Strategic communication can mean either communicating a concept, a process, or data that satisfies a long term strategic goal of an organization by allowing facilitation of advanced planning, or communicating over long distances usually using international telecommunications or dedicated global network assets to coordinate actions and activities of operationally significant commercial, non-commercial and military business or combat and logistic subunits. It can also mean the related function within an organization, which handles internal and external communication processes. Strategic communication can also be used for political warfare.
Definition of strategic communication
Strategic Communication refers to policy-making and guidance for consistent information activity within an organization and between organizations. Equivalent business management terms are: integrated (marketing) communication, organizational communication, corporate communication, institutional communication, etc. (see paragraph on 'Commercial Application' below).
In the U.S., Strategic Communication is defined as: Focused United States Government efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of United States Government interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power.
Strategic communication management could be defined as the systematic planning and realization of information flow, communication, media development and image care in a long-term horizon. It conveys deliberate message(s) through the most suitable media to the designated audience(s) at the appropriate time to contribute to and achieve the desired long-term effect. Communication management is process creation. It has to bring three factors into balance: the message(s), the media channel(s) and the audience(s).
An alternative view of Strategic Communication is offered by Steve Tatham of the UK Defence Academy. He argues that whilst it is desirable to bound and coordinate communications together - particularly from governments or the military - it should be regarded in a much more fundamental manner than simply process. The 'informational effect' should be placed at the very epi-centre of command and that all action must be calibrated against that effect - including the evaluation of 2nd and 3rd order effects. This is, he argues, proper Strategic Communication (communication singular - an abstract noun) whilst the actual process of communicating (which include Target Audience Analysis, evaluation of conduits, measurements of effect etc.) - is Strategic Communications (plural).
In the August 2008 paper, DoD Principles of Strategic Communication, Robert T. Hastings, Jr., acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, described strategic communication as "the synchronization of images, actions and words to achieve a desired effect."
Strategic Communication (SC) provides a conceptual umbrella that enables organizations to integrate their disparate messaging efforts. It allows them to create and distribute communications that, while different in style and purpose, have an inner coherence. This consistency can, in some instances, foster an echo chamber that reinforces the organizational message and brand. At minimum, it prevents contradictory, confusing messaging to different groups across all media platforms.
The recently approved NATO Policy on Strategic Communication defines Strategic Communication as "the coordinated and appropriate use of NATO communications activities and capabilities – Public Diplomacy, Military Public Affairs, Information Operations and Psychological Operations, as appropriate – in support of Alliance policies, operations and activities, and in order to advance NATO's aims" (SG(2009)0794). "It is important to underline that Strategic Communication is first and foremost a process that supports and underpins all efforts to achieve the Alliance's objectives; an enabler that guides and informs our decisions, and not an organization in itself. It is for this reason that Strategic Communication considerations should be integrated into the earliest planning phases - communication activities being a consequence of that planning" (MCM-0164-2009).
Strategic Communication is communication aligned with the company's overall strategy, to enhance its strategic positioning.
Concept Development and Experimentation (CD&E)
Strategic Communication is currently subject to multinational CD&E, led by the military, because communication is always an indispensable part of crisis management and compliance strategies. Across the spectrum of missions and broadly covering all levels of involvement in a civil-military, comprehensive approach context, the function of Strategic Communication and its military tool for implementation – Information Operations – have evolved and are still under development, in particular concerning their exact delineation of responsibilities and the integration of non-military and non-coalition actors.
Three major lines of development are acknowledged as state of the art, with practical impact on current crisis management operations and/or multinational interoperability: (1) U.S. national developments, which one can argue have resulted in the most mature concepts for both Strategic Communication and Information Operations so far; (2) NATO concept development, which in the case of Strategic Communication is very much driven by current mission requirements (such as ISAF in Afghanistan), but also has benefitted much from multinational CD&E in the case of Information Operations; and (3) multinational CD&E projects such as the U.S.-led Multinational Experiment (MNE) series and the Multinational Information Operations Experiment (MNIOE), led by Germany.
Intensive discussions involving civil and military practitioners of Strategic Communication and Information Operations - with a view on existing national and NATO approaches to Strategic Communication, and current best practice - have questioned whether a new approach and definition of Strategic Communication really is required. Consequently, a reorientation of CD&E efforts was suggested, focussing now on the theme of "Integrated Communication", which better reflects the shared baseline assessment with a broader scope, including but not limited to Strategic Communication:
- the ineffective top-down approach to communication (mission-specific, strategic-political guidance for information activities; information strategy; corporate vision; shared narrative) and
- the insufficient horizontal and vertical integration of communication (cohesion of a coalition; corporate identity; cultural awareness; communication by words and deeds - the "say-do-gap"; involvement of non-coalition actors - participatory communication).
This change also should prevent false expectations of potential customers of resulting concepts who currently are reluctant to engage in CD&E on the widely implemented subject of Strategic Communication.
- Joint Publication 1-02: "Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms", Washington D.C., 12 April 2001 (as amended through 17 March 2009)
- Bockstette, Carsten (December 2008). "Jihadist Terrorist Use of Strategic Communication Management Techniques". George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies. Retrieved 2009-01-01.[dead link]
- Argenti, Paul A. / Howell, Robert A. / Beck, Karen A.: "The Strategic Communication Imperative", Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) / Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, MIT Sloan Management Review (SMR) Vol. 46, No. 3, Spring 2005, pp.83-89.
- Peter E. Westenkirchner (Bundeswehr Transformation Centre): Framework Concept "Integrated Communication in Multinational Coalition Operations within a Comprehensive Approach" (request copy at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
- nsscp.org, The National Society of Strategic Communications Professionals. 2009.
- Tatham S A Cdr, RN. "'Strategic Communication : A Primer'". UK Defence Academy. December 2008.
- Strategic Communication. Theory, Model and Method
- Report Strategic Communication
- International Telecommunication Union
- Federal Communications Commission
- IEEE Communications Society
- ATIS Telecom Glossary
- Ericsson's Understanding Telecommunications at archive.org (Ericsson removed the book from their site in Sep 2005)
- Communications Engineering Tutorials (at complextoreal.com)
- Strategic Communications: A Primer
-  The British Army : Strategic Communication Written by Cdr Steve Tatham RN, UK Defence Academy
- Strategic Communications Conference - Trade Show / Convention for the Industry
-  Strategic Communication Management (SCM) journal