J.C. Penney tackles complex challenges with 1-page strategy sheets

The department store chain communicates with its 155,000 employees and millions of customers through consistent planning.

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“Everybody in the organization thinks their brand and their initiative is important,” April Dinwoodie, divisional vice president of brand communications and publicity for J.C. Penney, told a crowd at Ragan Communications’ conference at Southwest Airlines headquarters in October.

To deal with that complexity, Dinwoodie said, the key is building unique experiences and clear, consistent messages. To ensure that happens, she and her team plan everything. In particular, they make calculated use of “strategy sheets,” one-page documents that specify the objective, the target audience, the top three points of the message, individual responsibilities, a timeline, the budget, and the next steps.

“You have to start off with a strategy,” Dinwoodie said. Her employees aren’t crazy about the strategy sheets, but the results in two big, recent programs and on social media have shone through.

Liz Claiborne

In 2010, the Liz Claiborne brand went exclusive with J.C. Penney. It was a big deal for the company and the brand, because Liz Claiborne customers are quite loyal, Dinwoodie pointed out.

So Dinwoodie and her team created a template for a communications strategy with a few key messages. Internally and externally, everything remained consistent.

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