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A primer on strategic thinking

By Caroline Kealey

The word “strategic” is used so often that we’ve lost track of what it means. You might think it’s nothing but another bit of corporate-speak tossed around to make things sound fancier. In fact, something real and utterly important is at stake in this word.

A strategic state of mind is one that directs a systematic plan of action toward a specific result. It’s about looking at the big picture – what outcomes you’re trying to achieve – before working out the detailed tactics that might be taken to get there. This is the state of mind that makes communications activities work in the service of larger corporate goals. Being a strategic thinker demands always holding yourself to a standard of acting based on strong evidence and a logical progression of planning steps. That’s no easy thing when you’re frazzled by the day-to-day demands on your time.

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Top 10 questions every strategic communicator should ask

By Caroline Kealey

Recently, I was honoured to have the opportunity to deliver a session at the IABC Canada 2012 Business Communicators Summit on the top 10 questions in strategic communications. As is always the case when you have a room full of smart, innovative communicators, the discussions were animated, the participation eager and the shared experiences invaluable.

The workshop was all about being prepared, being strategic and saving your sanity in managing client relationships. I shared my Top 10 Questions that every communicator needs to have in their back pocket — the questions that help you show off the fundamental value we contribute:

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Communications planning: the principles

By Caroline Kealey

Here are my all-time top five principles for strategic communications planning:

1. Communications should be focused on resultsrather than activity

Often, communicators are in the business of generating “stuff” — speeches, media releases, and promotional materials. The communications function is much more effective when it is driven to generate results, such as increased rates of awareness, product sales, improved stakeholder relationships or strengthened internal alignment. The tactics are important, but they are fundamentally secondary to the primary alignment of the communications function toward solid outcomes.

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Unleash your inner consultant

By Caroline Kealey

One of the things that often drives communicators crazy about their jobs is the Superhero Consultant syndrome. You’ve been advocating for months — maybe even years — in favour of a course of action your organization should take to step up its communications. You know it’s the right thing to do, and you’ve got research and consultation findings to bolster your case. But still you’ve been hitting a brick wall, time and time again. Then one day a consultant is hired, flying in wearing a fancy suit (and carrying a hefty per diem rate to match) and presto! The senior leadership magically sees the light, endorsing precisely the approach you’ve been urging all along.

Sound familiar?

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The top 10 truths of social media

By Caroline Kealey

There’s no question that social media is the darling of communications tactics at the moment, and with good reason. Social media gives communicators a direct, immediate and highly targeted way of engaging with our audiences. It’s a profound and permanent game changer.

The thing I find fascinating about social media is that getting in the game is simple. Log-in and you’re off to the races. While the ease of entry is one of the advantages of social media and a great equalizer among communicators, it also has some very real risks that are worth highlighting.

The first is that social media often leads to a sort of tactical tunnel vision on the part of both communicators and organizational leaders. It tends to produce a “shoot first, aim later” mentality that’s more about doing something, anything, with social media rather than focusing on a target outcome.

Ten years ago communicators complained that all they heard was “I need a brochure,” combined with an expectation that the task would be completed even if the request lacked strategic context, purpose or outcome. What worries me is that social media now seems to be the brochure of the 21st century, with “get me a blog” the new order of the day.

That’s why the sound principles and practices of strategic communications are particularly important when embarking on social media initiatives. Here are some insights to guide your communications tactical planning:

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