Communication strategy is a plan to achieve communication objectives.
A communication strategy has four major components: communication goals, target audience, communication plan, and channels.
Communication needs to be goal-driven. We do not communicate for its own sake: we communicate to achieve or change something. PR tactics such as press releases, events and media relations activities can be straightforward to organise; the skill lies in ensuring that something useful happens as a result.
A universal mistake in external communications is neglecting to define communications objectives properly in advance. This happens in almost all kinds of organisations.
For instance, it is not sufficient for a project to define its objectives as “to raise awareness” or “to communicate our activities and results”. Communications objectives need to be clearly defined, detailed, achievable and measurable.
Well-defined objectives give guidance and structure to all dimensions of public relations activities. The starting point is to understand what you want to achieve.
Define your objectives by asking: What do I want to happen as a result?
By this stage you should already have a strong communications strategy: you know your target audiences, you well defined communications objectives and clear messages that will help achieve them.
After reviewing and finalising your project communications strategy, the next stage is to use it as the foundation for a detailed a communications plan. You can create a long term communications plan covering all activities until the end of your project, or a short term plan for a specific event or priority.
A good communications plan defines how the strategy will be expressed through practical public relations activities. It brings together in one document all of the fundamental ideas that should be driving communications, including objectives, audiences, messages, and an overview of how your goals will be achieved. It sets a clear framework for PR activities and allocates roles, tasks and goals to individual members of the team.
Following are the key ingredients for a communication plan:
Section by section: how to develop a communications plan
For the benefit of everyone who will be part of the plan, explain briefly the importance of taking a structured and strategic approach to communications. Summarise your project’s overall communications strategy: give an overview of why you are engaging in communications activities, and what you hope to achieve. Then define the scope and purpose of this specific communications plan.
Perform a SWOT analysis for your project: list all of its Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in terms of the scope of communications activities covered by this plan. Use a SWOT to look realistically at your project’s communications environment and plan accordingly.
Strengths - What are the strengths of your project and its communications activities?
Weaknesses - What are the potential weaknesses of your project and its communications activities? What could be damaging or negative?
Opportunities - What communications opportunities are there? Is there anything new, different, interesting or unique in your project that you could capitalise upon for publicity?
Threats - Are there any potential threats that your project could face? What might go wrong? How could this affect your communications and PR activities?
Refine your communications objectives. These should be in short bullet point format and clearly indicate what your communications will bring to the project. It is important to define these objectives in order to be able to measure the success of PR activities afterwards. Set goals that are specific enough to be measured, but broad enough to allow flexibility and room to adapt to changing circumstances.
If you know your audiences, you can tailor your news and messages to coincide with what matters and interests them.
State your key messages.
Define the activities that you will undertake in order to achieve your objectives. How will you reach your audience? What activities will you take to emphasise and deliver your messages and meet your goals? Potential PR tactics include media relations projects such as press events or publicising newsworthy developments, as well as non-media PR activities such as advocacy (lobbying), etc.
Summarise your target media for media relations activities. This should not be a full media list, but an overview of target media categories. Through what media do your target audiences get their information? Which of these media will be most influential for them? Which do they pay most attention to and which do they trust most?
Create a timeline that identifies when each activity will happen. You can use Gantt chart to plan all your activities and to be sure you follow the deadlines.
You need to measure your human resources as well. Allocate responsibility for each activity to a named team member. If one person is accountable for a measurable result, it is more likely to be achieved.
It is important to evaluate the success of PR activities, in order to learn which activities worked well and which should be improved in future. Evaluation also creates useful feedback to share with others, so that they can learn from your experience.