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How to develop strategic communication capability

01 Jun, 2020 Annual communication plans, PR management, Proving PR value

Build the right team

To develop your function’s strategic communication capability, you need to bring together a team with the right knowledge and skills, with the potential to develop their capabilities. Your team needs to  be across the use of digital technology and social media. Corporate communication and PR consulting both require plenty of energy, but that energy needs to be directed at the right level. It needs to start with taking a strategic approach and then following through with energetic application of tactics with a good amount of common sense and problem-solving application.

Build on a strong foundation

Lead the way by setting a clear mission, goals and objectives for your communication function, outlining the benefits that a strong communication capability will bring to your organization. When these factors are in place, you can start to review your options for strategic management of the PR function. These options need to be considered in relation to available funding, working back from the available funding to determine the activities you can initiate. Funding will also affect resources like staffing, management of the function, and paying for external consulting support, if necessary, as well as the sharing of joint activities with other functions such as HR and Marketing.

CEB Communications (now owned by Gartner) have drawn up a useful “Communications Activity Map,” which shows the most common corporate PR activities, including administration and management. This gives a broad view of the scope of the role.

 

 

Use a good set of communication management tools

Develop a set of tools that guide the planning and creative efforts of your internal team. One option is to use a What/How/Who model. Define the messages and experiences you want to create (What), the means of communication you use to create them (How), and the people you need to reach to successfully do business (Who). Document this What/How/Who model and map your coordinated initiatives on it.

Use a communication calendar for creating an overview and coordinating your communication initiatives. You can use sources for these, such as HubSpot, CoSchedule and Bananatag, depending on your market.

Also develop these communication tools:

  • Corporate identity manual (example here), and brand guidelines (50 great examples from Canva).
  • Messaging framework that shows the value promises your organization, product or service is making to its target audiences.
  • Corporate style guide, which is a set of principles on the words to use – so your team writes with consistency and clarity, with your communication objectives in mind. Readers can refer to a couple of the best style guides – the AP Style Book, for US readers, and The Economist’s Guide to English Usage.
  • Keep or maintain access to up-to-date lists of your target audience/recipients, as well as lists of particular key segments of those audiences.

Initiate a planning and implementation process

To ensure each initiative gets off to a good start, is on target, and is reviewed at key points, use a communication-development-and-launch process. It should include milestone points such as plan approval, project start, creative development, production and implementation. Also to include in the process are approved budgets, cross-functional reach, governance, and performance measures. This will allow you to prioritize work flow, keep on strategy, and control costs. Process and tools enable staff and any relevant consultants to work well together. Conducting your overall strategy in this way will help your team to develop their skills as communication professionals and make a tangible contribution to organizational success.

Tackle overload in your team

Another factor in working in the high-stress profession of PR/corporate communication is that people can allow an excessive workload of low-level activities to overwhelm them at the expense of time focused on higher-level activities. This greatly reduces their effectiveness. You can address this by asking your team to identify their key activities and how much time they spend on them in a typical week. Use that information to assess workloads and priorities. Consider which tasks the team could stop doing and which might benefit from rethinking the process involved. Look closely at low-value activities that need to be done but take up excessive time. Can you simplify the workflows to reduce the amount of time your team spends on these activities? Don’t forget to look for tasks that can be done more simply, or in allocating resources such as artificial intelligence for media monitoring.

Demonstrate good performance

With your planning and implementation of communication activities, ensure you document the strategic intent behind your work. This means you can refer to documented material when communicating with people from other areas. Ensure they understand the strategic intent. Doing all this means you should achieve your goals with various projects. When you do, communicate this to your stakeholders so they can see the outcomes for themselves. Don’t overdo the self-congratulations, though, because this will backfire on you.

Develop measures of PR value

Ensure you include measures in your communication activities. Decide what your goal is in each case and set SMART objectives at the starting point so you can compare at completion of the activity, and then you can demonstrate achievement of your intended results. This is important in proving the value of the PR role.

With some thought beforehand, you can prove the return on investment (ROI) from communication activities. You can focus on the business areas where communication can produce the greatest results in support of business goals. At the micro level, the ROI in communication can be measured on a range of communication activities. You can calculate this by simply determining the financial value of relevant operational improvements and estimating the extent to which PR contributed to the improvement. Divide this figure by the cost of the communication effort to produce the ROI. In most cases the result is a spectacular return on investment in PR. You can use this as proof of the value of PR to the bottom line.

Gain more professional knowledge

Your team members should join the local PR association and gain more professional knowledge from networking with other members and attending professional development activities.

Corporate PR areas in which you should strengthen your knowledge are stakeholder relations, reputation management, trust, ethics, government relations, social media, team management, project management, strategy development, corporate social responsibility, change management, etc.

Don’t just focus on PR professional development. Most decision-making at the higher levels of the organization involve financial decisions. You will earn respect from senior managers if you can use financial terms and show understanding of financial processes they use. At a minimum, you should learn about the financial terms and common jargon used in decision-making. Either go to a structured course on finance for non-financial executives or enroll for online equivalents. PR people tend to stand out for their poor understanding of financial concepts, so senior executives will be pleasantly surprised to find you talking their talk.

What’s more, you should increase your knowledge of these disciplines because communication is, in fact, a central part of their work:

  • HR areas like employee engagement, values, culture, staff recruitment and retention
  • Marketing concepts like branding and employer branding, social media marketing
  • Management concepts like vision, mission, strategy, business goals, organizational leadership, performance management, decision-making.

You can find many helpful tips on strengthening your strategic communication capability in my Kindle book, Annual Communication Plans: How to get the results you want!

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About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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