Top 10 questions every strategic communicator should ask

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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:

  1. What does success look like?
  2. Why this, why now?
  3. What are the project or corporate objectives?
  4. What are the communications objectives?
  5. How can effective communications help advance the project or corporate objectives?
  6. What are the main risks and opportunities?
  7. Thinking back about past communications activities, what worked and what didn’t? Why?
  8. Who are the key audiences and why are they important?
  9. What are the project management parameters (time, budget and human resources)?
  10. If we could change just one thing, what should it be?

Asking these questions can be a major pivot point in shaping relationships with your internal clients.  Add the secret sauce of my 5 Sanity Saving Strategies for Client Relationship Management, listed below, and there will be no stopping you!

  1. Meet audiences where they are: Frame what you’re offering in the language of your internal audiences. If your CEO is keen on stakeholder outreach, use that language instead of saying you’re working on a communications campaign. Have a leader who’s keen on employee engagement? Use that framing to position your internal communication activities. Paying attention to the cues around you will save you a lot of aggravation, and will help contribute to alignment.
  2. Be prepared: Do your due diligence, research the situation and look for existing examples of success that demonstrate to your client they’ve come to the right place.
  3. Manage expectations: When clients expect magical solutions and we’re working with very real limitations of time, money and staff, it sets up a situation where everyone’s unhappy. The client doesn’t get what he/she wants, and the communicator is set up for failure. Arm yourself with strong project management and explore the possibility of service level agreements as your best defences in the battle over expectation management.
  4. Add value: Ultimately, your internal clients want to look good and to avoid risk exposure. Demonstrate in your day-to-day contributions that you’re there to help them do just that.
  5. Ask good questions: Along with the Top 10 Questions up your sleeve, “help me to understand” can instantly disarm your client and make them want to tell you what you need to know.

You can see my Prezi from the session here.  And if you’d like to try out my client relationship strategies with your own team, here’s our Results Map Client Relationship Worksheet to help you get started.

Caroline Kealey is an internationally recognized communications strategist, speaker, trainer, facilitator and author. She also founded Results Map, an innovative methodology that engineers projects to consistently deliver measurable results. This post first appeared on the Results Map Blog.

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