Managing external communications

Communications strategy

The goals of any organisation can only be pursued in the context of a complex series of relationships with external bodies.

To communicate effectively with the customers, various interest groups and the community at large, organisations should have an integrated communications strategy. Many companies seek to achieve this by working to a stakeholder model. One major bank, for example, produces an annual communications plan to take account of relationships with:

  • customers
  • regulatory bodies
  • political parties
  • suppliers
  • media
  • the community
  • education and training establishments
  • trade federations and other banking institutions

Targets are set in respect of each group, with a regular assessment of goals followed by implementation of appropriate actions.


Just as feedback is a crucial part of the internal communication process, it is a vital issue in relation to external communications. Businesses must actively seek feedback in order to keep appraised of feelings, intentions and actions of the groups of stakeholders described above. For example, regular meetings with suppliers are essential.

Some retail groups enhance the two-way communication process by using consumer panels to gauge responses to new and existing product lines.

Service quality initiatives are becoming a regular feature of business strategy. It is not possible for all businesses to compete on price alone, so quality is an essential differentiator. Service quality can only be assessed by gathering feedback from the market place. Various methods have been used to quantify service quality, including the SERVQUAL model.

Getting the message right

Most businesses are now operating in a 'goldfish bowl' where all actions are transparent. Organisations must ensure that the messages they convey are unambiguous. Quoted companies in particular can be especially vulnerable to market sentiment, so the concept of primacy (getting it right first time) is absolutely crucial.

Technology ensures that messages travel fast. Businesses have to accept that 'spin doctoring' is now a permanent feature of the commercial environment. Equally important is the necessity to ensure that messages contain substance rather than 'hype'. One company recently responded to a competitor initiative with a statement by the chief executive that they were not 'over excited' by the development. This was interpreted by the media as complacency on the part of his company and its share price fell alarmingly as a result.

Speed of response

In a challenging competitive environment, organisations have to respond quickly. Sometimes genuine harm can be done by not responding at all or responding inadequately to developments in the market place.

Using the technology available

Technology can 'score' for the organisation if used properly. All businesses have to use the right method for the message, so the full range of media have to be considered. For example, a press release on a new product or initiative has much less impact if the web site is not updated. Several exciting new products and services have been launched by using innovative technology such as virtual reality presentations. Gearing the communication medium to the recipient

There is no point in using high technology solutions if the recipient of the message is unlikely to respond to these. The medium chosen should reflect the preferences of the receiver to achieve maximum impact.


Communication is often regarded as a common sense process, yet it is a lack of attention to the fundamentals of communication that can often damage a company.

Irrespective of the technology available and its impact, those responsible for communications should remain aware of the basic reality that 'Communication is the art of being understood'.