You’ve no doubt heard the old adage: “fail to plan, and you plan to fail.”
It applies to a lot of things in life – fitness, finances and even fun.
And it undoubtably applies to our work as communicators, too.
Carefully planning out our communication efforts puts a strategic edge behind our often tactical-driven field (think someone walks into your office and suggests that people would better understand a complex issue if we “just posted to social media more often” or another person requests you develop a trifold brochure to help solve a multifaceted community issue).
These common annoyances plague our daily work – mostly because non-communication professionals don’t truly understand the nature of our trade or the power it can wield.
One antidote to this type of tactical overload is a well-planned, clearly articulated and precisely executed strategic communications plan.
The four-step process to create a strategic communications plan is well documented by the Public Relations Society of America. It’s a tried and true formula that focuses on research, planning, implementation and evaluation.
But perhaps equally as important (if not simply more entertaining) are a few field notes we’ve collected over the years from developing numerous communication strategies for a variety of government clients.
Here are some highlights worth sharing:
Assess: Before you do anything, assess the current situation. We can’t stress the importance of this enough. A thorough environmental scan will help you understand what’s working and what’s not, and it may also uncover overlooked opportunities that you’ll want to consider when leveling-up your efforts.
Align: Ensure your plan is aligned with your organization’s operational goals, otherwise you risk missing the mark for your agency. Proper alignment means all of your efforts are focused on consistently communicating messages your organization wants to share in ways that effectively shape the narrative. Without this key step, you’re simply throwing the proverbial spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks.
Amplify: Communications is not a solo endeavor. Be sure to clearly articulate the why of your plan with the rest of your agency’s employees. These folks are, after all, the front-line ambassadors to your audiences. It is critical they know about the plan, understand why it is important, and are fired up to help carry the water.
Apply: Once you have your game plan dialed in, it’s helpful to have a clear view of how all the pieces of your plan work together. This will not only help establish your communication cadence for the year, but it will help keep you sane when the rubber meets the road (see our related article in this issue on creating editorial and content calendars).
Adjust: Don’t be so committed to a strategy that you forget to modify it if it isn’t working. This is not a sign of failure; it is simply understanding that our work is more of an art than a science and sometimes the formula needs a little adjusting. Be bold and pivot when you realize you may be veering off course.