Why do I need a strategic communication plan?
It goes without saying, a strategic communication plan is vital to the success of any organization, no matter if it’s large or small, private or non profit.
However, after more than a decade since the term was introduced, there is still much confusion and a lot to be learned when it comes to understanding what strategic communication is and isn’t.
For many, strategic communication has become a “catch all” for just about everything remotely related to communications.
Over the years, I’ve had clients, management, and colleagues proclaim, with much zeal, how important it is to have good strategic communications (Yes, I added an “s” on purpose) without truly understanding what it is they are asking for and what it looks like when they see it.
So, before I dive in and answer the question posed in the title, I thought it would be a good idea to share a few examples of how three different organizations define strategic communication.
Warning! There is a plethora of definitions out there to choose from, and I would encourage you to shop around before settling on one that you agree with.
What is strategic communication?
The Department of Strategic Communication at the Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University defines strategic communication as the ability to communicate creatively and persuasively with the goal of building mutual and beneficial long-term relationships between organizations and their publics. The U.S. Department of Defense sums up strategic communication in its 2009 strategic communication document as
"Strategic communication essentially means sharing meaning (i.e., communicating) in support of national objectives (i.e., strategically). This involves listening as much as transmitting and applies not only to information, but also physical communication—action that conveys meaning."
And finally, The PHA Group, a U.K. public relations firm, defines strategic communication as "delivering purposeful communication that is integrated into a wider organizational plan."
As for myself, I view strategic communication as a process that uses all available tools, to coordinate, integrate, and synchronize communication in order to inform, educate, influence, or persuade the target audience.
So, there you have it, four different and unique views on strategic communication.
I think it is important to have a definition because it gives you a base before developing your own strategic communication plan for your organization.
It’s your blueprint
What’s the “big picture" look like?
I am sure many of you have been asked this question once or twice, but when it comes to strategic communication, what does it mean?
In simple terms, I think the "big picture" is the holistic lens we want to be looking through rather than focusing on specific tactics such as a channel or platform to reach our objectives and goals.
The challenge with developing a strategic communication plan is figuring out how to coordinate, integrate, and synchronize your tactics effectively and efficiently so that you achieve your desired effect or outcome.
I always coach clients to view a strategic communication plan as if it were a blueprint, similar to one you would use if you’re building a house.
There’s no way you’d start building the frame of the house without having a plan, right?
So, why would you post a tweet or pitch a story to the press without knowing how it all fits in the big picture or wider organizational plan?
Communicate with purpose
Your strategic communication plan is a living and breathing document; it’s not written in stone and should afford you the flexibility to adjust if necessary.
It’s your long-range guide that not only considers the complexity of the environment, but the capacity of the organization to not only engage, but to engage with purpose.
The strategic communication plan ties your paid, earned, shared, and owned media, all together with your organization’s mission, vision, objectives and goals.
It is what forces you to communicate with purpose.
Fran Mater and Ray Artigue, authors of Public Relations Campaigns and Techniques in the 21st Century, couldn’t have said it any better.
"The biggest mistake practitioners and their clients or employers make is to plunge into tactical activities without a guiding strategy."
Developing a strategic communication plan isn't easy; there is a lot of time and effort required if you want to get it right.
Organizations, large or small, start-ups or established, private or public, operate in a saturated communication environment.
Bottom line, it's tough sometimes to be heard through the cacophony of messages.
However, it's even tougher if you don’t have a strategic communication plan that coordinates, integrates, and synchronizes all the components and ensures you’re headed in the right direction.