Most companies don't have a communication strategy in writing. Usually, they lack the time, tools, or knowledge to make one. And, because not all companies can afford to hire specialists, we’ve decided to give our readers some tips regarding holding your own communication strategy workshop. It's not easy, but also not impossible! So, let's get to work!
Why should a PR strategy be covered in a workshop setting?
A communication workshop is a convenient and practical management tool. It allows you to quickly prepare the correct assumptions for an organisation's communication strategy.
In over 15 years of our agency's business, we've completed dozens of strategic workshops like these, including for start-ups, non-profit organisations, large enterprises, and branches of global corporations.
The key advantage of a workshop being held by external consultants is gaining an objective view of an organisation's problems and challenges. This minimises the risk of mistakes being made when formulating goals and an action plan.
However, sometimes, companies can't use the help of external specialists for various reasons. In such cases, it's good to hold a workshop yourself.
All strategic workshops require specific preparation. However, regardless of the type of company or organisation, their effect is the preparation of a correct communication strategy to support your actual business goals. The following tips are very likely to work in all cases.
Who should take part in a strategic workshop?
Developing strategies based on strategic workshops allows you to tailor communication to your business goals. It's also an excellent way to build support for a communication plan within an organisation.
Therefore, it's important to involve not only the people involved in PR and marketing in the workshop. The participation of decision makers (board members or owners) and the sales and customer service departments is also important. It's them who'll be the most important beneficiaries, because well-planned communication will increase sales, reduce the number of complaints, and recruiting new employees will be easier.
The most effective strategic workshops are held in a group of 4-10 people with the highest possible position in the structure of the organisation. It's good practice to also engage people who have direct contact with customers/stakeholders in the workshop, even if they cannot participate in the entire workshop due to their level within the organisation.
Step 1. Preparation of participants
Start the workshop with a discussion on business strategy. Three to five days before the workshop, ask the participants to think through some issues regarding your organisation's strategy. The following table will help in this:
Tip: Draw the participants' attention to the fact that:
- You shouldn't confuse strategies with tactics and planning: the strategy should answer the question 'WHAT do we want to achieve, while tactics refer to INDIRECT objectives, and planning describes HOW you want to work. Success is conditional upon making steps in the right direction (WHAT), but only in the right way (HOW).
- The strategy should facilitate the decision-making process on an operational level – it's not just a general vision, but also a difficult decision about where to invest your organisation's resources.
- A good strategy is simple and specific, as well as easy to understand and remember. It should excite and inspire people.
Step 2. Analysis of documentation
Before the workshop, it's good to look at documentation on the business strategy and the organisation's objectives. Such documentation may include:
- business plans
- marketing plans
- mission/vision/value statements
- completed projects
It's good to have copies of these documents at the workshop. If, during the workshop, disagreements arise regarding essential business issues, these documents will allow you to quickly determine the facts.
Tip: When analysing the documents, the person running the workshop should firstly focus on preparing their own answers to the questions asked in the previous step. Any doubts and inaccuracies will be discussed during the workshop.
Step 3. You've almost reached the goal, which is holding a workshop
The workshop is designed to establish the following using a variety of techniques:
- how communication can help you reach your business goals,
- who the most important recipients of communication are from the point of view of your business goals,
- what changes you expect to see in the recipients of your communication in terms of awareness/behaviour.
The workshop techniques that you'll use to address these issues should be considered at the stage of preparing the workshop. Depending on the skills and experience of the facilitator, and the preferences of the participants, this may include discussions, brainstorming, and workshop exercises.
The minimum workshop (requiring a three to four hour meeting) includes:
A. Business goal summary
Based on the analysis in steps 1 and 2 (or participants' discussions), the facilitator discusses the key strategic issues that you intend to support using communication.
Tip: It's a good idea to write down your goals on a flipchart (in the form of a key words) and pin them on a separate sheet in a place that's visible during the entire workshop.
B. Identifying key stakeholders of the organisation
The effect of this part of the workshop should be listing all categories of customers who are important from the perspective of achieving business objectives.
Tip: It's worth highlighting to your participants that you're not just talking about final decision makers, but also about the target groups that influence their decisions (these are called tactical target groups)
During the discussion, the hierarchy of the specific target groups should be determined according to their importance to your organisation's business objective.
Tip: When making the list of stakeholders, techniques known as sales techniques, such as the adviser – decision maker – doorkeeper – approver are helpful.
C. Establishing messages
In this part of the workshop, you should analyse the factors that have a negative or positive impact on stakeholder decisions favourable to your organisation.
Tip: A helpful technique in this area is dividing the participants into groups. Half of the participants should write down all the factors that have a positive effect on the decisions, and the other half should list the negative factors. Participants should have a maximum of several minutes for this.
Then, all the factors should be read and the participants decide whether a given factor can be influenced by communication. If the answer is 'yes', write it in the following matrix:
Example: in the case of the manufacturer of server solutions, a factor that has an important meaning for customers is the supplier's experience, especially in the public administration sector. Analysis shows that we should strengthen this factor through communication. Because we have a number of high-value projects in our portfolio, the strategic message (that is, the image of our company) should be: '[...] is a reputable supplier, because they have completed several hundred projects worth over PLN [...], and companies X, Y and Z use them.'
D. Setting communication goals
The workshop should end with correctly set strategic communication goals consistent with the goal-definition standard of the organisation (if there is no such standard, you can follow SMART).
Why's it worth developing a communication strategy in a workshop setting?
Communication is like grease, thanks to which the organisational machine functions. It touches all aspects of its operations: operational, tactical and strategic, as well as all stakeholders – both internal and external.
Thanks to the workshop approach, participants are made aware that communication is not just about publicity. What matters is whether it makes the organisation work well, and whether you're building the desired image about the idea, brand, the product, or person in the eyes of the stakeholders.
Thanks to the methodology developed by Neuron Public Relations, a strategy is created in the form of a short and specific document facilitating the right business decisions.
By Paweł Soproniuk, APR at Neuron Public Relations