Communications - not just colouring in!
Armed with a whiteboard and a video camera, Jo Coles takes us through the principles of structuring a communications strategy (and settles a family dispute)
Hi there, my name’s Jo Coles, I’m a member of the communications team here at Crest Advisory and we work with loads of organisations on their communications strategies – from charities, think tanks, public inquiries, service providers, loads of people, many of whom are trying to set up their communications from scratch.
I’m going to talk to you a little bit today about communications, and how to put a strategy together if you’re setting things up from nothing. But first of all, just a little thing about communications generally: my brother likes to refer to communications as the ‘colouring in department’. That is very much not the case. And certainly good communications should be about an organisation really knowing how it’s going to implement its strategy and reach the audiences, and deliver on its objectives. So, if you’ve got a good communications strategy and a good communications team, that’s what they should be doing for you.
So I’m just going to run through four stages of communications that you need to think about if you are pulling your strategy together.
First of all, you need to think about your audiences and who it is that you are trying to reach.
Most organisations will instantly think about their external audience that they’re trying to reach – the person they might be trying to sell something to or the person they’re trying to communicate their core messages to. So they might instantly think ‘We need to be talking to the public about this; we need to be talking to our stakeholders about this’. Actually, it’s really important to not forget your internal audiences as well, because they will be integral to you delivering to those external people. So, remember your staff; you might have a board; you might have some funders that you need to think about; and all of those stakeholders need to be part of your communications strategy. And I would say, get some of those people involved in your communications strategy development because actually that will make your strategy stronger. Then you can think about who your external audiences need to be. Obviously that might be the public – some of those within the public: you might be thinking about young people; you might be thinking about older people; you might need to reach people in rural areas or cities; you might be thinking about people overseas. Either way, you need to think about those audiences and how you are going to try and reach them.
Then I like to think about a ‘real people test’.
It’s a little thing that I always do when I think about a communications strategy, particularly when you get down to your messages and the channels that you’re going to use. If you think about your friends, your neighbours, your former colleagues, people that you know pretty well and you know what they think about things – apply some of those key individuals to your communications and it will make it more effective. So in the work that I do, I like to think about Sid, I like to think about Mrs Dawson, and I like to think about a girl I used to work with called Helena. And all of those people, when I start to get on to my messages, start to make the language and tone much more real because you are actually talking to real people.
So the second stage, obviously, is your messages.
You need to think about what you want to say, but you also need to think about what you need to say. Most organisations will want to say ‘Listen to us, we’ve got this great, new thing that we’re going to put out there and we want you to know about it’, but you might actually need to say: who you are, what your organisation is about and what you stand for; you might need to reassure people that you’re an organisation that needs to be taken seriously. So think about both of those things when you’re thinking about how your messages are going to come across. And then obviously you need to think about your language and your tone, you need to apply your ‘real people test’ and what those people are going to think about those words that you’re using and the language that you’ve chosen.
And then the golden rule: you must always think what pictures are going to get your messages across because pictures speak louder than words.
For every message to reach your audience effectively, you’re going to need a visual image to effectively get that across.
So, once you’ve done your audiences, and you’ve got your messages, you can think about what channels you might use to reach those audiences with those messages. Don’t be too prescriptive, certainly don’t start off with thinking ‘I need a Twitter strategy’ because you may not.
Don’t be prescriptive. Consult with your stakeholders – particularly your internal staff and perhaps some of your board members – on your ideas. You might want to be using the mainstream media; you might want to be thinking about social media depending on who your audiences are; you might have marketing plans and again they will need to be tailored to particular audiences; you might need to do some particular stakeholder engagement to reach particular people. Always remember your internal channels because it’s really important, when you start a communications campaign or strategy, that everyone is on the same page. As my colleague Charlotte would say, it’s really important that the people at the top of your organisation have the same messages and are communicating the same things as the people at the bottom of your organisation. And that is why your internal channels are so important.
And then, finally, you need to measure it.
There are loads of tools out there that you can use: there are some free tools on social media – Twitter Analytics, those kinds of things – and then there are off the shelf tools that you can buy – you can subscribe to Twitonomy and Bluenod, you can get tools off the shelf that can be tailored to you and your organisation.
And then the next step is that you obviously need to agree that strategy within your organisation, you need to make sure you’ve got a team and resources to deliver it, and, then, you need to do the actual work.
So, communications is a process that needs to be gone through effectively – you need a professional team to lead that for you. We’re not just colouring in, we’re delivering your communications and your objectives for you.
Senior Communications Consultant
Jo Coles is a Senior Communications Consultant at Crest. Jo brings expertise in the political and voluntary sector delivering politically-sensitive campaigns and communications.