Strategic Communications

The Strategic Communications KnowledgeBase is an online resource to aid those leading or supporting communications in education in understanding the history, value, framework, planning, and execution of effective Strategic Communications to nurture and build strong relationships in education. Strategic Communications is essential to engage stakeholders and achieve goals at the state level. The elements, activities, and tasks in this KnowledgeBase are designed to better prepare communications professionals within state education agencies (SEAs) to plan for and respond to communication challenges and support implementation of education policy. Click here to see a quick introduction to this KnowledgeBase.

Element 1: What is Strategic Communications?

Purpose: To implement a Strategic Communications process, it is important to understand the key principles of Strategic Communication first. This element explores the definitions, descriptions, history, benefits, and major functions of Strategic Communications, as well as what distinguishes Strategic Communications from daily communication activities. Although the focus is on how to apply this information within a state education agency (SEA), background information often comes from other disciplines as well as other educational organizations.

Activity 1: Understand the Principles, Definition, and History of Strategic Communications

A variety of definitions, descriptions, and frameworks have been given for Strategic Communications by experts in the field. Many of the definitions and descriptions included in this activity come from disciplines other than education, but have transferable value. These include the United States Armed Forces, business, public and governmental relations, and higher education. 

Activity 2: Explore the Benefits of Strategic Communications

Strategic Communications can be viewed as an umbrella term that pulls together many communications and related functions from other disciplines under one process to implement an agency’s strategic goal or priority. Although this can be a time- and resource-intensive process, it can also have significant benefits to connect these various core functions with the agency's strategic direction.

Task 2: Explore major Strategic Communications functions

Guideline: This task invites you to explore some examples of the major functions often associated with Strategic Communications. In some cases, the resources included do not connect the function described to the organization's strategic direction, so it is not always possible to verify whether the organization was intentionally implementing Strategic Communications or just sharing good practices of communications, which an SEA may choose to use in a strategic way.

5 Resolutions for Family Engagement in 2016

Function: Parent/Family and Community Engagement

This January 15, 2016, Battelle for Kids blog provides 5 ways educators can improve parent and family engagement through effective communications.

8 Little Considerations That Make a Big Difference in Your Corporate Video

Function: Video Production

This February 27, 2014, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) article offers eight little considerations that can make a big difference in organizational videos.

Change Communication Checklist

Function: Change Leadership/Management

Prosci's Communication Checklist draws from over 20 years of benchmarking research, giving you access to the best practices when communicating about change to your organization. Use the 10-question checklist as an audit for your current change management activities, or use it as a guide as you plan for new initiatives and projects.

7 Steps to Building Grassroots Support that Mitigates Crisis

FUNCTION: Crisis Management

This new white paper provides tips on building grassroots support to mitigates crisis situations.

BFK Blog: Change Won't Stick Without Open and Focused Communication

Function: Change Leadership/Management

This Battelle for Kids blog demonstrates how change won’t stick without open and focused communication. It provides examples of why communication should be at the core of any improvement strategy.

Communicating with Families Around Academics—Dos and Don’ts

Function: Parent/Family and Community Engagement

This Flamboyan Foundation/TNTP Chart offers the Dos and Don’ts for communicating with families around academics.

How To Engage Your Board Members - And Keep Them That Way

Function: Board Engagement

This February 2013 GuideStar article shares tips on how to engage board members and keep them engaged through Strategic Communications approaches.

How to Communicate Change to Your Employees

Function: Change Leadership/Management

This December 15, 2015, About Leaders article explains how to communicate change to your employees (internal audiences).

How to Increase Your Video’s Reach on Facebook

Function: Social Media

This April 27, 2014, ed Social Media article offers Tips and tools for increasing your video’s reach on Facebook using Park Tutor school as an example.

How to Prepare Spokespeople for Interviews

Function: Spokesperson Training

This December 2, 2009, article provides tips on how to prepare spokespeople for interviews with the media.

Crisis Management and Communications

Function: Crisis Communication

This Institute for Public Relations article, dated October 30, 2007, defines the critical concepts that need to be understood related to crisis management and communications.

