Raising the stakes: How to solve your stakeholder communications problems
Have you ever heard the phrase: “No man is an island”?
It comes from a poem by John Donne, but it’s more than just a great piece of literature. It’s also an important concept to keep in mind when you’re trying to launch a successful company.
Even if you’re a solo entrepreneur right now, you’ll still need to interact with other people to grow your organisation. Whether it’s suppliers, employees, contractors, or investors – no-one can build a powerful enterprise alone. That’s why it’s so important to know how you can embrace and communicate with the stakeholders that determine the rise or fall of your brand.
A stakeholder communication strategy goes beyond internal and external conversations. It gives you a language that you can use to connect with anyone who has a vested interest in your business, all the way from donors, to sponsors, and even staff. The right stakeholder communication methods are key to developing relationships built on mutual benefits and trust. Only when you listen to and understand the needs of the people committed to your company, can you start to shape a successful brand.
The question is, how do you create a stakeholder management plan that gets even the most stubborn and complex people on-side? Well, if you want an answer to partner problems, you’ve come to the right place.
What are stakeholder communications (and why do they matter)?
As mentioned above, stakeholder communications don’t just refer to the conversations you have with people who have shares in your business. Stakeholders are “anyone with a vested interest”. To get you started, here are the two ‘types’ of stakeholders you’ll need to think about:
External stakeholders: Your clients, investors, and anyone who stands to gain from your company. They don’t help to grow your business from the inside, but they do have an external connection to your brand.
Internal stakeholders: The people who are engaged in growing your company with you. Your employees, contractors, vendors, resourcing directors, and anyone else who might have an impact on the way you develop your brand.
A successful stakeholder management plan requires companies to analyse the communication needs of internal and external stakeholders alike. The best way to look at it is to think of every stakeholder as a spoke in the wheel of your company’s lifecycle. Every connection you build for your business is another supporting pillar in its success. Maintaining strong and consistent communications with your stakeholders helps you to carve a path forward for your company. While a stakeholder communications agency can help you to develop a bespoke solution for your campaigns, there are some basic rules to consider. For instance:
Always: Show your stakeholders that you understand them, their needs, and what they mean to your business. Stakeholders are just like any other person you might communicate with as a company, they want to know that they’re important to you.
Never: Forget to keep crucial stakeholders informed about what’s happening in your company. Whether it’s a rebrand, or simply a change in your marketing strategy, your stakeholders should know what you’re doing.
Always: Apply the right communication formats. Different stakeholders will prefer to interact with you in different ways. While your non-profit donors might like face-to-face interactions, your employees might be happy with a quick internal newsletter.
Never: Make stakeholders feel like their opinions don’t count. Listen to your stakeholders and make sure that you let them know when you’re not going to put their ideas into place, and why.
Always: Create transparency. Make sure that your stakeholders see you as an honest and credible source of information. They’re investing in your company, and they want to know that they can trust you.
Preparing your stakeholder communication plan template
There are numerous steps involved in establishing effective stakeholder communications. One of the first things you’ll need to do is determine who the most important stakeholders are for your company. These are the people that you’ll update on any project changes or decisions immediately before you roll information out to the rest of the community.
Remember to go beyond your corporate sponsorships and investors here. Employees will also need to be the first to know about important information if they’re going to be communicating updates to the public. A few important factors to consider with the help of your stakeholder communications consultant include:
Which stakeholders have the most influence on your project?
Which stakeholders will be most affected by your project?
How should you handle important people who might not be considered traditional stakeholders?
Once you know who you need to reach out to with your stakeholder communication strategy, you can look at some of the different ‘types’ of common communication available. There are 3 methodologies typically referenced in a communication plan, including:
Reports are one of the most common stakeholder communication methods – even if they’re not always particularly exciting. While few people feel overly thrilled by the concept of producing a report for stakeholders, this communication option can serve a couple of useful purposes. For instance, it demonstrates that you’re running your company properly (with well-organised staff). Reporting also demonstrates that you’re keeping your stakeholders in mind as your business grows.
Writing a report might not be as exciting as putting together a blog post or shooting a video, but they’re a great way to demonstrate your value to invested patrons. You might use a number of reports in your stakeholder communications strategy, including:
Project status reports.
Board of director reports.
Government required reports.
2. PR and marketing
Here’s where things start to get a little more interesting. PR and marketing are two largely underrated processes in the stakeholder communications world. A lot of companies assume that they only need to invest in PR and marketing when they’re trying to connect with new customers. However, the value you show through your advertising efforts can also be a great way to highlight your business to anyone with an investment in your company.
