It’s the fourth quarter of the calendar year, and your strategic planning activities are likely to be in full swing (if not already completed). As a communicator, it’s essential that you have a seat at the planning table to ensure effective communications are a key element of the plan. Few things are more critical to your organization’s (and your own) success.

When discussions turn to performance goals and associated strategies, raise these questions: What audiences are key to our success? What do we want them to think and do?

It’s helpful to imagine your audiences are concentric circles. Focus on answering the questions for each audience, starting from the innermost circle: shareholders and funders.

  1. Shareholders and funders.

    Perceptions of your brand, your current performance, and your future prospects have a direct, tangible impact on how investors and analysts value your company. If you are not a public company, the awareness and attitudes of donors and other funders is equally critical and needs to be shaped strategically.

  2. Employees and partners.

    Do your employees know what to do and why? Are they married to your mission and motivated to perform? Are your business partners (retailers, distributors, other intermediaries) serving as educated, enthusiastic advocates for your brand? What are you doing to ensure this is the case?

  3. Customers and consumers.

    Perhaps the most obvious audiences in any planning effort are customers (if you’re B2B) and consumers. Most of us plan for them already, but many organizations fail to devote resources to refreshing their customer and consumer understanding. Your plans should always be based on current quantitative and qualitative research. Communication is a two-way street… are you listening?

  4. The “public” sector.

    This includes the media, elected officials, regulators, and other community stakeholders who have an interest in what you do and influence over your operating environment. To create a climate that is optimal for success, you must manage these audiences strategically and systematically.

Communications and their supporting technology form the central nervous system of your organization. As your plans emerge for the coming year, challenge each goal and strategy in a productive way. Tease out the communications need and resources that are required, and prepare yourself to succeed.