Do you have a written communications strategy for your business? If you have a general idea about your approach that you are sort of executing, does anybody else in your organization know about it? Do you get your staff’s input and buy-in when trying new communications and marketing initiatives?
When speaking to business owners, I often hear stories of frustration about marketing efforts that did not work or money wasted on communications efforts that did not pay off. A consistent observation I’ve made about these stories is that much of the time, the efforts have been one-offs, the expected results have been oversold and the initiative was tried by one or two people in the company with others not aware of it. In my own experience before CIPR Communications, I can’t tell you how many times I learned about a sale, promotion or new effort to reach customers from my customers after the fact rather than internally before the effort was launched – it was always amazing to me!
Luckily, this is easy to improve without a lot of investment. While there are many ways that businesses can derive more value from their communications efforts, there are three things every business should do at least annually to improve communications results internally with staff and externally with stakeholders and customers. These include:
1. Have a communications strategy session with your leaders/board and staff
Spending time brainstorming about communications strategy can be a useful activity for a business of any size and stage, and spending as little as two hours with your team to get input and buy-in can be invaluable. Every staff member on your team communicates daily and some staff are better at it than others. Without spending time talking about communications strategy, you are likely duplicating efforts and using resources inefficiently, and you are definitely not communicating consistently or as strategically as you can be. You may be amazed by some of the ideas your staff members have that you are not taking advantage of or some of the communications skill-sets within your team that you are not aware of – your really should spend the time to get those ideas out of their heads and into action consistently throughout your organization!
2. Get your strategy down on paper and include an action plan
How many times have you left a great brainstorming session full of energy and inspiration only to never think about what was discussed again? I’ve been part of these – great idea – no execution. Its critical to get your strategy down on paper and to also create a tactical action plan. You should include timelines, assign leads and teams where necessary, understand expected outcomes and know how you are going to measure results. This plan should be reviewed quarterly and adjusted based on changing conditions and circumstances, if necessary. Every quarter you should also review the last quarter to determine which efforts worked and which did not and adjust accordingly. After year of this, you will be amazed with how much more effective your efforts will become.
3. Hire a communications professional to help you brainstorm and write the plan
Bringing a communications professional in to facilitate the discussion and write the plan for you can be a game changer. Most business owners and their staff are not communications experts, and they often have little understanding about the differences between marketing and public relations or the value of social media or e-newsletters, even if they use a combination of these tools to market their company. Most small and medium sized businesses can’t afford to hire a communications professional to help them day-to-day, but the cost of a facilitator is relatively low while the value a professional can bring to the discussion is high. A 3rd party facilitator can help to resolve disagreements and the facilitator can use their experience and insights to answer questions. The facilitator can also keep the conversation on track and can write a report with the necessary level of detail much more succinctly than someone who has never written a communications plan before.
At CIPR Communications, brainstorming and writing communications strategies and tactical plans is something we do daily – we approach communications strategically and we bring discipline to every part of our clients’ communications efforts.
Looking forward to strategizing with you and your team,
Peter Pilarski, CIPR VP