105 Powerful Skills & Ideas for Communication Strategies from a Mythical Town.

 

Imagine communication strategies and their elements are different public and commercial spaces found in a mythical town,  Communicare (Latin. pron. Communee kar-ray).

Each outlet represents knowledge and skills required for different professions, research methods, disciplines or practices. Follow me on a journey through the town as I share 105 ideas you can borrow from others when planning your next communication strategy.

TLDR:)? – The best way to find useful stuff here if you’re short on time is to click on a topic that interests you in the TOC below. Next, select one or two other topics describing strategies from other communication professions, which will help you brainstorm ideas for planning your next project. ‘Walking around other professional neigbourhoods’ can stir up fresh ideas for developing our own.

What is a communication strategy?

A communication strategy is a comprehensive plan that guides how an organisation communicates with its audiences, including customers, employees, stakeholders, and other vital groups affecting its operation. But ‘audience’ may not be the most useful term to think about key groups we wish to influence.

Audience suggests a one-way flow of people soaking up ideas they like and ignoring others from a single source. ‘Interpretive community’ more closely captures the active meaning-making, dialogue among different parties in the conversation – even when its all happening in their head.

Likewise, communication strategists aren’t all cut from the same cloth. They are trained in different knowledge disciplines. In both an ideological and practical sense, they live and plan communications from the familiar surroundings of the structures of their training, which are represented by the different public settings in Communicare. Thinking about the meaning-making action happening in a metaphorical town can be useful when you plan your next project.

The 105 tips and observations discussed below spring from communication insights taught in university programs, practised in different occupations and lived in daily life. On a personal level they spring from forty years selling, public speaking, teaching and researching. They are the sum of hours spent spent reflecting on what works and what doesn’t. What helps to build a professional, continuing relationship with an interpretive community, and what harms it.

Each idea links to a retail outlet, service, or community centre. They symbolise communication fields taught in universities and practised in different careers. Together, they form an overall metaphorical town, Communicare, pulling its name from the Latin verb meaning to communicate. Read the whole post in one sitting over a cuppa or scan it for 2-3 different ways of approaching that communication problem that keep you up at night. Either way, it’ll help you think about it in new way.

1. How to reach others by speaking
in the Town Square
(Public Speaking strategies).

man speaking on a podium in the Townsquare

For most, public speaking is a terrifying proposition. However, overcoming the fear is a confidence booster that spills over into many other areas of life. Your effectiveness in public speaking will be improved using the following four steps: 

1.  Recognize an excessive fear of public speaking is irrational and use this mental exercise to keep it in perspective. List and vividly imagine the ten worst things that could happen to you and your family, e.g., being kidnapped and unable to pay the ransom. Likely, your fear of speaking in public won’t even make the list.

2. Create and place in an envelope a list of nonsensical speaking topics (e.g., the day you landed on Mars or when your brother survived the fall from a 6-story building) for you and your friends or family to randomly select and speak about for 60 seconds without allowing any time to prepare. 

Speak slowly and deliberately, imagining and sharing the sights, sounds, and details of the improbable event with the full awareness you have nothing to remember and no one can challenge your ‘facts’. 

3. Study and practice the Aristotelian principles for public speaking, addressing logos (logic), pathos (emotion), and ethos (speaker credibility), as well as mnemonic (memory) tips. The Greek scholar Aristotle valued argumentation as well as presentation.  

4. Practise by placing yourself in situations forcing you to prepare speeches for various occasions  – to inspire, persuade, console, or entertain. 

2. How to build-bridges with key stakeholders at the Town Council
(Government and Policy Communication strategies).

Government communications and related policy processes are political, balancing the practices and influences from institutions of power in the community, including the executive, judiciary, police, and media. 

Assuming democratic principles form the governance of our town, policies emerge through the competition of institutional and community voices representing advocate, political, and scientific worldviews, which value and use different persuasive methods depending on training and professional education.

In my postgraduate studies, I used worldview and rhetorical analysis to understand how different institutions approached telecommunication policy, explaining why they struggled to resolve tensions. It helped me spot similarities and differences in overall belief systems and the communication devices (rhetorics) they used and valued. Forget about understanding and reaching a community if you don’t seriously engage with their beliefs.

5. Social Advocates tend to see the world in absolutes: right or wrong, just and unjust, truth and error. For the purist social advocate, compromise is capitulation.

Social advocates are influenced by slogans, protests, and public rallies, metaphorical symbols to convey the gravity of action or inaction (e.g., X is a disease and plague on society; Y will lead to a national trainwreck; Z is destroying nature beyond repair).

6. Politicians (including but not limited to public officials) see the world as a competitive, complex system subject to (often slow) incremental change, where social actors focus on ‘getting things done’ usually through compromise—influenced by battle (losing this battle to win the war), gaming, and sports metaphors (on our team or against).

Politicians seek to build alliances and isolate enemies, balancing short-term goals against long-term objectives. Other rhetorical devices of influence include polling and other survey data, dominating media stories and agendas with party leadership policy priorities, and repeating carefully prepared ‘talking points.’

7. in the broadest sense, scientists are discipline-trained specialists whose education and profession instill a particular way of seeing the world, frequently taking a problem-solving perspective.

For example, engineers might view society as a series of interconnecting parts of an engine with inputs and outputs that either function or malfunction, affecting the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole system. 

8. The rhetorical devices scientists use vary according to their discipline and field of expertise. Scientists are often distributed in a range between so-called soft and hard disciplines according to the value they give to the weight of evidence quantitative or qualitative data supporting their position.

