LCulkin-200x183cropOn the wall next to my desk I have a list of four working standards for our small Communications team.

One of them, which is the basis for our corporate communications strategy, Let’s Talk says ‘understand what you want to achieve – if you don’t define success, how will you know when you have achieved it?’ Common sense, really: why would you set off to go somewhere if you did not know where you wanted to go or why?

Our strategic approach to all our corporate communications activity echoes those you come across in any Public Relations theory text book or college course.

It’s a four-step circular process:

  • research
  • planning
  • implementation and
  • evaluation

or from another perspective

  • understanding where you are now, and
  • where you want to get to
  • working out what you’re going to do
  • doing it
  • then checking to see whether it’s worked.

“strategic approach = research, planning, implementation and evaluation”

The first stage is the most important in ensuring that our work is really customer focused. Traditionally it has been easy to go straight into doing the communicating  – writing to people, putting up a poster, sending out a press release – without really thinking about what you are trying to achieve. Our approach means instead taking the time from the start to think from your customer’s perspective.

  • Why do we need to communicate with them?
    It could be because we want them to recycle more and make sure they put the right rubbish in the right bins.
  • Have they asked for this information? In which case they might already be open and ready to receive it, or is it coming out of the blue?
  • What do they already know?
    When we’re giving information to new housing tenants, they may know very little about us and our work, so we must make sure we strike a balance between telling them what they need to know and overloading them with irrelevant information.
  • What methods and media do we have and how do stakeholders like us to communicate with them?
    Like everyone, we are using digital communication methods more and more. Many of our customers like to use Facebook to interact with us and we’re seeing some good positive engagement on there, but it does not suit everyone and having that understanding of people’s preferences is key.

This all means a bigger investment of time at the outset and it can be hard work. Some colleagues want to ‘just get on with it’, some feel that I am slowing them down or stopping them doing what they want to do. But I am seeing more and more enthusiastic converts because, in the long-term, it means less work.

If we get the communications right first time, we see fewer follow-up enquiries or questions and our customers feel informed, understood and involved. Our Customer Service Manager is one of our strongest advocates, which is exactly as it should be.

“getting the comms right first time means customers feel
informed, understood and involved”

Let’s Talk sets out our corporate approach, yes, but this tactic works in exactly the same way for day-to-day operational work. When I am asked to help with a communications plan or campaign, my advice is always: understand who you want to talk to, what you want to tell them and what they want to know. It works as a planning tool and it works equally well as a test of effectiveness for the dreaded newsletter or poster that I get asked to cast an eye over.

Understand where you want to get to before you set off. It really is just common sense.

Blog author, Lucie Culkin MCIPR
Editor, Abha Thakor

> Discover more about Lucie Culkin’s role as Communications Manager, Stevenage Borough Council

> Stevenage Borough Council’s Corporate Communications Strategy 2016 (pdf, Stevenage BC website)