Six Questions to Get Started on a Communications Strategy

A strong communications strategy is indispensable for any organization. A strategy ensures that the resources you invest in communications tools and tactics are the right tools and tactics to support your organizational goals by effectively reaching your target audiences and motivating them to take action on your behalf.

When developed thoughtfully, a communications strategy can help you accomplish big, organizational wins, such as:

  • Grow support to advance your mission
  • Generate donations and grants from funders
  • Build bridges and relationships with community partners
  • Secure media coverage to positively shape perception

A strategy pays dividends over time, but many organizations we support are challenged to balance the development of a communications strategy with day-to-day demands. We often help transform this complex, convoluted problem into a clear, streamlined process.

If you’re just getting started, answer these five questions to begin crafting a strong communications strategy that will help you reach and motivate your target audiences.

  1. What does my organization want to achieve?

Launching any strategic communications program does not start with communications. It starts with your organization at large. Communications serves to support your organizational goals, so start by identifying what your organization wants to achieve. These organizational goals are often outlined in your business plan or strategic plan.

  1. How can communications help me achieve my organizational goals?

With your organizational goals in hand, it’s time to set your communications goals and objectives. Identify, specifically, how communications can support your organizational goals by effectively reaching and moving your target audiences to act on your behalf. The more specific you can be, the better you’ll be able to measure progress and the value of communications.

For example, one general communications goal might be: Raise visibility of our advocacy work among key funders. A specific objective to measure success might follow as: Secure three media stories about our advocacy work in national publications that key funders read.

  1. Whom do I need to reach and motivate?

Once you’ve set your organizational goals, think through whom you need to reach and motivate in order to achieve those goals. Identify a select number of groups around which you can prioritize efforts. These are your target audiences.

Target audiences should be specific and clear—the general public does not count as a target audience. If, for example, you want to reach new private funders, think about who, specifically, you want to reach. If possible, create a short list naming the top private funders you want to get in front of.

  1. What messages should I employ to engage my target audiences?

The next step in crafting a communications strategy will be to develop concise, clear messages that resonate with your target audiences. Messages are core talking points that describe your organization and its work and should include the five components of a strong messaging framework.  

Messages aim to capture your story and communicate why your work matters. You will also want to tailor messaging to each target audience. For instance, a funder often wants to see how your work connects to the grant at hand and supports its long-term mission. You may also want to highlight available evidence that demonstrates your impact in the community you serve.

  1. How can I best reach and motivate my target audiences?

The last step in crafting a communications strategy is identifying the strategies and tactics that best reach your target audiences and achieve your communications goals. Tactics involve actions, channels and tools that often include:

  • Media relations
  • Community relations
  • Print materials and presentations
  • Websites and web marketing
  • Social media

Strategies and tactics should always ladder back up to your goals. Before you download the cool new app, think through whether or not it is the most effective tool to reach your communications goals and objectives.

While you should ultimately choose strategies and tactics that will effectively reach your goals, I also recommend assessing your capacity for communications work. How many weekly staff hours do you have for communications? What tactical skills do your staff members hold? Select the most efficient and effective tactics that fit your capacity and leverage your skills.

  1. What are the yardsticks to measure success?

The last—and indispensable—part of a communications strategy is how you measure your success: The metrics. This starts by asking what success looks like for your communications work.

Your metrics should be informed by the specific goals and audiences you’ve set. For instance, if your goal and target audiences include securing media coverage for your cause in outlets that reach and influence policymakers, your metrics would likely include the number of outlets to secure and the total reach of those outlets to your audience.

What other questions do you ask in crafting a communications strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Addie Shrodes

Account Manager Addie Shrodes joined Prichard after leading the development of a youth engagement strategy for regional government. Addie has a passion for engagement, education and storytelling for social change. In a previous life, she taught literature classes at UCLA, where she happily propagated her obsession with slam poetry. She idolizes Andrea Gibson as a social changemaker extraordinaire whose poetry can capture attention and change people’s minds.
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