Being a strategic communicator

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

I was with the latest CIPR Internal Communication Certificate course students on Saturday and we were talking about how to be a strategic communicator.   We came up with what we thought were the keys features and I reckon that the same applies whatever form of communication you are involved in:

Before you do anything – do some research: if we don’t understand fully the situation or problem, then we can’t be sure that we have the right communication solution.  Of course research takes time and can cost money but think how much time and money might be wasted on a campaign that doesn’t work.

Set objectives:  setting objectives that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed) is a good opportunity to get your client or boss to really engage with the communication activity. Get key people involved and signed up to the objectives.  The key here is to set objectives that are based on outcomes – not just outputs; what do you want people to do, think or feel as a result of your communication activity? Setting an objective for an amount of media coverage or the number of newsletters issued is fine, but you really need to be clear about what you want to result to be too.

Make it visible: having set objectives, make sure that you report progress against them.   Make sure that what you are doing and your successes are visible, but do it based on evidence.  If your client or organisation doesn’t really understand what you do or is a bit cynical – which is a common comment from internal communicators, perhaps it is because you aren’t telling them. I have an 80/20 rule here – spend 80% of your time doing comms and 20% of your time telling people you are doing it.  This can seem a bit counter intuitive; after all we are paid to do comms not show off about it. But it isn’t showing off. It will increase understanding and respect for what you do and that will help you to do a better job.

Identify your personal stakeholders:  who are the people that you need to influence, keep happy or keep informed about what you and the team are doing?  This isn’t about schmoozing and sucking up to them (although a bit of that might be in order!), it’s about ensuring that they know what you are doing and how it is contributing to business success.  These people may be able to find you more resources or support you in a particular course of action – even get you promoted!

Pick your battles:  every communicator gets asked to do daft things; things that we know just aren’t going to work. It’s frustrating because we want people to bring us their communication problems and let us work out the solution. For this to happen, we need to win their trust and respect and sometimes that means doing things that will make them happy, even if it isn’t the best communication solution. With that trust won, they are more likely to listen to us when we offer up an alternative solution.

Check you have the right problem:  communicators often get asked to fix things that aren’t communication problems. For example, the organisation wants more people to use a new IT system or a local authority wants higher attendance at public consultation events.  However if the IT system is difficult to use and the consultation events are as dull as ditch water and at an inaccessible venue, no amount of communication is going to fix the problem.

Do you agree with these tips? Have you got some of your own to share? Love to hear what you think….