The quantitative scientist values metrics of reality and phenomena, which can be measured, employing logic to guide her to a solution that tests a theory (deductive). Sometimes, the results of data analysis will surprise her, leading to an inductive inquiry as she considers results from other sets of data that may explain the unexpected findings.

9. On the other hand, the qualitative-trained scientist values the complexity of phenomena and the multiple contexts that may affect its operation, employing inductive logic to reach a tentative solution, with the disclaimer that any conclusion is at best tentative as reality is ‘just too complex’ to be accurately measured. 

10. The lawyer discussed above takes mainly a deductive reasoning approach but will also employ inductive logic when appealing to legal precedent, which considers a particular historical situation that informed a past ruling based on interpretation of the law as ruled by the courts rather than a general finding that is statistically the norm for judgment. 

11. Furthermore, lawyers may employ a third form of logic known as abductive reasoning when constructing a legal narrative focusing on the ‘simplest solution’ based on the available evidence -neither measured nor strictly qualitative in focus.

Therefore, legal specialists and those in other professions employed to offer target stakeholders and shareholders the most persuasive narrative (e.g., public relations, marketing, advertising)  are almost ‘reasoning contortionists’, selecting facts and ideas that support the description of reality that most benefit their client or customer. 

 Watching a court room in progress can seem like witnessing a ‘legal dance’ between different performers.

12. Single worldviews are rare.

But people in general, even professional communicators rarely have a single worldview. For most, although their professional or occupational training skews toward one of the three areas in practice, their background, social experiences, and beliefs will frequently muddy any purist assumptions.

The political, scientific, and social advocate worldviews are more usefully seen as interconnected, yet weighted in particular direction. 

12. Finally, the longer a policymaker is exposed to interpretive communities with other worldviews, the more likely they are to adopt corresponding rhetorical methods that strengthen influence, either through calculated intention or genuine empathy.

3. How to sell big-ticket items on Main Street
(Sales Communication strategies).

people standing outside a shop which is a metaphor for sales strategies

Mainstreet sites are for personal selling activity where traders engage face-to-face with other businesses and consumers. 

13. Persistent cold-calling is critical to establishing a career in personal sales. Don’t ride on the backs of others or follow their tracks, but ‘open up your ‘own territory.’

I once faced failure following two weeks in a new job as a sales representative for a company selling a well-known brand of cash register. By the end of the second Friday, I had not even sold a printer roll. With stubborn determination to sell something, I pulled up outside a store at 7 pm, delivered my memorised introduction, and to my surprise, the store owner showed interest in a pamphlet promoting a new machine the company had just released. He purchased two machines a couple of days later. The experience taught me the benefits of cold-calling and persistence.

Nothing compares to the satisfaction of realising a sale from scratch. 

14. Keep records of all your sales communications. A count of failures and successes provides the data needed to evaluate your progress. Your prospecting efforts will be rewarded if you learn product features, do the homework on prospects’ problems and needs, and analyse competitor offerings to compare strengths and weaknesses. After all, sales is a numbers game, but you need to know the numbers, which record-keeping provides. And you can’t side-step the prep work that makes record-keeping worthwhile.

15. Close and shut up. When you’ve hit that magic point in your sales presentation, having presented all the benefits, answered sufficient objections, and given a compelling closing question, SHUT UP – don’t say anything. Let the pregnant pause of silence do its work in your prospect.

Inside their heads, they will squirm with anxiety. They’s wrestle with the thought of buying something from you, knowing it will cost them something, but, if you’ve done your job, they are fully aware the gain in benefits outweigh the pain of outlay. 

16. Use the SPIN model of sales questioning

 But there’s more to selling than spouting on about the value of persistence and record-keeping. Neil Rackham’s SPIN selling model offers a robust, empirically tested approach based on statistical data analysing thousands of sales calls. Following extensive research, Rackham’s research team identified essential differences in questioning methods between low-value and high-value sales. Specifically, why some succeeded selling big-ticket items like jets and corporate real estate developments and others didn’t.

17. The research found low-value salespersons could find success quickly by using haphazard questioning to gain information, build rapport, and present the close. Closing techniques might vary, such as using the ABC model of Always Be Closing or holding back the ‘hard question’ until the end of the sales call. As long as closing was part of the sales process, success statistically followed.

18. However, the research found closing techniques had little impact on the success of high-value sales.  

 19. Rackham’s extensive research found psychological closing techniques are rarely successful for high-value sales. Other factors are more significant, particularly as buyers are often accountable to others in the management circle and consequently lack the immediate power to purchase under psychological pressure. They are more sceptical of sales manipulation techniques, moved by a different set of psychological considerations to those in low-risk sales situations. After observing thousands of successful high-value sales calls, Rackham found success had more to do with a focus on forms of questioning other than the close.

Consequently, Rackham and his team developed the SPIN model of questioning  – Situation analysis, problem identification, Implication, and needs-based payoff. 

20. The primary difference between SPIN and other models is the additional attention successful high-value salespersons give to both implication and needs pay-off questions. 

21. Implication questions focus on uncovering  ‘the real pain’ associated with the multifaced issues related to the initial sales problem. I have noticed online global sales folk marketing business and personal development solutions in the global gig economy using similar approaches.

22.  The second line of needs-pay-off questions helps the prospect volunteer additional benefits the investment in the goods or service might bring, making them an active party to the discussion rather than a passive recipient of a list of help from the salesperson. The simple question, “Are there any other benefits we haven’t considered that investing in ABC might give your company”, might pay off dividends.

