“It is not enough to be busy. The question is, what are we busy with?” Thoreau
Too often, organizations are guilty of producing volumes of communications material and content without a clear understanding of the intended impact on key audiences or the organization’s bottom line. This shotgun approach to communications reflects a mentality that surely some (if not all!) of what is being disseminated will hit and stick with the audience. Typically, this approach is ineffective and wasteful of human and fiscal resources. There is a better way.
Strategic communications planning is a powerful management activity for identifying issues, setting priorities, defining strategies, and determining performance benchmarks and expectations. The product – a strategic communications plan – is an essential tool for building strong, positive relationships with key stakeholders.
Non-strategic communication activities are program-focused, activity-oriented and reactive. This approach relegates communications to a support function where value is measured by output rather than outcome. A strategic communications approach identifies expected outcomes, sets out strategies to achieve targets, and enables the impact of various actions to be measured. This can provide objective evidence to senior management, Board Directors, investors, and others that communication programs do indeed have value beyond numbers.
Some of the other benefits of strategic communications planning include:
• An overall plan is in place that sets out corporate-wide strategies to deal with the information needs, attitudes and perceptions of key stakeholders
• Communication goals are linked to corporate goals
• Objectives are measurable and focused on results, not activity – evaluation tests effectiveness, impact and value of corporate messages, tools, techniques and initiatives
• Communication initiatives are proactive and based on a good understanding of target audiences and the environment, rather than being reactive and based on subjective assumptions
• Decision-making reflects strategic thinking. This reduces the negative outcomes that often result from ad hoc, reactionary communications
• Communicators are more focused on tracking and managing issues, and counseling management on effective interventions. They are less absorbed with simply disseminating information
• Communication manpower and resources are allocated (and justified) according to the pursuit and achievement of value-added communications.