How to build a winning communications strategy

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At Provident, we’re often asked to design complex and sophisticated communications strategies to advance the goals of our clients.

Most of the time, the leaders requesting strategic communications support have a good sense of what success looks like: Higher profile, better brand recognition, smart positioning versus the competition, or perhaps a shift in how the brand is perceived by customers.

However, it’s a lot less clear how to actually get there.

Having designed a variety of communications strategies across many industries, I can tell you that the sleuthing sometimes required to arrive at that answer does not get any less demanding with experience.

And communicators, in a rush to deliver something bold and ambitious, sometimes fail to do the digging necessary to uncover the deeper answers.

They are then surprised to find their definition of success is very different from their client’s, or that the tactics substantially miss the mark.

With that in mind, below are a few of the best questions that have worked for us in preparing for communications strategy work. I’ve asked them often, and of as many people inside an organization as possible. It’s amazing how many different answers you can get to just one question. However, that breadth of perspective is what enables us to translate vague ideas into clear communications thinking and a concrete plan that aligns closely to what my clients are actually seeking.

Here are the questions, in no particular order:

  • What problem or need are you trying to solve? Why do you think communications/PR is the best way to solve it?

  • What’s different about this problem or need from other, similar cases you’ve faced before? What, if anything, is similar?

  • What do you think could stand in the way of success of this communications/PR strategy, both inside your business and outside it?

  • What does success look like to you in concrete terms? (Note: Ask this when you’re first developing your thinking, and then again when the strategy is being discussed with the business leader. The answer very often will evolve.)

  • What are the short-, medium- and long-term goals of your business? What assumptions are those goals built upon?

  • How, directly, do you expect this strategy will help your business achieve these goals?

  • What is your tolerance for experimenting with communications/PR approaches that haven’t been attempted before by you or your business?

  • How would you feel about the failure of a single tactic if it teaches us something that benefits the overall strategy?

  • Aside from budget, what commitments can you and your organization make to ensure this strategy succeeds? For example, who else in your business could be a great spokesperson for this strategy, either internally or externally?

  • Who else in the business can I turn to regarding this strategy and any support we will require to achieve success?

  • What else do you think I should know in addition to what I’ve just asked you?

You’ll notice two things. First, these are broad questions and each could elicit a fairly lengthy response. Like a detective, it’s the communicator’s job to sift through and determine what’s relevant. And second, on a related note, not a single one is a yes-or-no question. Avoid those!

As well, this list is far from exhaustive. But I believe it’s a great starting point in gathering the context necessary to deliver a truly effective communications strategy. It has served Provident very well and I hope you’ll find at least a couple of these questions are worth adding to your own arsenal.