Getting your ducks in a row

How you format and where you place your communication is critical to your success.

This means reaching and maintaining some level of creativity has to be part of your strategy. 

Even though development cooperation doesn't generate news in a narrow sense, the content produced still faces tough competition for attention. Not only in the media, it could be in the email inbox, where there are many emails to be opened. The communication has to stand out, be shareable, quotable, and likable. 

Sometimes I hear from projects that they don't believe in making their communication attractive because they had a very special target group comprising mainly scientists, or because their content was just not sexy. Everyone has a reason to claim they are different and try to get out of this. As understandable as this may be, it is no excuse to not face the competition for attention. It's simply there, and if you want impact, you need to face it. And remember there is no target group where the individuals were not drawn to attractiveness.

To ensure your messages get where you want them to get, not everything has to be short and snappy, or sexy. You'll need to see what works for your target group - not only for you, remember!

So it's important to think about the resources you'll need to carry out your strategy beforehand. And don't forget to think about how you will ensure a good level of creativity. It's important and difficult to maintain throughout.

Here's a tip: Humor is a great way to stick out and be remembered, especially in development cooperation which hardly ever uses humor in its communication.

When you plan messages, you'll begin with thinking about the format that makes the most sense for each message. Let's say, you want to communicate an update on how a political situation in a country has forced your client to change the approach of the project. This can be complex, politically sensitive information, and a written form may not be ideal for this type of communication. You may decide in this case that a video statement from your project lead or someone from head office be better.

Resource planning is about thinking about what you'll need to make that video happen. For example, does your head office person usually read from a script? In that case, who can write a proper script? Someone on the team or will you need a consultant? How about how the video will be recorded? Will you need a teleprompter? Is an online recording enough, or do you need to hire a professional video crew? How will the video be edited once it's shot? Do you need to find a freelance editor, or do you have one on retainer? All of these details can make the difference between actually making that video happen when the time comes, and falling short of getting to the final product. 

Resource planning as part of your communication strategy also includes thinking about project partners, service providers and tools. In the same way you thought about resource planning when it comes to the format of the communication, you will have to do the same in terms of distributing that information.

Where do your messages need to go to get the most attention? Do you have the experts and tools in place to distribute your communication, or do you need to think about the best way to get these pieces into place first? 


Finally, don't forget that development cooperation is all about partnership.

Involving your partners and using their dissemination channels might not only be a matter of technical effectiveness but a political imperative to achieving your project goals. When it comes to communications objectives within your country of operation, the so-called partners often have better reach to target audiences there than your organization as such does. 

For example, let's say your team plans to announce that the project has received substantial additional funds to cover disaster preparedness measures and you want to discuss with the stakeholders the most efficient use of them. 

As you plan your communication approach for this announcement, you should think about how the beneficiaries of this work can help share your messages with your audience. Thinking about what this means you'll engage these partners early and often, building a strong relationship and integrating your communication strategy, ensuring an even bigger reach and impact of your messages. Clearly, this going to be part of your constant strategy thinking, it makes all the difference whether you are aiming at audiences in the donor country or in the partner country. So you better separate them.


Building resource planning into your communications strategy is not the most exciting assignment but you'll find that it will make all the difference to effectively carry out your strategy when the time comes. Spend the time upfront, and you'll thank yourself when you're in the midst of implementing your strategy. As the brilliant cognitive psychologist Amos Taversky said: "You waste years by not being able to waste hours!" Print it out and hang it in your meeting room before your meeting on communication strategy. :)


From my experience, development cooperation projects run constantly out of time when it comes to implementing communications activity. Besides hurried planning, this is due to their lack of experienced communications professionals on board in the first place. Or projects missing the opportunity to hire senior consultants early on to help them with conceptualizing and planning activities. 

This is probably the most serious omission in communications work by development projects. Planning communications activity without really knowing what needs to be done and not consulting with someone who does.

The good thing about it? - You can very easily avoid it!