Ethical Decision Making in Issues Management in Activist Groups

Function: Policy/Issues Management

This Public Relations Journal Winter 2011 article provides a study on ethical decision making and issues management.

Indiana Tax Amnesty: A Case Study in Effective Public Affairs

Function: Public Affairs

This PRSA Podcast and presentation highlights a case study on the Indiana tax amnesty.

VIDEO: Board Engagement Can Lead to A Shared Vision and Support

Function: Board Engagement

This short April 6, 2014, YouTube video from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges focuses on how board engagement can lead to a shared vision and to support each other moving forward.

Video: The Secret to Successful Crisis Management in the 21st Century - Melissa Agnes TEDx Talk

Function: Crisis Communication

Tedx Talk offers a video on the secret to successful crisis management in the 21st century including the challenges posed by social media – Melissa Angnes.

Allerton Hill Case Study: Intentional Marketing at Hilliard City Schools

Function: Marketing

This case study explains how Hilliard City Schools in the State of Ohio relied on an intentional marketing plan by Allerton Hill Consulting to prepare community members for the launch of a new school concept.

BFK Blog: Pittsburgh Schools Focused on Teacher Feedback and Support

Function: Stakeholder Feedback and Input

This Battelle for Kids blog presents a case study on Pittsburg Public Schools’ use of teacher engagement to develop a teacher evaluation and support system to improve outcomes for students. More than 400 educators, national experts, and community stakeholders collaborated to develop the system.

Case Study on branding for Albuquerque Academy

Function: Branding

This is a case study on the branding process used by Creosote Affects for Albuquerque Academy and the 'Within Reach' Campaign that was created.

Case Study on branding strategy for Ensworth School

Function: Branding

This is a case study on building a brand strategy and framework for Ensworth School in Nashville by M. Stoner.

Don't Hunker In Your Bunker: Crisis Communication - Podcast Episode 36

Function: Crisis Communication

In this September 19, 2016, weekly "I Love Schools" podcast, Episode 39, from Allerton Hill Communications, the value of communications planning before a crisis hits, with an interview from Dr. Joe Clark, Superintendent of Nordonia Schools is explored.

First Five Years Fund: White House Summit on Early Education

Function: Media Relations

This Widmeyer Communication case study focuses on generating media attention for the First Five Years: White House Summit on Early Education.

Florida Department of Education Website Project Case Study

Function: Web Development/User Experience

This DigitalUs Case study is about the Florida Department of Education website design and results.

Managing the Unimaginable: Crisis Communications After An Active Shooter Incident

Function: Crisis Communication

This 2012 case study reviews an Alabama middle school’s ability to effectively handle crisis communications in response to a shooting on campus by Campus Safety.

School Spotlight: Sewickley Academy

Function: Social Media

This April 12, 2013, ed Social Media article overviews Sewickley Academy’s social media strategy and successes.

Zika, Puerto Rico and a Test in Issues Management

Function: Policy/Issues Management

 This August 3, 2016, PRSA article describes issues management related to Zika.

Element 2: What background information is needed to develop a Strategic Communications approach?

Purpose: Before developing a Strategic Communications process, it is important for an SEA to research the organization, including its vision, mission, values, and desired outcomes; its history, leadership, and structures; its various audiences, including both internal and external stakeholders; and its goals for Strategic Communications. The SEA should also explore promising practices of Strategic Communications that are likely to be successful based on the information gleaned about the organization. This element explores each of these components and provides resources for how to conduct research or collect the background information needed before designing or improving upon an existing Strategic Communications process.

Activity 1: Establish background context and current reality of the SEA

This activity explores the context and current situation of SEA through the strategic direction, history, leadership, structures, strengths and weaknesses, and cultural norms of the SEA.

