It was a real departure from the norm as a funder. For one, it was created in partnership with young people. It also promised a bold and distinctly co-operative way of funding that focused on long-term, unrestricted grants. And it committed to funding young people directly so those with real lived experience were in the driving seat. As a Comms team, it was a dream project to promote and you can read how we did it in my previous blogs (one and two).
But it also raised a question of what we did next as a team. Suddenly, we needed a new comms strategy that could deliver on AND promote this piece of work. And we needed to find a way to build this strategy that was fun, co-operative and removed power dynamics, where possible.
Here’s what we did, what worked and what we would do better next time. I hope it helps you with your next comms strategy build:
Trust the process
I’m a strong believer in the phrase ‘trust the process’. If you do things the ‘right’ way, nine times out of 10 you’ll get good results. The most difficult question then becomes – ‘what’s the right way?’ We agreed this early on in our four-person Comms team:
- No single ‘leader’: Our Comms team is made up of one Head (me), two Comms Officers and one Campaign Manager. But for this strategy development, there would be no hierarchy and we’d all have an equal say. The only extra work I did as Head of was to keep our timelines up to date, write any research papers we created and begin straw drafts.
- Our final product would be audience-led: There are lots of ways you can produce comms strategies but we wanted to make sure every piece of future comms would be targeted at the right people. We agreed on day one that our strategy would be audience-led.
- It wouldn’t take over our lives: We weren’t creating this strategy in a vacuum as we were also working on our Learning & Impact Report, Campaign Strategy and case study and video catalogue at the same time. As such, we set aside four to five hours a week to work on our strategy and did our best to stick to it.
- We’d openly share learning: That’s what this blog is about, and you can also read my ongoing Twitter thread.
Thinking about the things that worked…
- We looked ‘back’ first: We kicked off our strategy development with an in-person SWOT analysis. This helped us review what worked in our last strategy, and what we could learn from. We then spent two months researching the comms of other funders and thinking in depth about what our values and organisational strategy meant to us. This would help us develop a strategy that kept pace with best practice in the sector. We combined our thoughts in papers each week, which will eventually form the appendices of our final strategy.
- We got ‘space’ from our CEO: Comms at the Co-op Foundation never stops but our CEO, Nick, has been great. I explained early on that we needed time to create this strategy and he’s given us just that. As such, we’ve been able to work at a pace that’s been good for our wellbeing.
- We asked for external input: We may be Comms experts, but we don’t know it all. As part of our research phase, we spoke to five trustees, two Co-op comms and community leaders and our non-Comms colleagues to find out what they’d like us to do. We’re a support service so ‘asking the customer’ was the right thing to do.
…and a few things that didn’t
- It’s been overwhelming at times: It’s great interviewing colleagues and spending real time looking at things like comms values. But we ended up developing so many possibilities about what we COULD do that we couldn’t see the wood for the trees. This felt a lot mentally, so I recommend you schedule plenty of time into your plan for this job. Look at all inputs equally and thematically to make sure you keep the best bits of advice.
- We weren’t 100% sure of the process on day one: Looking back, it seems obvious that you’d look back at research first before looking forward at what comes next, but we worked this out as we went along. I’d advise following this pattern to keep things simple.
Building a new comms strategy is an ongoing process
At the time of writing, we’re now three months into our development and, if my timelines are to be believed, we’re doing okay.
We’ve finished our desk research and created papers on how our Comms should be influenced by our values, our organisational strategy and our colleagues and Trustees. We’ve also used what we’ve learned to draft a one-sentence ‘Comms aim’ and eight principles for a new ‘Comms approach’. We’re in the process of testing these with colleagues.
The next two months will be critical as we profile and segment four target audiences and review the channels we use most often, like Twitter and PR. We’ve also agreed to complete a comprehensive review of DEI in comms to make sure everything we create is informed and accessible.
Want to catch up on Co-op Foundation’s learnings so far? Take a look at:
- Learnings from launching a new organisational strategy – the midway point
- Learnings from launching a new organisational strategy – we did it!
You may also want to check out:
- Charities providing organisation-wide strategy inspiration
- On Demand Workshop: Building a comms strategy
Banner Image: Riki Risnandar on Pexels