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Learn About Strategic Communications

As an undergraduate and in your career, you may have come across the term “strategic communications” in contexts ranging from marketing and advertising to news and PR. But what does this term mean, and what is the purpose of strategic communications?

What Is Strategic Communications?

Leaders in both corporations and nonprofits want specific, concrete results. Strategic communications involves communicating the strongest possible messages coherently, through the right channels and the right personnel, and measuring precise outcomes against defined objectives. Strategic communications is both a process and a job.

Strategic communications professionals are responsible for developing master communications plans with concrete long-term and short-term objectives. These might include promoting new products or services, urging the public to take specific actions or advocating a particular position on a social or political issue to benefit the organization and its reputation. Strategic communications is about controlling and advancing the narrative, rather than responding and reacting.

Conducting this process effectively offers an organization and its spokespersons authority and credibility. It is usually expected that these spokespeople will gain traction in media circles and be sought for their expertise and perspectives. In this sense, strategic communications builds not only organizational brands, but the brands of people within the organizations. When you think of the organizational figureheads and spokespersons you have seen repeatedly in the media, their brands are the carefully plotted results of strategic communications.

So why is there so much confusion around the term, and why does it seem to carry different meanings from one organization to the next? Given the term “strategic,” it follows that organizations with different purposes and diverse strategies will define “strategic communications” in ways that reflect their respective missions.

What Kinds of Organizations Use Strategic Communications Professionals?

Any organization with a purpose has a reason for engaging in strategic communications, whether through internal personnel or communications consultants. Consider how the following organizations might approach strategic communications with an eye toward next month, next year, or beyond:

The Centers for Disease Control, in their quest to prevent epidemics, may see strategic communications as a way to ensure a certain percentage of a local population gets flu shots within four weeks. Or, they might want to create widespread awareness of the risk factors of an STD to reduce the spread by a certain percentage within a year.

A nonprofit that helps battered women may use strategic communications to promote a phone application aimed at getting a target number of women out of harm’s way within 30 days. In the longer term, they might use it to garner the public’s support and votes — in an election six months out — for legislation that would stiffen sentences for domestic violence. Additionally, they might use it to meet specific, long-term financial goals for donations to build battered women shelters.

A corporation that makes environmentally friendly household cleaning supplies may want to generate measurable social media engagements within the next month. In the longer term, they may work to educate the public about carcinogens in popular products and to popularize legislation to ban certain chemicals — all with measurable, date-driven outcomes in mind.

Ethics in Strategic Communications

Malfeasance in organizations like Exxon (Valdez), Enron, and Wells Fargo has necessitated measures to earn the trust of the public, shareholders, communities and other constituent groups.

Strategic communications professionals are involved in processes that include monitoring and analyzing data to detect ethical issues before they become serious threats to organizational reputations. They may also take part in governmental relations roles, sitting on committees and collaborating with public officials to accomplish shared objectives. They may work internally in large organizations to promote cultural awareness of an important issue.

In light of the “Me Too” movement, NBC and Hollywood movie studios started internal strategic communications campaigns to modernize the culture so that sexual predation and intimidation would no longer be possible, let alone tolerated.

It is clear that this discipline is an increasingly important function for organizations in all spheres. As media become increasingly complex, master’s-level training will likely become a prerequisite for leadership roles within strategic communications.

Learn more about A-State’s online Master of Science in Strategic Communications – General program.

Sources: What Is Strategic Communications?

PRWeek: Strategy for Strategic Communications? Why It Matters Making Sense of Strategic Communications

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