I was involved in a conversation about a communications strategy a short while back and it made me think.
Firstly, it made me think that its great for communications to be involved at all.
But it also reminded me of the icebergs that looms when you are involved with communications. Any of the icebergs can rip a large hole in your ship and send you to the bottom of the ocean.
Firstly, what is a communications strategy?
A communications strategy is the big picture for the organisation. It looks at how the organisation is going to talk to people in order to make its business plan work. The business plan is all the things the organisation wants to do. No business plan? You’re in trouble. So is the organisation.
Iceberg #1: vague priorities
Go through the business plan and count the priorities. If you’ve got 100 you’ve got a problem. There’s evidence that too many priorities are bad for you. Academic and business leader Derek Lidlow points to grading the long list into three areas.
Why these three? Interestingly, Lidlow argues that this approach leads to less in-fighting and demotivation between managers in the organisation.
Why should you know this as a comms person? I used to think that comms people shouldn’t get involved from the start. That was when I was more naive and had more faith in people higher up the organisation. Experience has shown that often the organisation has a loose grasp of which priority is important and can’t quantify it. As this vagueness will land in comms’ lap its important to get involved early and pin it down.
If you don’t have a manageable list of priorities you’ll hit the iceberg and sink.
If you start with 100 priorities and end with 15 that are critical that’s an important first step.
Of course, one way to concentrate people’s minds is to produce a comms strategy for all 100 priorities and for it work out how much time and effort it’ll take to deliver all of them properly. It’s unlikely the 10 extra members of needed for this will be recruited. Which means that you can start a discussion on a focussed list of priorities.
Yes, the public sector needs to be responsive to emergencies as they blow-up. But don’t fall for the last minute email that assures you that ‘it’s an emergency that I need 100 posters for that vanity project for tomorrow.’ That’s not an emergency. That’s rank bad planning.
Iceberg #2: vague evaluation
If you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where you are heading, how do you know when you are there?
Decent evaluation should have numbers in. The difference between: ‘Can we raise awareness about a concert?’ and ‘Can we we sell 500 tickets in the next six weeks?’ is vast. This second approach with numbers will lead to a better chance of a full concert hall and a great event. You know where you are going.
By the way, to help you, I’m a fan of the Government Communication Service Evaluation Framework 2.0 a useful download that can help you advise on the best way to evaluate. It’s a document you can push back against vagueness with.
Iceberg #3: guessing at tactics
By far the most common iceburg is the problem of not spending time to think about who you want to talk to.
I’d also add that that work you did a couple of years ago may not be relevant today. The pace of change is constant and how people consume the media can change in a surprisingly short amount of time.
But if you work through your 15 critical priorities you’ll know about who you want to talk and how to which leads to…
Iceberg #4: having enough resource
The last iceberg is what troops on the ground to make this all work you have.
By working through things step-by-step you’ll know where you are heading, you’ll know the critical priorities, what you need to evaluate, what that tactics are to reach the right people and what resources you’ll actually need. This can be the basis of a conversation about getting extra pairs of hands to make it work. Or at the very least being realistic about what you can do.
If you don’t include this in your strategy you’ll hit an iceberg. Possibly all four. And we know how the film ends. Only this time there may not be a wooden door strategically placed for you as there was in the blockbuster Titanic.