July 1, 2013
Communications and Strategic Planning
Making Communications More Meaningful – Despite the fact that branding is much more than just communications, it is still important to communicate in ways that people can understand. Publicity programs, relationship-development efforts, public-outreach programs, and advertising are all forms of communications. Water and wastewater utilities have a tendency to talk about technologies, activities, and events without reminding the audience how these things relate to the value provided to the community. Making communications more meaningful is an important outcome of good branding. The principal rule is to never discuss an activity, decision, investment, technology, process, or milestone without connecting it to motivations. The motivation communicates value, and these motivations are often one or more elements of the brand. This is illustrated in the following examples:
“The North Fork Reservoir project plan has been approved by the City Council, which is a critical milestone in improving water reliability and drought resiliency in the region. This project will allow our region to weather multi-year droughts with little or no cutback in service.”
“Completion of the water-quality laboratory will allow us to meet our goal to improve water quality and increase our knowledge of water-quality issues.”
This may seem like Communications 101, but these examples make clear the motivations of the utility and the value created by the action or investment. Being able to “weather a multi-year drought with little or no cutback in service” is based on the utility’s reliability promise. It is also an unambiguous statement of value. Conflict is often rooted in misunderstandings about the reasons behind a decision or proposal. Utility managers should not make policy makers, customers, and influential community members guess at the utility’s motivations. Connecting decisions and activities to the commitments articulated in the brand is not dumbing things down. On the contrary, it makes things clear and reduces the likelihood of both confusion and conflict.
Communications and Strategic Planning – It turns out that the concept of meaningful communications is the foundation for a producing a good strategic plan. It is essential for the strategic plan to connect proposed actions and investments with the fundamental promises (the brand) of the organization, and other important standards driving investment decisions and influencing priorities. These other standards are major regulations like the Safe Drinking Water Act, or might be internally generated ethics like improving water quality or increasing knowledge about water-quality issues (as highlighted in the example above). So, the strategic-planning process needs to be as much about identifying and clarifying standards as it is listing proposed actions. This is not a trivial exercise, but it is well worth the effort. Connecting activities and investments with the pertinent brand promises and other motivations demonstrates integrity. It also provides the meaningful transparency necessary to build trust and make compelling arguments for investment.
Have a Fun-Filled 4th of July!