It’s rare to talk to someone working in comms at a charity who doesn’t think they need more of something. Usually it’s budget, people, pay, equipment, prioritisation, autonomy, or all of the above. If we had more, then we could do more stuff and things would be better .
But there are probably bigger barriers to actually achieving more. And you can overcome these by focusing your energy in a few key areas.
If you want the comms function in your charity (whether that’s you working alone or in a team of 100) to thrive and have real impact, there are three things you need more than anything else: strategy, agility and visibility. Together, these can form a virtuous circle that will make your job easier and your achievements greater.
If you want comms to be taken more seriously, if you want more autonomy, if you want investment in a particular area, and if you want your team to do more stuff that really makes a difference, this is where your thinking should start – it’s the foundation of all great things.
You need a comms strategy, even if you’ve got the best organisational strategy out there.
If you haven’t got one, start work on one today and involve your colleagues across the charity.
It needs to define your goals and give a rough road map for how you’ll achieve them. But equally important is that it needs to show how you’ll deliver strategic communications. Simply put, this means setting out how your comms activity will contribute directly to achieving your charity’s strategic goals in its own right.
Your strategy shouldn’t just be about talking up the work that the rest of the charity is doing. If you focus solely on wrapping messages around the brilliant stuff being done by everyone else, you’re missing a trick when it comes to the role of comms in the greater good your charity is working for. Comms work can touch people – it can make them think, feel and do, and it can change things for the better.
Without a strategy, it’s also really hard for you to explain all the things you’ll achieve with all that extra resource you’re longing for. Think about the positioning of communications too – our specialisms are special, and your people are experts – that’s particularly important in making sure comms is valued by your charity, and if your internal sign off processes are a bit like wading through treacle.
And get across all of this in six pages or less.
It’s a mindset, an approach and a cultural thing – and agility needs to shine through your comms strategy.
Agility is talked about most commonly in the digital space because it’s a more flexible way to project manage digital activity, but it needs to be embraced by every comms function. It means being adaptable, and able to move quickly when you need to while always learning as you go.
It means anticipating things and responding, quickly, as needed. Whether that’s to a big news story that you should have a voice in but don’t, or as part of a conversation that your supporters are generating without you. Don’t miss the moment and the chance to be current and on point.
Agility can also be disruptive – it can turn the plan for tomorrow up on its head, and you’ve got to be willing to go with this. This may mean putting other things on hold to take forward a great opportunity or to meet audience expectation when they are looking to your charity for action. Your culture and ways of working have to be flexible and enable quick (sometimes tricky) decision-making. And, on occasion, you’ll probably need to be a little brave.
For once, we’re not talking about external visibility– we’re talking internal visibility. Do your own internal PR for the good that your function does. Let your colleagues see the difference that your comms work is making in the world and why it’s so important to your charity.
Don’t just talk about success in numbers. Media mentions and social media following are useful metrics, but they won’t mean much to the majority of people. Talk instead about the impact your comms is having. Make it authentic and real – share stories about real people whose lives have been changed because of something they read in the paper or saw on your digital channels. Demonstrate why investment in marcomms matters, and proudly show the importance and value of strategic, agile comms in practice.
 We should probably write a separate post on making the case for comms investment but the most salient point is that asking for more of anything to enable us to do more or to do better, probably won’t (or shouldn’t) get past our manager/CEO/Board – we need to be really clear on what better actually means and why it matters, and that’s got to link back to our wider strategic goals.