Communications Strategy – A Checklist

As a communications strategist, one of the cold hard facts that I face is that most communications strategies fail – that is, that they never get implemented. And yet, my experience is that a solid communications strategy (particularly one developed through a robust consultative process) can have a transformative impact on an organization`s results.

This tension has led me to try to identify practical ways to ensure that a strategy has reasonable conditions to fly. Taking a page from the wildly successful Checklist Manifesto (which has apparently been used by groups such as orthopaedic surgeons, pilots and astronauts to enhance operational effectiveness), here’s my proposed checklist for your communications strategy:

  • Validate that you have the evidence to back up your recommendations. This is particularly critical if your strategy is recommending a significant departure from your organization’s traditional approach. Look for quantitative and qualitative evidence, which might come from analyzing past metrics, benchmarking your organization against peers, or from key informant interviews.
  • Ensure that your strategy is realistic. The strategy is a statement of commitment to the organization, so it’s prudent to make sure you can deliver. If the strategy is designed to make a business case for additional resources to achieve your goals, that should be made clear to executives.
  • Design an internal process for internal engagement and alignment around your strategy. Consider building support for the strategy through internal stakeholdering and involving key partners in your process. The goal is not only to deliver a killer strategy, but also to get it approved, and ultimately executed.
  • Build a process for regularly assessing progress against the strategy, and reporting on achievements. Don’t wait until the end of the year to begin evaluating – build it into day-to-day practice so that you can act on findings and calibrate your strategic direction in real-time.
  • Integrate the communications strategy into regular operations and meetings of the organization. Make a habit of connecting ad hoc requests or issues to the strategy (for example, how can we deal with this media issue in a way that advances our strategy goals?)

Keep in mind that as Henry Mintzberg remarked, “all strategy making walks on two feet, one deliberate, the other emergent”. It’s natural and healthy for your strategy implementation to evolve and adapt to changes in the environment. The trick is to maintain laser-like focus on your stated objectives and associated performance measures – once these bookends are solid, the rest will fall into place.

For more tips on communications strategy, check out this Best Practice Paper in Strategic Communications Planning.