Build a winning Strategic Communication Plan to guide your firm through the economic rebound.
The Amazing Strategic Planning Puzzle can help you build a winning Strategic Communication Plan to guide your firm through this economic rebound.
Building a Strategic Communication (SC) plan for your business is no easy task, but it’s crucial if you’re company is experiencing a significant change effect. And with our economic recovery extending much longer than anyone anticipated, your business is probably evolving quicker than say, snap. These steps will help guide your thinking as you work by solving the puzzle of developing a Strategic Communication Plan.
I cover the critically important steps for utilizing the Strategic Planning puzzle framework to march you through building a winning strategic communication plan. The framework is extremely versatile. I have used it in annual Marketing strategy and planning campaigns to also support important product releases as part of a bigger Go-to-Market strategy. It simply works!
For this article, I will also use an imaginary retail company scenario, Company X, with ten stores experiencing a major change effect. So, this is the perspective from which we’ll view the strategic communication planning process for an exercise. As we’ve seen, it is by no means a linear process. However, we have to begin our thinking somewhere, so let’s look at what I call the Strategic Communication thought process.
The Strategic Communication Analytical Process. As our puzzle piece presentation has undoubtedly illustrated to you, the Strategic Communication thought process is quite complex.
The very first item of the framework begins identifying the Strategic Effect. During the weekly Management Team meeting at Company X, your CEO and CFO announce they need to close 3 retail stores due to the economic shutdown. Here is how the process works for you – the marketing and communications guru:
1. Identify Strategic Effect
Right! Always have to begin with the cornerstone—what the organization is trying to accomplish. Remember, the strategic effect will have more than just communication involved with achieving it. For example, if Company X is going to close 3 retail stores, there will be a lot that has to happen above and beyond your Strategic Communications activities. You want to think about those elements, however, because they will undoubtedly impact some or all of your key stakeholder groups.
2. Identify Strategic Communication Goal/Effect
Good thought. This is what your strategic communication plan is going to work to achieve in support of the strategic effect. For the Company X example, one goal can be to reroute and increase customer visits to other stores in the area. Another can be helping laid off employees find jobs elsewhere.
3. Assess Metrics
It is too early to do a lot here, but you do want to start the process of identifying what success will look like for your plan. You will probably revise it as you learn more about the stakeholders in each of the 3 localities. So, make a note to come back to the question of metrics frequently. Metrics must be quantitative and qualitative.
4. Risk Analysis
Ok, you can go here next if you want. Generally, you go to risk analysis after the Strategic Communication effect to evaluate the risks to the organization if the strategic effect and/or the Strategic Communication plan are not successful. Creating a complete Strategic Communication plan is resource intensive, so you want to put those scarce resources against a problem that is critical and crucial to the organization. In this case, we know that this is a major element of the strategic direction for the company and it needs to be done right.
5. Identify Stakeholders
Gotta’ get here early and after risk analysis will work well. It’s critically important it is for the organization to achieve its strategic goal. Get the right people together in a “virtual” room and start brainstorming all the possible stakeholders.
The right people here means those with different perspectives, different experiences, and different views of stakeholder-land. That will provide you a wide range of perspectives to influence in your plan.
Don’t worry, there is real data to be gathered later, but for now, you want smart people who see things differently in the room to ensure your stakeholder identification is broad. Remember, stakeholders are those who support, those who do not, and those who do not have an opinion . . . yet.
6. Stakeholder Analysis
Now that you have identified all the possible individuals, groups and organizations that have a stake in Company X’s 3 store closings.
Remember, you want to analyze both impact and attitude of these stakeholders toward this effort. Remember, you are primarily looking at 3 stores’ stakeholders, but may need to expand this to all company employees, multiple communities and partners. These are not going to be identical. You may have to bring in people from other elements of the company to be able to do a thorough job here.
Now you and your team have to confirm that with research. Your research just might take you back to stakeholder identification and analysis because there might be some new additions the team had not thought of.
8. Listen to Stakeholders
One of the ways to validate and explore stakeholder-land is to listen to them. For an important issue like this you want to see what they are thinking. This is not going to be town halls. You simply don’t have the manpower in a mid-sized business. You might do that later because they can be useful tactical tools. This is more subtle. What are they thinking, where do they stand, what kind of opposition or support can you expect? And again, remember you are looking at a lot of areas.
The good news is you can take advantage of your partners and use them to help you with this. They are likely to have a different set of connections with stakeholders. Maybe they have already had the functional equivalent of listening to stakeholders. Maybe they have relationships that will enable them to do this more easily than you could.
Where you want to get to with this element is, what are the key stakeholders going to say in response (or preemption) to your communication once you are in the implementation phase? You will keep coming back to this important question as you go through the remaining elements because each element and its analysis will add to the answer.
9. Situational Analysis
Now that you have looked at the stakeholders in as thorough a manner as possible, you want to look at the environment. What is happening in the country, state, in the various regions, in the localities where these stores are going to be closed? The economy is rebounding slowly, but in terrible shape, the store closings are ANOTHER NEGATIVE but the fact that 7 stores are remaining open is a positive.
But again, this is bad news, so the existing businesses who do not think the economy or locality can sustain their operations needs to be addressed in some capacity. You are going to need to identify the issues for each area. Think political, economic, environmental, social categories. Big job!
Well, by now you and your team are probably pretty overwhelmed. You are not going to be able to do this by yourself. Who will you need to collaborate with? Find partners who will work on this with you. There might be people in the organization who think that part of what you are going to do in this Strategic Communication plan is really part of their turf (community relations, marketing, maybe even the individual store management).
You want them working with your plan, not against you. This is the time to consult with them, negotiate, and partner. There’s going to be plenty of workload to go around to get buy-in to strengthen support for the nearest stores staying open. You might even want them to join your Strategic Communication team for this effort.
12. Reflect Stakeholder Realities
What are the implications of everything you have learned for your implementation plan? Remember, stakeholder perceptions will drive your reality, so you had better be very sure you understand what they are.
13. Communication Objectives
Now, at last, you arrive at the tactical implementation phase. Using everything you have learned you will begin to develop the specific communication objectives that will lead to the overall objective of creating welcoming communities.
14. Themes and Messages
Themes and messages will be the vehicles you use to reinforce, persuade and influence the positive to neutral stakeholders and rebut the negative. These need to carefully address all of those stakeholder analysis findings you and the team worked so hard to identify.
15. Communication Activities and Channels (Implementation Plan)
These are the detailed action elements. You might have some of the same activities for all 3 sites, but odds are good that you will find different channels maybe welcomed and needed. The news of the stores closing is terrible news, but fortunately some employees will be able to transfer to other locations, preferred customers will receive discounts other stores and your company’s implementation plan has plenty of empathy, yet optimism for the new normal. It’s crucially important that you calendarize the action plan
You have been thinking about this as you worked your way through all of the elements. Now it is time focus on it. How will you assess success or failure in each of the localities? How will you incorporate what you learn from the assessments into the ongoing Strategic Communication plan?
Review, revise, revisit! This is not on the puzzle, but it is how you go forward. The plan is dynamic. You will not just implement the calendar activities as designed – although that sure would make this an easier effort! So, as you implement, you measure and you add to your analysis. These new analytical elements will add to your knowledge and approaches which will change the implementation plan going forward.
Congratulations! You have managed to put it all together! Of course, there is more than one way to approach the strategic communication planning process, but this one has worked well across many unique programs.
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