Developing a communications strategyCategory: Communication, PlanningName: Laura Evans, Communications Officer
“Developing a communications strategy should be an essential part of your planning process”
Communicating with stakeholders is a key part of any project. Developing a strategy for how you communicate is helpful for planning what type of communication messages and channels are best to reach the people that you want to talk to. Also by setting some clear objectives and putting in place ways to evaluate you can demonstrate results your work has achieved. The Celtic Seas Partnership communications strategy covered items such as the project website, e-newsletters, content (films, images etc) and outreach.
Step by Step
A good communications strategy should contain the following as a minimum:
- Introduction and context that your organisation or project is working in (keep it brief, just set the scene)
- Objectives – what do you want to achieve through communication
- Target audience – who are you trying to reach (some research about their views, how they like to communicate and so on helps you decide what approach to take when communicating)
- Key messages – keep these as short and simple as possible. Use easily understandable and engaging language
- Tactics and channels – what communication activities will you do and what channels will you use (e.g. social media, website, events etc.)
- Monitoring and evaluation – how will you measure your activity and show that you have met your objectives?
The Celtic Seas Partnership communications strategy is quite a long document with lots of extra sections. This was partly due to the set-up of the project (lots of different partners with different responsibilities) and partly due to LIFE (funder) expectations. Ideally I would have kept it short and covered some of the extra elements in different ways. This would have made the document more usable on a day-to-day basis.
It’s worth thinking about what your communications strategy would be at the point you’re writing your funding big and if possible, bring in a communications colleague for advice on what tactics and channels to use. For the Celtic Seas Partnership many of the communication activities were written into the grant agreement (what was essentially our contract with the funder) before the project started, and therefore without communications officer involvement. This meant that I ended up writing the strategy backwards as I worked from the activities back to the objectives. If I had been in post while the proposal was developed I may have chosen to communicate differently.
Think carefully about the targets you set. For the Celtic Seas Partnership some of the targets that had been set at the point of writing the bid could have been more focused on quality of stakeholders involvement instead of quantity. To achieve our project objectives we needed to work with a smaller number of engaged stakeholders, not have a high number of slightly engaged stakeholders. We reached a point in the project where we were spending time trying to increase the numbers of stakeholders on email lists etc. instead of spending time with our engaged stakeholders to deliver on practical elements of the project. We realised that this didn’t make sense so made a case to the funder to change the targets to something more meaningful for the project.
The communications strategy should be a useful document that you use regularly, not something that is written at the start of the project and then not looked at until the end when you check if you have achieved your objectives. If you evaluate at regular points you can make changes depending on what is working and what’s not.
This will depend on the nature of the strategy. A small strategy for a discreet project could be done in a couple of days including relevant research. A strategy for a bigger project or for an organisation may take weeks or months to complete as it often will involve getting approval from relevant people and be subject to a few rounds of changes.
Involve your team, use their knowledge of your audience and what approaches would work best, any sensitivities to avoid etc.
No money (unless you commission research into your audience etc.) but personnel time. Need IT to do research and create it.