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Tips on How to Write Communication

Strategies
Elements & Steps for Designing Good Promotion and
Campaign Plans
May 11, 2009 Sulemana Braimah

Communication is the key tool for marketing, PR, advertising and other corporate activities. It is
therefore important to always have good communication plan.

Public Relations professionals and consultants are often contracted by businesses and
organisations to design communication strategies for marketing promotions and campaigns.
Others are sometimes hired to write a communication plan for health and other interventions.
This article presents the basic elements and steps involved in writing a good communication
strategy.

Conduct a Thorough Situational Analysis

The first thing to be done in designing a communication strategy is to do a thorough situational


analysis and environmental scanning. This should be aimed at clearly identifying the purpose of
a strategy. The situational analysis should also help point out the exact issues or problems to be
addressed in a campaign. For example, a good situational analysis can help marketing
communication consultants identify why a product is having low sales or why a brand is not
doing well in the market. An environmental scan which may involve evaluation of market
research findings, finding out what competing companies and brands are doing or not doing
should also be carried out. This will provide communication strategists with the right information
to be able to put out a good strategy.

Formative Research and SWOT Analysis

After identifying the purpose of a campaign and the issues to be addressed, there is a need for a
formative market research. Through the formative research, the key audience and stakeholders
who need to be communicated to would be identified. In their book, “Marketing Public Health”
published in 2007 by Amazon Books, Michael Siegeland and Lynne Doner asserted that
formative research can be effectively used to develop and test product offerings, delivery
systems, promotional strategies and messages.

The research should also include identifying the strengths of a product, a brand or a corporate
firm; the weaknesses of a brand or product; opportunities available; and potential threats to a
commodity or organisation such as the emergence of new competitors. Analysing the strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities and threats of an organisation, product or issue is what is commonly
referred to as SWOT analysis.
Doing Audience Segmentation

The target audience for a marketing communications campaign often have different demographic
characteristics and interests. Some of them may be consumers or potential clients of a product or
service. Others may be policy makers whose decisions can affect the market positioning a brand
that a campaign seeks to project. A single communication approach cannot have an effective and
equal impact on all groups within the target population of a campaign due to differences in
characteristics and interest.

After obtaining information on the population, there is therefore the need to classify the people
into different groups of identical interest, positions or even demographic features. This process
of classification is known audience segmentation. In the article “Media Planning Strategy,”
published in The Media Gazette, an environmental education and media tool kit, it was
emphasised that classification of target audiences in a communication strategy is one of the best
ways of achieving results in campaigns and promotions.

Writing Key Campaign Messages

Good communication strategies should always have key messages to be used in a campaign. The
messages have to be short but at the same time capture the essential themes of a promotion or an
intervention.

Selecting Appropriate Communication Channels

Based on the audience characteristics and segmentation, the appropriate channels of


communication have to be spelled out. The channels may include radio, television, posters,
billboards, community durbars, interpersonal communication, among others. Depending on the
objectives of a promotion particular channels may be appropriate. Sometimes a combination of
channels has to be used is what is called Media Mix.

Management of Communication Strategy

The budget for implementing a strategy has to be indicated. There is the need to set timelines for
implementation as well as indicating the roles to be played by partners. The last is to have
monitoring and evaluation strategies.
Writing a Communications Plan
How to Create a Basic Public Relations Campaign
Mar 15, 2009 Robin Mayhall

One of the most basic PR skills is the ability to write a solid communications plan.

Any public relations campaign should start with a plan. The plan can be dynamic and change as
the situation changes, but if a well-thought-out communications plan is in place before the
campaign is launched, everyone involved will be better prepared to roll with the punches.

Many corporations and established PR agencies have their own "house style," so to speak, of
writing a communications plan. Some are extremely short and simple, while others are lengthy
and elaborate. The names may vary, but all communications plans should have six basic
elements.

Elements of a Communications Plan

1. Situational Analysis: This is background information on the situation being communicated


about. The situational analysis can include information on the company's history and current
culture, the state of the marketplace or industry, the economic and political situation surrounding
the company at the moment, a crisis or emergency that is threatening or some other change
approaching, a new product about to be launched, etc.

The situational analysis really can't be too detailed. It should include any research the
communications department staff has access to or has done themselves, studies and articles from
relevant publications, expert testimony — even anecdotes from the staff’s personal experience
can be included here. The bottom line: provide a detailed portrait of the problem or opportunity.

2. Key Messages: Two to four succinct points or statements the company would like to get
across to its audiences.

3. Goals and Objectives: Goal(s) are one to three major outcomes the communications plan is
meant to accomplish. Goals should be written in broad strokes and are usually somewhat
visionary, rather than specific.

