Coming up with a simple communication strategy is something that you can quite often get mired in complexity due to the necessity to gain agreement on communications amongst various other departments.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way for You! In this article, I’ll show you a standard approach for planning and tracking communications.
This can be used for internal purposes, external comms, innovation strategy reporting and corporate communications.
A standard communication strategy template
A communication strategy template should consist of a planning stage followed by a tracking phase. Planning is focused on working out who the stakeholders are for your communications and what information they should receive (and how frequently).
Tracking simply means keeping details of who receives which communications for the sake of auditing your strategy at a later stage. When combined, these lead to more effective communication around the workplace.
Planning your communications should follow some logical steps:
- Establish who your stakeholders are.
- Brainstorm what types of messages/reports that they are going to wish to see, the communication method for distributing these reports/messages (e.g. e-mail, newsletter, etc) and the frequency with which this communications should be made (i.e. ad hoc, weekly, monthly, etc). Consult the stakeholders if necessary to establish what their preferences would be.
- Produce a matrix of this information to establish where there is overlap in stakeholder information, communication types and frequencies.
A standard communication template for reports would invariably include the following sections (which would be customized to suit your enterprise and stakeholder feedback):
- Business/project objectives: Details of what the team/departments goals are.
- Progress: A status update on the work being done and the outlook for the upcoming reporting period.
- Financials: Details of any budgetary nature which may include sales information if this is apt, and not of a sensitive nature.
- Milestones: Major and minor milestones should state if they are successfully achieved, have been missed or are upcoming.
- Issues, risks and opportunities: This is often included to provide other departments with key information regarding problems or possible opportunities.
- Change control: Details of any changes to the project/team/company plans should be noted and may need to go into some detail if these are major changes. My post on project change management procedures details an effective process for handling project alterations.
This is similar in structure to a business proposal template so may need to incorporate some of the sections from this too.
Once the communication template has been formally accepted by the stakeholders then the final stage of planning is to produce a tracking template (usually an Excel spreadsheet). This is to track each communication report that are sent out along with which stakeholders received the report.
It is worth producing this spreadsheet in order to double-check that stakeholders are receiving communications according to the information you received in the planning stage. It is also useful for auditing purposes at a later stage when you may want to re-evaluate the frequencies or reporting template headings/structure.
Communication strategy will not incorporate supply chain visibility data (demand-side and supply-side information from and to outsourcing/partnerships) as this fault folder the remit of the CIO.
As you can see from above, the template sections are quite broad and give enough flexibility for each department to customize it as they see fit. The following sections detail some of the customizations that could conceivably be made.
Variations in marketing communication strategy
The key variation for a marketing communication strategy are the types of stakeholders that will be involved. This usually includes advertising departments, public relations/publicity, direct marketing teams and sponsors. See my article on how to structure an internet marketing plan for more details on formulating these type of strategies.
Due to the marketing departments focus on satisfying customer needs, it may also be necessary to go into more in-depth detail about issues, risks and opportunities, especially when communications are being sent internally.
Variations in internal communication strategy
There is always going to be a difference between external communications (to the media, shareholders, etc) and an internal communication strategy. Internal reports can often include more information about financial information and milestones being hit as these will be of more interest to internal departments.
Issues and risks would be of particular interest to dependent departments where problems in one department will have a knock-on effect with other teams (e.g. issues in software development which may affect quality testing teams). This should be included into your quality assurance plans as a key reporting requirement to other departments.
An area that is often overlooked is the opportunity section where each group/team can often provide opportunities for innovation strategy improvements (e.g. new products/product features/sales channels) that other teams will be interested in. Creative team managers (e.g. in research and development) will often need to focus the internal reports more so on areas of opportunities and team progress rather than on financial details.
Variations in corporate communication strategy
Producing a corporate communication strategy is often the most difficult to formalize and can easily get bogged down in the legalities of what information may be divulged to the greater public.
Financial information will need to be scrutinized more carefully to make sure they are not of a sensitive nature. Milestones will be less of a priority as the greater public will be less aware of internal projects being done (and certainly not be interested in individual milestones).
A major area of interest will be the section on changes in corporate plans which may affect the profitability (either up or down) of the firm. This is one area where stock brokers and industry analysts will sift through the information to attempt to work out any future business business development strategy that the firm is considering.