How to Write the Perfect Communications Strategy: A Step by Step Guide
There is no doubt that communications is a vital component for every organization. From healthcare to hospitality, communications is integral for many industries in order to function and run properly. But most importantly, communications is the outlet that is used by businesses in order to achieve their desired goals. Whether those goals are to convey a positive public image, or to create strategic partnerships to raise revenues, knowing how to communicate effectively is an in-demand skill that many businesses need.
Communications for businesses come in many forms. From crisis communications, to public relations, each of these facets are important, which is why many businesses have their own in-house communications and public relations teams that manage their internal and external communications. Despite the importance of communications, many businesses are still struggling to do it properly. In a study conducted by Project, it noted that 96 per cent of people think that businesses could improve their communications approach.
Poor communications can be detrimental for companies, not only from a reputational standpoint, but it’s also costly. A survey reported by SHRM, revealed that large companies faced an average loss of $62.4 million per year due to poor internal communications. Small companies were not immune, they faced an average loss of $420,000 annually. Additionally, the same study from Project found that 74 per cent of people attribute poor communications to their decision to no longer deal with a company.
With the damaging effects of poor communication, investing in a strategic communications plan makes good business sense. When used effectively, communications can help organizations manage anticipated challenges and amplify successes to help a company achieve its business objectives.
What is a communications strategy?
A communications strategy is defined as a planned approach to deliver a message with an intended objective. It can be delivered through traditional or digital media, and it has a designated audience in mind when it is being crafted.
Having a communications strategy in place is the way to proactively manage a company’s reputation. A reactive approach is more difficult to manage and may result in a strategic mis-step. Being prepared is invaluable, especially when unanticipated challenges arise. Sometimes, companies may have to make difficult decisions that might negatively impact the opinion of stakeholders. A strong communications strategy is essential for rebuilding trust, according to a 2019 study by PwC.
On the other hand, significant business achievements and success stories can be amplified to reach a wider audience with communications. Since no one is aware of corporate wins outside of the organization, the only way to get the story out and utilize it to build positive reputation, is through proactive communications.
Whether the information is positive or negative, some internal communicators and public relations professionals are still unprepared. A 2019 survey conducted by JOTW, showed that only 59 per cent of communicators have a communications strategy drafted. The survey also found that only 45 per cent of communications have a documented crisis communications plan. A shocking number, given how significantly a crisis can damage the bottom line.
Now compare and contrast the SHRM study which found the yearly cost of poor communications for companies, with the JOTW study regarding the preparation of communications professionals. This should give you a better picture as to why it is important to have a communications strategy. Just by having these in place, you’re already doing better than most, giving your business a competitive advantage.
Communications strategy framework
Before writing a communications strategy, there are two things you need to consider. These factors are important in shaping your overall strategy, as it will help you get a better understanding as to how you should structure your communications strategy for maximum effectiveness.
First, you should consider how your message will be communicated. With a wide range of ways to disseminate your story, it’s important to make sure you’re adapting your message in the most appropriate way for each channel or method. If you are sharing your message verbally, remember the 7 per cent rule which states that communication is 55 per cent body language, 38 per cent tone of voice, and only seven per cent verbal. If you are sharing in social, you’ll want your post to be brief but information dense, whereas in an interview you have more room to elaborate and add colour. Regardless of how you share your message, make sure it’s concise and well articulated. Shorter, meaningful messages are more understandable, compelling and memorable.
The second consideration that is of equal importance is, who will share this message? Depending on the magnitude of the topic being addressed, issues that threaten the overall reputation of a company are often addressed by CEOs or others who possess an important role in the company. It is important to remember this, as any message that will be shared to stakeholders should be delivered by someone in an executive role with credibility and strong leadership skills, as leadership capabilities are integral to effective communication, as studied by McGill University.
How to develop a communication strategy
Once you have finalized your communications approach, the written communications strategy needs to be developed in a way that supports the goal. Here are four steps that you should take to develop messaging that will meet your desired objectives.
1) Determine Who Your Stakeholders Are
No matter who you intend to share your message with, it is important to be identify your stakeholders and understand their concerns and sensitivities. By knowing the key stakeholders, you can frame your message accordingly. Anticipate questions that may arise from the various stakeholder viewpoints and proactively address them in your communications strategy.
2) Explain Your Objectives
Being clear about goals and identifying objectives are critical to good communications strategy. Being vague weakens credibility. For instance, if you are drafting a communications strategy for the purpose of increasing employee engagement in the workplace, then you must articulate what you will do to make that proposed goal a reality.
3) Outline Key Information Clearly
Start by listing the points you want to make in the form of a bulleted list. From there, build off of each point to identify a key message and supporting points that make your story clear for stakeholders. Make sure to be as clear and simple as possible, always keeping in mind your objectives.
4) Adjust Your Tone
Depending on the content of your message, it is important to adjust your tone accordingly. You may not be able to convey tone of voice or body language in an email, but you can choose your words wisely. The words you write can most certainly convey whatever tone is most appropriate to achieve the right perception. On the other hand, if you are addressing an audience in-person, intonation and mannerisms take centre stage.
5) Check Your Grammar
While this cannot be stressed enough, it deserves its own point as it is a very important aspect in every communications strategy. In an article from LinkedIn, messages that are grammatically incorrect can affect first impressions. In addition, it can also affect how individuals read and understand your message. Make sure to double check what you write, and consider having others look over your communication before it’s issued to the audience. And while you’re at it, fact check your work. Misinformation can make your strategy backfire.
How Bulletproof Can Help
Bulletproof is a communications agency that provides media training services and effective communications strategies to help individuals and organizations achieve their objectives. Our team consists of strategists, trainers, and journalists who understand the media, and the importance of public relations and communications to obtain desired goals.
Bulletproof media training is led by Tara McCarthy who has over 20 years of experience in building reputations, and is an expert in strategic communications, public relations, and media training. The Bulletproof team of veteran strategists and trainers can teach you or your company how to write an informed communications strategy, designed to advance your objectives.
If you or your company need media training assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Bulletproof, where services are available in English and French.