Each goal should then have one or two objectives. These must be specific and measurable and
should include a time element. Example: If one goal is "To become the top Apple computer
dealer in our 10-county region," then one objective might be "To increase sales of the PowerMac
G4 laptop in 2008 by 10 percent over 2007 sales."
Objectives are clearly measurable through quantitative research, such as studies and financial
analyses. In the example above, it is quite straightforward to find out how many laptops were
sold in 2007, to track progress toward the 2008 goal, and to measure sales again at the end of
2008 to see if the objective was met.

4. Audiences: Sometimes called "publics," these are simply the people (or entities) to whom the
key messages must be communicated in order to reach the goals and objectives. Audiences are
often divided into primary and secondary categories, especially when the budget is tight – so that
staff can concentrate effort on the most important audiences first.

With that said, give the choice of audiences careful thought. An audience includes anyone who
might be affected by whatever the company is doing in this plan. For example, if the company is
building a new facility, people living in the neighborhood will be affected and will need to
receive some communication. An environmental group might become an audience if the facility
is being built in a wildlife habitat area. Make sure no one is left out.

5. Tactics: The communicator should come up with at least one communications tactic for each
audience. Tactics are the specific methods used to communicate. For example, if the
organization’s own employees are an audience, tactics might include an all-employee e-mail
message and an article in the employee newsletter; for board members, a letter from the CEO;
for the media, a letter to the editor or a standard press release; and for the local community, an
op-ed piece in the local paper and a town meeting.

Deciding what tactics to use for each audience is another article in itself. The communicator
should use research, his or her own experience and that of coworkers, advice from other PR
practitioners and industry best practices to determine how each audience is most likely to be
informed and persuaded.

6. Evaluation: Every communications plan must include some form of evaluation to be done at
the end of the campaign, as defined by the plan document. Even if the campaign’s budget is
tight, the staff can do an informal review and discuss what went well and what didn’t.

If clear, measurable objectives were set when developing the plan, then some kind of research or
analysis should be possible to determine whether the objectives were reached. Collect feedback
from various audiences, whether informally through e-mails, calls from the public or a review of
media coverage of the issue, or formally with a scientific survey done at the beginning of the
campaign and repeated at the end.

There are dozens of ways to evaluate the success of a public relations effort, and none of them is
necessarily "right" or "wrong." The only mistake a professional communicator can really make
here is to fail to evaluate the campaign at all. For more information on evaluation, see the related
article Evaluate Your Communications Plan.

The six steps described in this article are sometimes organized in the acronym “RACE,” or
Research, Analyze, Communicate, Evaluate. The Research and Analyze steps equate to creating
a situation analysis, key messages, goals/objectives and audiences. Communicate generally
means creating and implementing the individual tactics, and Evaluate is self-explanatory.

No matter what the steps are called, any communicator who takes the time to create an organized
plan before launching a new PR campaign will have a greater chance to succeed and to learn for
the future.
Writing a Good Corporate Communication
Strategy
Evaluating Customer Relation Approaches for Designing
Strategies
May 25, 2009 Sulemana Braimah

Successful corporate communication strategies are those designed after a


proper evaluation of an organisation's past and present ways of communicating
with its publics.

With or without a formal communication strategy, every organisation communicates with its
audience in one way or the other. However, to ensure effective relationship with key stakeholders,
every corporate organization requires a dynamic plan that allows it to strategically relate with its
customers as well as other key internal and external publics.

As observed by Columbia University’s Centre of Continuing Education in an introduction to its


Master of Science in Strategic Communications programme, a good communication plan identifies
how an organisation or enterprise can move from where it finds itself to where it desires to be in the
future.

Why Evaluate Existing Corporate Communications

As noted by Columbia University’s Centre of Continuing Education, a good communication strategy


is a map that connects the present state of an organisation to a future desired state. In order to design
a good customer relations plan, it is important to evaluate how an organisation has been dealing with
its customers in the past and whether such communication approaches have had good impacts on the
organisation or not.

In a publication titled “Designing a Communications Strategy” by the International Research Center


of Canada (IDRC) under its Research Matters programme and contained on its website, it is
emphasised that reviewing a company’s past and present ways of dealing with its publics is an
essential first step in designing a good corporate communications strategy.

A thorough assessment of an existing customer relations plan ensures that its (the plan's) strengths
are identified and incorporated in a new plan while avoiding a repeat of its weaknesses in new
strategies.

