Does Your Company Have a “Communications Strategy”?

Jack Litewka, Author, The Sophisticated Manager

Does Your Company Have a “Communications Strategy”?

What circumstance is equally irksome to internal staff and external customers, business partners, and shareholders?

The answer:  Being blind-sided by new policies, new circumstances, changes in plans, and so forth. 

If your company does not have a near-term, mid-term, and long-term communications plan, it cannot have a Communications Strategy.

Why is it important to have a Communications Strategy?

Absence of informative and timely communications can have the following detrimental effects:

  • Internal staff gets upset when they are caught off guard by significant changes that are made at the executive level – and that undermines staff morale.  Lowered morale results in some people starting to look around for other opportunities – and, of course, the smartest and most talented people will have the least difficulty in finding their next landing place (which hopefully will not be with a competitor).
  • Customers and business partners get upset, which undermines customer loyalty and partner confidence… which can directly affect revenue (the bottom line) as those customers begin to spread negative word-of-mouth stories and as business partners start looking around for other partners.
  • If your company is public, shareholders can begin worrying about what’s going on with the company if they don’t hear from the leadership of that company on a regular and timely basis.

Why are communications strategic?

Strategy is about winning.  Company communications should contribute to winning, which makes them strategic (rather than merely informative).

  • Timely information to staff increases the odds of optimal goal creation and goal alignment as well as world-class execution of tactics.
  • Timely information to customers builds loyalty because it helps customers plan for the future, which results in continued or increased revenue.

How does a Communications Strategy shape the “rhythm of the business”?

Lapses in company communications and irregular frequency of communications, followed by communiques about problems and/or changes in plans, are a lousy way to run a business – and makes staff, customers, and business partners feel jerked around.

  • Regular communications will have a positive effect on staff morale, which has long-lasting benefits (e.g., better retention of key staff).
  • Regular communications to customers builds loyalty because it makes customers feel confident.
  • Regular communications to business partners and shareholders gives them confidence in your business model.
  • Regular communications to the media allows them to build your communiques into their calendar of scheduled coverage.

What are the components of an efficient Communications Protocol?

You might be thinking that executing a Communications Strategy can be time-consuming.  Yes, it can be.  That said, there are ways to decrease the time required:  viz., by having a systematic approach to the creation and dissemination of company communiques.

       Here are the basics of creating a world-class Communications Strategy:

  • Identify your internal audiences (All staff? Which levels of managers? etc.). 
    • Decide on the frequency of issuing internal communications for each audience.
    • Determine the tone and type of information that should be communicated to each internal audience.
    • Develop a template for internal communications.
      • The template should be modular so that the overall content can be customized for different internal audiences (entire company, upper management, middle management, etc.)
  • Identify your external audiences (customers, business partners, shareholders, media, etc.).
    • Decide on the frequency of issuing external communications.
    • Develop a template for external communications.
      • The template should be modular so that its length can be modified when communicating to different external audiences -- but the messages are consistent across audiences, so you don’t get caught up in contradictions.

Can one Communication Strategy suffice for internal and external communications?

That’s an easy question to answer:  of course not!  The usual case is that communications to internal staff will contain some “for your eyes only” information and perspectives. 

Although there are times when internal staff and external customers receive similar information, it’s likely that the text will have a different tone and focus. 

Should the responsibility for the Communications Strategy be delegated?

Yes and No. It depends on the size and structure of an organization and on the number of products and number of external audiences a company has.  A large company is likely to have a communications specialist who full-time job is to own and manage the overall execution of communications – or one owner of internal communications and one owner of external communications. 

For small companies and middle-size companies, communication strategy and ownership is often only a part of one person’s job description.  So the critical question in such a situation is:  Does that person have the bandwidth to execute on a Communications Strategy in a world-class manner (and still take care of other important responsibilities?

If the owner of the Communications Strategy does not have sufficient bandwidth to carry out a world-class Communications Strategy, then clearly either some delegation will have to occur… or a new head-count will need to be created for a full-time communications specialist.