All communications programming begins with strategic planning. I’ve worked in enough organisations – either as an employee or a consultant – to know that there are as many different processes as there are … well, organisations.
For at least five of those companies, I was a member of teams developing the strategic planning process. For the first two instances, I also researched different models from another 20+ companies. As much as the variations were endless, there were a lot of similarities beyond the clever names and diagrams of arrows, boxes and circles.
The same areas of focus came through again and again, although not always in the same order. The same questions came up, although paraphrased to fit the industry or category. From the better strategic models, I also found a clear evolution into creative problem-solving.
From all this research, I put together a basic model of strategic communications planning which I continue to re-check by testing the steps and refining the questions. If I say so myself, I like that it’s simple. (I quickly learnt complexity never helps strategic planning.) I’ve nixed clever names, preferring to focus on the steps. Each step is matched to a broad question with a series of underlying questions to put the emphasis on the answers to the questions – which is where you find the real value in any strategic planning model.
Finally, let me end with my preferred definition of strategy, written by Jeffrey Harrison, chair of Strategic Management at the Robins School of Business, University of Richmond: “A strategy is a plan that integrates major goals, policies and action sequences into a cohesive whole in support of the organisation’s mission.”
How does this model fit with your own strategic communications planning process?
What is our objective?
What is our vision and mission of the organisation?
What is our business objective?
What role will communications play to help achieve the business objective?
What role will our team or department have in helping achieve both the business and communications objectives?
Why are these our objectives?
What is the revenue risk and priority?
Based on these objectives, how are we going to measure our success, both quantitatively and qualitatively?
What issues do we face?
What is going on in the world which might prevent us from achieving our goals?
What are the communications problems or issues we need to address now? (‘Fire fighting’)
What are the problems or issues we need to address in the future? (‘Fire prevention’)
Which issues can communications influence or prevent, and which are ones we can only monitor and evaluate?
What issues are directly attributable to our competition, either real or perceived?
Does our executive suite realise these problems are important issues?
Have these problems been translated into a formal business strategy?
What is the source of our concerns?
Where is this a problem?
When is it a problem?
Who is involved, or affected? (See Step 3)
How do we quantify that we know these are problems? Has it changed in recent times?
Are there intelligence gaps, and if so, what kind of research or analysis is required to fill these missing areas?
What is the risk of ignoring these issues?
Is our competition already addressing these issues, and how? If so, what is our positioning to these activities?
What opportunities can we leverage?
What opportunities might help us address, eliminate, neutralise or minimise these issues?
What business aspects, products or services do we have on our side?
What areas of trust are we strong?
Tools like a SWOT Analysis or Force Field Analysis are ideal in helping to organise and anlayse the answers to these questions.
Who are we trying to reach?
Which is the single audience which must change their attitude, opinion or behaviour so we might achieve our objectives? Think strongly about whether the primary audience is the media. Generating media without achieving the business objective is not an effective campaign.
What groups of people influence the attitudes, opinions or behaviour of the other audiences, particularly the primary audience?
Which media – traditional, digital or social – can help convey the messages to both primary and secondary audiences?
What do we know about the communications consumption of the primary and secondary audiences? How has it changed, and do we see it changing in the future?
In this campaign, how much (money, resources, times, energy) should we spend on reaching each group?
Are we reaching one group – media, for example – but not the primary audience?
What does the primary audience think now?
What’s the current mindset of the primary audience? Why?
What do we expect them to do – realistically – as a result of a campaign?
What’s the little voice in the back of their heads telling them?
What past experiences, events, issues, history, perceptions (right or wrong), or personal attitudes do they have?
What macro influences are shaping public thought (environmental, societal, economic)?
What are outside groups or organizations telling them to believe? (rivals, competitors, neutral parties who can’t pick sides)
What are we going to tell them?
What messages will change their minds?
Facts What rational points do we need to convey to the audiences? (Rational reasons persuade.)
Feelings What emotional points do we need to convey to the audiences? (Emotional reasons motivate.)
How do we organize the messages for maximum delivery?
Who will be our effective spokespeople?
Can we leverage our employee base to help deliver messages?
What are we going to do?
Is there a singular focus to changing perceptions? (e.g., a big idea, a core concept, a theme)
What creative tactics can we develop to:
- Deliver our messages?
- Address the issues?
- Convey our good news?
- Reach the appropriate audiences?
- Achieve our objectives?
What other areas of the organisation do we need involve?
What levels of sign-off do we need for implementation?
What evidence do we have that shows our focus will work? Can they reflect our proposed measurement plan?
How will we implement this plan?
Do we have internal support (other departments) or external support (agencies of record, consultants, free-lance individuals)?
What is our budget and time-frame? Is either flexible?
Is there a priority order for implementation?
How will we keep track of our objectives and measurement as the campaign progresses? How will we adapt the program as time goes on?
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. Lewis Carroll
The future influences the present just as much as the past. Friedrich Nietzsche