According to the IDRC publication, a review of old strategies answers important questions like
“How have we been communicating in the past? How effective has that been? How do our audiences
perceive us?” Answers to these questions provide useful insights as to how a new plan should be
designed and what elements, channels and key messages should be incorporated.
Focus Areas in Evaluating Corporate Communications

As recommended by the IDRC, the evaluation of existing communication approaches has to focus of
generating the relevant information that will inform the design of a new strategy. The evaluation
should thus focus on themes such as the following:

• The general state of communications in the organization;


• The ways by which the organization has been communicating with its
customers and other external publics in the past;
• How the organisation has been communicating internally; and
• How audiences perceive the organization

Audience Survey for Evaluating Existing Communication Approaches

An audience survey is considered one of the best ways by which an organisation can evaluate the
strengths and weaknesses of its existing and past communication approaches. To do such a survey, it
is important to consider who should constitute survey participants, channels for distributing survey
questions and how to receive completed questionnaires.

As much as possible, customers and other stakeholders who have been dealing with an organisation
should be used as survey participants in order to generate responses that will fairly represent how an
organisation’s previous communication approaches have fared.

In an article titled “Customer Satisfaction Surveys: Building a Business Case” written by Richard
Snow and published by online customer relations firm, Search CRM.com, he noted that Web-based
surveys have the advantage that once they are set up, there are far fewer manual resources involved.
Using online surveys for evaluating exiting strategies also guarantees survey participants some level
of confidentiality, which in turn encourages truthful responses.
Evaluate Your Communications Plan
Ways to Measure the Success of a Public Relations
Campaign
Mar 4, 2009 Robin Mayhall

As a communications professional, if you plan well before starting a public


relations campaign, you should find it easy to measure and evaluate your
success.

Most communicators begin preparing for any significant PR campaign by creating a written
communications plan. Countless books and websites will tell you how to write such a plan and what
elements to include, often with cute acronyms and memory devices. One commonly used formula for
communications planning is RACE, which stands for:

• Research — Investigate and describe the situation and the need for
communications.
• Analyze — Determine the target audience, goals and objectives and
communications tactics.
• Communicate — Implement the tactics.
• Evaluate — Determine your level of success in achieving the plan’s goals
and objectives.

Any professional communicator who does his or her homework during the first three steps –
especially the first – should find the final step relatively easy. In fact, in an ideal world, one could
basically repeat the research done in step one at the end of the campaign to evaluate its success. Of
course, we don’t live in an ideal world, and we don’t always have the time, staff resources and
budget to conduct full-fledged scientifically valid research studies for every PR project.

Research and evaluation are usually given less time, money and effort than goal-setting and the
actual communications tactics. Many communicators mistakenly believe that research is inherently
too expensive and difficult for small organizations, nonprofits, etc. They equate “research” with
doing a scientific survey. In fact, there is a wide range of valid research techniques available — many
of which are “free” (except for the time investment).

Types of Research

Communicators classify research methods in two primary ways. The first is formal vs. informal.
Formal research uses the scientific method to ensure that the results can be applied to a larger
population — for example, a scientifically designed telephone survey. Formal research generally
uses random sampling, is highly structured and provides hard data.
Informal research means that the results cannot be used to draw scientifically based conclusions. It
usually consists of more open-ended, unstructured methods, and it provides soft data. But “informal”
does not mean “invalid”! Informal research is highly exploratory. It can use to begin the research
process and especially to identify what formal research needs to take place.

We can also classify research as primary vs. secondary. These terms refer to the source of the
research information. Primary research means that you and your coworkers conduct the research or
examine the evidence personally, firsthand. The data received is new and original. Secondary
research means that you investigate secondhand evidence — e.g., the results of someone else’s
studies or the report of someone else’s primary research. Secondary research uses what’s already
available, which means it can sometimes include older data – but again, both types are valid.

A brief list of research methods includes:

• Mail, telephone or e-mail surveys


• Online polls
• Focus groups
• Roleplaying
• Communications audits
• Public relations audits
• Man-on-the-street polls
• Advisory panels
• Readership studies
• Database searches

How Do You Know What Method to Use?

Several factors come into play, and you have to use your judgment. Examine the situation and
determine how much time and money you have and what other resources – i.e., coworkers, temps,
volunteers. In addition, ask yourself how important this project is to your organization in terms of
potential impact on sales, finances or people. Is this a massive new product launch that could make or
break the company? Is this your primary advertising and PR campaign taking up most of your
communications budget for the year?

It might suffice to give a report to a small nonprofit’s board of directors using mostly informal
research. They will understand and appreciate your time and budget constraints. On the other hand, if
you are going to have to report on this campaign to your CEO on behalf of your whole department, it
might be worth the money and effort to do some serious, original primary research.

When you draft your communications plan, set measurable objectives based on your initial research.
This research, your objectives and your evaluation methods should be tied closely together.

