Guest post: Stefany Wilson on strategic planning (part 2 of 2)

Today’s post is the second from guest blogger Stefany Wilson (@stefanyw), director of communications for the Georgia Tech College of Computing (@gtcomputing on Twitter) and author of BOOM! the blog. Below, Stefany continues her discussion of the importance of strategic planning for communications. Before you dig in here, however, you may want to read part one of Stefany’s post.

* * * * *

The Heart of the Plan

Numbers 4-7 of the contents suggested in my previous post form the centerpiece of your plan. This contains what you’re going to do, who you’re targeting, with what messages and by which means (and the cost). Your key messages should be arranged per audience and I like setting these up as a message matrix that includes the desired action from each group.

Audiences for an academic institution are numerous. It’s almost unfair how few resources we get to communicate with more kinds of people than anyone else even has to think about. Mine include: faculty, staff, current undergrad and grad students, campus VIPs, advisory board, government relations officers, prospective undergraduates, prospective graduates, parents, alumni, corporate partners, donors, board of regents, peer institutions, local, state and federal officials, funding agencies. Even among these you could segment until the cows come home (diversity goals, anyone?).

Since everyone finds themselves arguing over what a goal is versus an objective (strats and tactics, too), here’s a rule of thumb:

  1. Goal – long term, generally broad, not immediately measurable.
  2. Objective – something specific and measurable at the end of the year. Your evaluation methods will address these.
  3. Strategies – The means by which you will meet the objectives.
  4. Tactics – the tasks that implement the strategies.

It all sounds so easy, but it is really quite hard and takes some finesse to state these in a way you can evaluate later. In fact I’ve never had such a hard time getting specific with objectives as I’ve had in academia. Academics are people who like to think big and broad, but our job is to focus, and stay focused if we want to do better than just make noise. Here is a sample set of a goal, objectives, strategies and tactics from our plan:


Assert greater influence on state and federal education initiatives, science & technology policy creation and decision-making (jargon-free: become a bigger player in government relations)


Increase the number of congressional (and other) testimonials, requests for expertise and study appointments for sci-tech by raising the profile of Computing faculty among state and federal officials, elected reps, the Board of Regents, Georgia Research Alliance, and members of the Metro Chamber of Commerce.


Initiate relationship with GT government relations team

  • TACTIC: Set up regular meet and greets with key faculty across the college who have expressed interest in participating in government relations activities
  • TACTIC: Share strategic plans and new developments as they arise
  • TACTIC: Share major news about funding agency awards with them when they happen


Position computing faculty as an expert resource on relevant science and technology topics.

  • TACTIC: Identify policy experts and spokespeople for the college
  • TACTIC: Develop one page briefs to the team on ‘hot’ research areas and topics

Evaluation – Why You’re Worth It

This is where most people seem to go wrong if the number of invitations I’ve received to measurement conferences is any indicator. The first thing to remember is to measure outcomes, not output. The second thing to remember is that you have to have data. If it’s your first foray into something you might not have much, but you need to be tracking the things you do in an at-a-glance dashboard (or scorecard) format. Here is a pretty good model (PDF) of what I mean.

In my above example of a government relations communications goal, I could evaluate my success by counting the number of spokespeople I rounded up or the number of briefs I wrote, but none of it really matters if we didn’t receive any invitations to testify to Congress or consult on policy. What matters about your output is weighing if the amount of it was a worthwhile investment for the outcome, and that metric is strictly up to you and your organization and is best addressed in the objective.

But that’s a rather simple evaluation example. More sophisticated ones include drawing correlations in Excel between, say, your number of media hits for the year and increases in enrollment or research funding or rankings change (don’t be intimidated – it’s so easy to do). This is a good year over year metric and one we began to employ when we implemented a media relations program in pursuit of reputation improvement.

TruthyPR is a blog that discusses a lot of case studies about measuring non-profit communications initiatives. You should also use web analytics to evaluate your web strategies. There are tons of articles about doing this so I won’t go into it here, but my personal favorite is a blog called Occam’s Razor. Of course, the maven of PR measurement is KD Paine. She is a regular on the higher ed communications speaker circuit and writes a suggestion-packed blog, which I recommend adding to your RSS feed.

The End

If you’ve made it this far in the post, you must really be a planning dork (like me) or you’re hungry for information from a broader perspective of communications. Perhaps you’re starting out in a leadership role or just need a basic outline of how to do develop coherent plan in an often cacophonous environment. Whatever the case, I learned all of this the hard way and am happy to answer questions, share ideas and resources, or just commiserate. You can reach me at stefany at cc dot gatech dot edu.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

One thought on “Guest post: Stefany Wilson on strategic planning (part 2 of 2)”

  1. Great follow-on post, Stephany. One point that particularly struck me was: “The first thing to remember is to measure outcomes, not output.” In a world of finite resources and seemingly infinite distractions, this appears to be a critical distinction.

    On this point, we’ve found it valuable to explicitly subject all our objectives (not goals, but objectives :-)) to what we call the SMAT Test (are they: 1) Specific, 2) Measurable, 3) Attainable, and 4) Time-bound?). I think there may have been an R-Word in there at one point (thus making them “SMART” objectives), but that fell by the wayside.

    At any rate, thank you for the thoughts; hope this is a useful addition.

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