How many communications strategies have you written in your time? How many of them worked and how many disappeared through the cracks due to competing and reactive work demand? This new guest post gives valuable insight into how one government department tackled a new strategy and the benefits of a new approach…
by Lucy Denton
In the early days of the Government Digital Service (GDS), a phrase emerged: ‘the strategy is delivery’. It reflected the agile, experimental, almost dangerously modern (yet sensible and obvious) approach to transformation for which GDS is now world-renowned. Don’t talk about the thing - show the thing.
In recent months, I’ve been working on the comms strategy for GDS in 2018/19. At various points, I’ve wondered to myself, as I’m sure many drafting organisational comms strategies do: who is going to read this?
A comms team isn’t held to lofty rhetoric about the team’s purpose or goals or expectations. A comms team is, and always has been, judged by its delivery and the impact this has on the institution (preferably for the better). Plainly put: people only want to see the ‘thing’.
In a previous blog post I spoke about how communicators can experience a lack of recognition as a profession. During my time working on the strategy I’ve been thinking about how this piece of work could prove to be the missing link between talking about ‘the thing’ and showing it.
The value of the strategy
The comms strategy is the link between the business and how we talk about the business. It doesn’t need to be long or arduous.
But the value a strategy can bring cannot be overstated. Rather than a glossy publication gathering dust on a shelf, a communication strategy is the lynchpin that draws everyone across the comms team together to deliver a single mission. It’s the guiding statement that gives the team permission to reduce noise and increase impact.
The strategy for GDS - though gloriously simple - belies months of insight, research and nemiwashi to pin down the language, the approach and gather support:
To engage people in the work and purpose of GDS simply, effectively and in a way that is insight-driven to focus on the needs of our audiences.
It is a fantastic achievement for our team as our first organisational communication and engagement strategy. But the process certainly gave me food for thought. So here are some simple tips for others who may still be sitting on their strategy for this year, or who have also published their strategy and are now wondering what is next ...
The strategy isn’t delivery
A comms strategy alone achieves little. It’s how a team makes use of the strategy as a reference point throughout the year that can deliver tangible benefits to the organisation. As something to consistently refer back to, a strategy offers a good sounding post to ensure all comms have a central thread of consistency.
But don’t let it become a millstone - times change and a year is a long time in communications. Don’t adhere to a strategy that doesn’t flex. Be agile. If it’s not working, step back and have another go!
A strategy shouldn’t be overly complicated. When developing stakeholder insight for GDS I soon refined our thinking to 3 main audience groups: our people, our partners and the public (including industry). That was all the detail necessary at that stage to consider their needs and our intended high-level outcomes. Refinement comes at a campaign level and must be tailored to the message and the action.
Delivering the strategy
So now we’re in a position where we can deliver the aims of the strategy we created. The ‘glossy’ promotional material is currently being created so look out for it sometime this month. (I know! I know!)
In the meantime we’re embedding a strategic approach to our work, creating a virtual team to ensure we are working to deliver impact rather than noise.
We’re doing this by working to a campaign-based approach and focusing on 3 key campaign themes for the year:
Transforming government for all
To show citizens and government the benefits to be had through the transformation of services and the role GDS plays in delivery.
Innovating for the future
To show how GDS, in collaboration with other government departments, is using innovative technologies to deliver the services users need and expect when interacting with government.
Collaborating to deliver the best
To support both the recruitment of high quality talent into government and the development of skills and culture to transform public services.
All our work will align to these campaign themes (which also align to Cabinet Office comms campaigns), and will keep in mind the strategy which will ensure we are bringing the ethos and principles of GDS to our communications.
Strategy for the future
As expected, this is a big piece of work, undertaking research, drafting and stakeholder engagement to ensure individuals across the organisation and beyond were on board. And if you’re scared of putting the resource behind the strategy (and stepping back from the delivery for a time to give you the space to think) it’s definitely worth it! Gaining buy-in for the communications strategy has already given us the space to say no and focus on big ticket items.
In the long term, it will allow us to truly showcase the value of the comms team to the organisation as the gateway between GDS and our audiences.
And, although you may not read it every day, the exercise of creating the strategy is extremely valuable in enhancing the comms team’s understanding of the organisation’s business objectives and how comms can complement and enhance those objectives on behalf of the leadership team - and to the benefit of our audiences.
Ultimately we’re bringing comms strategy and delivery together.
I’d love to hear about your experiences of implementing a comms strategy into an organisation, or your experiences of drafting one!
Lucy Denton is head of strategic comms and campaigns at Government Digital Services
image via Tullio Saba