For example, you might conduct a focus group to determine a certain audience’s attitudes during the
research phase of your campaign, then design and implement a telephone survey based on the results
of your focus groups. After you have implemented your PR campaign, you should be able to repeat
one or both of these methods in the evaluation phase to determine whether you have met your
objectives.
How to improve business results through action-oriented strategic
planning
6 October, 2010 - 07:59
In today’s competitive business environment, having a communications plan is not
enough. Instead, more companies are relying on a dynamic platform that delivers
measurable business results under any circumstances. Douglas Rozman reports.

By Douglas Rozman

It’s Monday morning. You’re on the way to work - checking emails, voicemails and
keeping track of today’s “new” priorities. Sound familiar? This phenomenon of
shifting priorities due to crises, unforeseen events, or even the boss’ whims, can
derail the best laid plans and limit our proactive contribution to business objectives.

According to Towers Watson’s 2009/2010 Communication ROI Study, high-


performing organizations are 2-3 times more likely to have a documented
communication strategy than low-performing organizations. But, in today’s
competitive business environment, having “a plan” is not enough. It must be a
dynamic platform that delivers measurable business results under any
circumstances.

While we’re busy putting out fires, the organizational landscape continues to shift
around us. Baby Boomers are retiring and incoming Millennials will comprise nearly
50 percent of the workforce by 2014, according to Harvard Business Review. This
new class of employee has very different communication preferences and intrinsic
motivators than their predecessors. Today’s workforce is also more-mobile and
harder to reach, influenced by a 75% increase in flexible work arrangements since
2005.

Additionally, the prolonged recession has put new pressure on corporate overhead
functions to contribute directly to business performance. “CEOs and business
leaders increasingly see all functions within an organization through an ROI lens. As
they allocate precious resources in response to funding requests, they are thinking
about bottom-line impact, not feel good programs” says Jim Ivey, an internal
communication executive in the financial services sector.

What does all of this mean for communicators?

First, we should consider why organizations invest in internal communications and


determine where we can have the greatest impact. We can start by looking at
functions that directly contribute to business results, like sales. Or support roles,
such as customer service, that are held accountable for “hard” metrics like
customer satisfaction. As communicators, we too need to create a similar link with
business success.

We can start by re-adjusting our focus toward influencing employee actions.


Traditional communication objectives like increasing awareness, knowledge and
commitment, while important, stop short of action. I recall a situation within a large
financial services enterprise, where we created metrics related to increasing
employee traffic to the Intranet. When asked by a senior executive how that
supported business growth, we said it would improve employee understanding of
the company’s strategies. He then asked, “And what will that cause them to do?”

Most companies view employee engagement as the embodiment of focused


employee action in support of business objectives. According to BlessingWhite,
“Engaged employees are more productive, profitable, and customer-focused. They
have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals.
They are ‘enthused’ and ‘in gear’ using their talents and discretionary effort to
make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.”

At Communivation Consulting, we studied the causal relationship between


engagement and communication. We extensively analyzed industry data and
specific business cases, concluding that communication is “the driver” of employee
engagement. It’s not the mere existence of a world-class “rewards and recognition”
program, for example, that engages employees. Rather, it’s the targeting and
customization of the content through various forms of communication that activates
and strengthens engagement.

By fully integrating engagement into communication planning, strategy, tactics,


content, delivery and measurement can be shaped by an engagement lens to more
directly influence employee productivity. This strategic linkage creates an exciting
opportunity for communicators to connect their activities to business performance.
And by driving employee action, the effectiveness of communication is increased
substantially.

Consider this checklist to determine if your communication plan is optimized to


drive employee action, engagement and business results:

1) Review your current communication goals. Are they focused on facilitating


behaviors or actions that help achieve company strategy, or on increasing
employee knowledge of the strategy? For example, are your metrics for measuring
employee contributions based on improving knowledge scores from an employee
survey? Or, are you measuring progress on specific behaviors?

2) Have you identified the “drivers” of effective communication for your


organization, i.e. timeliness, relevance, etc.? Do you know how they are weighted
by different groups such as corporate staff versus a call center? At a leading
discount brokerage, a targeted focus on the drivers yielded a 41% increase in
satisfaction with communication and a nearly 20% increase in employee
engagement.

3) Have you segmented your workforce functionally and by demographic profile? Do


you understand their communication preferences and key motivational factors, i.e.
how different segments prefer to receive information and what engages employees
in each group?

4) Are you delivering targeted and customized communication based on employee


preferences and motivational factors? For an issue like increasing customer fees,
are sales and customer service staff treated as priority audiences? Do they receive
exactly what they need to operate effectively?

