Strategic Communications, What The **** Is It?

published on November 10 2020
by Richard Castle and the Pesel & Carr team


You don’t hear much about strategic human resources. For that matter, you don’t hear much about strategic finance, strategic accounting or strategic advertising. But strategic communications is everywhere.

A google search will reveal the standard business school definitions of the term, but there are also many articles that claim it is overused and misused. People have it in their job titles and teams are named after it. Businesses position themselves around it. But what does strategic communications actually mean?

Some definitions refer to ‘purposeful’ communications. Others use the words ‘thoughtful’, ‘considered’, ‘researched’ or ‘planned’. One of the most straightforward and useful descriptors is ‘meaningful’.

Strategic communications successfully delivers meaning, seeks to support meaningful outcomes, and gathers valuable and meaningful feedback.

To be meaningful, you have to do the basics well, which demands a deep understanding of the following:

  • Target audiences and stakeholders
  • Communication channels
  • Creative treatments that will attract and sustain attention

People love to tell you that you need to be more strategic, without ever really explaining what they mean. Here is a simple test. Are your efforts supporting the achievements of clear and measurable outcomes and goals? Well, you would hope so. But not always. It is why “strategic communications” can be undermined, when the work fails to align with business outcomes.

Being aligned to clear outcomes gives communications meaning and purpose; features everyone can understand and buy into. Sure, we want to inform, influence and persuade, but these have to be aligned to business objectives defined by progress and value. It is then that communications have purpose, importance, consistency and lasting value. It is strategic.

So why are strategic communications strategic? It is because they are informed by the ability to do three things well: learn, engage and listen.

It may be a cliché, but when it comes to communications, it is still better to show than tell.

Today, actions, speak louder than words. People are bombarded with messages to be excited about the next best, new, old or revived… Showing people how they can be enthusiastic, how they can act, that is the game changer. For example, if you’re a team leader bringing in new devices or software, you wouldn’t just tell people that it will be good for them. You would show them how it will make life easier, more flexible, more secure, or more productive.

Strategic communications is not just about public relations or internal communications. Your approach to communicating to your audience must embrace all channels and disciplines. The lines between strategic, operational and tactical communication have become blurred and perhaps should be rubbed out altogether. And maybe the same goes for communications, advertising, marketing, sales promotion.

We have allowed strategic communications to become a big thing in itself, when all along, it needs to be an embedded thought process that underpins everything an organisation does. The process is thoughtful, considered, well read, brave, inspiring, diplomatic, engaging and embraces any tool or channels that helps move your organisation to reach its goals.

Under Trump administration the White House has been decidedly dog-less, but I’m of the firm belief that every POTUS deserves a DOTUS. I think that a large green manicured lawn is going to waste if it doesn’t host a couple of presidential pets.

Luckily, it soon will. Joe Biden is the proud owner of two German Shepherds, including one who will hold the title of the first rescue dog to ever call the White House home. Biden adopted Champ back in 2008, but a decade later, they welcomed Major to the family. Major came from a litter of sick, surrendered puppies who reportedly weren’t doing so well. It’s fair to see Major’s rough days are behind him, as pretty soon he’ll be frolicking on that presidential lawn and gnawing on taxpayer treats.

These aren’t the only iconic canines to grace the White House. The Obama family had Bo and Sunny, two Portuguese Water Dogs whose hypoallergenic fur ensured daughter Malia had no allergic reactions.

In 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for his fourth term when it emerged that he had accidentally left behind his Scottish Terrier, Fala. After allegedly sending ships to return the dog, he was criticised for irresponsible spending of tax payer money, to which we replied: “you can criticize me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog… all these allegations about spending all this money have just made his little soul furious”.

Let’s welcome Champ and Major.

For all those considering adopting rescue pets, Lort Smith and RSPCA are at your service!