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How to Create a Communications Strategy

how to create communications strategyA lot of organizations have separate documented communication strategies for each communications discipline. Your organization may have a public relations strategy, marketing communications strategy, social media strategy and sales strategy, all operating in parallel to accomplish often similar (or exact) goals. I suggest having one, clear and cohesive communications strategy that covers all communications activities within your organization. If there are different people responsible for each strategy, get them all in the same room to create a single one (this goes for any organizational-wide plans as far as I’m concerned).

With communication plans, you’re ultimately developing and delivering messages to target audiences for a desired outcome – that is the fundamental formula. If you’re new to creating communications strategies, or want to match your approach up to an alternative approach, I’ve provided some suggestions below for creating your comprehensive communications strategy.First, Start with Why

Why are you documenting your communications strategy in the first place? What are you hoping to achieve as the result of getting the entire organization to rally around the communications strategy? The why should be overarching. For example, you may want your communications strategy to provide consistency in your messaging across all your communication channels – that is, you want to be telling the same story to all the audiences you touch. This consistency helps to strengthen your brand message and ultimately makes it easier for your teams to determine what communications needs they have to effectively communication their messages to the audiences they’re most interested in reaching and engaging.

Business Case

As an extension of answering the why of your communications program, you should also address the business value tied to the program. For each communications discipline’s needs, you should clearly calculate the business case for each. For example, your sales communications strategies and tactics may be designed to generate a certain volume of qualified leads. Assuming you know your conversion ratios across your sales funnel, and the average value of each customer you convert, you can begin to calculate your return on communications investment from a successful sales communication program.

Your public relations program may support this sales need for more qualified leads, but it may also serve to generate results in the terms of brand awareness or impressions. This reach has value for your organization in terms of generating mentions for your brand. Establishing a baseline of your mentions over a previous time period, you can begin to establish your goals for your program. If the organization invests X dollars in a public relations program, you expect to generate Y more mentions this quarter – helping your organization to achieve a greater share of voice in the marketplace than you currently enjoy.

At this stage, it’s more important that you are successful in developing a hypothesis for what you believe the communications investments will deliver than to establish the actual goals and objectives for your program. This is a high level summary of the business value you hope to deliver as the result of funding your communications programs.

Goals and Objectives

Summarize the goals and objectives for your program – segmenting them by each communications program addressed in your strategy. You should have high level goals, supported by specific objectives you hope to achieve. For example, increasing your press mentions by 100% might be a goal you would have in your communications strategy. Your objectives would detail the measurable results you would achieve across each tactic to achieve the goal. For example, issue three press releases per month, secure 20 press interviews per month, and generate 10 positive sentiment articles as a result of these interviews per month. Every organizations goals and objectives will vary depending on what is important to the success and growth of your organization.

Strategies

What’s your game plan? What strategies will you employ across each communications discipline to move the needle. A lot of organizations bite off more than they can chew with the strategy development part. The most effective programs I’ve seen are those that have fewer strategies that can be adequately supported by the team. Pick the 2-3 strategies per discipline you believe will deliver the greatest results for your limited marketing resources – both the human and financial resources available to you to execute the program. It’s okay to have supplemental – optional or periodic strategies – you may activate over the course of a campaign when you have the available time or budget to do so. Sometimes these additional strategies can be seen as “boosters” or alternatives for when you need to amplify your reach or results, or replace an under-performing campaign program to achieve your results. Your strategy should be brief, but detailed enough for readers to understand why you are suggesting the strategy and how it will work towards meeting the goals you have set for the campaign.

Tactics

Each strategy should be supported by a set of tactics you will use in the next quarter to achieve the strategy. I suggest setting tactics quarterly (or monthly even), allowing you to adapt to the data you get from campaign measurement – and providing the framework to consistently evaluate progress and make adjustments to optimize performance. Again, it’s about selecting the best – not the most – tactics that will best support your strategies.

Audience

Your strategies and tactics for any communications program are worthless without thoughtful analysis around the development of your target audience strategy. Your target audience strategy should address – as specific as possible – the groups or individuals you are trying to reach across each communications program. I suggest defining target audiences as groups, then breaking those groups in to descriptive categories or personas you can get to know intimately. Persona development is native to advertising work, but less common in communications. I suggest you generalize the types of people in your target audiences and name them as characters in your communications play. How will your communications program best resonate with Sally, the mother of three who also works part-time at the mall and constantly struggles to balance her work and home life? What about Tom, the workaholic marketing manager who enjoys golf and fine dining? These are weak examples to true persona definition, but you get the idea. Give some personality to the people you are trying to reach – it’s incredibly valuable in determining the types of communications or content you’ll need across your programs to reach these audiences.

Timeline

How will you roll your program out across the various communications disciplines? Are there elements of your various campaigns that support each other? Is there a natural flow to how the program should scale over time – or are you better off launching simultaneously and managing all the programs in tandem? Mapping your communications programs across a single calendar that addresses all the team’s needs is the best approach. Have everyone working off of the same roadmap to ensure you all get to the same destination over the course of the program.

Earned, Owned, Paid

What does your media mix look like for your communications programs? What owned media channels do you have at your disposal – such as your company blog, a customer newsletter, or your company’s social media accounts? Do you need to create new owned channels as part of this program? What earned opportunities must you secure in order for the campaign to be successful? The most common earned channel is publicity secured through your public relations efforts – though it could be earned mentions via social media influencers or earned testimonials from happy customers, depending on which program you are talking about. Finally, what paid media will you leverage to achieve or support your other communications strategies and tactics? Will you leverage paid social to extend the reach of your owned media content? Will you leverage content networks to help drive traffic back to your site? What role will paid search or display advertising play in helping you communicate with your external audiences? Mapping your communications programs across owned, earned and paid channels is an essential component of your communications strategy.

Measurement

Measurement is most commonly thought of as results measurement – measuring the tangible outcomes of each program tactic, strategy, objective or goal you’ve laid out in your plan. It’s also the milestone monitoring across your program – and it should be as near to real-time as possible. It’s not enough to state what you will measure, but also how you will monitor progress along the way – specific to the set of tools and technologies you’ll leverage to measure all campaign performance. Finally, you should address how frequently you will report on this data – and how you will use the data to adapt the strategies and tactics over the course of your campaign.

Roles & Responsibilities

The final component of the communications strategy I think is critical to your program’s success is a clear delineation of responsibility across your organization. Who is in charge of each communications discipline? Who makes the important decisions along the way? Who manages your content calendars and decides on the content you will produce? Who actually creates that content? What agency partners or freelancers will you use to support your programs? The entire team should be mapped out in your communications strategy, so everyone clearly understands their role and responsibility as part of your communications team.

What Else?

These are the most common components of the communications strategies I develop for clients I work with. There are dozens of other program components that may be used depending on the type of program, client’s industry, size of organization or other factors.

Do you have suggestions for other components that should be part of a comprehensive communications strategy? Please share your suggestions in the comments below. Please also let me know if there are any questions you have that I can answer. Thank you for reading this post and sharing your ideas with other readers!

(Image Credit: Strategy by Kathryn Decker / Flickr)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • Genna Greiner

    This is a fantastically comprehensive post! I enjoyed the fresh take you have on creating a cohesive strategy that covers and meets multiple needs within companies for communication based areas. I’m also glad you mentioned the tie to business value. I think it’s important to remember that with whatever you’re communicating, if it’s not helping to build sales, it’s not ultimately helping your company and should be thought through again in order to be more effective!