Six secrets of a successful communications strategy

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We all know we need a communications strategy, right? But the thought of creating a new comms strategy, or even revising and updating an existing one, fills many of us with a sense of dread, says Kirsty Kitchen. But it needn’t be that way.

We’re often asked about the nitty gritty of what a comms strategy should include, in terms of the sections or headings, and whether to do bullet points or not, but rarely are we asked about the secrets to a strategy’s success.

Tick list

We believe there are a few, so we thought we’d share them with you here.

A successful comms strategy:

1. Tells you (and other people) what you shouldn’t do.

Yes a strategy is there to help you decide what to focus on, and how to go about doing it, but it’s also there to help you establish the things that it isn’t worth spending your time and money on. This is often overlooked, as people throw in everything they could do. Swap could for should, and commit only that stuff to paper. Then you’ll be armed with a fully worked up and signed off strategy that you can hold up and wave when someone from another department comes along asking you to put together a new newsletter for a group of people you know hold little or no value in achieving your strategic objectives.  

2. Serves the organisation’s purpose, not just your own.

A good strategy should be tied to wider organisational goals, not focused solely on those the comms team has come up with (though those will, obviously, be very important!). Look at what the overall strategic vision and milestones are, as set by the senior management team, and think about how you can craft comms objectives that actively support and contribute to those.

3. Is relevant and appropriate.

Yes your strategy needs to be thorough, but it also needs to fit your organisation. If you’re a regional charity, working on a single issue with a tightly defined group of beneficiaries, your strategy won’t look the same as one developed by a huge national group that campaigns, delivers services, works with corporate partners and has a hundred high street shops.

If you create something that covers every possible angle, every piece of behaviour change theory, every possible opinion and the highest imaginable targets, you’ll never be able to fulfil it and your strategy will be condemned to the back of a drawer within weeks.

4. Is flexible.

Whether it’s short and sweet or chunky and complex, you also need to build in some flexibility and consider as many of the things that are likely to crop up in the document’s lifespan as possible. Otherwise, you’ll spend weeks putting it together only to find that two months down the line it doesn’t cover a crucial policy change or new service launch, and the whole thing seems a bit irrelevant (to you, but also to others in the organisation).

5. Takes account of the difficulties.

It’s important to go into working on your strategy with an awareness of the kinds of things the process might throw up, and a willingness to address them. Trying to unite different people or departments within your organisation around a set of new key messages or a clear prioritisation of audiences can, for example, expose very different opinions about how to describe your organisation’s work, and who is most important to its success. Although this seems like a lot of extra hard work at the time, and you might feel concerned about disagreeing with those more senior than you (your Chief Executive, for instance), it’s your job to highlight these differences and facilitate an agreement that you can all take forward. Workshops can help you work these differences through, or, if it’s all too tricky, a third party can help in bringing objectivity and wider experience to bear.

Your strategy might also throw up some issues around your brand. You might realise, for example, that your logo or strapline are out of step with the way you want to talk about your organisation, or the way it has come to be seen by priority audience groups. Again, resist the temptation to gloss over these issues and pause to spend time thinking about what you can do. You don’t have to opt for a full rebrand – some carefully crafted messaging and strong tactical plans might be enough to help navigate and minimise the problems you’ve spotted.

6. Has the support of those who matter most.

And finally, don’t let all your hard work be unravelled by a lack of buy-in. You don’t only need your senior management team to get behind your strategy (though you do need them with you). Your work could easily be diluted or confused by a lack of support from others who are communicating as part of their role, but who fall outside your own remit (in many cases this could be fundraising, marketing or programmes, for example). There can also be issues if your volunteers don’t agree with what you’re trying to achieve, if they are a key vehicle for your messages, or your corporate partners and fellow coalition members might have a view that clashes with your own. Don’t let your strategy be sidelined by too many other interests, but do whatever you can to make sure those who matter most work with you, not against you.

If you spend time thinking about these things before, during and immediately after you’ve drafted your strategy, you’ll be wielding a useful and inspiring weapon!

Download Amazon PR’s free guide to Preparing a Communications Strategy here.

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Kirsty Kitchen is a Senior Consultant at communications agency Amazon PR, specialists in the not-for-profit sector. She has worked with a host of charities and public sector bodies over the years, on everything from crisis management and brand strategy to media campaigns, events and fundraising.