OPINION: INTERNAL COMMUNICATORS MUST FOCUS ON STRATEGIC PLANNING
A worrying number of practitioners are navigating their jobs without any kind of strategic comms plan, says Suzanne Peck. While dangerous for business and for the IC profession, there are steps practitioners can take to rectify this
You might have a route sketched out in your head, but without a clear picture of where you’re going, how do you know how long it could take? And how will you know when you’ve arrived? Just as you planned your summer holiday – where you wanted to go, what you wanted to do and see – your communication direction needs planning to stop it veering off course.
A continual finding in internal communication surveys is that many comms practitioners don’t have a long term vision for IC, or do any formal strategy or planning. In 2018, over a quarter of respondents in communications and marketing recruitment agency VMA Group’s ‘Inside Insight’ survey said they didn’t have a formal IC plan. The Gatehouse ‘State of the Sector’ survey also reports that only half of respondents have a long term vision for internal communication, and that one in five respondents admitted that that they don’t do any formal planning.
The IC profession is striving to be a trusted partner, to be recognised as an important function that adds value to an organisation. We want influence and to be involved in the strategic business conversations. But what leaders will take IC seriously if the profession doesn’t take a business-like approach to its own comms strategy and affairs?
In the IoIC’s recent membership survey, the topic that members said they most wanted support with was ‘communications strategy and planning.’ It’s clear that the understanding of the importance of planning and the appetite is definitely there, and is an issue that the IoIC continues to address.
The majority of the IoIC’s professional development activities focus on developing comms strategy and planning skills, as the organisation changes what it does how it does it to reflect the growing membership. From the Accelerate series to individual masterclasses. a range of targeted, career-developing courses are feeding that demand. The relaunch of the the UK’s only Master’s to focus on the strategic practice of internal communication saw unprecedented interest from IC professionals who are keen to learn how to think in a more business-like and analytical way.
You’re not alone if you don’t have a comms plan, but you’re definitely in the minority and with little excuse to change that. There are a lot of resources and support to get you started and to help benchmark what you already have.
To reflect the business strategy and connect people to it, your comms strategy must support the business’s objectives. It sets out the bigger picture of your IC goals and the key comms activities that will help employees, wherever they are, to understand the business direction and why they are doing the work they are doing. It’s a licence to drive the right things that are most important to the business. A written strategy helps you and other stakeholders understand the direction of travel and helps you identify the key audiences as well as how to reach them. It’s also a guide for conversations about campaign timing, messaging, channel selection and content quality and is useful to quote if you need to ‘nicely’ push back on ad hoc requests for support.
A good communications plan also proves worth. It includes measurement so you can quickly find out what is, and isn’t, working. You can base decisions on data, not opinion. If you want to launch new channels, increase the team or run an exciting new campaign, proving that you’re doing a good job might get the budget. It also positions communicators as credible businesspeople, with the capability to deliver real results.
Suzanne Peck is president of the IoIC