Someone asked me this the other day. And I have to admit I struggled to give a succinct answer. So here, with the benefit of further reflection, is what I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say at the time – and a bit more besides.
Whatever an organisation does – including when it’s not doing very much at all – it’s saying something about itself. In other words, communicating. That can be a scary thought. Or it can be an empowering one. It all depends on whether you’re using communications in an intentional way to achieve your goals. And that, in a nutshell, is strategic communications.
Not the same as ‘spin’
Strategic communications, then, is about aligning how you communicate with what you do, or want to do. Of course, if your organisation isn’t doing the right things in the first place, no strategy – however sophisticated – can make up for that, and people will rightly identify your communications as ‘spin’. But while there are some organisations that misuse communications, there are many others doing good work, which deserves to be more widely known about, but that are far too reticent about blowing their own trumpet.
“Doing the right stuff”
Although PR or marketing are often talked about as though they were synonymous with strategic communications, they’re not. While either or both may well form part of your communications strategy, you’re likely to need other ingredients in the mix too. It may even be the case that the right strategy for you is based mainly on activities such as building your network or forming closer relationships with key opinion formers. As the quote from communications expert Shayna Englin in this useful article puts it, being strategic is “the difference between doing communications stuff and doing the right communications stuff”.
A better chance of success
It’s possible to spend a lot of money on things like PR, marketing, printing, websites and mailings – often to seemingly little effect. But an effective communications strategy will free up valuable time and cash by enabling you to ditch what doesn’t work and focus your efforts on activities that will achieve results.