23. The needs-pay-off probing moves the attention of buyers away from reflecting on unnecessary objections to purchasing. Objections often stimulated by enthusiastic sellers gushing out product benefits to an unconvinced prospect.

24.  Another benefit of the SPIN model is it makes your prospect a proxy-seller for you. The extra time given to Implication and Needs pay- off engagement with prospects, in which they have actively participated, encourages them to sell by proxy to their superiors and others in the ‘buying circle’ in your absence.

 Much of the success I had some years earlier selling costly residential investment real estate packages, before becoming an academic, came from using Rackham’s SPIN model. But it shouldn’t be confused with the more pejorative use of ‘spin’ commonly associated with some unethical forms of public relations activity. 

25. Finally, as a risk to all parties increases in proportion to the size of the investment, we must be confident in the quality, benefits expected, and value proposition of the goods and services on offer. Otherwise, the mutually beneficial advantages of a SPIN approach to needs satisfaction devalue as mere ‘spin.’    

4. How health communicators found there’s more to literacy than readability scores
(Medical Centre: Health Communication strategies).

At some stage, everyone has to take a trip to the town doctor. We value their expertise, integrity, simplicity of communication, and reputation for restoring health. 

’26. Health communication makes particular connections between personal well-being, events, and phenomena happening in the broader environment.  

As far back as the 4th Century, Greek physician and philosopher Hippocrates wrote about links between environmental phenomena and health. However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that serious attention was given to treating Health as a specialised area of communication. 

27. Health communication strategies generally follow a standard approach with additional emphasis on simplicity and cultural awareness of diversity in targeting broad sectors in the community. The following ideas are essential for any healthcomm strategy.

Hippocrates walking down pantheon with two suitcases labled health and empowerment.

28. Know your audience – in public health, communities are large and diverse across many cultures with varying levels of literacy in different forms. Pay attention to non-verbal social and cultural markers such as body language to avoid misinterpretations.

29. Identify the communication problem to be overcome

30. Choose your message based on extensive research (pre-testing on representative sample groups for validity (is it the correct message, and will it work with the target population) and reliability (are you using the right instrument for measuring? – e.g., survey design).

31. Choose the most effective message symbols, both verbal and non-verbal (words, images, gestures) for the audience and channel.

Health communication professionals increasingly use visual communication aids such as infographics to simplify  the communication of complex processes and concepts.

32. Make the message simple but unambiguous for broad understanding and acceptance among target audience segments

33. Choose the most effective channels – mass media and all other communication methods for getting the message understood and accepted by target audience segments. Be willing to think outside the box. For example, community dances and short village plays in Africa proved effective for communicating safe sex practices. Similarly, pot-banging techniques helped to raise awareness and change attitudes in the community against domestic violence.  

34. Challenge conspiracies through media and science literacy. In recent years, health communicators have had to challenge conspiracies and address genuine but misplaced fears concerning health-related practices such as vaccination affecting the broader
population. Myths can easily go viral on social media, which health communicators need to monitor vigilantly.

 The Covid pandemic exposed both in media and community circles an ignorance of scientific statistical significance that increased public anxieties and moral panics with sometimes devastating consequences. With regards to statistical insignificance and ‘death by vaccine claims,’ the task of communicating the explanatory power of random chance fell on health communicators. The statistical evidence overwhelmingly communicates vaccines helped many more than those tragic few for whom they did not. 

35. Media illiteracy among audiences is another issue requiring attention for several reasons. They include the unequal weight of credibility given to non-mainstream media sources or misplaced acceptance of PR-inspired messages from mainstream media with commercial conflict of interest issues, or other reputable outlets paralysed from undertaking in-depth investigative reporting due to lack of resources from ever decreasing news budgets. 

In the future, as we face the threat of other pandemics, government and health professionals must address public knowledge gaps in both science and media literacy. 

5. Why everyone needs to be engaged when nature turns nasty
(Civil Defence: Disaster Communication strategies).

people listening to portable radio in the demolished ruins of a city after an earthquake

In recent years, the growing field of emergency and disaster communications is another part of our town that has established its place as a communication specialisation. 

I have published several peer-reviewed articles on major natural disasters, how we make sense of them, and rally resources to cope when they happen. For example, I analysed Sri Lankan media reporting and local community perceptions of the devastation caused by the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, the most deadly natural disaster in recorded history.

Other natural disaster studies I’ve done explain how local community organisations helped government communication efforts with their international open source software networks following the earthquakes that devastated Christchurch in 2010 and 2011, destroying the CBD and other parts of the city. Glocalisation can happen during times of regional and national emergency.

36. Emergency and disaster communication initiatives require strategic cooperation and mobilisation of government, civic, and commercial organisations in the face of high uncertainty and risk.

37. Central leadership must coordinate the initial rescue and later recovery efforts, allowing skilled communicators to collect, create, and distribute timely messages through appropriate channels without stifling community contributions and engagement.

Our research found governments at all levels must be sufficiently flexible to allow on-the-ground civic volunteer groups to use their creative energies and expertise to find and communicate local solutions to problems as they unfold.

38. In an age of global Internet connectivity, local civic groups are often linked to the assets and expertise of international online communities, which can refashion resources previously deployed to address the current crisis. For example, during the Christchurch earthquake, civic leaders deployed and adapted Usahidi (transl. Testimony), an open-sourced geospatial mapping platform used in earlier international disasters (e.g. Haiti earthquake) and humanitarian crises.

