Welcome to the Communications Matrix!

One of the biggest, if not the biggest challenge, you might face as a communications expert is the tremendous incongruity between the number of times you read and hear the term ‘Strategy’ and how often you actually have the opportunity to design, implement and even witness a (successful) communications strategy.

Strategy might have become just another buzzword in the management world. Arguably, management is losing its capacity for analysis, long-term planning and creative evaluation. Lack of time, interest and practical knowledge create a situation where the occasional planning mistake feeds a common scenario: Paradoxically, the more times ‘strategy’ is mentioned, the less likely it is that a strategy will actually be developed and implemented.

The following video gives an idea of how this may impact a vulnerable part of your team (Designer), when a bad or non-existing strategy leads to a ‘challenging’ briefing.

Yes, I’m simplifying and provoking to grab your attention and to keep this blog post as brief as possible. But since you’re still with me, I’m sure you’d like to know why I even mention this obvious fact to an experienced communicator such as yourself? (Giving compliments; a sophisticated blog tactics – not strategy, concept, vision or even tool – put in place. I see, you’re impressed!)

When do you need an internal communications strategy?

Basically, you need it when you’re planning a long-term communications project and you want to follow the successful implementation of its goals.

A single activity or even several stand-alone activities, such as launching an intranet, printing a brochure or setting up a board mailing to employees or organizing a town-hall meeting will look nice in your and your client’s portfolio. You might have a fascinating discussion about the right wording, the right colours, the right images and the right firewall settings.

But in the end, these are isolated activities with a short-term approach and a potentially devastating long-term impact. That’s because no strategic planning is linking them, no overall goals are set up, no monitoring and evaluation parameters are established, and the financial and human resources are poorly planned.

A successful recipe

Determine your goals. Probably this is number one on your list, although it doesn’t have to be. Determining goals and target groups may be just a result of your first job as a consultant: analysis.

Yes, James Bond gets all the fame, cars and girls, but in the real world there are hundreds of ‘normal’ people like you and me sitting in some boring secret services offices who do the research, gather all the information. And in a perfect world, we prepare an independent summary of the status quo. How do you want to know where you’re going, if you’re not sure where you are?

Most clients will tell you how unnecessary this time-consuming step is. Actually, the vast majority will tell you to skip right to the activities and “just do it, we have no time and resources anyway”. Then you’ll be very lucky to completely finish this step, but never give up hope.

This step should be followed by a matching process with your client. What does the client think of their own internal communications approach so far and how does it fit in with your research and information gathering? Once you’ve made your conclusions, and only then, should you continue with the usual steps and determine your overall goal, specific objectives, key messages, target groups or audiences and activity planning.

There is abundant literature describing these steps, with minor differences in their order, and the ‘black hole’ of most communications strategies coming at the very end: evaluation and monitoring.

I believe it’s not just the lack of tools and measurable parameters – mostly based on marketing-led quantity parameters, instead of qualitative parameters – which can be made responsible for failing with this step, but also the lack of genuine interest to find out whether a strategy was actually successful in terms of implementing goals.

Lost in action

Here comes the fancy part of every strategy: in other words anything that can be viewed, heard, listened to, touched and of course presented in PowerPoint to your board.

As if you’d purchase a computer on its looks! Ok, you got me here. Marketing made this possible. Why else would anybody not working in design get an Apple? (I say this to provoke controversy among my IT-literate readers. Yet another sophisticated blog tactic. Brilliant!)

I’ve got some bad news for some of us. Skipping directly to the action item, ‘Get us some of this new social media stuff’ – without links to any strategic planning – will nevertheless require a minimum of action-planning. You have to plan the finance and HR resources, prepare a time frame (when, what, who, etc.) and define which tools are required and available (e.g. Yammer or a ‘tailor-made’ internal microblogging tool).

Finally, you should plan how to use your tools to achieve your objectives. Some people call this tactics. If you’re lucky and your contact is interested in football, you might explain the difference between tactics and tools like this. Teams like Real Madrid have lots of tools but no tactics and teams like Manchester United have many tools, too, but also excellent tactics. Instead of the latter, feel free to mention any team your contact might support, but don’t change the first one. This is a free advice from a Real Madrid supporter….

What is The Matrix?

In the science-fiction movie The Matrix, the main character Neo puts this question to Morpheus, a man who offers him the chance to learn the truth about ‘the system’. “What’s this Communications Matrix in your headline?” you might ask. And if you’re not, you should be doing so now, after almost 1,000 words without any further mention of ‚The Communications Matrix‘.

If you want to find out how it may help you develop a communications strategy, wait for the next chapter of this fascinating trilogy. That’s where the Logical Framework meets the communications world in ‘The Communications Matrix Reloaded.’ Coming soon to your RSS readers!

Thanks to Jeremy Gray for editing my text. Jeremy is a journalist, photographer and ‚Berliner‘

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