Let's go back to the very beginning. To my very first blog post of March 2012 whereby given the endless sea of cyber definitions, I coined a definition for a communications strategy.
For new readers of my blog, I would recap:
"A communications strategy could loosely be defined as a standardised system of information flow easily disseminated to relevant stakeholders."
A definition was necessary in order to gain a better understanding of the concept. Armed with a clear definition, we could proceed to explore the usefulness of the communications strategy.
A good communications strategy should be 'standardised' in such a way that a certain rule should be used in its formulation, so that it can be widely accepted, adaptable and applicable in different organisations or sectors. It should not be a collation of random pieces of information thrown together without much thought. The most important goal of an effective communications strategy should be clarity of purpose; it must be understood by the stakeholders.
What distinguishes my Communications Strategy from others is simple: it comprises six components which must all be visible and must all be connected. These components, when taken together, create the 'standardisation' of the concept. They are:
I) The "What",
This refers to the key plan/project that the organisation seeks to highlight throughout the year; the 'desired good'.
It could also refer to the key message that the organisation wants to convey or the change initiative that it wishes to implement.
II) The "Why",
This refers to the rationale, reason or justification for the implementation of the ‘desired good’.
III) The "Who",
These are the key people who are responsible for the success of the 'desired good'.
IV) The "How",
This refers to the actions, both strategic and operational, that are to be undertaken towards achieving the 'desired good'.
V) The "When/How Long",
This outlines the proposed timeline, from inception to completion.
VI) The "Crisis-Mode Plan",
This refers to the contingency plan - for instance, the steps/alternative routes to be undertaken - in the event of unforeseen circumstances which sabotage or negatively impact 'the desired good’.
These components answer the most basic questions that we tend to ask when reading a document about a plan/project/initiative. There is nothing more annoying than reading about grandiose plans by Management when such basic questions are left unanswered. Often, we do not have access to the relevant company official for further information or clarifications and quite frankly, the average person cannot be bothered. So if you, as the corporate communications professional, fail to incorporate the six components which would help you disseminate the information in a simple and clear manner, well you have failed indeed in your core function.
Even the most impressive theoretical framework of the Communications Strategy would be pointless unless it could be used.
In the business world, which I would dub 'Corporateville', it is important to effectively communicate for best results. Communications specialists thus need to work smarter and not necessarily harder. It is crucial that professionals in charge of internal communications, as well as those who handle external communications, (often tied to managing the corporate reputation/image, corporate branding etc.); take note of some practical tips.
1) Keep the communications simple
I have always emphasised the need for the Communications Strategy to be made simple. Simplicity is power. Whether it is an organisation-wide memo, an email to a few people in the company, a round-table discussion or a press release: keep it simple. You lose people if your purpose is not known in ninety seconds, in less time if you are giving a speech. This corresponds to the "What" component.
2) Keep the communications relevant
Know your audience and stick to the reason for the meeting, for the discussion or for the deliberations. Bringing up the issue of how official stationary is constantly inadequate is completely irrelevant in a sales strategy meeting, even as a response to the "any questions?" prompting. Concentrate on the rationale, the reason or the purpose. In other words, highlight the "Why" component.
3) Keep the communications consistent
This tip is closely linked to feedback. I have come to realise that the lack of feedback is somewhat linked to the culture in the wider environment, not just in 'Corporateville'.
It is also unfortunately associated with the ‘why-should-I-go-out-of-my-way’ attitude. It doesn't seem to matter that this attitude conveys a lack of professionalism. Withholding feedback is unhelpful to anyone.
Choosing competent people to keep the communications consistent via feedback channels, displays transparency, (and by extension, trust), which leads to general acceptance. This corresponds to the "Who" component.
Using appropriate methods, tools, technology, etc. to update, review or re-align communications for the purpose for which they are required, is what the "How" component explains.
4) Keep the communications flexible
Circumstances change, goals are re-examined, projects are sometimes shelved. It is thus essential for communications to be seen as flexible. Even though Management has stated that in X month, a new compensation package would be introduced and tested for one year, (corresponding to the "When/How Long" component), does not mean that this plan is set in stone.
What if something goes wrong? There could be operational losses due to extenuating circumstances such as a natural disaster or civil unrest, a morale crisis or a bad economy. These situations call for flexibility and prompt action. At the very least, a contingency plan should have been established, as part of the business strategy, to be put into action when the need arises. In fact, a whole crisis-management system should be established and tested, ready to be utilised.
Let’s put this into context - you would not go drilling for oil in a remote region with a history of civil unrests, without having a plan for the shut-down of operations and evacuation of staff, would you? Neither would you forget to secure a supplementary budget to handle power outages and/or vandalism of your company’s facilities. Similarly, you would not ignore the need for back-up communication systems for support and direction from headquarters, would you?
You would also need skilled communicators and PR professionals, as well as technical and security experts to deploy such systems.
This corresponds to the final component in the Communications Strategy - the "Crisis-Mode Plan" - which must be taken very seriously.
It is clear that the Communications Strategy is not simply a 'nice-to-know' theoretical framework with little practical uses. By virtue of its six components, one seamlessly leading to the next, it is very useful indeed, especially in 'Corporateville'. This is because of the fact that it could be regarded as a standard 'template' which could easily be customised to specific requirements.
To illustrate its practical uses, I recommend the 3-Step Rule.
Challenge for Management: the 3-Step Rule of the Communications Strategy
1) Draw up a two-page Communications Strategy for a key initiative/idea/plan you are seeking to implement, ensuring that all six components are addressed. You might wish to supplement text with visuals such as graphics or images for greater impact.
2) Circulate it at regular intervals, throughout the duration of the initiative, via the intranet and on the company's blog.
3) Measure its impact via appropriate tools and share the results.
Perhaps company-wide acceptance of the initiative would become evident in the enthusiastic participation from staff.
Perhaps many useful suggestions would be made which would lead to the project’s success....
Then kindly contact me.
N.B – Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net