A Nine-Step Process Map to Supercharge Your Strategic Communications

Process maps are a powerful enabler of quality. They bring standardization, transparency, and accountability to the activities used to create value for your organization. Process maps sit between higher-level strategy maps and more detailed checklists. Process maps and checklists combined allow you to automate workflow using tools like Process Street. So how about a process map for your organization’s strategic communications?

Kizuna started life as 907 Media, a communications consultancy, in 2011. I changed the name to 907 Consulting in 2018 and then to Kizuna in 2022 as I branched out into a wider array of management consulting services. With my roots in communications I thought it past time to document my general approach to the field, which of course starts with the main components of organizational strategy found on your strategy map and balanced scorecard:

  • Vision, mission and values
  • Objectives and metrics
  • Siloed projects and cross-functional initiatives

What makes communications strategic is a clear focus on promoting these components. Strategic communications consistently advance mission-critical policy objectives with key stakeholders. This is usually quite different from routine internal and external communications with vendors, clients, and staff. You should be able to make a single intuitive jump from a strategic communications piece to an objective and metric on your balanced scorecard.

The process itself is fairly consistent with most other strategic communications methodologies. There are a lot of useful tools to help you through the nine steps, some of which are listed along the right-hand side of the graphic above. As a soup-to-nuts guide it’s hard to beat Spitfire Strategies’ Smart Chart 4.0, which condenses my nine steps into five but essentially covers the same ground. The important thing, as always, is that you have a process – a methodology! – and that you are not reinventing the wheel anew every time.

Thinking of your communications efforts as projects is useful in making tradeoffs between the main inputs of any project – scope, time, and money – known since the dawn of recorded history as the project triangle. The Project Management Institute and their Body of Knowledge has way more than you will ever need to know on the topic.

For public policy advocacy I like starting with Framing Public Issues from the Frameworks Institute, which itself is part of scanning the landscape.

We’ve all seen painfully public examples of communications gone wrong, so it is critical to address risk up front. Construct a risk assessment matrix to identify and prioritize risks. Write up brief treatments of mitigation options for each; large consultancies like KPMG publish annual “key risk area” reports that are a good model.

Audience segmentation is important as well: remember, there is no such thing as “the general public” as an audience, and there is no excuse to avoid segmenting when email services and website analytics easily enable the process. Start with your stakeholders by creating a simple power-interest matrix. For concrete examples, Climate Outreach did some heavy data lifting to come up with seven audience segments for discussing climate change. in Britain, and Compass worked through a detailed model on social-behavioral change.

Messages should account for where each message recipient is in their customer journey. Also called the marketing funnel or loyalty ladder (for-profit) or ladder of engagement (nonprofit), the simplest form is suspect > prospect > customer > advocate. People move along this spectrum as they take concrete actions, and knowing what actions you want your audience to take is fundamental to success.

Channels are what people like to talk about most, and that’s fine as long as you’ve done the work above to get you here. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has a great treatment of their communications channel matrix that is well worth a read. Remember to make an editorial calendar that accounts for the necessary lead times to produce and place content on each channel: broadcast advertising in particular can fill up quickly in times of high demand, e.g. election cycles.

Finally, metrics and evaluation can be summed up in a single word: conversions. The audience received the message on the channel, but did they take the action you wanted them to take? If you designed your strategic communications pipeline correctly, you have the data to know this. Email, social media, and website management services like Google Analytics have a lot of what you need, or you can go with a more comprehensive media monitoring solution to cover every possible channel.

At the end of all this planning, doing, and checking, don’t forget to act to update your strategy to account for everything you learn along the way.