Friday, 20 May 2011

Seven easy steps to developing a communication strategy

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So, are you worried when somebody pokes you for your communication strategy? If you have a communication strategy with you, it works as a guideline for your organisation’s communication needs. Of course, the communication strategy needs to be a dynamic document – ready to accept new dimensions as per the cropping needs.

If you follow the theories –and yes, you need to do that to a certain extent – the entire communication can be divided into external and internal. The internal communication connotes the communication within the organisation and the stakeholders while the external communication denotes the communication with wider audience.

Step 1 – Analyse the background
The first and foremost step is to analyse the communication environment – finding out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (termed as “SWOT Analysis”, some love to call it “TOWS Analysis” singling out the threats and opportunities first).

Step 2 – Formulate goals and objectives
The next step is considering the goals of your programme and carving out communication objectives from those goals. The objectives should be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable/attainable, realistic and time bound. For instance, a SMART objective can look somewhat like this – “By 2015, three million people in Bangladesh will be aware of tiger conservation in the Sunderbans”.

Step 3 – Analyse the target audience
Analysing the target audience is another crucial step in developing the communication strategy. According to the demographics and lifestyle the communication preferences vary and it is essential to cater to the needs of each segment of audiences. Let’s take the example of the above objective of making aware people of Bangladesh on tiger conservation. If we analyse the probable target audience, at a glance, we can say that some of them might be the bureaucrats, forest officers, people residing in the Sunderbans, mediapersons and the list goes on. Here, each of the target audience has its own age group, lifestyle and preferences. If you analyse the behaviour of the target audience well, it will be much easier to craft the key messages and call to action.

Step 4 – Develop the key messages
Developing key messages is another major step. The message is developed according to the target audience. As I mentioned, the key messages to each audience varies as per the preference of the target audiences. The key messages sum up your message in short memorable statements. The key messages should have some benefits for the target audience, otherwise they won’t be willing to support your communication objective. For instance for the people residing in the Sunderbans you can tell that saving tigers will raise their economic situation and save the magnificent species for the future generation. The overall key message for a wider spectrum of target audience can be compiled by putting together the benefits intended for them.

Step 5 – Craft the call to action
Call to action – what you need the target audience to do or act upon is similar to the key message but different from it as it provokes the target audience to act upon something or to do something. Simple rule to generating a call to action is to think what the target audience is asking you what they should do to meet the communication objective. Taking the case of tigers and Sunderbans, the call to action for the local communities can be “save the tiger”.

Step 6 – Design the tools and activities
Designing tools and activities for each of the target audience is quite simple if you go through all the steps of communication goals, objectives, target audience, key messages and call to action. For example a media trip can be organised for one of the target audiences, journalists in the above mentioned issue. A range of tools and activities including flyers, newsletters, online portals, street drama, radio programmes, public service announcements (PSA), public debates, television infomercials, media trips to name a few are employed to achieve the communication objectives. Be careful to choose the channels properly for media multiplier effect.

Step 7 – Set a budget and timeline
Budget and timeline is yet another crucial factor which can make or break your communication aspirations. Given a budget, you need to wisely craft and plan the tools and activities within a certain timeline. For instance, organising a media trip in the rainy season might be disastrous. In the contrary, if you broadcast a PSA on preventing forest fire during the dry season, you will be able to catch the interest of the target audience as it is the season of forest fire. Likewise, as per the priority and your communication calendar you can design the timeline for maximum impact.

Monitoring the activities and measuring the impacts is crucial for assessing your efforts and redesign, reschedule your activities accordingly.

Put all the above in a compact matrix format, keep a constant track of your objectives and activities and remind yourself of your priorities. This is a must to implement the communication strategy!

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