Usahidi’s operation relies on real-time crowd-sourcing efforts to collect and pinpoint data. Civic groups used the software and its volunteer-based function to create the Christchurch Recovery map, identifying where resources, such as water, supplies, petrol, and pharmacies, could be accessed at the neighbourhood level and at what times.  The redeployment of Usahid proves we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with every crisis, just rearrange some of the spokes.

Communication preparedness initiatives feeding into an overall strategy include using alternative technologies not reliant on mains power or batteries, such as hand-crank radios for temporarily isolated persons to receive vital messages. Everyone should have a reliable hand-crank radio stored away for an emergency.

During a natural crisis, local mobile phone towers and networks are frequently congested. Shutdowns frequently happen following a natural disaster. Ironically, our older landline telephones were more reliable as they used far less current and used different electrical systems.

39. Misinformation (unintentional) and disinformation (intentional) are challenges that need to be identified and addressed through appropriate media channels (social media, community texting, mainstream media, meetings) during a crisis.

At such times, panic and uncertainty lead to rumours, misunderstandings, and incomplete messages full of half-truths. All fertile soil for growing conspiracies, providing another solid reason for developing science and media literacy skills. 

Similarly, science-based information, which avoids jargon, must be presented to engage the community while countering myth and hearsay.

44. Disaster-affected communities must be given the opportunities and spaces to share their stories of trauma and survival as they struggle to make sense of disasters that turn homes and neighbourhoods into dangerous, unpredictable areas. The opportunity to share their experiences facilitates the healing process.

For example, beach communities in Sri Lanka described tsunamis as a Makara, a mythical sea monster, which savaged loved ones and possessed unnatural characteristics (enormous size, dirty, oily wave, smelly, attacked without reason, came out of nowhere).

Disaster and Emergency communication strategists should incorporate both expertise and empathy into their efforts, understanding a disaster brings emotional trauma to a community that remains long after the event.  

6.Why communication strategy must always consider culture
(Library Cafe : Cultural Communication strategies).

Groups gathered at tables in a cafe that is a metaphor of cultural communication

Our mythical communication town of Communicare has an extensive library with three sections in separate areas for getting and sharing knowledge. There’s both general and statistics sections as well as a cafe. But it’s not all arranged the way you might think.

The cafe is a shared space that incorporates knowledge, diversity, stories and biographies of people near and far. In brief, the cultures of the world. However, lived culture is not only found on the markings in a book, a painting in a museum, or a sequence in a movie.

A football fan is as much part of a distinct cultural phenomenon as a person speaking French. Once we get this, the only place in our library we might ‘read’ the ever-changing specific instances of culture outlived is the cafe.

At the cafe people with similar interests gather and converse over coffee. People are either in our group…at our table…at this point in time…or not. Understanding culture begins with realising it is a phenomenon marked by boundaries. Boundaries of identity and other elements that tend to shift across time, making culture a difficult phenomenon to pin down and measure.

 45. From a broad communication perspective, cultural communication approaches appreciate the rich diversity of the buzz of reality – too noisy and complicated to be segmented ‘accurately’ and measured.

46.  Instead, for professional communicators, a qualitative cultural analysis provides a social testing lab of ideas that might be subjected to further market scrutiny using quantitative methods such as surveys. 

Cultural approaches to communication are many and varied, but one of the more comprehensive models available to professional communicators is the  Circuit of Culture developed by Paul DuGay, Stuart Hall and other scholars. However, DuGay and Hall were more concerned with critical issues around power, identity, and exposing economic inequity than how to sell messages, services and products.

47. The CoC offers valuable insights into unpacking the complexity attached to any cultural phenomenon, whether a person, object, advert, political message, or event. People, processes and objects can be analysed to understand how meaning has changed over time, how people consume or use it, how it is produced, the legal associations with its use, and how it is represented by different media.  More precisely,  the CoC analyses five elements and their interrelationships associated with a cultural phenomenon:

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall looking at another world of people and activity through a telescope.

48. Production: all aspects associated with its production and changes over time.

49. Consumption: all aspects associated with its use and changes over time.

50. Identity: all aspects associated with its identity and changes over time.

51. Regulation: all aspects associated with how it is formally (legal or formal policy) or informally regulated (through social convention but not law).  

52. Representation: all aspects of media representation, including advertising messages, audio and visual presentation.

53 A detailed CoC analysis can begin with any of the five elements, progressing through the whole pentad. It will also consider meaningful connections evident between two or more elements , which indicates a strong cultural meaning is temporarily established. Cultural meanings are frequently linked to collective identity elements – political constituencies, commercial markets, or other communities. 

My research used a modified CoC approach to explore how New Zealand policymakers designed messages and New Zealand government identity around climate change. Conservative policy makers advocated a ‘fast follower’ approach, a politically loaded concept appealing to multiple audiences without committing too much in practice

For one of the most comprehensive CoC analyses, see how it is applied to making sense of the 1980s cultural phenomenon surrounding the famous personal music cassette player, the  Sony Walkman. The CoC is only one of many qualitative approaches to media and communication research.

54. Qualitative computer software is available to store, analyse data, and present the results. The software will help you organise, research, and describe ideas that might form more prominent themes, patterns in the data, or concepts that might not at first seem obvious.

