Published: 8 January 2016

It takes a comms strategy to develop a comms strategy

Image: Chris Deary/Zone

There’s more to changing behaviours than just raising awareness with your chosen audience. Yet for many charities, raising awareness is the end goal rather than the first step on the ladder to much deeper audience engagement.

In my experience, this is often down to a failure to take a more strategic approach to comms – or a failure to properly communicate such a need to internal stakeholders, such as the leadership team. Luckily, with the right approach, this is something that can be easily addressed.

But how do you convince stakeholders, senior decision-makers and budget controllers that a comms strategy really is worth the investment?

Without wishing to get too meta, the answer is a comms strategy. Put simply, a comms strategy to sell in your comms strategy.

A charity’s objectives might range from raising money and providing services to campaigning, research and changing behaviour. But without a long-term strategic vision in place, comms briefs are too easily skewed by short-term, tactical opportunities that don’t clearly ladder up to any of those overarching goals.

It’s why content calendars often end up masquerading as strategies, why Excel tabs packed with Google Analytics data pass themselves off as ‘KPIs’ and why campaigns end up working to that vague, catch-all objective: raising awareness.

Forward-thinking charities – the ones investing time and resources into their strategic frameworks – are showing that it’s possible to achieve so much more. Cancer Research UK is a great example of this. 

The new homepage, launched earlier this year, is unequivocal about what it needs the public to do. The ‘Let’s Beat Cancer Sooner’ proposition has given it a clear point of view from which to hang an array of rich content and actions, all of clearly laddering up to that objective, equating a single, easily definable goal.

If you want your colleagues to change the way they think, feel and behave, you need to approach the challenge in the same way you would with external stakeholders, by figuring out effective ways to communicate to change their hearts and minds.

Above is the framework of a comms strategy to sell in a comms strategy from my presentation at a CharityComms event last year.

As with all good comms strategies, it starts by marrying the needs of the business and the audience, and that means getting away from your desk to find out exactly what those needs are. 

Whether that’s through formal channels like meetings and emails, or by stalking your boss in the kitchen while they make their morning coffee, don’t just assume you know what’s motivating people to do stuff or holding them back. Ask them directly.

There are a number of likely barriers: lack of knowledge and vision, internal politics, fear of the unknown, stretched budgets, etc.

Once you’ve identified these blockers, you can start defining what you need to do and say to overcome them, as well as what you need to create and deliver those messages and the best channels for getting them out there. Crucially, you can also start measuring how successful you’ve been, allowing you to make incremental changes to your approach as you go.

In a nutshell: show your senior leaders that comms can help them achieve their objectives and that their comms team can be trusted to create a vision and execute it expertly. Reassure them that in the digital world, comms strategies can be measurable and iterative and that, ultimately, they deliver an ROI that raising awareness alone never will. And that’s how you get a comms strategy.

More like this
Chris’ presentation at a CharityComms South West regional group event on demonstrating the value of communications
Find out about our book, Make it matter: creating communications strategies in the non-profit sector

Chris Deary, client creative director, Zone

Chris Deary is a client creative director at digital agency Zone. He has produced and managed content for The Guardian, Manchester Evening News, The Sun and Cosmpolitan magazine. He headed up digital projects for the climate change charity Global Cool – including their content partnership with Vodafone – for three years before moving to Zone in 2013 to be creative lead on projects for the Nike Foundation, the London School of Economics, BT and Channel 4.