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Strategic External Communication: Highlights from our May Skills Lab

Driving positive change across the organization requires more than just a sound communication plan. To earn the trust and improve collaboration among stakeholders, organizations must effectively communicate their strategy and efforts through fostering compelling and purposeful dialogues. To help organizations strengthen stakeholder engagement through an effective external communication plan, the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) held a Skills Lab on Strategic External Communication last May 10 to 11, 2021. Forty-nine delegates from the health, security and development sectors gathered in the two-day development program.

The new Skills Lab course was facilitated by Ms. Julienne Joven, co-founder of Fennel, a strategic communications and design agency that specializes in working with “do-gooder” organizations, their partners, and communities.

Audience and brand persona

In creating an external communication plan, Ms. Joven said that organizations must learn to identify what forms of communication are most applicable for every stakeholder. A good external communication plan, she said, introduces an organization to the public, shapes their perception, and helps them reach new audiences. 

“If we focus on operation only without understanding where the people are coming from then our programs will not be as fruitful,” she said.

To better understand and connect with your audience, Ms. Joven highlighted the importance of developing an online audience and brand personal persona. 

“Audience persona is essentially a caricature of [your audience]. It helps you understand who you are talking to. Your online brand persona helps you understand who you are when speaking to these people. [It] helps you connect better with your audience,” she said.

To help the delegates identify their online persona, she then shared a set of brand archetypes that reflect different a person or an organization’s values and visions. While an organization can have more than one persona, Ms. Joven suggests calling your organization’s identity, culture, and values under one concrete and main persona instead. 

“If you choose a lot of brand persona, it will confuse the team of what to portray. Your brand persona can be done through choosing a celebrity that matches the way your organization wants to talk,” she said. 

Getting down to work

The delegates were then grouped for a workshop where they were tasked to develop an external communications plan that would encourage vaccination among the elderly. To accomplish this, the delegates had to identify their main audience, desired state, objectives, brand persona, and key messages. 

During the workshop, Mr. Samuel Acuña of the Land Bank of the Philippines asked how internal communication teams can manage biases in terms of reflecting the true feelings and the true inclinations of their target. 

“Sometimes, it’s not that they don’t really question the content, but the group pushing for the content,” Ms. Joven said in response. “What’s important is sitting down with your group and understanding and dig deep [into] why these biases exist.”

To cap off the first day of the lecture, the Fennel team addressed questions from the delegates in the quick Open Forum and gave sound insights on social media trends, graphic designing, and the use of metrics and success indicators.

Integrating your internal and external comms

On the last day of the Skills Lab, Ms. Joven discussed the difference between an external and internal communication plan and how integrating the two improve stakeholder relationships. An external communication plan, she said, makes your products or services known and enables an organization to reach new customers, while an internal communications plan helps align different departments within the organization, improves human resources practices, and can be a useful tool for problem-solving.

“There are instances that everyone is so busy. We keep our external separate. It’s very important that these two are communicating constantly. It’s important that everyone is part of the system [and] part of the plan,” she said. 

Integrating both communication plans builds trust among employees and customers, creates more engaging content and a sense of teamwork, and builds a strong community around a brand. To give an example, Ms. Joven shared how employees of a popular eCommerce platform became brand ambassadors as they took photos of their weekly care kits from the management. 

“Who else will promote the organization but the people inside the team? We are looking at the everyday member[s] of the organization, working day in and day out. There is a way for us to elevate these stories if we integrate these two [external and internal],” she said.

Ms. Joven capped off her presentation by reminding the delegates of the role of empathy and maintaining a healthy relationship with stakeholders in developing any communication plan.

“The very important thing in creating any kind of communication is empathy. It really is imperative to take a step back and see kung ano nga ba talaga ‘yung pinagdadaanan ng ating stakeholders,” she said.

“As champions of good governance, it is really important to build good relationships with our stakeholders, and what better way to do that than to create an impactful communications campaign.”

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