What do mean when we talk about communications? The definition offered by Oxford Dictionary online edition is ‘…imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing or using some other medium”.
When you’re planning communications for your organisation, it’s helpful to think in terms of who you want to reach, what you want to say, how you want to say it, and when. I cover each of these points in this blog and provide practical examples as to what you might consider in developing your communications.
There are a lot of reasons your organisation might choose to communicate with your ‘stakeholders’. ‘Stakeholder’ is a strange word however it is the most simple way of describing everyone who might have an interest in the work your organisation does.
Some examples of the many reasons you may wish to speak to these stakeholders are:
- To sell or promote a product or service
- To raise your organisation’s profile
- To inform people of a change to a service or product you provide
- To address complaints or concerns; or
- To ask people take action on a public interest campaign
In order to determine whether your communications have been successful it is critical to be clear from the outset what your objectives are and what success would look like.
If your objective is clear in your head but you are finding it challenging to put it down on paper then a communications professional will be able to help you to do this.
Who might fall into the stakeholders you need to communicate with?
This list will be different depending on the nature of your message.
Your business has decided to offer your customers an additional service. At present you run a high street firm of lawyers with several offices spread throughout Kent. It has become apparent that many of your small business clients would appreciate a ‘one stop shop’ for their legal and accounting needs. You have brought on board an accountant to operate from your busiest office with a view to extending this to the others if it is successful.
Who needs to know?
- Your current clients
- Your prospective clients
- Your partners
- Your team
- Local media
- The public
In this example, as long as your business can be sure to deliver on the new accountancy services, the more people who become aware of your ‘one-stop shop’ the better.
You run a charity providing care services to sick, disabled and elderly clients. Your funding criteria has changed and it may have implications for any new clients’ eligibility for your services.
Who needs to know?
- Your current clients
- Your potential clients
- Your board
- Your team
- Your funders
- Local media
- The public
In the case of the care services charity the objective is slightly less clear than the above example. It is to inform those most affected, to communicate clearly and consistently, what the changes will mean to current and future clients. One question you will need to answer is whether to pre-empt media or public interest in the changes and proactively communicate with them. Or whether it would be preferable to simply have answers to questions that may be raised once those impacted have been informed.
No-one knows your stakeholders better than you, but if you could do with some help determining who it is best to communicate with and who to prioritise, please get in touch to see how I can help. I can help with stakeholder mapping, analysis and ascertain priorities or help you to draw up a simple plan to deliver your communications.
What do your stakeholders need to hear from you? Although the key message will be the same, each group may need a slightly different approach. Clarity and consistency is critical in each of the messages you identify. It will avoid confusion and misinformation.
Existing clients will be attracted by a different message than prospective clients. Your current clients have already chosen to work with you. They have chosen the service you provide. In their case they are either part of the group who has encouraged the addition of accountancy to your service and therefore will simply need to be informed of the provision of the service and the fees related to it. Prospective clients will need to understand why they would want to use your services in the first instance so will need to include information about your existing legal services. Your team will need the details of the change in order to address queries. Media and the public will need to be advised that this ‘one-stop shop’ is the only service available locally.
Your existing clients will need to be reassured that this change will not alter their services. Prospective clients are going to need to know how this change will affect them. Your team and board will need sufficient information to answer queries. Funders should understand the changes to the service they are funding part of. One of the choices to be made, particularly if this is a cut to current services, is whether to proactively engage the media and the public. Certainly whichever you decide your organisation must have answers to the questions that may be directed at you when the media and public become aware of the changes.
While clarity and consistency are the critical points in determining what to communicate to your stakeholders, determining exactly what information to provide to each group can appear complicated. If you would like some advice or help on planning and delivering your communications please contact me. I can help identify your stakeholders and define specific messages for each group.
The next question for delivering communications is how to best inform your clients. There are a vast range of methods available these days, making access a great deal easier. Should you email, telephone, use Facebook, the media, Twitter for your message. As has become clear throughout this blog – the answer to this question is as diverse as the messages themselves.
As your business has an existing relationship with your current clients email should be fine in this instance. If you wish to launch the new service then a drinks event for current and prospective clients may be effective. Prospective clients can be accessed via the media, advertising in small business magazines and listings. Once you have identified who they are, it will be significantly easier to determine where to target your marketing. Depending on the size of your organisation – face-to-face meetings, intranet or email could all work effectively.
Current clients should be contacted in more formal letters, with clear contact details for further queries. Prospective clients will need to be informed, also formally, via a letter as they make contact with your organisation. Your team and your board can be informed by meetings, email or intranet, however the former could be more effective as it’s critical that they are across all implications in order that they can answer queries clearly and concisely. Funders, depending on your relationship could be via email or letters. With the media and the public it is important to, as a first step, to identify questions that may be asked, with appropriate answers for any press queries. It’s best to ensure that all staff or board members are across these answers.
There are range of effective methods to communicate effectively and efficiently with your stakeholders. Selecting which is most appropriate for each group is quite often a practical one, however if your stakeholders are likely to be receiving information that they may not be happy with, this task can be more complicated. However there is much information and advice around on how to manage this effectively. I can certainly help with advice and assistance on planning for straight forward or more complex communications tasks.
Timing is critical. Whether selling a service or product or informing clients of a change to a service, it is important that those impacted find out from you before reading it in the paper or online.
If you are paying for an accountant to be available to your clients, it makes sense to promote this service as soon as possible. It is important that this service starts paying for itself. The best way to make this happen is to get details out to your stakeholders once the service is fully up and running.
Your current clients, staff, board and funders need to be informed prior to the change taking place in order that they can give clear answers to queries on the changes. Prospective clients are going to need to be informed as soon as they make enquiries for services.
In summary I have discussed why your organisation might wish to communicate with its stakeholders; who may be included on your list of people to communicate with; what each of these people may need to hear from you and when it would be best to do this. All of these factor are critical in any effective communications strategy.