55. One final note about undertaking qualitative research is it’s iterative.

 Iterative means a conceptual bouncing between data collection and analysis until you feel you have collected as much data through interviews, document enquiry, or simply observing the phenomenon you are researching. Atlas T.I or N-Vivo are among the offerings you could consider using for undertaking a qualitative research project. 

7. Using numbers to move from the specific to the general
(General Section: Quantitative research strategies).

56. Alternatively, you may want to test a hypothesis or explore a communication phenomenon using a quantitative methodology focusing on descriptive or inferential statistical analysis. In that case, you might consider a software package like IBM SPSS. Quantitative researchers focus on counting, measuring, and generalizing results usually taken from a carefully selected sample that shares similar characteristics with the general population from which it is drawn. Precision, probability and statistical significance are key considerations for quantitative researchers.

57. A good way of combining both research methods is to move gradually from the qualitative to the quantitative, and sometimes between the both. It’s a bit like our town visitor moving between the library’s general and statistics sections, although eventually spending more time in the latter if they want to generalize their findings to broader populations for political or commercial purposes. 

58. Begin with the qualitative – brainstorming ideas for your communication campaign with a ‘pad and paper’, observing the behaviour of your key publics or interpretive communities in everyday settings, in-depth interviews with key thinkers on the topic and influencers. Identify and label recurring themes across your qualitative work and feed them into a Google search, noting additional ideas. Incorporate searches focusing on worldviews and rhetorics of persuasion your target group values.

59. The Google search (quantitative output from the algorithm)will perform a rough test on your ideas to determine their relevance to the group you want to influence. Consider also using SEO tools such as Keysearch or Ahrefs to perform a keyword (key phrase) search of user intent, which will help you identify a topic that resonates with your key public as well as the words to use in the message strategy

60. Paste the top 10 Google keywords (short phrases) into a spreadsheet and compare the words with data from your earlier research. 

60. Note down and record the ideas they share (concepts) and how they express them (symbols) with images and other symbols, and test if they resonate in the larger target population using more statistical-based quantitative methods such as surveys and polls. It takes time and money, but if done correctly, it will save a lot more by not wasting resources on ideas directed to groups that don’t see the relevance (wrong concepts used) or understand the thoughts you share (wrong symbols used). 

8. How to build an academic communication strategy
(Library, Research Section : Academic survival strategies)

Marathon runner on track with journal written on it as heads to the  finish line

In mythical Communicare, the research section represents the academic communication activity of postgraduates and early career faculty in preparation for university careers. 

61. The old sign hanging over the entrance to the section is ‘Publish or Perish’, a truism that remains remarkably constant and unchallenged ‘through the ages’ despite new technical ‘shiny things’ for communication.  Only peer-reviewed publications are stored in the research section, a repository of historical, qualitative, and quantitative knowledge and publicly held research reviewed by experts in the author’s field of study, and accepted for publication. 

A peer-reviewed publication may have gone through several reviews following initial submission, risking rejection at any stage, which is how science and knowledge communities maintain credibility, allowing us to trust what we read, see or hear. 

Developing a communication survival strategy for early academics begins with taking the entrance sign seriously, reminding them not to confuse the urgent for the important, and always leaving time for the latter – research and publish.  

62. Don’t allow teaching and later service demands to steal time from research and the publication process –  data collection, research collaboration, writing and submitting articles for peer-review evaluation. 

63. As we are talking all things academic, let’s get into a bit of the nitty-gritty. If you are searching for a master’s or PhD supervisor, don’t be tempted to choose a young (and sometimes not so young), know-it-all academic solely based on their expertise in your research topic. 

Such a person often has an ego that matches the length of their recently published thesis and a trail of early-career insecurities, such as an obsession with impressing peers, which threaten to derail your study program with unnecessary rewrite requests and topic revisions before you have seriously begun your project.

63. It is far better to choose a more experienced supervisor in your discipline who may have less expertise in your area but has the wisdom and grace to give you the flexibility to let you self-reflexively learn from your mistakes. For my master’s and PhD, I had the good fortune of having the latter, who became a mentor and friend throughout my academic career. 

64. Remember, too, as you research and write your PhD, it is a marathon, not a 100-meter sprint. Build your academic stamina with daily discipline, pace yourself and don’t burn yourself out. 65. Remove the threatening imagery of the difficulty of reaching postgraduate goals. 

It may appear as  Mt. Everest. Many attempt, yet few achieve, so why should you be one of the fortunate few? Get rid of that thought rubbish.

66. Remember, academic achievement is not the end in itself, which is why the view from completing your PhD differs from that of the mountain climber conquering the world’s highest mountain. In other words, your PhD journey will build the intellectual stamina to take on other mountains, much higher, with greater degrees of difficulty (pun intended).

67. Finally, keep a journal of your progress. Half a dozen journals document the thought pathways through both master’s and PhD. Each journal is peppered with cuttings, photocopy snippets, and extended records of the frustrations, reflections, and discoveries on the research journey into the complexity of Australian telecommunications policy for disadvantaged communities.

Looking back through them, I find my journals preserve the highs and lows of the postgraduate thesis production process.  As well as mapping milestones and documenting significant roadblocks along the journey, the journal collection has great personal value.

9. Why news writing skills remain essential to any communication strategy
(News Publisher: News media communication strategies).

Downtown Communicare wouldn’t be complete without a reputable news outlet. Reliable news media remain one of the most critical public communication forms to maintain the flow of essential and accurate information affecting the citizenry of any polity.

