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3 Steps to Corporate Strategic Communications Planning

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Episode 35 with Sybil Topel, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's VP of Marketing and Communications.

Leading an organization's marketing and communication efforts takes a lot of planning. But what all exactly needs to be included in that communications plan?

Here are three questions to consider as part of your strategic communications efforts:

  • How far in advance should your communications planning cover?
  • How do brand and messaging come into play with that plan?
  • How do you find partners to help you along the way?

We'll help you answer these questions, so you can walk away with a deeper understanding of corporate communications planning and strategy, plus how long it takes to see results from your efforts.

1. How far in advance should your communications planning cover?

You ultimately want your organization’s story to reach a large, maybe even national, audience. That’s why it’s good to utilize local publications, TV, and radio, by working with your team to create stories that will resonate with local reporters.

Part of that process will be matching your stories with the reporters who will be interested in them, and this is where timing and planning comes in.

It also helps to establish relationships with these reporters in advance before they’ll actually listen to your story pitch. And even when these reporters do accept your story pitch, the reporter will most likely be busy with the stories they want to share that month, or time-crunched to find ones that fit a specific spot before they publish yours.

Their editor or producer also calls the shots, so even if your story can't get told this time 'round, keep building that relationship and share what you've got when you've got it.

That means you need to know the story and content you want to share several months, to maybe even a year, in advance so you can fit spots as they pop up. The people you want telling your stories probably have content calendars. Ask for those, and use it to inform your own calendar.

You’ll also want to account for other big events going on at your company in this plan, as they’ll reflect the stories you’ll want to pitch, such as:

  • Holiday promotions or charity events
  • Opening new locations
  • Increasing local hires by a large percentage
  • Company growth and reaching milestones

PC: Nextiva

Unless your story is time sensitive, it doesn't matter when you send your pitch. But if you do have an event, milestone, ribbon cutting, or some other time sensitive event coming up, it is vital that you inform the reporter you’ve built a relationship with a week or two in advance before the event takes place.

Related: [Podcast] 5 Essentials to Working with a Local Journalist

So how do you build relationships with local reporters to get your story out?

You need to start by identifying which reporter is going to be the best fit for your organization’s story, which you can do by:

1. Finding the local station or publisher you’d like to target

2. Checking their website for the list of their reporters or writers

3. Reviewing their stories and learning who publishes what

4. Honing in on the individual who reports on stories most similar to what your organization wants to share

Once you identify this reporter, shoot them an email or tweet to introduce yourself, your business objectives, and why your story could benefit them. Then wait to see if they respond.

From there you can begin to build a relationship with them through things like getting coffee or sending them more stories that help them fill spots in their content schedule.

This is also a great opportunity to prime people for what's coming later. A good partner can help you do this well, but we'll cover finding and working with partners in a moment.

Below is a template you can use to reach out to local news and publishing outlets.

Related: [Podcast] 4 Steps to Earning Positive Local Media Coverage

2. How do brand and messaging come into play with that plan?

You want your organization to be at the top of consumers’ minds whenever they have a need. Otherwise, what’s the point of putting all that effort into a communications strategy?

Framing your message as a story that’s easy to repeat in just a few sentences can be the glue that sticks you in the public’s mind whenever they see your organization in the wild.

Why?

Stories chemically affect how a person feels about something when they’re directly shown how they’re connected to it. If consumers can relate to a problem they have experienced within a business’s story, they’re more likely to make a purchase.

That’s why whenever you’re describing your organization (whether it’s for a local news report, ad copy, ect.) it’s best to do so through a story that includes:

  • Your typical customer
  • The problem you solve for the customer (or a problem they didn’t know they had)
  • How the customers will benefit once the problem is solved

Note how the focus here is on the customer, and not your organization. That’s because consumers are always more drawn to how something is directly related to them (than they are by just learning what your business does).

It usually takes seven times for a message to stick in advertising or in public relations, and your message will stick even faster if you nail down a story that can be consistently shared whenever your business is being introduced.

Focus on what you want to stick, or want the consumer to share with their friends, and make that key message uber clear and repeatable.

Here’s an example of a company story that’s been turned into an easily repeatable tagline for multiple communication channels:

“We help business leaders protect their cybersecurity so they can focus their efforts on developing other parts of their business.”

Related: [Podcast] 3 Steps to Tell Your Compelling Company Story

3. How do you find partners to help you along the way?

PR firms can help you initiate an effective communication plan so you can focus on developing other areas within your company. You just need to find one that’s the right fit for you.

You can narrow down your initial search by first considering things like:

  • Your PR budget
  • The main objectives you would have for the firm or agency
  • Recommendations and word-of-mouth track records
  • Skills the firm or agency needs to have for your specific needs
  • Whether you’ll charge them by project, campaign, or retainer
  • Firms or agencies that don’t have clients who are in direct competition with you
  • Whether you want someone local you can meet in-person, or if you’re okay with virtual meetings

Once you narrow down your choices based on these factors, you can start meeting with the firms or agencies that meet your basic expectations.

PC: NewsVoir

You should take your time and not be afraid to get picky as you interview these different firms and agencies. You owe it to yourself to get that kind of certainty before you commit the money.

Your first impression when meeting them is more important than you think, and if you don’t hit it off initially they may not be someone you want to work with. You need to get along with them as a person and enjoy working with them, if it’s going to be a successful partnership.

Beyond just talking to the firm and agency, you should also make time to talk to two to three of their other clients to make sure they're happy.

All of this can help you pick a firm or agency you can feel confident with.

Let your target audience be the North Star of your strategic communication roadmap.

You have to approach your communication goals through a mapped-out, living strategy, so you can return to it and make adjustments if things change (as they inevitably will). And the key part of that planning should be understanding your key audience, and in turn, making it easy for them to resonate with your messaging.

At the end of the day, your communications plan shouldn’t only be aimed at highlighting the great things you’ve done, but rather telling a story that features your target audience member and how you help them. Consistently naming your audience within that story so their ears perk up is one of the best ways to get them to remember you.

You can only create a story that the audience remembers and wants to repeat, when you understand who they are and what goals they have. Things like market research and creating buyer personas help you do this well.

Related: How to Create (and Target) Custom Buyer Personas