5) How connected is your communication plan to employee engagement? Are you


still “promoting” the engagement concept and tactical initiatives related to an
engagement survey? Or, have you mapped communication activities to
motivational factors and found a way to influence content?

Creating communication plans and programs that reach, motivate and engage
today’s workforce is increasingly challenging. But, the stakes are high for
communicators to deliver more relevant and measurable results to their
organizations. For communication to directly impact business success, it must be
adapted to changing employee preferences and motivational factors, and linked
with engagement. So, remember what time management expert, Alan Lakein says:
“Planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it
now.” And, there’s no time like the present to build an action-orientation into your
communication strategy and begin reaping the rewards.
Communication Plan Toolkit – Module 1 : Strategy

By Marc Wright

Your communication strategy must start with your business strategy. The trouble
is, few businesses are able to describe their real business strategy overtly. So how
do you marry your communication plan to a business plan, if no one above you can
tell you what it really is ?

This should not be a frustration to you; very few businesses have a CEO with a
clearly articulated vision. This is because few people in life have a clearly
articulated vision; mostly, we are driven by the first four of Maslow’s Hierarchy of
Needs : creating security for ourselves, keeping the threats to our safety at bay,
companionship, self-esteem and so on. Few of us have a guiding principle higher
than making a success of ourselves and our companies.

However, every business does have a covert, unexpressed business strategy and it
does not take rocket science to discover it; to do so, look at :
where your company is spending the big bucks
what type of attitude gets rewarded and promoted
what keeps the CEO awake at night.

By going round the functional heads of the organisation and doing your own audit of
what is going on, you become proactive rather than reactive. This can raise your
profile and credibility among the senior team, as well as establishing
Communication as a strategic business tool; (see Module 4 - Standards).
Creating a communication strategy is all about making the covert, hidden business
strategy open and engaging for your staff and colleagues. And to do that, you need
to ask yourself another question :
what are your people thinking ?

Company Spending
This is the easiest one to deduce. Study the FD’s budget for the present and
coming year and see where the Board are investing. That huge IT project may be
low on your list of communication priorities; it’s astonishingly boring, is owned
elsewhere in the company, and the benefits are unclear and long term. Think
again; go and interrogate the IT Director, talk to the IT suppliers, find out from HR
the plan for training and implementation.

And look at any unusual investment plans – new buildings, possible acquisitions,
new advertising campaigns. In short, if the Board have committed money to it, then
you need to have it in your communication plan.
Become conversant in how to read a balance sheet. And try to take a number of
bearings on any piece of information. As well as your senior management, talk to
industry analysts and stock brokers about your company and the competition. Do
you have a strong balance sheet and a war chest for future expansion ? Is your
stock price under pressure and the quarterly earnings short of target ? This hard
financial data will tell you more about your company’s strategy than any Vision
statement.

Who Gets Promoted ?


Look at the recent promotions and hirings at a senior level in your company. These
are significant decisions by the Executive team and will tell you a great deal about
the organisation’s current character.

Use the Myers Briggs scale to establish what personality types are being favoured in
these hirings. This is the strongest indicator of your organisation’s personality. Are
the senior team a broad mixture of introverts and extroverts, sensing or intuitive,
feeling or thinking, judging or perceiving types? Or do they conform to a particular
type? And does that type conform to an industry type or do you stand out from the
competition? A bank that recruits senior candidates who are extrovert, intuitive,
feeling and perceiving is going against the grain of most financial institutions, and
that will have a definite effect on its business strategy.
If, however, your organisation is hiring people who resemble the industry norm,
then this speaks volumes about the covert business strategy : more of the same,
steady as she goes... what Jim Collins identifies as the “Flywheel Effect” in From
Good to Great.

Ask The CEO


Make an appointment, or better – a series of appointments - with your CEO, where
you can follow your agenda rather than his or hers. The quality of your
communication strategy will depend on the quality of the relationship you have with
your ultimate boss.

Many CEOs do find it quite lonely at the top and have few people they can spend
time with, reflecting on the broader direction of the business. Go to the meeting
with some models you can talk through, (see below). And listen carefully to his or
her language; to what they talk about first and what they ignore all together. Try to
distinguish between an issue that is front of mind because it came up five minutes
before you met, and their longer-term goals.

Try questions such as :


“If we didn’t invest in Project X, what would happen?”
“What other organisations or CEOs do you admire?”
“What business theories/books do you find attractive?”
“What keeps you awake at night?”
“What do you want our staff to think and feel about working for this organisation?”
“If you didn’t do this job, what would you most want to do?”
“Describe something that happened in the past that gave you the most satisfaction
from this job.”

