Executing communications strategy: 4 reasons it fails (Part 1)

Last time, we considered that it's hard to execute a communications strategy. This time, we'll examine 4 detailed reasons that this execution fails. So, why is communications execution so difficult? 1. To start with, the execution is usually around 90% of the overall effort required. Strategy just doesn't take as long. (Of course, there are exceptions—projects where the strategy is somehow over 50%—but I regard these as not just abnormal but as an abomination.) This means that the execution will require many more people, more skills, more planning, more direction, and more organization. The complexity of the work increases geometrically with additional resources and work streams. So, the execution part of the work can quickly become a great deal of inter-related parallel work, especially compared to the relative simplicity and linearly of the strategy. Thus, personnel that functioned perfectly well during the strategic phase might become overwhelmed and ineffective during execution. 2. Moreover, execution takes much more time (duration). Hopefully, the strategy gives good direction. But, over this extended time, there is a great deal of opportunity to forget the strategy entirely. This happens most commonly when an execution is based on a previous execution, rather than on the original strategy. In the diagram below, you can see how this should work.strat exec diagram-best practice.png
There is always some variation in the execution. But, if you return to the strategic path before the next execution, you will come close to the planned result. If, on the other hand, you base the execution on the previous execution, this will happen.strat exec diagram-common practice.png
Here, the result is far from what is desired and planned. The most common way this happens is that a new piece uses a previous piece for brand and communications guidelines. The natural variation in execution, then, means that the execution gradually "wanders" from the strategic path. The more time elapses, or the more pieces executed, the wider the strategy-reality gap widens. The solution is to ensure that the project personnel in the execution phase are 1) well-versed in the strategy, 2) believe in the strategy, and 3) capable of managing the execution at the level required. To be sure, it's often very difficult to find personnel like this. The strategic phase seems easier to staff, because the work product is documentation. In reality, the work is much harder, but almost no one is capable of judging whether a strategy is good. In the execution phase, deadlines are met or not, quality is high or not. It's very easy for everyone to evaluate the success of the project leader. Next time, we'll look at 2 more reasons why executions fail.