By John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” – from the movie, Cool Hand Luke
Fire. Aim. Ready. If this is your communications plan…..you may want to read on.
Amazingly, many companies do not think about communications—both internally and externally—until it is a necessity. A crisis occurs, a reaction follows and in many cases, they do not necessarily put the best foot forward. A strategic communications plan should be a part of your overall business plan and can provide the company clarity that is required in both good times and bad. Developing the process for delivering your communications on an ongoing basis is critical in order to maintain a consistent message as well as a continuous forum from which to communicate.
Even small companies (less than 10 employees) can have an effective communications strategy that enables them to articulate company news efficiently. In the case of Gray Cat, my Website acts as the key repository of “everything Gray Cat” and all news information emanates to Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. This helps organize information and helps to create a cohesive communications strategy—even for a small company.
Once you have the basic distribution structure in place, developing the content is the next critical task. Rather than just develop news “willy-nilly,” ensure that a well-thought through strategy is in place regarding content development. Timing and sequencing of topics are critical to having your audience “stay with you.” There will still be ample opportunities to infuse “new” content as it is warranted—these items are just icing on the cake. Let’s take a look at the core elements of an overall strategic communications plan:
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Media: The first step is getting over the intimidation with the media. There should not be any fear in dealing with the media—they have a job to do and often are looking for news. Help them! Next, develop a list of all key media contacts and get their email address. Be proactive with your contacts in order to create a relationship in advance. In addition, target specific industries that would be beneficial for your business. Over time, your goal should be to enhance your company image through communications as this helps soften distressing news and provides accessibility for interviews. Lastly, develop reasons for meeting the media and build those relationships.
Create News Releases: Once you have established your media contact list, begin to develop news content. Keep in mind that news information may have to be tailored for each of your audiences, but the core message should stay the same. Determine what elements are critical and conclude your news release with a consistent “boilerplate” that provides a quick paragraph on your company. Lastly, determine how the news release will be communicated and by whom.
Employees And Stakeholders: Another set of audiences to include within your strategic communications, would be both employees and/or stakeholders. Keeping your internal teams informed is vital in order to permeate your communications throughout your entire organization. There is nothing worse than having misinformed employees and stakeholders attempting to communicate your vision.
Communicate To Key Vendors: Oft-overlooked is proactively communicating to your vendors. Many company owners feel compelled to keep vendors in the dark in order to keep them at arms length. I have always had the philosophy that a vendor works better on your behalf if they understand how their role fits in your overall communication strategy. The more they are informed, the better decisions they can make to enhance their support of your brand.
Internet/Intranet Media Kit: In years past, having a hard copy media kit—press releases, biographies of senior management, news items, etc.—was an excellent way of putting your company in a nice, neat “package.” Today, Websites can act as the media kit and allow for flexibility in real time to post updates on your company. In addition, your Website expands your reach far more effectively than hard-copy media kits. Save the dough and go electronic.
Media Policy Handbook: Lastly, if more than one person manages your communications or if you simply just want to have greater structure within your organization, consider developing a media policy handbook. This guide can come in handy in order to develop consistency in dealing with the media, particularly if there is a crisis. Crisis management tests the mettle of any organization and “winging” how the company manages a crisis only exacerbates the situation.
Creating and managing a strategic communications plan requires upfront work. Once in place, communicating a consistent message will not only be effortless, but highly productive. The media, employees, stakeholders and vendors will all be singing from the same songbook, which ultimately translates into your customers being well-informed about your company and brand.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.