Blog post,  Communication Strategy

Understanding your environment creates communications plans that work

I talked about the importance of environmental scanning in my post about developing communication strategies. I wanted to take some time to look at this area in a little more detail as it is often a piece that is overlooked.

Environmental scanning is the monitoring and analysis of an organisation’s internal and external environments. It allows an organisation to detect early signs of opportunities and threats that may influence its current and future plans. It is an opportunity to gather information about the external world, stakeholders and internal staff and culture.

What is environmental scanning?

Basically, it gives you a bird’s eye view of the whole environment you are operating in from many different angles when getting ready to launch a new product, plan or program. This is a critical part of strategy development. To be effective you need to understand what may impact your strategy and opportunities may be present.

James Mahoney in his book Strategic Communications said, “Practitioners who understand the internal and external environments in which their clients operate develop strategic communications plans that work; those who do not are less successful.”

Many believe environmental scanning is just about looking outside of the organisation but I disagree, it is just as important to take the time to consider what is happening internally. What are the current issues and challenges facing the organisation and what is impacting your employees that may influence how they are representing the organisation? It is often said staff are your most important communications channel so if you don’t understand what is impacting them and how that may impact your implementation then you only know half the story.

How to do it?

I wanted to give you some tools to use when you are doing an environmental scan. There are many options out there.

Many of us have done a SWOT analysis before, considering the internal strengths and weaknesses and the external opportunities and threats.

There is the iA3 framework which focuses primarily on actors and issues in the operating arena and is useful if you need to build a stronger understanding of your audiences.

However, the one I find most useful is the PESTLE analysis. For me, it sets out a series of questions that allow you to consider the broader operating environment for both internal or external strategies.

To make it even easier I have created a quick template for you.

This gives you the basis to get your creative juices flowing, but don’t feel restricted by it. Every organisation, its environment and stakeholders will be different. For different strategies, you will need to scale-up or scale-down. Your environmental scan could be a five-page essay or a page of bullet points.

A lot of this information you may already know, especially if you have been working in the organisation or industry for a long time. Regardless, take some time out to step back and think through all of the areas of your operating environment. It is worth doing some research to check you aren’t missing anything new, and if needed doing some market research about your audience.

When was the last time you scanned your environment? Still not sure where to start or just don’t have the time to do the research. Give Elm Communications a call.

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