What Is a Communications Strategy?

When it comes to communications, sadly most organizations fail (or at least fail to live up to their full potential) because they have no plan.

As the saying goes:

Most people don't plan to fail; they fail to plan. -John L. Beckley
@OurChurchDotCom
OurChurch (dot) Com

(Feel free to retweet that)

Most organizations either live in the past (just keep doing what they’ve been doing) or live in the moment (“We need to get the word out about X. Let’s do A, B and C”) but few actually think about where they want to go in the future or the best way to get there.

So, what is a communications strategy?

what is a communications strategy?Here’s my definition…

A communications strategy (or communications plan) is a document that defines an organization’s communications goals, target audiences and methods for reaching those goals. It serves as a guide for all day-to-day media, public relations and communication activities in which the organization is engaged.

Let’s break that down

A communications strategy is a…

  • document – That means it’s not just floating around in someone’s head but it’s actually written down. As my friend Ken Menesse likes to say, “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist!”

…that defines an organization’s…

  • communications goals – What is the purpose of your communications? What specifically are you going to accomplish through your communications?
  • target audiences – Who are you trying to reach? It’s probably multiple audiences. People within your organization? Existing customers/members/donors? People outside your organization? Where are they? What are they like? What do they need?
  • methods – How are you going to communicate with them? What media, channels, and platforms are you going to use for each target audience?

…for reaching those goals.

  • It serves as a guide for all day-to-day… – In other words, it’s not a worthless document that gets created once and then stuffed in a file folder and forgotten about. It needs to be practical and written in plain English. The communications leader needs to regularly remind his or her team of the strategy and provide correction when the day-to-day communication is not aligned with the strategy.

…media, public relations and communication activities in which the organization is engaged.

Without a communications strategy, your organization will simply float along doing what you’ve always done or be tossed about by the storms of urgent demands for immediate results.

Don’t do it!  Develop a communications strategy! 

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be discussing how to develop a communications strategy, more specifically what to include, examples of communications strategies and more.

Discussion

  • What drives your day-to-day communications? Are you living in the past (doing what you’ve always done)? Living in the moment (doing what you have to do to get the word out today)? Or guided by a written communications strategy?
  • What do you think of the above definition of communications strategy? How would you improve upon it?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

15 Responses to “What Is a Communications Strategy?”

  1. This article was great – well written and laid out nicely. I learned a lot already and I'm now anxiously awaiting more posts on this topic!

    • Thanks Brenda! Looking forward to diving into the details and continuing the conversation.

  2. I'm really curious about your next posts to this topic.
    I think, that I'm already implementing a communications strategy but it definitely has potentail for improvements.

    • Hi Jan, have you written down your communications strategy? If not, I encourage you to do that. If you have written it down, would you be interested in either sharing it as an example for others and/or sharing it and asking for feedback?

  3. My communications strategy is pretty rough. I would love to know how to think it through in a more deliberate way for the long-term — you've got my interest, too!

    I'm sure the plan would include considering what a realistic time investment would be, too — wouldn't it?

    • Hi Sheila, certainly when it comes to determining the methods for achieving goals, the methods available to you will be based on the resources you have available. Time is one resource. Other resources that come to mind are money and your team. But one of the cool things about the era we live in is that we all have social resources – our online friends and connections – which can greatly amplify our efforts if we learn how to serve and inspire them.

      • Distinguishing between methods, goals and resources is crucial. And, they all differ from strategy. The story of Abraham and Isaac is a good analogy for this –

        Abraham swallowed hard when God instructed him to offer a sacrifice – and the only one available was Abraham's son, Isaac, born when Abraham and Sarah were quite old and had no other children. If we limit ourselves to what we can conceive and see, we do not allow God to step in and provide.

        When outlining your communication goals, start with what you are compelled to do, rather than with what resource you have available or what methods you will employ.

        • Great comment, Steve! Distinguishing between strategy and tactics is huge. Starting by defining your big-picture goals is an important often overlooked part of the process.

          You raise an interesting dilemma for Christians regarding goal-setting: when and to what extent should our goals be "informed" by our resources? Abraham got a direct word from God to offer a sacrifice. But does God give us our communications goals? Are we even asking God to reveal them to us?

  4. Vegetarians of Washington May 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    I'd like to suggest that you might want to include a section in your strategy for the scope and tone of the communications. For example, you might want to say that "Our organization will not comment on anything which does not directly relate to our mission" (eg. politics!). Another example might be "All communications will maintain a positive and professional tone"

    • That's a good idea. Those are specific guidelines that would fall under "methods" in the definition used in the post, but I did not go into that l level of detail, so I'm glad you did. :)

  5. Great and exact definition of communications strategy. The tips above would really help a lot those who are in SEO business and digital marketing field.

  6. bruceeministrytools May 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    A great article.
    I would suggest we need to start with goals, then add methods and finally include resources. Goals should rarely change, Methods should be adapted to the current environment and only occasionally change. However, resources are a continuously moving target. and their inventory may have to be updated on a weekly or even daily basis.
    I too am interested in seeing follow-on posts involving this subject.

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jun 3, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks Bruce. Excellent suggestions on how often certain parts of a communication strategy should be revised. An important part of a communications strategy is having a plan for evaluating and revising it.

  7. That was the point I raised above – first set your goals and objectives, then select a strategy, which will include an inventory of your resources. If you start with "we have five loaves and two fishes", how many people will you feed?