Measurement & Research


When you have gathered your data, remember that it is not your job to decide on
whether a particular strategy is good, bad, desirable or otherwise. Your job is to
create a communication strategy that matches the business strategy. This means
that, whatever the true, covert business strategy of your organisation is, your
mission is to make that overt, understandable and attractive to as many of your
staff and stakeholders as possible.

So the next step in building your communication strategy is to establish people’s


level of awareness and their attitude to things that are really important to your
business. Track your employee attitude surveys for the past 3 years and look at
any significant changes. Gather as much desk research as possible and – if it does
not exist – commission it; (see Measurement & Research).
Use an external agency to design and conduct your employee attitude survey - but
make sure that they have expertise in Internal Communication and not just HR
practices. An external agency will be able to benchmark your scores against
industry norms, or you can use the reports published by companies such as Ragan,
Melcrum and Sinickas, or trade associations such as IABC, CiB and the IVCA.

Creating Your Communication Strategy


So, once you have established your company's real, covert business strategy, and
established where your staff and colleagues are in terms of their understanding and
feelings toward the company, you can now build your communication strategy.

If you want to wrap this targeted communication process in a strategy, then look at
Developing a Communication Strategy. This article takes a step-by-step approach
to the three main strategies for Internal Communication and explains how to
develop the one that is right for your organisation-
Information Openness
The Supportive Climate
Performance-Based Communication.

Information Openness
This is a tried and tested strategy based on Jack Gibb’s work on his 5 managerial
information-sharing practices, and you can read more about it in the above-quoted
article. Implemented fully, it can be a very powerful approach to Internal
Communication as it focusses on demystifying and clarifying information around the
organisation. However, it does encourage a centrist approach to communication : a
telling to the many of what has been decided by the few.

As organisations have become more transparent with their information, this


approach may become less relevant. The information that a company really needs
to survive and thrive can often come from sideways and bottom-up ideas –
particularly from customers and the marketplace. If, as a communicator, your
strategy keeps you in the corporate centre, dishing out company wisdom from on
high, you run the danger of becoming irrelevant to the operational parts of the
business and your strategy will fail.
The Supportive Climate
This is why many companies adopt a different Internal Communication climate,
which focuses on the managers throughout a business and helps them change the
climate in an organisation. What does this mean? Well, just as a parent or a
teacher can make a trip or a lesson interesting, inspiring or depressing, depending
on their mood, so a manager has the greatest effect on the many micro-climates
around your business. They can encourage teamwork or stifle innovation, all
depending on three things :
what they say
what they do
how they look.

What managers say, the language they use, the inflection they put into their voices,
and the quality of the information they have affects the way they think, as well as
the way those around them think. We can see this phenomenon in the language of
priests and the mantras of politicians.
What managers actually do confirms what they really believe. It is their actions,
decisions and what they choose not to do that are the little moments of truth which
set the micro-climate. Roland Draughon of Gavin Hodges describes this kind of
communication strategy as a targeted communication process.

The Targeted Communication Process can be viewed as happening and succeeding


when the message sent is :
the message received,
the message responded to (feedback from receivers),
and the target audience has been influenced,
and is exhibiting the desired behavior(s)
and taking desired action(s).

This is a pretty good mechanism for any communication strategy because it does
not end up as a thick report, languishing in the bottom drawer of the desks of senior
management. Instead, it is a living process that marries the real covert messages
that your organisation is sending to real understanding among your staff and
colleagues. Not only that, but Draughon relates it not to words but to feelings,
behaviours and actions in the workplace.

And what is really powerful about climate control is that it can be taught. Managers
are often unaware that the office environment where they work is being created by
themselves. A boss that comes in very early in the morning may just want to clear
her emails before the first meeting but actually she is creating a culture of early-
starting. Staff will start to create unwritten rules about when is the ‘right’ time to
get in of a morning.

The manager who regularly brings their team together to celebrate individual
achievement will encourage peer recognition. A manager who displays their anger
can create a climate of fear, while the manager who hardly shows any emotion at
all will create a climate of non-engagement and indifference.
By training managers in understanding climate control, you can make a huge
difference in opening up communication channels and engaging staff. Of course,
managers are affected by the way their managers behave so climate control does
also have to be understood and managed at the top. It’s a twin-pincer strategy :
encourage the behaviours you want at the micro- and the macro- level at the same
time.

Performance-Based Communication

The third strategy, and the most recent to appear, is Performance-Based


Communication. Building on the work of Gibb and D’Aprix, Jim Shaffer argues for the
Communication department to take on a completely new role. He claims,

“The Communication department knows no function.”

