A more strategic approach to communication is the answer for practitioners who find themselves in a reactive mode: unable to plan, unable to set priorities and unable to say “no” to unwarranted demands on their professional time. Time-tested strategic planning and strategic thinking techniques will help you become more of a strategist, better prepared to offer solutions and counsel, and more valuable to your organization’s decision-making process.
Peter Hollister, APR, CPRC is a principal at Hollister, Trubow and Associates where his career has included assignments in the corporate sector for an electric utility, in the not-for-profit sector where he served as vice president for three universities, and as a consultant, originally with Jackson Jackson & Wagner. He simultaneously spent 33 years in military public affairs. He co-founded HT&A with Patricia Trubow in 1986. During the 20 years Hollister spent with universities, his communications responsibilities expanded to include fund raising and fund development. He has co-designed and led three capital gifts campaigns and many other funding initiatives. In 1975, he developed the first strategic communications plan for a university, and since that time has served as the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) primary strategic planning teacher, conducting seminars internationally. His areas of specialty include strategic planning, fund raising and fund development, and leadership and team development. Hollister is a charter member and past president of the Yankee Chapter of PRSA. He was a chapter officer and member of the state board of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA). He is the author of the study guide Successful Strategic Public Relations Planning and has contributed articles and chapters to a number of publications. He is a Certified Public Relations Counselor (CPRC) through the FPRA and was inducted into PRSA’s College of Fellows in 1992.
Strategic planning and Strategic Management
There are two types of management – that which is done at the top of an organizational structure is called strategic management. Everything else is “operational management.” Strategic management provides guidance, direction and boundaries for operational management. A strategic plan is a dynamic, living thing with no ending. Components within the plan may have endings, but the plan does not. This allows for continual improvement. Strategic planning includes evaluation and benchmarks. Finally, strategic planning is participative.
As George A. Steiner says, “Strategic planning is the backbone support to strategic management. It is the major process in the conduct of strategic management.”
Benefits of Strategic Communications Planning
- Provides a thoughtful focus
- Deals with expectations of management and boards
- Articulates the organizational culture (mission, vision, values)
- Increases ability to be proactive, not reactive
- Enhances the allocation of resources
- Builds and energizes the team
- Shares decision making
- Helps define public relations value to the organization
Peter considers PR practitioners to be relationship managers. If we are doing our jobs correctly, then we are managing relationships effectively. Public relations is a step-by-step process. Relationships are the outcome of this process.
The Strategic Thinking Process
The strategic thinking process includes vital steps that should become second nature to the effective PR practitioner (relationship manager). Remember these steps any time you consider a new project or communications tactic.
These steps are:
- Why should this tactic be considered?
- What is the key message?
- Who are the key audiences?
- Will this activity correspond to an objective?
- Will this activity correspond to a relationship goal?
- Will this activity enhance the mission?
- Are there resources available?
Working through these steps will assist you in determining the necessity of the proposed tactic or project. Some may say “I can’t do that to/with my boss.” Why not? A strategist would! Isn’t that what PR practitioners are?
Developing a Strategic Plan
There are several key elements of developing a strategic plan.
- Value and Beliefs – What do we stand for?
- Mission – Why do we exist?
- Goals – What do we want to do?
- Strategies – How do we get it done?
- Tactics – What short term programs are needed?
- Accountability statements – How will we measure ourselves?
After considering these elements, and ensuring the eight characteristics below, you will produce an effective strategic communications plan.
Eight Characteristic of a Good Strategic Communications Plan
- It’s participative
- It’s dynamic
- It’s flexible
- It’s audience-driven
- It combines the best of PR and marketing (when it comes to planning there should be no differentiation between PR and marketing)
- It contains a mix of strategy and tactics
- It’s measurable
- It’s do-able
Being understood and recognized as a strategic thinker will be a value-added trait in the workplace.
Understanding the planning process is critical. Peter has developed his own hybrid process:
1) Agree on a competitive advantage statement
- Values and beliefs of the organization to the audience you serve
- Positioning and USP (unique selling proposition)
2) Identify themes and messages
3) Set relationship goals
4) List priority constituencies
- Set criteria
- The internal audience is most important and should be considered first
Steps 5-9 should be completed for each priority constituency identified
5) Set relationship objectives
- Outcome oriented
6) Identify research needs
7) Outline actions and programs
- Diffusion process (matching up the actions and programs with the intended outcomes from your audience)
8) Set evaluation standards
9) Assign resources
Guidance, Direction and Boundaries that influence strategic communication:
1) Vision, Mission, Values
2) Organizational Goals
3) SWOT/Situational Analysis
4) Competitive Advantage Statement
5) Themes and Messages
6) Relationship Goals
7) Audiences of Influence
8) Resources (human and fiscal)
Peter H. Hollister, APR, CPRC, Fellow PRSA
Hollister, Trubow & Associates