Strategic communications

4 07 2012

Recently I attended the joint Australian Government and Australian National University workshop focused on ‘Strategic Communications and National Security’ at the National Security College, ANU 13-14 June 2012. The workshop participants came from a broad range of government agencies that work with matters of national security.

There was a solid introduction into the definition of strategic communications (strat comms), which stressed the following principles:

  • Integrity and Truth
  • Persistent and consistent
  • Independent of media and electoral cycles

From here, participants were walked through the key components of strategic communications. These included:

  • Determine communication objectives
  • Environment Scan
  • Audience and Influencers
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Key messages
  • Delivery
  • Timetable
  • Evaluation

What was very interesting to note from this presentation, was the strong preference for using an environment scan rather than a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses/Limitations, Opportunities, and Threats). The argument for using this approach was that often a SWOT analysis is too ‘mechanical’ in nature and valuable information slips through because of the need to categorise the information. Some of the benefits of environment scans are:

  • Taking stock of what the rest of the world is doing
  • May influence objectives and actions
  • Opportunity to improve communications
  • Chance to forecast issues
  • Can feature a SWOT as part of the overall assessment

It was also noted that to effectively deliver strat comms objectives is often resource heavy, and that past evaluation processes have often focused on the outputs, rather than the outcomes. It was also highlighted that strategic communications is not the same thing as media liaison. In other words – strat comms is proactive, media relations is often reactive. Also, it was very interesting to see that the work of Doug McKenzie Mohr (behaviour change expert) was discussed as an excellent source of information for agencies interested in fostering behaviour change as part of strat comms.

Many of my colleagues have attended Mohr’s workshops in the past, so it is very good to know that some of us have already had exposure to his proactive thinking and strategic approach to fostering behaviour change. One of Mohr’s key approaches is to use ‘influencers’ or community leaders as a means of instigating change.  The rationale behind this strategy is that more people pay attention to and will follow influencers. Though care must be taken when selecting ‘influencers’ to support strat comms agendas – the backlash against Cate Blanchett  in the  ‘Say Yes’ campaign was a very relevant case study presented at the workshop.

A number of other very useful case studies demonstrated the power of being strategic with communications agendas.  Jim Cannon spoke about the ADFA Reputation Retrieval exercise; Michael Player from NZ Police discussed managing international media during the Christchurch Earthquake Crisis and Kym Charlton from Qld Police discussed how they have very successfully used social media during the SE Qld floods and Cyclone Yasi. We were also very fortunate to have former ABC journalist and media expert, Prakash Mirchandani as one of the facilitators. He gave the group some great take home messages – ‘you can never start too low when thinking about strategic communications’, an encouraging thought and one, if followed, allows for many perspectives on an issue, not just a top down or media reactive approach. The other take home was ‘you can’t sell a dud policy’ or more crudely put – ‘you can’t polish a t@rd!’.

My only other comment was the success of the practical exercise in demonstrating the effectiveness using the key components to come up with the messaging and communications channels for addressing a matter of national security. We were given a scenario, split into three groups, with each having a number of components to cover. For example, group one was responsible for the first thee components – determining communication objectives, undertaking an environment scan and identifying the audience. Each group had 1.5 hours to address the issues. When we came back each group went through the findings in order. What was revealing was the similarities and linkages between the issues and how they should be addressed. The practical exercise demonstrated that it is possible in a short amount of time to come up with a plan that is interconnected and pragmatic.

Personally, I think the big benefit is that this method could be useful in  situations outside of crisis situations and matters of national security. In many ways it is an agile approach, designed to quickly get to the issue and how to resolve it.

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One response

19 03 2014
bytetime

Reblogged this on Bytetime and commented:

2012 post from Mediakult

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