communication clarify the mystery? Have internal or external audiences been neglected? Is this the year to increase awareness and ramp up media relations efforts?
2. Conduct a Communication Audit.
If objective research isn’t done, the plan won’t be customer focused and will tend to be based on past experience, historical knowledge, or hearsay. Look at existing communication tools and messages being sent. Talk with folks inside and outside your organization about their perception of the organization. Consider competitors. Who does it make sense to emulate?
3. Package and Position.
Formalize your messaging. How will you talk about your organization so your internal and external audiences will understand what you do? What are the differential advantages you need to accentuate? Make sure you create official corporate communication tools to ensure consistency, e.g., a Brand Positioning Document, Key Messages and an Elevator Pitch.
4. Map the Audiences.
Determine your audiences that need to be reached and lay out a plan to connect with them. Think about existing channels of communication and current messages. Leverage what’s already in place.
The objective of a Communications Department isn’t necessarily to create new communication tools or establish new channels, but rather to make communications more effective.
5. Plan for Improvement.
Determine how to measure success. What quantitative and qualitative data will demonstrate that your communication strategy is on track? Be sure to have a consistent, sustainable process for connecting with your audiences, measure it, and don’t forget to link your results to your initial communication plan objectives.
6. Execute the Plan.
Create an implementation plan, work it, and stick with it! It’s as simple and difficult as that.
An important point to remember throughout the development of your plan is that it’s not necessary to focus on all your stakeholder groups at once. The best strategy is to target those that will have the most immediate and positive impact on your business, and those that are a source of specific concern.
For example: Do your employees have a thorough understanding of your mission so they can work productively toward your goal? Do your customers have sufficient information about your products or services so they know when to call? Do your media outlets understand your business enough to use your executives as subject matter experts? Is there potential for your company to have a negative impact on the community?
The last thing you want to do is develop and commit to a process only to realize that it can’t be sustained because of limited company resources.
Clearly your strategic communication plan will become a useful and powerful tool. It will focus your stakeholders on what’s truly important in the eyes of your organization and will create reality, simply by putting words on paper and sharing information consistently and predictably. Your plan will be an important catalyst for change and will ultimately lead to organizational development, enhanced productivity, greater employee satisfaction, and improved performance.