That is to say, it does not belong to any one function in the business but to all of
them. Consequently, the strategy of the Communication department should be to
go out into the business and find areas in the operation that will benefit from better
communication; and, having identified these areas, to introduce better
communication practices alongside these particular elements of the business.

This is a very useful approach if you find yourself with limited resources and if your
department is undervalued. (The two facts are often not unrelated).

Far better to succeed in a small project than to fail across the board. Use
measurement systems such as the Value/Volume Matrix to find out what staff
actually value of the communication you put out. If this shows that the quarterly
magazine is being ignored, then bin it and instead use the money to make a
difference in a carefully defined project in a distinct part of the business.

Once you have success with one of the operational barons and can prove the value
of your intervention, just watch your budget and your influence grow as you get
called in by other parts of the operation.
Developing A Communication Strategy
8 February, 2005 - 11:59
How do you develop the right internal communication strategy for your
organisation?

by Marc Wright

You can have brilliant messages, superb communicators, a well-resourced and


trained department but, if you don’t have the right internal communication
strategy, your whole organisation will suffer.

This section takes a step-by-step approach to the three main strategies for internal
communication and explains how to develop the one that is right for your
organisation :
Information Openness
The Supportive Climate
Performance-Based Communication
Web 2.0

There are three different strategies for internal communication, which have been
described and researched by leading academics and practitioners. What is right for
your organisation is a matter of degree; you will want to borrow elements from all
three strategies but will emphasise the one that reflects your company's culture and
where your organisation is heading.
The Information Openness Strategy

This strategy is based on the principle of sharing information and creating a culture
of openness. The work of Jack Gibb in the ‘60s categorised 5 managerial
information-sharing practices, the five areas of information being those where
managers need to have a level of communication competency.

These 5 practices are:


Job information
Personal information
Operational information
Strategic information
Upward information.

This top-down strategy was adopted by a majority of companies in the ‘70s and
‘80s. The first three practices are self-evident: it made sense to keep staff informed
about the jobs they were expected to do, about personal information (such as terms
and conditions) and about the operational issues of how things worked.

The fourth practice, strategic information, relates to the big picture of a company –
where it is heading and how well it is performing. Some ‘command and control’
cultures used to be resistant to this approach. It was considered positively
dangerous to divulge how the company was doing, in good or bad times. But when
staff started turning to their unions as the primary sources of trustworthy
information, management soon learnt the importance of keeping this channel open.
Indeed, although these practices were defined over 40 years ago, they are now
being enshrined in law in Europe through the Information & Consultation Directive,
which means that any company with more than 150 employees must inform staff of
major strategic issues, if they ask for them.

Upward Information is all about creating channels for feedback. Again, some
cultures struggled with this fifth part of the strategy, despite the clear advantages
to be gained from listening to staff. But, as a whole, the Openness Strategy for
internal communication has been widely adopted in large organisations.

The advantages, from the Communication manager’s point of view, are:


It puts you close to the source of top-down information in senior management
Workload is more manageable and predictable as it follows the annual agenda of
the business
You are in control of the messages.

The disadvantages of the Openness Strategy are:


You can become distanced from the operational side of the business
Your work and media can become ignored; no one reads the newsletter or watches
the video
Information is accessed from elsewhere.

In the ‘80s, this information openness strategy was reinvented as Internal


Marketing. The techniques used for marketing to consumers were applied to
marketing messages internally to staff. Thus we saw the rise of the sales
conference, with motivational messages and high production values, as well as an
explosion of corporate video production. The Communication department was no
longer in the business of ‘telling’ staff what to do; it was now ‘selling’ ideas and
information.

This strategy worked up to a point: staff felt motivated by attending these


sophisticated events and morale went up in the short term. However, using dry ice
while Tina Turner belted out, ‘Simply the Best’ was never going to win over the
sceptics in the audience. This strategy has the drawback of delivering diminishing
returns. Each year, companies would have to find ways of creating an ever grander
and more impressive event than the last; a strategy that benefited only professional
presenters and production company budgets.
The ‘Supportive Climate’ Strategy

Jack Gibb, Roger D’Aprix and Ed Robertson all recognised that an internal
communication strategy would take more than just a mechanistic approach to the
flow of information, since top-down information systems ignored the humanistic
perspective of interaction. They argued that people are less influenced by what you
tell them than by how you say it.

In his book, 'Defensive Communication' (1961), Jack Gibb demonstrated how certain
communication styles have the effect of demotivating staff. Gibb argued that top-
down communication could lead to either defense-arousal among staff or to trust,
depending on the language style.
Messages that were based on evaluation (“This is what I think about the situation
and you are going to listen to my wisdom”) made audiences defensive; whereas
statements that described the situation (“We have a problem here, meeting
emerging customer habits..”) tended to create trust.

