At AHA, we’ve recently been working on quite a few stakeholder communications projects. We really like this kind of work because you get to work with great organizations that understand the value of regular, consistent and useful communication to their stakeholder groups, and it makes a positive impact when done well.
I think that it can be easy to forget or overlook some stakeholders, especially during a time of change, transition, strategic or other long-term planning, or during an issue. Depending on what you are dealing with, the focus might be media or government relations or reporting to the board of directors or governors – the seemingly “higher priority” groups. In reality, in our experience (and we have done a great deal of work in this area), one group can’t be seen as a higher priority than another – especially in this day and age of social media.
Messaging needs to be consistent throughout your communications, no matter what stakeholder you are engaging in dialogue or updating. What you tell journalists, board members, employees and members of the public must be uniform in the messaging. Don’t share more information with one group than you want the others to know. It will get leaked and it will create resentment and mistrust.
Communication with stakeholders has to be regular and it should be as often as resources will allow (even if you need to bring in help). It may seem clear to you or others who are more involved in the situation, but for those who are receiving the updates, details or other news – especially if it deals with change (even potential change) or an issue – it takes longer to absorb the information.
Providing regular communication might seem repetitious to you, but for the person who is getting the information, they need time to take it in, process it, and put it in context of what it means to them. It is better to have your stakeholder groups complain about getting too much information (and they will) than not enough. Even if you have people complaining that they are receiving too much info, you will always have those who will say they haven’t heard enough or anything at all. It’s just how it works when you are dealing with serious subject matter.
There is, of course, a great deal more to planning and implementing a successful stakeholder communications program. However, you have to start with a clear commitment to communicate with all stakeholders, consistently and on a regular basis.