Saturday, 9 June 2012

Components of A Communications Strategy - The "What"























In  this insightful post, I established a correlation between a good communications strategy and (in broad terms), organisational effectiveness. The link, albeit advantageous, was crucial for two reasons. Firstly, there was empirical proof in organisational behavioural science to support the premise that various elements of communications could impact the attitudes and behaviours of employees. Secondly, I determined that a communications strategy also had practical implications for sustaining a healthy corporate image.




A definition for a communications strategy was also coined. I decided that a communications strategy could loosely be defined as a standardised system of information flow disseminated to relevant stakeholders.




In order for a good communications strategy to be effective and relevant in 'Corporateville' and beyond, it is necessary that it comprises six components:




1) The "What".
2) The "Why".
3) The "Who".
4) The "How".
5) The "When/How long".
6) The "Crisis-Mode Plan".




I shall examine each component in detail to ascertain its importance in the overall communications strategy. Let’s begin our analysis with the “What”.





1) The "What"


This refers to the "desired good" and may often be used interchangeably with 'project' or 'initiative'. It is usually the key plan an organisation seeks to highlight throughout the year and may vary each year depending on the organisation's priorities. (Please note that 'organisation' covers any organised entity i.e. companies, institutions, associations, NGOs, etc.).


As easy as it may seem to decide on the "desired good" on which to focus for a stated period, some organisations struggle with the following:




A) Choosing the "desired good" to benefit the organisation.

B) Choosing the "desired good" to benefit  external stakeholders.



Before discussing the options mentioned above, let us take an overview of the telecommunications sector in a country with huge potential - Nigeria.






An overview of the telecommunications sector



Since the return to democracy in recent times, (after decades of military rule),  beginning with the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, (May 29, 1999 - May 29, 2007), the telecommunications sector in Nigeria has  witnessed a rapid development. The deregulation of the mobile phone market led to the introduction of network providers for the Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications. NIgeria's  telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), introduced the Unified Licencing Regime in 2001, at the heels of the expiration of the exclusivity period of the main GSM network providers. This paved the way for the provision of fixed and mobile telephony capabilities, Internet access, as well as many other communications services.




However, it was the 'explosion' of new technology in 2003 which ushered in the following 'firsts', that revolutionised the industry, bringing along the following:


- Per second billing.
- Roll out of 2.5 G network in Nigeria.
- 3G capabilities.
- GPRS Internet access.
- MMS.
- Blackberry solutions.
- International prepaid roaming services.
- Voice SMS.
- Mobile banking services.




Furthermore, the country's teeming population, (estimated at 158.3 million in 2010 by the Trading Economies website), translates to a huge subscriber base. Mobile penetration in Nigeria has also seen a fast growth. In fact, in April 2011, the number of mobile phone users crossed the 90 millionth mark*. Below is a table listing the top 20 rankings for mobile phone usage, as provided by the Wikipedia website, showing Nigeria in tenth position. (For the complete list, please view the Wikipedia website). The country's industry statistics and subscriber data, which were supplied by the NCC on April 18, 2011, were based on a (rather conservative) population estimate of 140 million.





List of countries by mobile phones in use





Rank
Country or Region
Number of mobile phones
Population
% of population
Last updated date
Over 5.6 billion
7,012,000,000
79.86
 
2011



1
    
1,020,000,000
1,341,000,000
75.32
March 2012



2


     
India
919,170,000
1,210,193,422
76.00
March 2012
3
327,577,529
    
310,866,000
103.9
June  2011
4



Brazil
250,800,000
192,379,287
130.36
April 2012
5
250,100,000
237,556,363
105.28
May 2009
6
224,260,000
142,905,200
154.5
July 2011
7
121,246,700
127,628,095
95.1
June 2011
8
114,610,000
178,854,781
66.5
January  2012
9
 107,000,000
 81,882,342
130.1
2009
10
 90,583,306
 140,000,000
64.7
February 2011
11
88,797,186
112,322,757
79.8
September 2010
12
88,580,000
60,090,400
147.4
Dec. 2008
13
86,550,000

148,090,000
58.5
April  2012
14
86,000,000
94,013,200
91.5
October  2011
  
15
   
United
Kingdom
 75,750,000
 61,612,300
122.9 December 2008
16
72,300,000
90,549,390
79
October  2010
17
71,460,000
78,300,000
91.3
February 2011
18
66,000,000
71,517,100
92.2
2009
19
58,730,000
65,073,842
90.2
Dec. 2008
20
69,000,000
65,001,021
105
2010





Improved technology in the industry also paved the way for greater opportunities vis-à-vis collaborations in the private sector. An example of  this could be a partnership between a Nigerian mobile operator and a foreign firm.

