The communicator as researcher

It may seem odd to consider the proposition that as a communicator, you should be a researcher. After all, aren’t the researchers those folks in other parts of the building, or outside your organization altogether? Isn’t your job to communicate what those people come up with?

Well, yes, of course it is. But no, it’s not entirely true that your job is wholly about packaging information handed to you, rather than collecting and digesting it yourself. Case in point: when you’re in the initial stages of a comprehensive strategic communications plan, one of the most important things you can do is to build in a block of time devoted to researching the current state of affairs inside and outside of your organization. A high-quality research phase is one of the key things distinguishing a communication plan that has real impact from one that languishes on the shelf and never get implemented.

Planning-stage research achieves four vital things:

  • Insight into the strategic context for your organization and its issues
  • Evidence to base recommendations on
  • Sources of new ideas drawn from best practices elsewhere; and
  • Identification of risk areas to be avoided

A comprehensive research phase will begin with an internal scan of documents within your organization (annual reports, briefings, mission statements and corporate plans to name a few). Next comes the larger phase of external research on the broad environment in which your organization operates, on key partners, counterparts and stakeholders, and on best practices carried out elsewhere. Finally, you’ll be in a position to compare how your organization is currently performing relative to industry leaders.

It’s a lot to wrap your head around, and a lot to tackle. But by becoming a researcher before you launch into the plan-writing phase, your efforts will be infinitely better-informed and more effective in the end.