A solid PR and marketing strategy not only ensures that you can constantly share the developments of your brand with your stakeholders and customers alike, but it also helps to give your company a powerful identity. The more you work on your marketing campaigns, the more you’ll build relationships that draw new stakeholders towards your organisation. The right campaign can even protect you against the rumour mill, and the rising threat of unchecked social media conversations.
Examples of marketing plans that can integrate well with your stakeholder communications process include:
Social media marketing: Interact with stakeholders on the platforms they use and build relationships that go beyond stuffy reports and boardroom meetings.
Email newsletters: Link to blogs, case studies, and other information that demonstrates how your organisation is growing.
Publishing testimonials: Use endorsements to demonstrate how your products and services provide value.
Networking: Attend conferences and events that encourage interactions with customers and stakeholders.
3. Purposeful communications
Finally, purposeful communications are one of the most complicated stakeholder communication methods. Purposeful communication is exactly what it sounds like – a carefully structured way of connecting with the people who can impact your organisation and providing them with the information they need to generate a positive result.
For instance, if you know there’s a group of competitors out there that want to make your business look bad by suggesting you don’t care about the environment, you might publish a case study demonstrating your CSR initiatives and interactions with local “green” charities. If you know that your investors want to see evidence that you’re working on positive customer satisfaction, then you might put together a presentation that shows off your brand ambassador or referral strategy.
Purposeful communications need to be planned, and it needs to have a purpose. A few points to think about when you’re working on your strategy include:
What’s in it for them: Align your message with the goals of your stakeholders to let them know that you have their requirements in mind.
How you deliver information: What’s the best way to get your point across to your shareholders? Can you shake things up a bit, or do you need to stick with a tried and tested format?
Speak their language: Will it be better to use industry jargon to show your expertise, or keep your message as simple as possible?
Stakeholder communication methods: Solidifying your strategy
Once you’re familiar with the types of stakeholder communication strategies available, you can begin to develop your own process to suit the needs of your community. After all, every organisation is different. Properly analysing the communications needs of your internal and external stakeholders should give you the insight to create a more compelling strategy for not just stakeholder management, but better engagement too.
Step 1: Start with a clear vision
A brand vision can bring your future into focus, develop your relationships with customers, and improve your stakeholder communication process too. If you want to win the trust and support of the people invested in your company, then you need to be able to speak to them confidently about your brand, product, and services.
Having a clear vision and being able to communicate that vision with conviction can go a long way towards getting you the buy-in and support you need. Remember to:
Be concise and confident: If you can’t communicate your brand growth strategy concisely, then go back to your drawing board and try again. You should be able to distil your mission down to a single sentence or at least one paragraph. Then you can expand on that with slides and useful information.
Anticipate issues: Even if your stakeholder communication plan is incredible, the people you’re talking to may still have concerns about your plan. Make sure that you’re ready to respond to any questions they have with data-driven answers.
Stick to the specifics: Specific examples of what you want to do or accomplish will help your stakeholder to envision the possibilities of your brand with ease. Be ambitious and creative but stick to the logical side of things too.
Step 2: Know everything there is to know about your stakeholders
As well as having a clear vision for your future, it’s also important to know who you’re talking to, and what your stakeholders want to get out of your brand. Remember, user personas don’t have to be exclusively for your customers. Accessed correctly, they can help you to understand what your investors, donors, and even employees need to get out of your organisation. Make sure you can answer the following questions:
What’s important to them? When designing your stakeholder communication plan template, remember that every stakeholder wants to know what they’re getting out of their investment. Make sure you frame your plans for the future in a way that addresses their values, fears, and individual needs.
How can they play a part? Stakeholders generally like to feel involved in the growth of a company, so see what you can do to give them a part. Maybe they can voice their opinions on marketing campaigns or help you to develop your brand manifesto.
Which concerns will you need to overcome? Just as stakeholders have the power to accelerate your plan for success, they can also stop it in its tracks. Being prepared to address their concerns and manage them quickly could keep your company moving on the right track.
Step 3: Communicate crucial information consistently
When it comes to effective stakeholder communications, consistency and focus are key. The more useful information you can provide about what your company can do and where it’s headed, the easier it will be to make your stakeholders feel like they took the right step when they invested in you. Think about the kind of information each stakeholder wants to get. An investor might want to know where you’re using their resources, while an employee wants to know if they will still have a job 2 years down the line. Remember to:
Structure personalised presentations: Separate your user personas according to what each stakeholder needs from you, then address their most pressing issues first. Start with the “why” of what you’re doing, then move into the “how” and the “what”.
