Constructing a Communications Road Map

Back in the pre-GPS days, us old folks used to use a thing called a road map. Got ’em at gas stations and book stores. Convenient and quaint but very difficult to unfold those things and read them while you were driving if you had not already planned your route.

Inevitably you and your co-pilot/navigator would have words when you strayed off course…

Businesses start with business plans – a road map for their future. But in my experience few of them integrate their communications plans with that road map. It’s an afterthought at best. And that is usually where the confusion takes place.

It isn’t rocket science to figure out and it can/should be kept to one page. Just bear in mind – it cannot be done in a vacuum and must dovetail with your overall business objectives:

Step 1: Do your homework. Talk to the owner, shareholders, workers, etc., Look at the market, do a media audit of your organization and your competitors. Get a feel for where things were, where they stand and where they are headed. How are you seen? How do you see yourself? (Note: This is the most important step so spend your time accordingly).

Step 2: Conduct an SWOT analysis based on what you found out in Step 1. Remember, Strengths are those things that are an internal strength to your organization; Weaknesses are those things where your organization demonstrates vulnerability. Opportunities are openings in the market that you are positioned to capture; Threats are factors outside your organization that may prove detrimental to your business.

Step 3: Summarize your findings. It usually only takes a paragraph or two and if you are a new business it should roughly mirror your initial market survey – only based from a communications standpoint.

Step 4: Define your main problem/issue. It absolutely should support your business goals. Based on the previous work this may require an outside set of eyes, as an owner or investor may be too close to see the issue from an unbiased and rational POV.

Step 5: Define your Communications Goal. This is the keystone from which everything else will follow. This goal should be solely focused on trying to solve the problem you identified in Step 4. If it isn’t, you’re wrong. Go back, look at Step 4 and try again.

Step 6: Define some benchmark objectives that (if achieved) should lead you to fulfilling the goal you defined in Step 5. Hint: Don’t you dare modify your goal to match up with he objectives. The goal is the goal. Objectives help you reach that goal. Period.

Step 7: Take a time out and have a margarita. If you have done the previous steps correctly your brain is mush by now and you need to step away for a bit to put things back in perspective.

Step 8: Back for another margarita? Good for you. We don’t judge.

Step 9: Develop some strategies that will help you achieve one or more objectives from Step 6. This is where most people go wrong – they jump to tactics and not strategies. Understand the HUGE difference:  Tactics support Strategies, not the other way around. Example: A strategy may be, “increase social media interaction and presence among trade media by 20%.” A supporting tactic may be, “develop company LinkedIn page,” or, “follow trade media Twitter accounts.”

Step 10: Develop tactics to support your strategies. This is the fun part everyone loves to pile in on. They were absent earlier when the hard thinking had to be done but they will come out of the woodwork to suggest social media, trade shows, sponsorships, celebrity partnerships, etc., The truth is, supporting tactics are a dime a dozen.

 

When we develop initial client proposals we stop at Step 9. No sense getting ahead of yourself with tactics brainstorming before you get agreement from your client on the assumptions and conclusions you made earlier.

Key: As with everything, you get out of it what you put into it. Do your research and analysis with intellectual honesty and your plan will provide a firm foundation from which to build.

 

Paul Swiergosz
Principal at Silicon Harbor Communications LLC, is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel with over 23 years experience with defense, government and private sector groups. His work, primarily in the areas of integrated communications planning, branding, media relations, crisis management, communications research and executive leader coaching has ranged across the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia.