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What “Strategic Communications” Means Today, According to You: Insights from ComNet17

How do mission-driven organizations approach strategic communications? Atlantic Media Strategies and The Communications Network invited select attendees of ComNet17 to participate in a discussion about how communicators at foundations and nonprofits define strategic communications. Our participants emphasized the value of clear internal communications to increase employee engagement and buy-in to an organization’s mission. But foundations’ and nonprofits’ definitions are still influenced by external engagement.

Communicators are encouraged to use the summary and discussion questions below to guide internal conversations about defining strategic communications. Or join us in further discussion of these issues in the Members Community.

Here are three key takeaways from our ComNet17 discussion.


Strategic communications is, more often than not, operating from a reactive posture. Roundtable participants would prefer to be in a more proactive, strategic role and anchored by a lasting vision. They are far more likely, however, to find themselves responding to internal requests or external events.

Colleagues’ Definitions of their Role

There is often a disconnect between how communicators define and execute their responsibilities and how their colleagues understand their role. From “[having] a lot of webinars” to creating microsites to making content “pretty” or “viral,” members of other teams have more tactical expectations for their communications colleagues.

Today’s Media Ecosystem

There are both benefits and challenges within today’s media ecosystem.

  • Identifiable Audiences. Data from digital channels has made it easier for communicators to learn about their audiences.
  • New Efforts Required. Organizations find themselves not just trying to reach key audiences but also thinking of themselves as being in the “community-building business.”
  • Noisiness. Content continues to be on the rise. As one participant said, “How do you insert your voice in a way that is not adding to the noise … all the while keeping eyes on your mission?”
  • Content Creation and Curation. In a noisy media ecosystem, organizations are now required to “think like a publisher or broadcaster.”
  • Many, Many Channels. Communications can be distributed across diverse channels. Roundtable participants have to determine how and where their audiences want to hear from them. At the same time, they need to navigate internal expectations about the appropriate mix and number of social channels for their own organization’s communications. Specifically, some describe receiving recommendations to have a presence on a social channel because “everyone else is doing it.”

Outstanding Questions

The roundtable discussion raised new questions about the strategic communications function within an organization, including:

  • How can organizations move toward a less reactive communications posture?
  • How do you prioritize your time and energy across digital channels, audiences, campaigns?
  • How can communicators manage colleagues’ misperceptions and expectations?
  • How do you ensure that you are creating content with a specific purpose and value for audiences, rather than creating it for the sake of creating it?

For questions, feedback, or to request a full copy of the report, contact Jason Tomassini at


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