Gibb recommended a supportive management style, which avoided


communications that tried to control staff in favour of an approach orientated
around problem-solving. He proposed a use of language that evokes spontaneity,
rather than the dead hand of corporate strategy. Superiority (Management knows
better – and therefore you are inferior) had to give way to Equality of Competence
and Knowledge.

And, previously, where management was impersonal and neutral on emotional


issues, Gibb recommended a new empathetic management style. Before, when
management communicated with certainty, often the effect was to close down any
discretionary effort on the part of the recipient - the received impression being, the
company obviously knows all the answers and the staff’s job is merely to carry out
their orders.

Instead, Gibb recommended adopting the style of provisionalism, which encourages


staff and managers to explore solutions together without stifling initiative and
creativity.

Roger D’Aprix and Ed Robertson talk about creating a supportive climate through
communication. This means looking at how managers behave and what language
they use, even how they dress, to create a local climate in the workplace. They
argue that this climate creates certain behaviours in an organisation, which
determine the company’s culture. This is a key difference from focussing on
information; in this strategy, internal communication is all about the how, not the
what.

The behaviours that this strategy encourages, measures and rewards are, how well
managers :
Clarify meaning
Check accuracy
Actively listen
Give constructive feedback
Disclose emotion
Solicit feedback
Manage conflict
Listen empathetically
Give instructions
Provide feedback.

These ten supportive interaction skills have the effect of engaging people in the
company’s aims and objectives.

The advantages of this strategy are that:


It works through line managers taking an active role in determining the climate of
their workplace team
It encourages greater discretionary effort among staff
Line managers become part of the Communication team
Communication managers support the communication process, rather than control
it.

The disadvantages of this strategy are:


It takes time, effort and expense to train up all your line managers in these skills
At times, it can feel like herding cats.

The Supportive Climate strategy makes the Communication function more complex,
moving it from a provider of materials and services to a supporter of managers
throughout the organisation. With this strategy, the Communication manager leaves
the safe haven of just sending out stuff from head office; instead, they help
managers throughout the organisation to become better communicators and create
a supportive climate in their workplace.

Where a supportive climate is reinforced, it means regular (daily, in some


companies) team meetings, run by the line manager. Top-down communications
are made available to the managers but it is upto each manager how they use
these, provided they demonstrate the behaviours that underpin their organisation’s
values. This is a tougher, more exposed but, ultimately, more rewarding strategy.
(Also see Training in Internal Communication for more information.)
Performance-Based Communication

The third strategy, and the most recent to appear, is Performance-Based


Communication. Building on the work of Gibb and D’Aprix, Jim Shaffer argues for the
Communication department to take on a completely new role. He claims,

“The Communication department knows no function.”

That is to say, it does not belong to any one function in the business but to all of
them. Consequently, the strategy of the Communication department should be to
go out into the business and find areas in the operation that will benefit from better
communication; and, having identified these areas, to introduce better
communication practices alongside these particular elements of the business.

In this ‘paramedic’ approach, Communication managers look at where their skills


can bring the most benefit; they then target the areas where the benefits will be
greatest. Shaffer argues that performance will improve only when Communication
successfully performs four roles:
Line Of Sight
Involvement
Sharing Information
Reward & Recognition

Line Of Sight means being able to see how what you do affects the business. So the
Communication manager will help people to create links between their actions and
the results of their actions, in a way that is overt, simple, and meaningful.
Involvement means helping people to understand how they can positively influence
business results. They can start making decisions to stop doing things, or they can
start doing things that they know will improve the business.

Sharing Information means ensuring everyone has the information they need to
guide their decisions on where to place their discretionary effort. It also allows
people to share information with others, where they know that doing so will improve
another’s performance.

Reward & Recognition means creating systems and practices that allow staff to
share in the success that comes from their improved contribution.

The key to this strategy is the Communication department giving up many of the
central functions that do not contribute to performance (such as the company
newsletter), and picking areas where their skills and support can make an
immediate and effective difference.

The advantages of this strategy are that:


It transforms the Communication department from a cost centre to a profit centre,
almost overnight
The work of the department becomes more varied, meaningful, challenging and,
ultimately, satisfying
The department will rise in status, in the eyes of its peers, as it creates wealth for
the organisation.

The disadvantages are:


The Communication manager will spend less time on top-down messages from the
centre
They will have to prioritise tasks and ignore some parts of the business
Their work is more measurable so there is nowhere to hide.

Following this strategy could create tension between the needs of the Executive
Suite and the needs of the business; except, of course, in those enlightened
companies, where the two are the same thing.