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Stakeholders – the drivers of successful communication strategy.

One of the most common buzzwords thrown around by the PR industry is ‘stakeholders’ – that nebulous term that describes individuals who have a reason to be interested in our client’s organisation, issue, event or cause. The word refers to those people we are trying to reach and influence via strategic communication programmes and – in an ideal ‘world of PR’ – should dictate much of what we plan and implement for public relations.

I have a few thoughts on stakeholders and communication planning, which I would like to share…

When it comes to communication strategy, a thorough understanding of stakeholders is vital before any decisions can be made around the other components of PR planning. A comprehensive knowledge of the interests of specific stakeholders at the start of the strategic planning process will dictate the strategy’s communication objectives, messages, approach, tools and tactics. Perhaps – most-importantly – a detailed understanding of the stakeholders will determine the success of the measurement and evaluation efforts that are put in place.

When focusing on the stakeholder component of strategy, it is important to always keep in mind that every one of the stakeholders you will communicate with must move through the ‘communications funnel’ as we try to change how they think (impact) and get them to take action (outcome). Evaluation should be geared to measuring the impact and outcome you are creating for your stakeholders.

Best-in-class communication strategies should approach stakeholders with research upfront to systematically identify them and understand their current awareness, understanding, trust, support and opinions.

Tip: You must think of your stakeholders as individuals, NOT as categories, such as ‘Government’ or ‘General Public.’  You need to imagine what the individual you are trying to reach looks like, what newspapers they reads, which blogs they regard as important,  if they are aware of your products or service, if they are supportive of your organisation.

I always approach the stakeholder component of the strategic planning process in the following fashion and aim to answer the questions below:

Identify & Understand

  • Who are we ultimately trying to influence to take action (the actual audience)?
  • Are there intermediaries we need to reach first (i.e. bloggers, journalists)?
  • Are there individuals who are influential over the actual audience we need to reach first?
  • Are the stakeholders aware that we exist? Are they aware of our products, our services?
  • Are stakeholders supportive in what we are trying to do? Are they interested in us, our products, our services?

Prioritise

  • Who are my most important stakeholders?
  • Which stakeholders need to be communicated with first?
  • Which stakeholders will help us best achieve our goal?

Approach

  • What is the best way to reach each stakeholder?
  • Which tools and techniques might be used to deliver the message(s)?

Messages

  • What should we be saying to each stakeholder in order change how they think (impact) and ultimately take action (outcome)?

Of course, stakeholder mapping, planning, engagement and measurement is an entirely separate blog. In this post I’ve tried to summarise the most practical approach to think about stakeholders. The takeaway I would like to impart is that thoughtful consideration and research of stakeholders up front lays the groundwork for a successful communication strategy.