Linear communication models are ineffective but remain widely used by public relations practitioners. Agile strategy development can revolutionise the comms function and strengthen the relationship with the management team.
- Examples of contemporary public relations research that have an immediate application in practice
- The opportunity to advance practice and develop as a profession through improved collaboration
- A toolkit of eight practical ways to improve collaboration developed over the past 18 months from a CIPR project and BledCom workshop
According to the European Communication Monitor, linking communication and business strategy is the number one challenge for today’s communication practitioners. This is both good and bad news.
The good news is that communication professionals are ambitious: they aim to support the organization in realizing its strategic goals. They are eager to really make a difference.
The bad news is that they still struggle with the strategic element of their contribution. Consequently, CEOs still see the communication department as no more than as a tactical entity providing lots of detail that doesn’t really help them – strategically speaking. Therefore, in order to improve the visibility and credibility of the Communications Department, it is time to fundamentally rethink how strategic communication is developed and start using modern agile tools to do this.
Three years ago we developed the Strategic Communication Frame to do this effectively. After many trials, it has proven to be a practical, valuable and highly appreciated tool.
Agile is the name of the game
Communication professionals perform in a world in which multi-interactional, multi-stakeholder and 24/7 communication is the norm. Control over effect is further away than ever before. Stakeholders have high expectations and organizations not meeting those expectations face severe reputational risk.
Moreover, the context in which communication professionals are operating has changed dramatically with no end in sight. Yet, too often strategic communication plans are still linear, very detailed descriptions of steps to be taken, and aimed at controlling the communication processes by defining smart goals in advance.
The problem with these linear plans is two-fold: they give an illusion of control and are of poor practical use. It leads to disappointment on the side of the client and embarrasses the Communications Department.
Our answer to this costly ineffectiveness is to look at things from an agile point of view. The agile charged communication function strives to make (unexpected) change a natural fact of organizational life and legitimize professionals to adapt quickly to new markets, environments and challenges.
The agile communication professional therefore has a legitimate alibi to take advantage of emerging opportunities and to neutralize risks, 24/7.
Agile strategy development; four starting points
What does the concept of agile mean for strategy development? We have identified four starting points:
- People over processes: Forming a group of skilled and motivated people is vital. In fact, we strongly believe that people trump process.
- Respond to change rather than follow a plan: It is a waste of time to put effort into every tiny detail. Vision and ambition are vital, but more operational choices need to be challenged over and over again. Plans should never be too detailed, and only oriented at the most important decisions made.
- Cross functional collaboration rather than silo behaviour: The majority of communication and reputational challenges we are facing nowadays require intensive collaboration. Developing strategies in splendid isolation is a no-go. Strategy development requires cross functional collaboration.
- A one-pager over a bulky report: No professional should be tortured by reading bulky plans. And no professional should be given the thankless task of writing those documents. Management simply won’t read it. They only care for the vital information: “What are the communications objectives? How are we going to realize these objectives? And what is it going to cost?”
Strategic Communication Frame
Based on in-depth discussions about our theories with students and practitioners and based on the four starting points, we have constructed seven requirements for a good strategy development model for public relations and communication management:
1. Clear vision on communications and its added value to the mission of the organization
2. Focus on internal and external context as building blocks for constructing ambitions
3. No smart objectives but inspiring ambitions based on clear choices
4. Explicit accountability that suits the ambition
5. Clear choices in every building block, as hypotheses for the future
6. Compact to fit on one page
7. Adjustable at any time to respond to situational dynamics
These five requirements helped us in constructing a model we call the Strategic Communication Frame.