Recently, our news building has looked a little worn as many funds have been diverted to the renovated public relations buildings down the street, one of which is also owned by our town’s newspaper publisher. However, despite its rundown appearance, the news outlet remains profitable and essential to Communicare.

68. A news writing strategy requires understanding the first principles of journalism and communicating timely, accurate, and significant information in a concise, engaging, and informative style. 

Unfortunately, attempting to engage the audience and increase its size to build profit frequently leads to conflict between dishing out entertainment and serving the public interest when news crafting.

 Journalists and their publishers constantly wrestle with meeting the demand and supply sides of the business and reporting news objectively without bias. The concept of public interest increasingly comes under fire from critical and postmodern-type questioners asking whose interest and what public?

Leaving aside valid but off-topic issues, let’s look at the formulaic approach to news writing that forms Newswriting 101 courses, which lay the foundation for any news communication strategy.

a man running through two rows of desks labeled Public Interest and Entertainment in a news room

69. Rupert Murdoch once described the headline as the most crucial element in any news story for obvious reasons, as it alerts readers to the story content and summarises the key idea. Similarly, google’s algorithm places great importance on aligning online titles, or keywords, to audience expectations when determining SERPs. 

70. The headline should use the present tense where possible and robust verbs that scream for audience attention. 

71. However, the lead (lede) or first sentence of a news story, usually stated in the past tense, does the most heavy lifting, as it repeats the main idea (but not the words) of the headline and answers the most critical questions of who, what, where, when – and sometimes how and why.

Historically, the lead answers all in around 25 words or less, although recent social conventions allow almost double to the annoyance of many classically-trained news editors. Lengthy introduction sentences risk drowning the audience in a sea of words and ideas, which editors constantly remind junior reporters.

73. Editors continually drum into new reporters the importance of writing in the active voice (generally subject-verb-object structure) for brevity and clarity. Compare the following –  ‘the man was bitten by the dog ( seven words)’ with ‘the dog bit the man’ (five words). 

74. Finally, a newsworthy story is timely (current). It tends to address two or more of the following elements: prominence (important or famous persons), conflict (broad application), cultural and geographical proximity (‘nearness’ in identity and location to audience); unusual, dramatisation (evoking a storyline of ‘heroes’, ‘villains’, ‘victims’ involving people, animals, and events), unity (relevance to the audience). The lead states all the newsworthy elements upfront, and the rest of the article reinforces each piece with additional detail and support. 

 75. A  credible news article will include multiple sources (e.g. documents and interviewees) with supporting interview excerpts, which provide other ‘voices’ for the story.  

76. Objectivity distinguishes news from public relations, meaning the news story should not display the journalist’s personal, political or commercial views in treating people or issues.

77. Any potential conflict of interest should be disclosed, such as admission of share ownership in companies for products or businesses under review.

10. Why ‘greenie’ story-telling techniques are essential for any communication strategy
(Farmland: Environmental Communication strategies).

Clearing space for farmland is a relatively new initiative in urbanised Communicare, just as Environmental Communication is a comparatively recent communication professional and advocacy focus that many argue began in the 60s-70s with widespread social and political recognition from two different events. 

The first is  Rachel Carson’s 1962 dystopian novel Silent Spring. The novel, from many years of environmental research, led to US government hearings on pollution through excessive pesticide use in America and brought ecological and environmental issues into the mainstream political conversation.

 

The second, in 1972, had more of a global impact following distribution through international media outlets of ‘The Blue Marble’ photographs of the earth taken from space aboard Apollo 17, which captured the beauty and fragility of the planet with the unspoken ‘apolitical message’, ‘we are all in this together and it’s the only place we have. 

However, as everything is politicised, the photo’s global distribution wasn’t immediate or widespread, as the Vietnam War and other international conflicts filled the news agenda at the time, delaying the clarion call for environmental concern. Nevertheless, the raw power of the message eventually overcame the short-term political restraints, which remains the strategic impulse for environmental communication activity. 

Several considerations should inform an effective environmental campaign, particularly concerning anthropogenic climate change, a phenomenon in which people still confuse changes in climate patterns with isolated weather events

Environmental communication strategies for addressing global phenomena  need to consider the following:

78. Localise the global. Make global problems relevant to local communities using issues and images referring to local news and events.

man talking to a group in hall as he  holds newspaper with front page story on climate change

79. Dramatise the crisis with relevant storylines, creating visual icons that resonate with individual and community priorities, not romanticising vague and general ideas.

 80. Sound the alarm without appearing alarmist. 

81. Each issue focuses on making something relevant to the target audience or the broader environment through communication activities.

88. The strategy’s ultimate goal is increasing collective engagement in attitude and behavioural changes, leading to community-led calls for policy changes. However, it remains to be seen if gluing hands to public buildings or chaining oneself to a highway disrupting the flow of life and business are the most influential political actions for environmental action and sustainability.

 Equally, neither are the cynical attempts of large corporations co-opting environmental messages for greenwashing advertising campaigns likely to make a significant difference. At best, they achieve short-term awareness goals in target audiences, and at worse, reinforce inertia to any fundamental changes in communities and environmental conditions

11.  Is public relations another form of selling?
(Real Estate Agency : Public Relations strategies).

Many public relations professionals will take offence at me describing their profession as a real estate agency in Communicare. They will remind me two of the three primary PR domains (corporate, government, and not-for-profit) are non-commercial.