Include timelines: Let your stakeholders know how long it’s going to take for significant changes to come into effect. This will help to prevent any nasty surprises and could also mean that you end up with more support to take your company from point A to point B. Discussions with timelines in mind will also prompt conversations that allow you to dig deeper into the specifics of your goals.
Keep it simple: When announcing new things to your stakeholders, it’s best to focus on one important issue at once. Make sure you have plenty of time to gather important feedback and insights before you move onto a new issue. This will avoid solutions to problems being rushed or, worse still, ignored.
Step 4: Make the most of visuals
Whoever said that stakeholder communications had to be all boring blocks of text and exhausting reports? A brand communication strategy should represent the unique components of your company, and what makes you different. That means that if you have a laid-back and playful personality, your reports should show this too. While you’ll still need to make sure that you get the right information across no matter which communication method you choose, remember that you can be creative.
One particularly good way to show your brand identity, while conveying useful data, is to make the most of visuals. With the help of your stakeholder communications agency, you can translate overwhelming information into graphs, charts, and presentations more likely to stick in the minds of your stakeholders for longer. Try to:
Use words sparingly: In stakeholder communication strategies, bigger isn’t necessarily better. No-one wants to waste their time browsing through a 40-page report just so they can get to the good stuff. Use your words sparingly, and make sure that whatever you do write is easy to read and understand.
Have fun with colour: Colour is an important component of any branding strategy. When it comes to the communication needs of your internal and external stakeholders, different shades can help you to organise your information into different segments and affect reader emotion.
Use plenty of graphs and charts: If you can demonstrate information more easily in a chart than in a page of text – do it! Your stakeholders will thank you for saving them time, and your business will look more professional too.
Tips for more effective stakeholder communications
Finding the right stakeholder communication methods for your company can be complicated. Everyone is different, which means that the strategy that works for your employees might not work for your investors, and vice versa. The best thing you can do is test different solutions and find out what works for you. A stakeholder communication services provider will be able to guide you through best practices and analytical support, but in the meantime, keep these tips in mind.
1. Relationships are everything
Great stakeholder communications are all about building relationships. Just as you establish connections with your customers, you’ll need to reach out to your vested prospects too. At the beginning of any change or project, identify your key stakeholders and think about how you’re going to keep them ‘in the loop’.
Try to balance relationship management with goal attainment, and don’t leave anyone out. The last thing you want is to deal with a damaged reputation because you forgot to inform an investor before you changed your logo.
2. Establish trust
Once you’ve figured out who you need to communicate with, make sure you stay accessible.
Engage in lots of frequent and open communication with your stakeholders and give them the opportunity to voice their concerns when necessary.
Even when something goes wrong in your company, or you’re worried that you’re going to be facing a problem soon, make sure that your stakeholders are the first to know. They’ll appreciate your honesty and may help you to get through the issue unscathed. On the other hand, if you hide problems, you could risk losing that all-important investment.
3. One size fits no-one
The stakeholder communication methods you choose are crucial to your success. The way you send messages can range all the way from face-to-face encounters, to newsletter updates. Choose your methodology based on what you know about each group of stakeholders, and what they expect from you.
Remember, if you want your communication to be effective and your brand to be solid, then you can’t just expect the same announcement to work for every group. You need to tailor the information to suit the audience in mind.
4. Get feedback where you can
Finally, remember that one of the easiest ways to develop any strategy in your business is to track its success and respond to feedback. The ultimate test of your stakeholder communication process is getting reviews from the stakeholders themselves. Conduct research with anyone who might be relevant to your company to determine how messages are best received, and where you might need to work on your communication efforts.
Is your stakeholder communications process fit for purpose?
Like many things in the branding world, finding the right stakeholder communication plan for your organisation is something that will take a lot of time, and focus. Not only is learning how to engage stakeholders complex enough, but the trends for communication are constantly changing. That means that while a quick meeting or newsletter might work, for now, it may not be enough three months in the future.
Regardless of how complicated and frustrating you consider stakeholder management to be – it’s a crucial part of keeping your brand healthy. The influence of stakeholders in any brand’s development can be immense. If you don’t engage these people properly from day one, then you lose the pillars that may have been holding your organisation aloft.
Make sure you have a plan of action to keep yourself on the good side of anyone with a vested interest in your business and remember, there’s help out there if you struggle. An experienced stakeholder communications agency can give you the state-of-the-art support you need to connect with even the most complex characters.
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