Now is the time when many organizations and teams set their sights on developing strategic plans for the following year. The planning-related challenges we often hear from communication leaders include: How can I get input, engagement and buy-in from my executives? How can I show the value of what my team delivers to support the business?
Both points relate to elevating the role of communication. The good news is 83 percent of PR professionals believe the importance of the communications function will become somewhat or a lot more important in the next five years, according to the 2018 Global Communications Report conducted by the USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations. In addition, the annual planning season is a timely “hook” to further enhance your role as a trusted business advisor. Here are four strategies we’ve seen work for communication leaders, and these may be customized for your situation:
Initiate the conversation. Hours of planning- and budget-related meetings for various departments may already be clogging corporate calendars. But be proactive in scheduling a one-on-one meeting with key leaders to invite productive conversations about what’s on their mind and how your team can support them in the coming year. Ask specific questions to understand their business priorities and communication opportunities, and try to get to the “why.” For example: What are your top two or three goals in the coming year and why? (narrowing the priorities can be helpful); How will you measure success?; What do you see as barriers to reaching your goals?; When it comes to communication, what’s working well and why do you believe this?; What’s not working as well as you’d like and why?; If you could change or add one thing in the coming year related to communication with your team (or key audiences), what would it be and why?
Translate the conversation(s) into an actionable, targeted plan. Play back the leader’s key points in a very simple, straightforward manner, e.g., What you told us. What we will do. Make the “here’s your-business-need-and-our-communication-solution” connection for leaders, which will reinforce that they were heard, and it will make it more likely for them to support your efforts. You can also use terms that are meaningful to them. For example: “What you told us: Need to reach decision-makers in the public utility industry to reinforce the benefits of our new technology solution. What we will do: Develop a suite of communication materials to target five leading trade outlets and industry conferences.” Your plan would also include elements such as specific tactics, a timeline, messages and metrics. No matter the plan format, the key is to keep it short and focused for busy leaders.
Use the plan to establish ongoing touchpoints with leaders. Schedule brief update meetings (e.g., quarterly) with the executive to show measurable progress, or what course corrections or shifts may be needed based on learnings from the past few months. Consider a one-page overview or visual scorecard to guide the conversation and as a leave-behind. Use these discussions to gain insights on overall business goals or needs, and be sure to come prepared with other questions and possible ideas that demonstrate your team’s capabilities.
Seek cross-functional opportunities. Ensure that you and/or communication team members are invited to serve on cross-functional teams that focus on a key business priority. This provides direct visibility into a top initiative, and it shows your ability to offer strategic communication support (including asking the right questions, grounding recommendations in research and insights, and connecting the dots among functions).