Stumped on where to begin writing a strategic communications plan? Relax, we’ve all been there. And for the most part, we survived.
So you’ve just been hired and are three days into the job your boss calls to inquire when the strategic communications plan that you all discussed on day one will be complete. Surprised by her eagerness, you don’t know what to say. Heck, you are still trying to remember your employee number so you can log in on the computer.
A strategic communications plan is at the top of your list of things to do, but you need to learn the organization and its audiences. What do you do from here? Read on for some tips to help you navigate expectations and your need to call I.T. again because you just locked yourself out of the sign in screen.
1. Temper your boss’s expectations. While it is tempting to want to please the boss early on or show them that you can handle any situation, knowing how to communicate and temper expectations is also a win. It showcases your emotional intelligence and also sets the tone for the working relationship. One of my superintendent’s would always say, “Thirty day plans are a joke. How are you expected to do anything in thirty days without even knowing where to find the bathroom?” I wholeheartedly agree. In this situation, tell your boss that you will work to provide a fluid timeline but there is some initial work and relationship building within your department and the organization that must take place before a full plan is presented.
2. Know your organizations mission and strategic goals. There is sure to be some language in the organization’s strategic goals that goes along the lines of ‘engage all stakeholders in the process so they are aware of everything we do’. It’s probably not that generic, but you get the idea. Before beginning a strategic communications plan, you have to know the mission and goals of the district or organization. Those typically mean the reason why the business is in existence and what is going to drive results at the end of the year. Skipping over learning and incorporating these elements into any plan is certainly a recipe for strategic planning disaster.
3. Research and listen before you do anything else. Spending valuable work time building a strategic communications plan and then not realizing the results you set out to achieve can be deflating. That’s why it’s important to research and listen before making a move. It's the first step in the RPIE process (Research, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation). Through research, you can identify a problem and analyze the situation. The problem that others may see may not truly be the problem. It may be a catalyst of the real problem. Spot checks, informal conversations, or a short Google survey can provide some insight into sentiments.
"To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time." - Leonard Bernstein
4. Work with others in the sandbox. So what you threw sand in Jimmy’s face when you all were toddlers playing in the sandbox? You’ve matured since then. Learning to play nice with the Jimmy’s in the corporate or school PR world is essential to the successful buy-in and implementation of any plan. Some of your colleagues hold the key to data, community influencers, software, and finance doors that you may need to open. Many of our school PR personnel are sailing ships with only a captain, but at some point we have to invite some crewmembers aboard to help us do the heavy lifting. Step from behind that email address, get the finance guy a coffee when you stop at Starbucks, walk down the winding hall to the Office of Student Assignment just to check on them during the back to school registration rush. It will all pay off because one day, you’re going to need their assistance to pull off yet another big idea your office mates have concocted.
5. Write it down. Erase it. Write it down again. After researching other strategic plans, your mind is typically blown by the amount of information you absorbed. It’s okay. Take a deep breath. Now write. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be coherent sentences that allow you a template in which to perfect your communications masterpiece. Who knows, some of your colleagues in the field may have plans they are willing to share and you can use their plan for inspiration while considering your own. You may create several drafts before settling on one you feel like is a winner. It's all a work in progress and changes over time depending on your organizations mission and goals. Remember, any strategic planning takes time. It takes building relationships. It takes knowing the why for your organization. It takes managing expectations. It takes revisions. It takes trust. Don’t expect to get it right the first time, but you can certainly expect to get better as future strategic planning opportunities arise. Good Luck and Happy Planning!