Is Your Communications Strategy More Than Lipstick on the Pig?

A communications strategy not built on the foundational elements of an organization’s vision, mission and the actions of its leaders and employees amounts to putting lipstick on a pig.


I had  a recent conversation with some organizational leaders about communications strategies and how to better tell their organization’s story. I had to manage some expectations because there was the idea that an integrated communications strategy can make everything better. And let’s face it, it can, but only if there is some substance to the organization worth communicating.

I didn’t know much about how the organization operated or how effective it was among its clients, but I made this statement: “A successful strategic communications plan supports the existing harmony between vision and the daily actions that carry out that vision. If there is no substance to support the vision then a fancy communications plan is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig.”

So, assuming there is vision and substance, what questions do you need to ask to lay the foundation for a successful communications plan. Here are five.

1. What is the plan in relation to?

There are lots of facets to organizations. Is the plan for a product, activity, personality or for the organization in general? There may be secondary plans on products, activities and personalities but they should support the overall plan that advances the organization’s vision and mission.

2. What’s the vision we’re trying to communicate?

There has to be consensus on what the organization is trying to accomplish. The vision should summarize that. This is a leadership issue. If the vision isn’t right, then the communications plan only sends contradictory signals.

3. What are the three most important things we can say about our organization?

If the plan is to establish or reinforce an aspect of the organization then these two or three key characteristics provide the definition for messaging and speaking points. Regardless of what vehicles are used to carry the messages, their purpose is to always drive down these limited number of roads.

4. How will we communicate what we need to communicate?

Now it is time to get granular. The messages are set in stone because the vision is set in stone and the actions concretely support the vision. Now, what vehicles will carry the messages? Will this be campaigns ongoing, special events, content marketing…combination of all these things? There could be dozens of different ways to communicate – all communicating the most important messages.

5. When (how often) are we going to communicate?

Resources have a lot to do with some of this, but after vehicles are defined you have to determine how often they are going to be driven. Twitter messages are more frequent than an event the Twitter fodder would obviously support. Both carry the message. Tools  dictate frequency.

Developing communications strategies are certainly easier when there is a clearly defined organizational vision and the employees of an organization are all pulling in the same direction. If that’s the case, communications strategies become the trumpet that announces a winner and not the lipstick that dresses up the pig.

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