 In defence, those in any public relations profession engage in marketing persuasive messages and imaginative spaces on behalf of their clients. Ideas and narratives are exchanged for their client’s benefit, whether the exchange currency is money, votes, passive acceptance, or active support through action. Public relations is and has to be a communication activity with an agenda. And the marketplace of the minds of stakeholders is where all the activity really takes place.

However, the plan should be performed honestly, demonstrating normative and applied ethical principles.   

89. Tell your story.

Similarly, companies and institutions have the right to ‘get their story out’ to target audiences, which is the bedrock of any effective communication strategy in a democracy. 

90. Engage with key publics.

However, the purpose of story-telling is greater engagement with key publics, to build and improve relationships with them.

91 . Don’t side-step Research.

The building blocks of an effective public relations campaign are planning based on evidence-based research, execution, and evaluation, with the last performed in different ways throughout each of the former stages. Research bookends the whole process and should include multiple visits to each of the three sections in our community ‘library’ described above.

Familiarity with the library, a place metaphor for research activity, will help ensure maximum message effectiveness and efficiency, as time and resources in the execution phase are directed to reaching and engaging the appropriate public with the appropriate messages and channels. 

92. PR101 students know there is no such thing as ‘the general public’, which suggests a universal, undifferentiated group of people in a population.

 ‘The general public’ is made up of smaller interpretive communities with varying ages, gender identification, worldviews, backgrounds, education levels, socio-economic status, religious beliefs, professions, etc. 93. Secondary (already published material) and primary research (original, unpublished qualitative and quantitative findings) will identify your target publics. 

Frequently, everyday publics are identified broadly on function (e.g. supplier, customer, employees, government departments) before more nuanced research is undertaken.

 The overarching goal of any research is to minimise the risk of wasting time, money and other resources on ‘wrong’ audiences, messages, channels, and timings. ‘Wrong’ has a broad meaning and sometimes refers to resource inefficiencies. 

For example, why spend 300,000 dollars on a TV campaign targeting city youth when an Internet-based communication competition using social media may achieve the same level of awareness and message acceptance for 50,000 dollars? 

Public Relations campaign theory is loaded with acronym-based approaches such as RACE, RPIE, and ROPE, each addressing similar concepts despite differing on their emphasis and position in the model. RACE is a common approach, listing the ideas we have discussed above.

woman talking to a group as all look to a sign with RACE written on it

93. Research – addressing the who, what, where, when, how and why issues of the campaign using first secondary (scan published research and databases addressing the 5Ws and H) followed by more expensive primary research (e.g. in-depth interviews of experts, surveys, focus groups etc) once critical issues for further attention are identified. 

94. Action and Planning 

This stage can be further broken down using the SMART objectives. The SMART model came from management planning.  

SMART is an acronym, where each letter refers to a specific characteristic for consideration when developing your communication objectives – specific, measurable, attainable (realistic), time (map out your time-frames). 

Following a detailed SMART strategy for objectives will help the campaign stay on track and allow reliable evaluation at the end, allowing you to answer the questions: did we reach the right groups with the best message, using the most effective and efficient media available, causing the desired response in raised awareness levels, attitudinal shifts or behaviour changes? 

Tactics matched to strategy objectives are also selected during the planning stages. Tactics include press releases, small or large-scale promotional events, speeches by group leaders, competitions targeting key publics, social media campaigns, posters, mainstream media advertising, newsletters,  sponsorship activity and  AGM financial reports.  Several tactics are usually combined to form a communication strategy in a given period.

95. Communication and Relationship-building activity

This is the execution or implementation stage of the campaign, where ‘the rubber meets the road’. It is where the many PR tactics available for a campaign strategy are used to achieve your communication goals. It is an iterative process linked to continuing research that tracks the success of tactics and the system’s overall effectiveness, which may require adjustments.

 Relationship-building for long-term positive engagement with key publics should be a priority in any PR communication activity. Otherwise, practitioners risk stakeholders, including the general community, being duped with that ‘it’s all just PR spin’ feeling.

96. Evaluation of output and outcomes

As stated above, throughout the campaign planning and execution phases, effective PR strategies are peppered with evaluation points applying primary research data gathering and analysis. However, at the campaign conclusion, the final evaluation stage identifies the campaign’s success in meeting its SMART objectives and building relationships with key stakeholders.

There are two metrics for evaluation, output and outcomes, and the difference between them can be illustrated in different objectives for press releases. Press releases, which use a news story focus and format that supports the message agenda of a company or organisation, are evaluated by output and outcome measures.

Evaluation of output is a measure of specific public relations activities (.e.g. five press releases), including the successful passage of press releases through media channels to publication as news stories (e.g. three media stories from five press releases), keeping in mind PR has no control of how media treat the press release.

 Evaluation methods for outcomes include pre-campaign and post-campaign surveys to test for greater understanding, acceptance, or shifts in attitudes or behaviour. In other words, outcomes measure changes in one or more of your key publics.

12. Why looking out for everyone in an organisation is a valuable communication strategy
(Office Buildings:
(Organizational Communication strategies).

Our mythical town has an office building representing the complex and growing area of organisational communication. It describes the interactions between people and their multiple environments.  Organisational Communication is best understood as the flow of information among shareholders and stakeholders within and outside the organisation and anything that can impact its continuing effectiveness.

 In this way, organisational communication objectives are similar to those within the company’s PR section, hoping to build better relationships with employees. However, organisational communication looks closely at all the information activity that impacts organisational effectiveness, not just those affecting reputation.