Vision, Mission, Values, and Goals: Some might ask, “What if an SEA does not have a formalized vision, mission, values, and goals? Can Strategic Communications exist without those?” Based on the definitions, descriptions, and principles of Strategic Communications identified in Element 1, it is clear that a Strategic Communications approach is one that connects communications activities to the agency’s larger strategic direction, either holistically or for a particular initiative. If the agency does not have a formalized vision, mission, values, and goals, or if the agency does not follow these as a course of direction, it will be more challenging to implement a Strategic Communications approach. It is possible, however, for an SEA to articulate a strategic direction to which communication processes are tied without that strategic direction being formalized through a vision, mission, values, and goals. In this case, a Strategic Communications approach would be based on the articulated strategic direction.

History, Leadership, and Structures: Organizational culture, which is influenced by history, leadership, and structures of the agency, will drive various aspects of a Strategic Communications plan. It is not possible for any SEA to adopt another organization’s Strategic Communications plan because they are situated within different organizational cultures. The culture of one organization may lend itself to cross-divisional conversations without formalized structures, for example, whereas another organization may rely on formalized structures to ensure that cross-divisional conversations are productive. Similarly, leadership of one SEA may include a large number of people whereas another may defer to only a few people as decision-makers. These pieces of background information will shape the overall Strategic Communications plan because they shape the overall strategic direction as well as the specific components or activities included in a Strategic Communications plan.

Activity 2: Determine your audiences and understand their perspectives

Understanding the various perspectives of audiences and stakeholder groups requires research and information gathering.

Audiences, including Internal and External Stakeholders: Some have described the key to Strategic Communications as understanding the various audiences of the SEA and determining the best activities for engaging them in the strategic direction.  In most cases, every person, organization, and entity within a state and some outside of the state are stakeholders of the education system – either as a financial contributor, recipient of implemented learning experiences, employer of graduates, or provider of educational services.  It is important, then, to understand a broad array of perspectives and determine the scope of stakeholders for varying levels of intensity in a Strategic Communications plan.

Activity 3: Determine the purposes, objectives, strategies and tactics of your SEA Strategic Communications Approach

Writing specific goals and objectives for the Strategic Communications plan assists with selecting the most meaningful strategies and tactics for implementing it.

Purposes of Strategic Communications: Not every activity that is considered communication is part of a Strategic Communications approach. Understanding what the agency intends to accomplish with its Strategic Communications approach will assist in determining which activities need to come under the umbrella of Strategic Communications. For example, one SEA may choose to use a Strategic Communications approach to build support for one new initiative while another SEA may desire to use Strategic Communications for all activities related to a new set of goals for the state.

Promising Practices: When selecting specific strategies, activities, or tactics for a Strategic Communications approach, SEAs will want to conduct a review of proven and promising practices to maximize the likelihood of success for the strategies.

Element 3: What are the processes for developing, implementing, and evaluating a Strategic Communications Approach?

Purpose: The iterative process of developing, implementing, evaluating, and revising a Strategic Communications approach is critical to its success. All steps of the process must be considered before implementation to monitor the effectiveness of the approach.

Activity 1: Explore examples of Strategic Communications plans and templates

In this activity, a variety of Strategic Communications plans are presented, including examples from inside and outside of the education field.  Examples of specific strategies and activities are provided to illustrate how a plan gets turned into actions and deliverables.  Additionally, templates, checklists, and guiding questions for key components of Strategic Communications plans are shared. 

No magic formula exists for Strategic Communications approaches, so the variety of plans presented are intended to be instructive and provide opportunities for SEAs to modify promising practices to meet the context of the agency. Remember: Stay true to the word "strategic." These samples and templates reflect the principle of proactive, impact-focused Strategic Communications. Resisting the temptation to be reactive and tactic-focused can be difficult in the fast pace of state agency work, but it is essential to successful outcomes in this arena.

Activity 2: Monitor and measure the success of your Strategic Communications Plan

It is imperative to monitor implementation and measure the success of the SEA’s Strategic Communication approach. Decision-makers need to see evidence of expected impact and, where necessary, which elements require adjustments for improved outcomes. Additionally, audience feedback is critical to communications success. Listening to stakeholder input, and reflecting changes based on it, will enhance and accelerate the work.