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How to write a communications strategy
A handy guide from the helpful team at AB August 2016	
  
What do we mean by ‘strategy’?
First, a definition
The word ‘strategy’ comes from the Greek stratēgia, meaning the art of the troop leader, office
of general or generalship. It is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of
uncertainty.
•  A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules,
that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things
they should prioritise (and not prioritise) to achieve desired goals.
•  A strategy is not a mission, which is what the organisation’s leaders want it to accomplish;
missions get elaborated into specific goals and performance metrics.
•  A strategy is not a vision, which is an inspiring portrait of what it will look and feel like to
pursue and achieve the organisation’s mission and goals.
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 2
Demystifying Strategy: The What, Who, How, and Why, Michael D. Watkins
https://hbr.org/2007/09/demystifying-strategy-the-what/
What makes a great communications strategy?
Your pre-flight checklist
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 3
Before you start, you should be able to answer yes to the following…*
•  I know why I’m writing this strategy (and so does my boss)
•  I know my audience(s) and have up-to-date research to corroborate this insight
•  I know my organisation’s business priorities and goals
•  I understand my organisation’s current and desired culture and values
•  I know my stakeholders – both their needs and expectations
•  I know what has worked well in the past, what hasn’t and why
•  I have the support and confidence to be bold and ambitious
•  I have a good sense of what’s best practice in my industry and further afield
•  I know my budget
•  I’m clear about the resources, tools and channels at my disposal
•  I know key dates in my organisation’s calendar
* If you can’t answer yes to these questions, STOP! You still have some preparation to do.
Before you put pen to paper…
A word about tone, style and brevity
It might sound obvious but… your communication strategy should showcase
best practice.
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 4
•  Make it differentiating – it should clearly reflect
your organisation’s unique characteristics
•  Bring it to life – does it have to be another
PowerPoint?
•  Give readers a handy summary – the shorter the
better
Visualise your strategy•  Share it widely – your strategy should be
available for all to see on walls and screens, not
locked away on a shared drive
The
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 5
elements of your strategy
1.  Purpose
An explanation of why the communications strategy exists.
What purpose does it fulfil? What value does it add to your
organisation? Be as tangible and concrete as possible.
August 2016 IABC Communication Strategy 2015-16 6
2. The ambition of communications
Set out the ultimate goal of your communications
activity – ideally make it SMART. To help, think about
the context of your organisation; what does success
look like for communications? Be brave – an ambition
should be bold and stretching.
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 7
3. Strategic objectives
Root the strategy in the context of your business and
competitive marketplace. Set this out succinctly.
Identify the business priorities the communications
strategy is designed to support. This shows how
communications will become a vital tool to help achieve
organisational success.
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 8
4.  Audience analysis
Get under the skin of your target audience(s). Demographic
information is good, but insight into their attitudes, opinions,
preferences and expectations is even better.
Are some audiences priority? If you have sub groups, how do they
interact and overlap? Think about the role of these groups. Are
some of them partners in the communication process?
August 2016 IABC Communication Strategy 2015-16 9
5. Communication themes
Messages come and go but themes stay constant. The
themes you identify will become the yardstick by which
you and others will judge whether a future
communications initiative has strategic value. Define
your themes with care. Be as specific as possible.
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 10
6. Resources, roles and processes
Who will do what and when? Don’t dodge any skills or
resource gaps. Set out a clear process for the
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 11
A diagram might help.
Here’s one showing a
typical editorial process.	
  
creation, approval, dissemination
and evaluation of content.
7. Activities and channels, plus quick wins
Set out what’s going to happen – not every communications
activity, but those intended to make the biggest impact.
August 2016 12
Internal	
  channels	
  
How to write a communications strategy
Highlight quick wins
to build a sense of
momentum. Think
broadly across all
media – earned,
owned and paid.
	
  
8. Timeline
This is an activity schedule for six to 12 months. Include key
moments in your organisation’s annual plan. Remember to
include dates for review and evaluation.
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 13
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 14
9. Measurement review
We think of communications as having outputs – the stuff
people read, watch and hear – and outcomes – how they
think, feel and behave as a result.
Measuring the first is relatively easy because it can be seen
and quantified. Measuring the second requires investigation
- most likely, some kind of qualitative research. Identify the
mechanisms for capturing this data.
10.Strategic review
Set out how you plan to review the success of your
communications strategy. You may want to conduct a
communications SWOT analysis 12 months after
implementation. Your measurement activities (from
step 9) will inform this process.
August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 15
August 2016 IABC Communication Strategy 2015-16 16
Established in 1964, we are one of the UK’s longest
established communication agencies. We win awards
every year for our work – more than 40 in the last three
years alone.
 
Our heritage is in employee communication, which we
believe is one of the most dynamic and important fields in
communication. See Cascade to Conversation, the book by
AB’s managing director, Katie Macaulay, exploring the
future of employee communications.
AB is a family firm of 30 people based on Bermondsey
Street, near London Bridge. We are renowned for a very
special culture, which we call ‘ABness’. Our clients call it
collaborative, caring, friendly and flexible.

