For people who use words for a living, communicators sure can tie themselves in knots sometimes with different definitions of the same thing. We work on communication strategies. We create communication plans to support business strategies. We strive to make the profession more strategic. I even know of some communicators who rail against the term “strategic” because of its roots in warfare. Is it any wonder that sometimes we turn to the comfort of delivering tactics instead?
For the sake of this article, I’m using the following definitions:
- Business strategy: Three- to five-year big picture direction for a business (or department) that addresses internal and external forces.
- Strategic planning: The process of creating a strategy, usually aligned to the budget cycle.
- Business plan/operational plan: the budget and activities that will contribute to the delivery of the strategy.
- Communication strategy: Big picture direction for communication that supports delivery of the business strategy.
- Communication plan: A sequence of messages, methods and tactics to deliver specific outcomes.
Note, parts of our industry use the terms “communication strategy” and “communication plan” interchangeably.
Strap yourself in, it’s going to get fast
If a week is a long time in politics, three years is an eternity in business. The speed of technological, social, political and economic change is rapid, and as is illustrated by global events such as Brexit, sometimes unpredictable. Decisions made by global leaders can impact whole industries with little notice and less consultation.
Traditional strategic plans for corporations are blueprints for development over a three- to five-year time frame. Let’s do a tiny experiment in time travel. If you got into a room with your colleagues at the start of 2013 to work on a three- to five-year strategy for your business, you did so making assumptions about the trends that would shape your markets, your access to labor, your competition.