A comprehensive corporate communication strategy looks at the role of every person and section within the business ecosystem to maximise the efficacy and cut inefficiencies caused by poor communication practices, environments, and relationships. More recently, dynamic bio-system approaches emphasising interaction and adaptation have replaced historical mechanical metaphors of the organisation.

97.  Strategies based around an ecosystem metaphor emphasise formal and informal communication processes. In contrast, the older models tended to focus only on top-down, formal channels of information (memos, written policies, meetings and minutes, etc.),  ignoring the latter less structured but significant social interactions and informal codes of practice among work colleagues and management relationships impact an organisation. For example, studies of employee and management levels of communication and job satisfaction among personnel, the work environment, and overall structures offered insights into improving overall organisational effectiveness. Focusing on dynamic interactions among personnel and their social working environments (e.g., bullying and alienating staff-management behaviour) extends beyond only measuring the effectiveness of formal communication processes, such as counting the number of emails delivered on time or how many responded with the desired actions. 

98. Approaches to evaluate organisational communication success that consider formal and informal factors add value to communication strategies and general valuable tips.

 Henry Henderson offers 7Cs”:

 98. Completeness –  ensure the oral or written message is complete to allow your recipient to provide the desired response, thereby minimising their frustration in asking you for more information. However, remember that message completeness may involve an exchange until your recipient has sufficient data and context to act.

99. Conciseness: Similar to a journalist’s news story and active voice style, messages should be concise and avoid irrelevant information and words that may cloud the communication objective.

100. Consideration: Put yourself in the shoes of your recipient. Think about their position in the company, who they answer to and those they manage. What expectations do they face from both groups? 

101. Concreteness: Communicate precision rather than in generalities. Use precise timelines, dates, and other details to evaluate the success or failure of message comprehension and the actions taken. Concrete writing removes ambiguities and reduces the risk of misunderstandings. 

102. Clarity: Whereas concreteness refers to precision in content, clarity emphasises style and expressions that aid understanding. 

A straightforward way to achieve clarity is to use the journalistic maxim of writing to a reader with the comprehension of a 12-year-old and avoid technical jargon when communicating with a general audience. However, if your readers are specialists, they may prefer the unambiguous, succinct meanings presented in technical terms and acronyms. The golden rule is to write to meet the style expectations of your audience, which circles back to consideration. Other markers of clarity include communicating one key idea per sentence; paragraphs primarily consist of short sentences ( average 15-25 words); using computer style and content format options to add emphasis (e.g. bold, italics, graphs, graphics.

103. Courtesy: Regardless of the message, the overall tone should communicate courteous professionalism, avoiding offence and annoyance in the reader or receiver. In other words, courtesy focuses on the feelings your communications will evoke in your recipient. Are words and phrases used that might unnecessarily build a wall instead of a bridge in the professional relationship? Courtesy also involves paying attention to discriminatory expressions, e.g. gender neutrality – workers or employees instead of the workforce, disablist language: people with disabilities instead of disabled people.   

104. Correctness: Communication output in organisational settings should convey the correct information, language conventions, and tone to the intended recipient. Facts and figures should be accurate with the appropriate level of precision. Language conventions include spelling, punctuation and grammar considerations. Most word processors have spell-checker functions, and many grammatical tools, such as Grammarly, are available to improve grammar outcomes. 

Finally, the message tone should be appropriate to the intended audience and function of the message – either formal (professional communications) or informal (e.g. staff social events) but never incorrect or substandard, which conveys unprofessionalism or incompetence.

Henderson’s 7 Cs are a helpful checklist of considerations for any professional communication as they tick off key areas where miscommunication and misunderstandings occur.

13. Bringing it all together at ‘the local’ (Pub).

This concludes our short journey around Communicare, having taken in some of the ‘sights and sounds’ of the bustling town of communication. Each building offers communication insights from different disciplines and professions. Our mythical town offers one last public centre we have yet to visit. What better place to bring our thoughts together than at the town pub? 

105.As an exercise, you might like to imagine civic leaders, academics and professionals from the various centres meeting up to discuss how they approach communication and what you could take away from the conversation for inspiration when preparing your next communication strategy.

A group of professional communicators from many disciplines and backgrounds chatting together in a pub

Selected Sources

Bourk, M (2000), ‘Scott v, Telstra: A Watershed in Australian telecommunications policy’, Media International Australia, No 96 August, 69-81.

Bourk, M (2011)  ‘A Makara-like wave came crashing: Sri Lankan narratives of the Boxing Day Tsunami’,Media International Australia, 141, November, 49-57.  

Bourk, M., K. Holland & W. Blood (2015) “ Because we are in an emergency situation, we are unable to meet with you’: Negotiating civic and government ‘playing spaces’ during the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake’, MediaNZ  Media Studies Journal of Aotearoa New Zealand, 15(2), 30-49.

Du Gay, P., & Hall, S. (1988). Doing Cultural Studies: the story of the Sony Walkman. McGraw Hill Book Company

Henderson, H. (2009). Practical Business Communication: Communication with Confidence. Golden Book Centre. 

Rackham, N. (1988). Spin selling. McGraw Hill Book Company. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Bourk writes on communication-related matters for his blog, found on his website, michaelbourk.com.  He is interested in advancing practical bridge-building activities between academia, industry, policymakers, and other interpretive communities with the capacity to affect positive change. He founded Academics Unleashed, an online community for those in the academy who share a similar bridge-building vision and want to build their online teaching communities. Dr Bourk can be contacted at mike@bourkconsulting.com.

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