Five steps to consider before implementing a communication strategy

Communication is a living organism, a live and vibrant network that flows through the company in all directions vertically and horizontally, internally and externally. Each company has their own system, flow and pace. So first it’s important to analyze and evaluate this pre-existing communication in place before implementing a communication strategy, either in house or when beginning the relationship with a new client.

Step 1 – In the first place it’s necessary to point out that the communication strategy will be directly influenced by the sector, structure and culture of the company. It pays to identify the category of business your company is in and also the desired style of communication because that will shape your strategy. A business-to-business company will have different needs than a consumer, charity, government, services or healthcare company; however the expertise can also be transferable from one to another. 

For example, in the case of a high profile Business-to-Business company the main focus is to manage well the interaction throughout the network (clients, partners, consumers, industry, retail etc). However, even if this company is not the producer of the final object found in shelves, they may need to use consumer communications tactics to reinforce the products’ relevance and benefits to the end user. Companies that use this strategy well are: Lycra, Intel, Gore-Tex, Teflon, all “ingredients brands” that matter for the consumer even if they can’t buy those products directly.

Step 2 – After taking these points into account, you need to map the landscape and become familiar not only with rules and specific regulations of the sector but also with external stakeholders and their attitude towards the company. An in depth understanding of the role that each one plays in the organization is crucial.

For instance, if you are in the healthcare area you need to consider key aspects that impact the entire sector:  the threat of generics replacing the brand drugs, patents and regulations, knowing who your competitors are. Also be aware of the need to build a strong relationship with key audiences such as doctors, pharmacists and health professionals – essential for the communication success since they are the ones prescribing a medication or endorsing a product for a government purchase for example.

Step 3 – Now that you are familiar with the business, profile of the company, sector rules and the external stakeholders are mapped, it’s time to complete two simple tasks that maybe will sound obvious but it’s an important step often forgotten by communications professionals.

First you need to know your company, what the business challenges are, its goals and targets and how communication can contribute to it.  Second what are the company’s strengths and weaknesses, the key idea here is to be prepared in case the weakness becomes a communication threat and transform the strengths into opportunities. Many times the simple act of listing them and transforming into key messages can make a huge difference when planning your communications strategy.

Create compelling stories based on internal data and research, exploring a deep understanding of consumers’ behaviors or a unique market trend, will help to positioning the company as “experts” or “reference” in the segment and also becoming the primary source of information for the journalists, that’s a good example of usage of internal strengths.

Step 4 – Following it’s time to understand the volume of work that will be required internally to effectively plan your resources allocation and workload. We can roughly divide the corporate communications into four groups which have to be considered when planning your structure and comms approach: executive communications, internal communications, marketing communications and institutional communications.

Executive communications happen between the top management of the company and the external or internal audiences, for example executive speeches at internal or external conferences, corporate events, business forums etc.  The main objective here is engagement and leadership: to commit employees with the company’s goals, to point out the industry in a certain direction and also to show leadership of the company in a particular sector.  Usually, high profile companies where CEOs are active and has leadership position in the industry, such as Jack Welch from GE and Carlos Ghosn from Renault-Nissan, are companies that will require more executive communications efforts. 

Internal communications is a generic expression for all communication (formal and informal) that an organization undertakes with its close stakeholders. The main purpose of formal internal communications is to inform employees or members of the direction about performance of the organization (and/or team) to which they belong (Wikipedia, August 2010). In order to create a successful corporation it’s imperative to create a labor force that understands the mission, goals, and values of the organization.

The main focus of marketing communications (also called or comparable with publicity) is to support the product or service sales and its brands. Accordingly to Kotler (1988) it is “non-personal stimulation of demand for a product, service or business unit by planting commercially significant news about it in a published medium or obtaining favorable presentation of it upon radio, television, or stage that is not paid for by the sponsor”.  Generally, this is mostly a concern in consumer companies which requires a lot of product launches and positioning.

The objective of Institutional Communications is to reinforce the corporate branding and show the company behind the brand, managing information about the company’s business, performance, growth and behavior in the society, usually include activities with direct influence on the company’s reputation such as financial reports, annual reports, community relations, CSR activities, crisis communications, government affairs, etc. Obviously this is a vital aspect for all type of companies, but particularly for those who rely on their reputation to do business, such as financial institutions which needs to have an image of solidity and security.

Step 5 – Finally its moment to analyze your internal conditions and ask yourself who your key stakeholders are, identifying allies and report structures.

The first step will be to develop a “who is who” guide and understand where the information is sourced, who are the trained spokespeople available and the flow of approval for strategies, key messages and press materials.

Also it will be very helpful to use all the PR know how for the benefit of the communication area, so it would be important to identify and strengthen relationships with allies who can advocate on behalf of PR inside the company and especially with the top management.  Winning hearts and minds since the beginning will be critical to establish a strong communication strategy.

With these five foundations in place you now can have a big picture of the communication environment and will be able to formulate and execute an effective communication strategy.

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