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How to write a communications strategy

  • 1. How to write a communications strategy A handy guide from the helpful team at AB August 2016  
  • 2. What do we mean by ‘strategy’? First, a definition The word ‘strategy’ comes from the Greek stratēgia, meaning the art of the troop leader, office of general or generalship. It is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty. •  A good strategy provides a clear roadmap, consisting of a set of guiding principles or rules, that defines the actions people in the business should take (and not take) and the things they should prioritise (and not prioritise) to achieve desired goals. •  A strategy is not a mission, which is what the organisation’s leaders want it to accomplish; missions get elaborated into specific goals and performance metrics. •  A strategy is not a vision, which is an inspiring portrait of what it will look and feel like to pursue and achieve the organisation’s mission and goals. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 2 Demystifying Strategy: The What, Who, How, and Why, Michael D. Watkins https://hbr.org/2007/09/demystifying-strategy-the-what/
  • 3. What makes a great communications strategy? Your pre-flight checklist August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 3 Before you start, you should be able to answer yes to the following…* •  I know why I’m writing this strategy (and so does my boss) •  I know my audience(s) and have up-to-date research to corroborate this insight •  I know my organisation’s business priorities and goals •  I understand my organisation’s current and desired culture and values •  I know my stakeholders – both their needs and expectations •  I know what has worked well in the past, what hasn’t and why •  I have the support and confidence to be bold and ambitious •  I have a good sense of what’s best practice in my industry and further afield •  I know my budget •  I’m clear about the resources, tools and channels at my disposal •  I know key dates in my organisation’s calendar * If you can’t answer yes to these questions, STOP! You still have some preparation to do.
  • 4. Before you put pen to paper… A word about tone, style and brevity It might sound obvious but… your communication strategy should showcase best practice. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 4 •  Make it differentiating – it should clearly reflect your organisation’s unique characteristics •  Bring it to life – does it have to be another PowerPoint? •  Give readers a handy summary – the shorter the better Visualise your strategy•  Share it widely – your strategy should be available for all to see on walls and screens, not locked away on a shared drive
  • 5. The August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 5 elements of your strategy
  • 6. 1.  Purpose An explanation of why the communications strategy exists. What purpose does it fulfil? What value does it add to your organisation? Be as tangible and concrete as possible. August 2016 IABC Communication Strategy 2015-16 6
  • 7. 2. The ambition of communications Set out the ultimate goal of your communications activity – ideally make it SMART. To help, think about the context of your organisation; what does success look like for communications? Be brave – an ambition should be bold and stretching. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 7
  • 8. 3. Strategic objectives Root the strategy in the context of your business and competitive marketplace. Set this out succinctly. Identify the business priorities the communications strategy is designed to support. This shows how communications will become a vital tool to help achieve organisational success. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 8
  • 9. 4.  Audience analysis Get under the skin of your target audience(s). Demographic information is good, but insight into their attitudes, opinions, preferences and expectations is even better. Are some audiences priority? If you have sub groups, how do they interact and overlap? Think about the role of these groups. Are some of them partners in the communication process? August 2016 IABC Communication Strategy 2015-16 9
  • 10. 5. Communication themes Messages come and go but themes stay constant. The themes you identify will become the yardstick by which you and others will judge whether a future communications initiative has strategic value. Define your themes with care. Be as specific as possible. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 10
  • 11. 6. Resources, roles and processes Who will do what and when? Don’t dodge any skills or resource gaps. Set out a clear process for the August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 11 A diagram might help. Here’s one showing a typical editorial process.   creation, approval, dissemination and evaluation of content.
  • 12. 7. Activities and channels, plus quick wins Set out what’s going to happen – not every communications activity, but those intended to make the biggest impact. August 2016 12 Internal  channels   How to write a communications strategy Highlight quick wins to build a sense of momentum. Think broadly across all media – earned, owned and paid.  
  • 13. 8. Timeline This is an activity schedule for six to 12 months. Include key moments in your organisation’s annual plan. Remember to include dates for review and evaluation. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 13
  • 14. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 14 9. Measurement review We think of communications as having outputs – the stuff people read, watch and hear – and outcomes – how they think, feel and behave as a result. Measuring the first is relatively easy because it can be seen and quantified. Measuring the second requires investigation - most likely, some kind of qualitative research. Identify the mechanisms for capturing this data.
  • 15. 10.Strategic review Set out how you plan to review the success of your communications strategy. You may want to conduct a communications SWOT analysis 12 months after implementation. Your measurement activities (from step 9) will inform this process. August 2016 How to write a communications strategy 15
  • 16. August 2016 IABC Communication Strategy 2015-16 16 Established in 1964, we are one of the UK’s longest established communication agencies. We win awards every year for our work – more than 40 in the last three years alone.   Our heritage is in employee communication, which we believe is one of the most dynamic and important fields in communication. See Cascade to Conversation, the book by AB’s managing director, Katie Macaulay, exploring the future of employee communications. AB is a family firm of 30 people based on Bermondsey Street, near London Bridge. We are renowned for a very special culture, which we call ‘ABness’. Our clients call it collaborative, caring, friendly and flexible.