Strategic Communications Planning (Debrief Group, Fourth Meeting)
The following notes were collected on October 20, 2009, at a fourth meeting of senior communicators who met initially on June 10, 2009, at the close of IABC’s World Conference in San Francisco, and again on August 18, 2009, and September 22, 2009.
A big thank you to Stacy Wilson, ABC, and John Knox for contributing meeting notes to this post.
Communications excellence in six parts:
There are many different ways to approach strategic planning. Taking each part of a Gold Quill entry individually, the group discussed some of the questions that communicators ask themselves as they build a strategic plan.
Pay close attention to business cycles and broader goals. Don’t focus just on communication but be prepared to identify other issues and move those forward too.
The group discussed the benefit of using the word stakeholders instead of audience to better reflect the changing role of the communicator in facilitating conversations vs. creating and delivering content to an “audience.” We will approach IABC to propose changing the word in the Gold Quill Call for Entries.
Think not only about your primary audience, but also any secondary audiences that may receive your messages. For example, if you’re communicating with employees, assume your messages will be circulated externally.
Focus on behaviors. Being aware is generally not enough. We must change/drive behavior. Consider how important the stakeholder group is and what kind of influence they have over others.
The group talked about Culture GPS, an iPhone app that enables you to analyze behavior differences in intercultural encounters based on the research of Geert Hofstede. Great, interesting information with important applications to employee communication. The book is Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind.
While we’ve come a long way in measuring the results of our communication activities, we still need to focus on what really matters. For example, obtaining a dozen clips in publications that are not geared to your target audience is less effective than securing one clip in a publication that is very influential among your target audience.
The group discussed the difference between goals and objectives. Goals are the future vision. Objectives are the measurable change. Strategies are how it will be done. Always connect communication goals and objectives to broader business goals.
Measure the right stuff. For example, measure the extent to which employees can explain your company’s vision, not whether or not they think they know or understand it.
Be careful what you name an initiative and how you describe it (the elevator speech). Use language that makes sense for stakeholders. Don’t allow other functions to highjack the naming and description.
Implementation and Challenges
Consider what tools you can use to create consistent approaches, prompt strategic thinking and enable faster response. Integrate channels well and add new channels or retire old ones where it makes sense.
Measurement of Outcomes
Create a metrics plan up front so you know what will be measured, how, by whom and when. Pay attention to what is already being measured and how you might leverage that data. Note where a new measurement effort is required. Consider the qualitative stuff – analyze blog comment content, don’t just count them.
Always define and collect several measurements to avoid interference from background noise. For example, a single metric could be influenced by factors beyond control or the scope of communications. Collecting an array of measurement ensures a more complete picture and presents a more compelling case to senior leaders or skeptics.