Strategic communications is a variable field that requires adaptability. You must be able to convey an unpredictable array of different messages, and know how to tailor those messages for diverse audiences with specific tastes and appetites. To be sure, as the public face of a company’s external relationships, it is not enough to simply convey a message; you must be an expert on the subject, well-versed in its history and context.
You can’t effectively convey a message you don’t understand, and you won’t be able to reach an audience with whom you’re unfamiliar. That can be a tall order, particularly if you have multiple clients spread across a range of fields. But it’s absolutely necessary, because as a communications professional your stock in trade is your authority, knowledge and resources. When acting as a client’s representative to reporters and the general public you are, for all purposes, inseparable from the client. The strength of your message lies in the strength of your command of it.
The only way to gain that expertise is to put yourself in your client’s shoes, doing as much as possible to gain background knowledge and stay up to date on the latest developments in the field. Here are four key ways to ensure that you are absorbing your client’s message, no matter what field it’s in.
Do Your Due Diligence
Read every piece of literature your client has: pitch decks, blog posts, books, anything you can get your hands on. Conduct a media audit to find every reference you can dig up. This is important because you never want to be surprised to find coverage of your clients you were unaware of, positive or negative. If you miss positive coverage, you miss opportunities to develop existing relationships. If you miss negative coverage, you miss critical information that could come back to you later.
This may sound painfully obvious, but your primary source is the client themselves. Ask every question you can think to ask of them about who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Conduct an extensive kickoff meeting and get to know their history as intimately as possible. It’s in both parties interest to know as much as there is to know about the company and its founders. And of course, go back to them when you need clarification or additional information, explaining to them the necessity of accuracy if needed.
Systematically Track Relevant Media
Again, you never want to be surprised by coverage of your clients or their competitors, or be the last to know about important new developments in the field. Setup Google Alerts for key terms likely to appear in relevant coverage. Follow the social media accounts of reporters whose beat would include your client. Find influential blogs and add them to your feeds, and sign up for newsletters or briefings covering related issues.
Get To Know The Audience
Reach out to anyone in your network who works in your client’s field, or related fields. As them what publications they read for industry news, who they think the thought leaders of their field are, what voices they trust. Read the comments sections of some of the blogs you find.
As a non-specialist you might not understand every detail of the discussions taking place, but you should be able to get a pulse check of community sentiment around particular issues. The more you know about the audience you’re trying to reach, the more you’ll understand their motivations, what types of media they respond to, and the current status of any developments or stories within the field.
It can’t be stressed enough that the strength of your message depends on your familiarity with the subject. You must do all that’s in your power to stay on top of developments in your client’s field and knowledgeable about the media environment within which they exist.