Liam Dowd, Ethical Corporation manager, offers some thoughts on ways that companies can build an authentic and effective communications strategy

In a recent webinar 71% of the listeners stated they didn’t have an effective engagement strategy. This is a worrying finding as communicating to and engaging with stakeholders is a critical area to all organisations.

In light of this, below are some tips on how to create an effective communications strategy.

1) Stop, Look and Listen

Before starting on a communications roadmap you need to stop and look at what matters most to your company. Considerable time should be spent discovering ways that you can create shared value and set the trends.

You should then listen to what are the key issues to your stakeholders and ensure it all matches. The last thing you want to do is to build a thought leadership strategy that has little importance to your key stakeholders.

2) Set SMART communications goals

Create a sustainable communications strategy that has a clear beginning and end. Be ambitious in what you want to achieve and the timeframe to achieve it. This will help you know if you’ve achieved your desired results and also help report your success to the C-Suite.

3) Know thy stakeholders

Before you start communicating to your stakeholders discover what information matters most to them.

Investors and owners will be more interested about the costs and return of your sustainability initiatives. In contrast NGOs and Governments will most likely be more interested in your societal impacts and community investments. Spend time learning what matters most to your stakeholders and ensure you report upon it to them. This leads on to the next point…

4) Creating your report is just the first phase

Your CSR report will contain a whole wealth of information, in many cases 100+ pages. However, many stakeholders don’t have the time to shift through all the information to find what matters to them.

You need to do the work for them! Creating the report is phase one, phase two is dissecting your report into presentable material that works for your stakeholder groups. Blog posts, infographics, stat-filled tweets, presentation slides, mini-briefings, webinar presentations are just some of the ways you should be presenting your report.

5) Don’t be afraid to report the negative

It’s all too easy to try and gloss over the missed targets and only present the positive. However, it’s important to be honest about the good and bad. Your stakeholders will 1) spot the unreported missed targets and wonder why you haven’t reported on them and 2) if you do bring attention to where your shortcomings are you can then outline why and how you’re trying to overcome them. Your stakeholders will respect you a lot more for this openness and transparency.

6) Continual updates

Many companies now communicate their achievements after 6 months and in some cases quarterly. If you do achieve one of your goals, or make considerable progress don’t be shy to share it. A lot of your stakeholders will be happy to know of your progress in reaching your strategic goals.

7) Measure online sentiment

Have social listening tools in place that can report on sentiment. When you do communicate your results, track the sentiment to see if it becomes more positive. Work with your marketing and communications team to make sure that this data is being tracked and fed into your company’s big data indices.

8) Be holistic in your approach

You should make use of all the channels available to you. Sound, targeted communications should encompass all the channels and means of communication available, including: representation on committees, one-on-one meetings with key influencers, roundtable discussions, meeting at industry events, dedicated pages on corporate websites, planned social media presence, amongst other things.

9) Think Glocal

Stakeholders in one region or country may have different issues, societal worries than stakeholders in another region. Ensure your communication teams are trained and empowered to communicate the issues that matter most to that region. If you don’t know, spend time listening and collating a full issue map.

For example, in Europe a company may be expected to offer the best possible product, whereas in Africa a focus could be more on supporting local development.

10) How do you compare?

A great way to add context to your achievements, and highlight competitive advantage, is to outline how your performance ranks alongside your competitors. Are you the first company in a particular industry to be listed on the DJSI or FTSE4Good?

11) Communicate down the value chain

It’s easy to forget that communicating to suppliers is just as important as customers.

Communicating your sustainability achievements and benefits helps suppliers understand how they’re contributing to your success. This should hopefully inspire them to achieve more and in turn evolve the relationship into more of a partnership.

12) Evolve with the times

Sustainability is a fast-moving industry and along with it are the expectations of consumers. A few years ago sustainability was only part of the core business strategy of a few pioneering companies. Now it’s starting to become an expected part of all businesses.

Continually review what matters to you and your stakeholders. Always try to be ambitious. Sustainability can take us a long way. It’s important you and your company are at the forefront.

Next month senior speakers from the likes of Marks and Spencer, RWE, Solvay, Alcatel-Lucent, Sky, Bloomberg, Tesco, Alliance Boots, GRI, Aviva Investors and many others will outline how to get more from your CR Report at the 8th Annual CR Reporting and Communications Summit, London. There are over 100 brands confirmed to attend and will offer great insight into how to build a robust CR and Communications strategy for 2015 and beyond.

Communications strategy  Reporting strategy 

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