 


Choosing the "desired good" to benefit the organisation



Against this backdrop of an empowered sector, let us assume  that  an organisation, Firm T, a multinational mobile operator in the telecommunications sector in Nigeria, is in a joint partnership with a foreign firm based in the United Kingdom, with the latter owning a 60% equity stake. Firm T's local branch is situated in Lagos and its headquarters, London.




It becomes difficult to 'zero in' on the initiative which would benefit the organisation if both partners have different priorities. Moreover, if Firm T's organisational structure is complex or if it has multiple decision makers, getting a consensus could become problematic. The issue is exacerbated if organisational cultures of both partners are grossly different.



For example, the Nigerian partner, constantly aware of changing patterns in the sector and aware of competitors' projects, may suggest that the company, in order to optimise service, should focus on greater monitoring of different parameters impacting 'dropped calls'. Its technical team lists potential causes as:




-  Lack of radio coverage (either in the downlink or the uplink sections);

-  Radio interference between different subscribers;

-  Imperfections in the functioning of the network, (such as failed handover or cell-reselection attempts);

-  Overload of the different elements of the network such as cells etc.**



Measures proposed to combat the problem  include:  improving radio coverage, expanding the capacity of the network and optimising the performance of its elements**. Although the Nigerian partner acknowledges that these solutions may require considerable effort and significant investments, it is believed that focussing on significantly reducing the rate of 'dropped calls' to an almost-negligible state would position Firm T as an industry pioneer in that aspect.




The foreign partner however, may differ in its views and may prefer, as the "desired good" to adopt,  the re-training and certification of technical staff in Nigeria, in alignment with its regional strategy of the uniformity of technical expertise.



Without an effective 'buy-in' from its Nigerian partner, problems would ensue. Despite the fact that the foreign partner might be able to use its majority stake to ensure that its "desired good", (the re-skilling of technical staff in Nigeria), is adopted, there may be disinterest and a lack of commitment from the local crew, which could hamper the success of the initiative. At the very least, this development may result in negative attitudinal tendencies in the Nigerian managers who may feel that their viewpoints are neither respected nor given sufficient consideration. Should the Nigerian partner believe that it is habitually being overruled in decisions impacting its local operations, in the long term the relationship between the two parties could erode to such an extent that dissolution of the partnership could become a reality.






Choosing the "desired good" to benefit external stakeholders



It is interesting to note that it may actually be easier for both partners in Firm T to decide on the "desired good" to adopt which would benefit external stakeholders. This is because this decision is closely linked to its corporate social responsibility which generally is championed by local partners.



It makes more sense for the Nigerian partner to identify the deserving initiative and to drive it towards completion. This would be due to its local knowledge, its branding expertise and experience in reputation management. The Nigerian partner's pulse on expectations, (implied or stated), of external stakeholders such as subscribers, the community, media, governmental parastatals etc. would be helpful in persuading its foreign partners about the benefits, for example, of offering full university scholarships to students passionate about science and technology.




The foreign partner, without much ado, obtains approval from  its Board after convincing it that the "desired good" would be instrumental in boosting Firm T's external reputation.  







Conclusion



It becomes evident that the "desired good" is the foundation of a good communications strategy. Without the "What" component, the communications strategy lacks depth.




One should note that the "What" does not necessarily need to be a project. It could be a message, an idea or a new way of doing things. Examples might be:




-  Requesting for feedback about internal mentorships;

-  Seeking new ideas for improving morale in the organisation in the wake of  operational losses;

-  Encouraging an 'open door' policy in specific departments.





The organisation needs to be certain of the "desired good" to convey before seeking to achieve it. Once it has been identified and unanimously chosen, the "Why" becomes the next logical step on which to proceed.









--------------------------

* Nigeria Communications Commission

**Based on suggestions/recommendations from engineers working in mobile operators in Nigeria


N.B - Image courtesy of  freedigitalphotos.net