A really good communication strategy is hard to think up, and sometimes even harder to write down. But a great strategy can be the difference between effective and ineffective communications, so it’s an essential, if challenging, part of communication practice.
Although practitioners are rightly wary of strategy templates – because every strategy will be different, depending on the nature of the problem you’re setting out to solve – they can still be useful, if they’re used to support (rather than replace) a careful thought process.
So with that in mind, I’ve created a strategy template, that is set out below, in the spirit of sharing. This template builds on one I created earlier in my career, but includes more guidance for users to try and help others through the thought process.
I’m going to do a webinar on this through the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand on 16 June 2020, and will provide a link to that later, if PRINZ makes one available.
In the meantime, here’s what I hope is a comforting thought for you: if you’re finding coming up with a strategy hard, that’s because it *is* hard. (If you’re finding it easy, you’re probably doing something wrong!)
Tracey’s Communication Strategy Template
This communication strategy template sets out a logical process for thinking about communication strategy planning. The key is not so much the headings and the words you write under them, as the thinking you do, to truly understand the problem you are confronting, and therefore compose a solution.
- What is this document?
Use this section to clearly set out the purpose of this document. Don’t write too much – just set out as succinctly as possible why this strategy is needed at this point in time. Consider answering questions such as:
- What are we here for / what is this document about?
- What’s the situation that means we need this stratregy?
- What question do we need to answer through this piece of work?
- What is this document NOT doing? What’s out of scope?
- What is success?
Use this section to clearly state the goals / objectives / desired outcomes of this piece of work. Align to business objectives if possible. Make sure the objectives are not tactics! And make sure they are single-minded and achievable. Think about:
- What are we trying to achieve?
- What will be better because of this piece of work?
- How will we know if we’ve been successful?
- Barriers and enablers
I think of strategy as the most elegant solution to a perfectly understood problem; and this is the section where we express our understanding of the problem. It’s useful to brainstorm barriers and enablers widely, but group, organise and prioritise them before including them in this document. You are looking to make sense and find meaning through this thought process. Essentially you are considering:
- What could help us achieve our objectives? (i.e. the enablers)
- What could stop us from achieving our objectives? (i.e. the barriers)
Think about all of the people (internal and external) who are relevant to this problem. Brainstorm widely and then organise and prioritise them in a way that makes it possible for you to shed light on the problem you’re solving. Remember you are highly unlikely to have the resources you need to communicate with everyone you want to reach. So you need to make some choices. Do this based on data, not randomly. Think about:
- Who is important to our success?
- Who do we need to reach / convince?
- To whom do we have a responsibility / obligation?
- Who will be interested?
- What do we know about them?
- What do they care about?
- How can we reach them?
- Who influences them?
- What do we want from them?
- What do we want them to do / think / feel / know? (Be specific)
This is the most important part of the document. This is where you set out the solution to the problem that is explored in the previous sections. Some think (OK, I think) this is the hardest section to write, because it’s the hardest section to think about. So do the thinking first, and only start writing when you think you’ve cracked it. Test your proposed strategy against the tactics that you think are right (do the tactics fit within the strategy? If not, either they or the strategy are wrong) and the objectives (will this strategy achieve the objectives? If not, then either the strategy or the objectives are wrong). Consider:
- How will we solve our problem?
- What is the organising framework we’ll use to determine our tactics?
- Does this help us make decisions about what to do – and what not to do?
The narrative should succinctly reflect the story you need to tell, to execute the strategy and achieve the goals. As a bottom line, the narrative must be honest. In addition, it’s helpful if it’s elegant, descriptive and compelling. Don’t just write a list of bullet pointed messages, and if you do break your narrative down into a set of key messages, try to have no more than five. Ask yourself:
- What’s really the story here?
- What is the most simple and straightforward way to tell it?
This is your to do list, and needs to match the strategy. So – to use a military example – if your strategy is a ground offensive, you’re not going to have scrambling your aircraft in your list of tactics. If the tactic is not aligned to the strategy, either the tactic is wrong or the strategy is wrong. Consider:
- What do we need to do?
- How will we implement the strategy?
- What’s the timeframe, and what are the priorities?
- Do we really need to do [x]?
- To use an America’s Cup metaphor, will it “make the boat go faster”?
Don’t omit a section that sets out how you plan to measure success. This section should align with the objectives. It’s OK to measure whether you did what you said you’d do (outputs) but it’s most important to measure whether you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve (outcomes). Think up the widest possible range of evaluation methods – but be realistic about what you can and will actually measure. Your budget will only let you do so much, so choose wisely. Think about:
- How will we evaluate our work?
- Will it be important to evaluate our process?
- What outputs can we track and evaluate?
- What outcomes will we look for, and how will we measure them?