The concept of Communication strategy (cs) is based on the assumption that corporate communication/ public relations/ communication management is practised as a strategic management function; that it assists the organisation to adapt to its environment by achieving a balance between commercial imperatives and socially acceptable behaviour; that it identifies and manages issues and stakeholders to ensure that organisational and communication goals are aligned to societal and stakeholder values and norms; and that it builds relationships through communication with those on whom the organisation depends to meet its economic and socio-political goals.
Communication strategy is conceptualised as a functional strategy, providing focus and direction to the Communication function. It is facilitated by a practitioner performing the role of the communication manager at the functional organisational level. It is the outcome of a strategic thinking process by senior communication practitioners and top managers, taking strategic decisions on the management of, and the communication with, strategic stakeholders. Developing Communication strategy makes the Communication function relevant in the strategic management process by providing the link between the organisation’s strategic goals and its communication plans.
The Communication strategy development process can be summarised as including both the formulation of communication goals in the Communication function’s ‘deliberate’ strategy development (typically as part of the budgeting cycle, for example once a year), as well as the ongoing formulation of communication goals as part of ‘emergent’ strategy development (the latter resulting from environmental scanning and issues management).
The Communication strategy formulation process consists of several steps:
Step 1: Develop ‘deliberate’ communication goals. The organisation’s key (strategic) priorities are reviewed, culminating in a series of communication goals and themes aligned to these priorities, representing ‘deliberate’ Communication strategy. The communication goals focus on closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the Communication function.
Step 2: Set efficiency targets. These are set to supplement communication goals, thereby increasing the efficiency of the Communication function.
Step 3: Develop ’emergent’ communication goals. Constantly emerging societal and stakeholder issues that are identified in the organisation’s issues and stakeholder management process are addressed in a series of communication goals and themes that represent ’emergent’ Communication strategy. The communication goals focus on closing the vision – culture – reputation gaps, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the Communication function.
Step 4: Develop a communication framework. Strategy development is transformed into strategy implementation by means of the communication framework. The latter provides an opportunity to indicate which communication plans will be developed around each of the goals.
Step 5: Set communication budgets. The communication framework is resourced by deploying a budget.
Step 6: Set evaluation methodology. The measurement of delivery on communication goals and efficiency targets are planned here.
Step 7: Generate communication plans.Properties defined in the Communication strategy for each of the intended Communication plans (e.g. descriptions, communication goals, planning horizons, and responsible people) will feed automatically through to the new Communication plans.