6 things that undermine a strategic communications plan

Even if you get everything else right—the communication channels and tactics—these oversights can make your well-laid plans go awry.

The term “strategic communications” is not just business jargon.

A well-designed communications plan is a strategic asset; it can boost brand value, enhance relationships with customers and partners, and build your reputation, while reducing inefficient PR and communications spending.

Assuming you know how to develop a plan that focuses on the right message mix, communications channels, and tactics, how can your plan fall short? Here are the most common ways:

It’s not sufficiently tied to business outcomes. Some companies still view communications as a service function within the organization, or even as a risk-mitigation resource like legal counsel. In other cases, the communications goals are identified as brand visibility. A strategic communications plan should have a different endgame—building or enhancing the relationships and values that lead to measurable business performance and growth.

The plan was created in a vacuum. Sometimes the planning process is too internally focused. It’s developed to push out news of the organization’s mission and values, or it’s based on a C-level wish list. Its chances of success are greater when it’s informed by external insights—key trends, disruptors, and specific industry changes that will affect the company over the long term. The best plans also start with a thorough brand communications audit that includes insights into customer, channel partner, and employee perceptions of the business or its products.

Channel messages are in conflict. We’ve all been there. The PR team is focused on communicating a product’s “higher-order” benefits while, simultaneously, direct-marketing promotes deep price discounts. Though these types of messages can coexist, if not carefully aligned, they can end up conflicting.

Communications guidelines are absent, or inadequate. Even in a smaller company, visual and content quality standards are crucial. In a Harvard Business Review post, strategist Georgia Everse recommends “brand standards that give ‘rules to create by'” for those who must meet high standards for content creation.

The plan is a secret. Some companies keep the communications plan private among a few senior managers. Why? It shouldn’t be a secret. More important, many employees have customer contact, and virtually everyone talks about the organization with others. A brand message framework is useful for everyone, particularly because informal conversations will almost always fill gaps created by inadequate brand communication within the company.

The team is lost in the tactics. Though guidelines must be shared, an experienced team should handle the execution of communications tactics. In the heat of media relations battles or email marketing campaigns, we often focus too much on execution. Someone once told me the difference between a strategic plan and a tactical one is that the former focuses on delivered results, and the latter on delivered change.

Dorothy Crenshaw is CEO and creative director of Crenshaw Communications. She has been named one of the public relations industry’s 100 Most Powerful Women by PR Week. A version of this story appeared on Crenshaw Communications’ ImPRessions blog.

Topics: PR

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