How to build your communication strategy from scratch

Starting from a blank page? Challenge accepted.

Depending on who you’re asking, starting a communication strategy from scratch can be an exciting prospect or a daunting thought. But how ever you’re feeling about the task in front of you, there are a few key questions you should ask yourself to make sure your comms are headed in the right direction.

Why are you communicating?

Those factsheets don’t make themselves! Creating good content is a business expense that needs to be tied to business outcomes. There’s no point making content for content’s sake. To put our formal hats on, investing in communications is a strategic business process that involves the creation, curation, and distribution of useful, relevant, and consistent content in order to meet a need of a specific audience in order to achieve a desired citizen or stakeholder action.

This makes uncovering the purpose of your communications absolutely key. Some questions to think through as you’re planning an activity include:

  1. What are your department’s business objectives?
  2. How can communications support you to achieve them?
  3. What progress markers will show you you’re heading in the right direction?  (Think SMART.)
  4. Who do you need to communicate with to make this happen?
  5. How will you match what you need to say with what they want to hear?
  6. What’s the context? Are there any events impacting the audience you want to talk with?
  7. How can we minimise, manage, or mitigate any risks of communicating?

To get these insights, you’ll need inputs. And lots of ’em.

What inputs do you have?

‘Nothing!’ you cry, ‘that’s the point of this article, isn’t it?!’ Well, yes. Fair enough. But there’s always something. The need for communication comes from somewhere, so think about what you’ve got at your fingertips that can feed into this piece of thinking. It could be something structured and formal like:

  • A business plan
  • Vision or mission
  • Competitor analysis
  • A brand book or style guide
  • Market rationale
  • Sales figures and analysis
  • Customer research

Or it could be something a little more left-of-field, like:

  • Articles or research that have inspired you
  • Visual imagery you associate with your brand
  • A meeting you had
  • An email from leadership asking you to ‘work on a comms plan’

Don’t panic. This really isn’t a test. That being said, there are some inputs that you can manage without when drafting a communication strategy – and there are some that you can’t. To be able to pull together a meaningful piece of work, you’ll need to know your organisational objectives, competitor set and audience groups – or have access to the people who do.

Where do you need to get to?

Before embarking upon a thesis-length communication strategy, think about what you really need. Who is going to read this and what will they need to know? Of course, there are core elements of a comms strategy that you can’t do without, but how you present these is up to you.

Sometimes a few pages with clear messaging, diagrams and direction are enough. Sometimes you need to get into the detail to get your thoughts across and make your rationale clear to a broad range of stakeholders.

As a broad-brush place to start, you might write answers to sections like these:

  • Who are your stakeholders?
  • What do we need them to understand, engage with, or change?
  • What is the message we need to share?
  • How will we get it across to them? What’s the action plan?
  • How do we measure progress?
  • What does governance look like for timely content approvals?
  • How do we curate content going forward? Will materials need to be repurposed, removed, or recycled?

Whatever outline you go with, make sure you think about the document as a stand-alone plan. If you handed the strategy off to a new person who was fresh to the time, would they know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how?

Who needs to be in the room?

‘Wait, what room?’ you ask. Well, the workshop room of course. Few great strategies are done in isolation – and the ones that are done in this way often get torn down by stakeholders who didn’t have enough buy-in from the start.

Before you kick off with your strategy, hosting a working session with a core team to cover off mission-critical items like objectives, vision, mission, high-level audience groups and a SWOT analysis is highly advisable. Create a clear agenda for the session, accompanied by timings to keep people on track, and share the required outcomes of the session up front. It’s also a good idea to let people know how their ongoing feedback will be incorporated into the communication strategy – when will they next have a chance to review.

Although you might be itching to start writing and planning after the first workshop, we suggest having a few sessions with different team members across your department. This means you can explore new ideas, collaborate and avoid putting a lot of time in driving somewhere before you’ve got a good picture of where the road is. Who knows: the legal team might have insights that the data team don’t, and vice versa!

For great tips on planning and running workshops, check out Nesta’s guide here.

Who can help you build your strategy?

I mean, you can see where this is going. Of course, agencies like contentgroup would be delighted to help you with your strategy. This is our bread and butter, and setting a strategy up from scratch is, believe it or not, a rare treat for us.

Aside from the shameless plug, think about who else in your organisation (or outside it) could help you with the task in hand. Whether it’s finding a colleague or mentor to bounce ideas off, working with a team to come up with cracking consumer research, or going to your audience and asking for their advice and opinion on how they want to be communicated with, you’re not alone on your strategic journey.

Do you really need a communication strategy?

In short, yes. While it can be extremely tempting to get on with creating content – blogs, videos, podcasts etc. you’ll only know the right thing to be planning, and the right messages to put across once you’ve set the foundations you need

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