Strategic communications planning is the foundation for successful and impactful communications and marketing activities. Each month, Vanguard Communications is releasing a new article describing each step of this important process. Click through to read past articles from our Strategic Communications Planning series. Interested in bringing the strategic communications planning process to your organization? Send us a note and let us know how we can help.
The messages you develop for your strategic communications plan will be the result of a well-crafted situational analysis, specific communications objectives and identifying the right priority audiences.
What’s your favorite application on your smart phone? We all have one. One of my favorites is an app that allows you to send postcards through the mail using photos taken with your camera phone.
How did you learn about your favorite app? Did a friend tell you about it? Were you watching the morning news and they discussed it? Perhaps you were on social media and you saw an ad or promoted post? I learned about my postcard making app through a photography group I belong to on social media.
The medium used to tell you about a product or idea is a “channel.” In the strategic communications planning process, we identify channels to help us directly and effectively deliver messages to our key audiences. Figuring out the best ways to reach the audiences you have identified can be critical to the effectiveness of your communications efforts.
Strategic conversations about channels can open planning to possibilities outside of traditional dissemination tactics. By determining the best channels for a campaign, communicators can increase opportunities to identify effective activities, messages and materials later in the strategic communications planning process.
Your audience’s habits, preferences, location and other key factors should determine your channel selection. Channels may include faith-based organizations, doctor’s offices, radio stations or social media. For professionals, channels may include internal newsletters, regular meetings or annual trainings led by their peers. As much as possible, choose channels that provide a direct link or are unique to your audience. For example, if your audience is youth soccer players, earned media might not reach them as effectively as using their league or fields to place your message.
Channels can also be influential people who are important to your audiences, including celebrities with large social media followings or high-profile, respected opinion leaders in your community or industry, such as elected officials, educators or faith leaders.
Tactics often get confused with channels. Channels are not communications activities; channels are the platforms and spaces we use to deliver messages and implement communication activities. For example, channels for a communications campaign might be beauty salons, highway billboards, a faith community leader or a popular podcast. Tactics — which are more like specific activities or actions — could be a Facebook contest, a town hall meeting on Zoom, an public service announcement insert in electricity utility bills or an awards program.
When determining what the best channels are for reaching your audiences, consider your audiences and answer the following questions:
- Where does your audience get information? Research their news habits, how news is disseminated throughout the community, etc.
- Who do they find credible? Identify if they rely on parents, friends, partners, celebrities/sports figures/media personalities/activists, co-workers, pastors or health care professionals for trusted information or recommendations.
- Where do they spend time? Figure out the areas and spaces in which they frequent, such as work, church, sporting events, bars, clubs, movie theaters, restaurants, barber shops, gyms, etc.
- Where are they most likely to give attention on this issue? This may be different than the answer to the previous question and should also be considered. Maybe at work, gym, school or church?
- Where are they least likely to receive or accept messages on this issue? Answering this question often requires deeper audience research through surveys and focus groups with your key audience.
To avoid overextending resources — human and budgetary — consider your budget parameters and prioritize channels that meet your audience needs while also providing great reach and impact, credibility and easy access. Ensuring that the selected channels align the key messages and your organization’s brand is critical as well.
Actor Jim Carrey once said, “I don’t make it in regular channels, and that’s OK for me.”
Thinking outside the box when considering channels is an advantage, and OK for communicators. Competition for space, time and attention is challenging in the traditional “regular” channels. With your audience in mind, think like Jim Carrey and find unusual, innovative, impactful channels and weave those into your strategic communications planning process.