What is multi-channel, layered stakeholder engagement and why is it important, especially in Covid-19 recovery times?
Joining Jambo today for this Q&A blog is Lesley Dickson from CC Goodwin Consulting (CCG). For Lesley’s and the CCG team’s bios, please visit the CC Goodwin Consulting website.
Today, we’re talking with Lesley about the importance of multi-channel and layered stakeholder engagement.
Q: Lesley, please tell me about yourself and your role with CC Goodwin Consulting?
At CC Goodwin Consulting, I’m Practice Lead, Communications, which means I oversee and manage our firm’s communications-related projects (e.g., PR/public affairs, government relations, media relations, etc.).
While I’ve officially been with CCG for one year, I’ve worked with the team, especially Cynthia Goodwin, our CEO & Chief Consultant, for over 15 years at a variety of organizations. So, joining CC Goodwin Consulting was kind of like coming back home!
With over 17 years of experience in communications, marketing and brand strategy, I’ve worked in a broad range of sectors from energy to economic development, tourism, aviation, domestic beer and more.
Q: For people who are brand new to this: what is multi-layered stakeholder engagement?
It’s meeting your stakeholders where they are at and communicating with them in an audience-centric way.
Rather than lead with what your organization needs, lead with what your stakeholders need. What do they need from you to understand the situation and weigh in?
It’s important to understand that stakeholders consume information in different ways, and they need to feel safe to share their perspectives.
Some folks are more introverted and might not want to share input verbally in a group setting, and others may want to do the opposite. So, you need to be mindful of the stakeholders themselves; you must know them well and think about their perspectives, preferences and backgrounds.
Also, keep in mind the situational context. What’s going on in their world? Are they able to pay attention to this right now? Is there something else that’s distracting or competing for their attention?
Take the post-secondary education community, for example. Exam periods typically consume their focus, so it's harder to get information in front of them and receive their feedback during that time.
“Multi-channel” refers to multiple ways to reach your audience, depending on their needs, preferences, behaviours and situational context [e.g., targeted email outreach, social media engagement, e-newsletters, stakeholder presentations and events (including information sessions, open houses, town halls) among others].
Layered stakeholder engagement
“Layered” refers to the timing at which you deploy your communications via these channels. Some channels will overlap by being in-market at the same time to achieve awareness, while others will be in-market at specific points of time to meet your initiative’s objectives (such as during a launch or milestone announcement).
Often, a staged and paced approach to implementing your communications activities is best to avoid overwhelming or underserving specific audiences. It’s also important to factor in breathing room for engagement activities—it often takes longer than you may initially anticipate to do it well and respond to stakeholder needs.
Q: Do you have any tips or suggestions for people who are new to this?
1. Research and data: Ground your approach in evidence-based research and sound data. Whether through primary research, secondary research or a combination of both, CCG begins every project with a thorough discovery phase to better understand very specifically what the consultation process must answer and deliver.
2. Consult on the consultation: There is no one-size-fits-all approach to stakeholder engagement, so be open to learning and evolving as you go. I learn new insights all the time! It’s helpful to begin by consulting with stakeholders on how they prefer to be consulted. While this may sound cumbersome, this input can go a long way towards smoothing the process down the road. It’s also helpful to seek partners and ambassadors to ease that pathway. For example, if you’re not closely connected to a particular stakeholder group, a partner or ambassador who already has a relationship with that group can help ease this process, too.
3. Know your audience well: Remember each audience has its own unique needs, preferences, and traits. That’s why knowing your target audiences—specifically what you want them to think, feel and do—and prioritizing them according to your strategy are both critical to choosing the right channels and layered approach.
4. Combine mass and targeted channels: For efficiency, ensure your engagement combines mass communications channels (e.g., e-newsletters) and targeted communications channels (e.g., information sessions for a specific group) to reach and engage with a broad base of audiences, ideally in the digital and in-person spaces where they are already present. You want the channels to reach them where they’re already located, so they don’t have to go out of their way to access your information (Remember: Meet your stakeholders where they are at, in terms of channel and stage in the engagement process).
5. Use mass and targeted channels at the right time: It’s usually helpful to launch initiatives through mass channels (so you can reach the most people possible right out the gate) and use those mass channels to communicate milestones. Then reserve your targeted channels for follow-up communications when there is a specific call to action (sign-ups, applications, event attendance, surveys) or when more detailed discussions are required.
6. Use two-way communication channels: Finally, communications channels should be two-way streets. Always offer a feedback loop so your stakeholders can respond or connect with you and be flexible on your approach. Look at their feedback as essential to shaping and refining that approach and avoid ‘jamming’ a tactic in for the sake of it as it will come across as forced. Most of the time, people won’t be shy to tell you when something isn’t working, so it’s important to stay flexible to meet their evolving needs.
Q: What are some of the benefits of utilizing multi-channel, layered stakeholder engagement?
By taking a multi-channel, layered approach, you’ll avoid putting all your eggs into one basket. Having multiple touchpoints at different times reduces the risk of your message being misunderstood (or missed altogether) by your target audiences. It increases your audiences’ ability to consume and understand the messaging and call to action by seeing it in a manner that has been optimized for them. This approach also leads to producing higher quality consultation outputs—richer feedback as well as stronger and more predictable outcomes.
Q: Why is it especially important as some regions move towards a COVID-19 recovery time?
Over the past year and a half, the pandemic accelerated the day-to-day adoption of virtual-based communications channels, growing how we can reach and engage stakeholders and increasing the flexibility with which they can participate. For instance, virtual-only events quickly became the norm, and virtual collaboration tools evolved along with it.
Even as recovery phases across Canada reduce restrictions and allow for more in-person meeting capacity and opportunities, I think we'll continue to see a hybrid approach to engagement to maximize participation.
Q: How can CC Goodwin Consulting help people on this journey? What do you and your team offer?
We’re happy to help!
We’re a boutique, women-led team with deep experience in all facets of strategic communications, marketing and corporate social responsibility, including the development and implementation of complex and varied stakeholder engagement plans. From big picture thinking to managing the small details that matter, we’re committed to providing premium service to our clients—many of whom are deep, long-term relationships across a wide range of sectors.
We are a values-driven firm. Our purpose is: “Do good and be great.” And that’s something that we strive to do every day—it’s our north star that guides us. As a team, we really want to be a catalyst of positive change in our community and, more broadly, in our network.
Our firm also adheres to the ISO 26000 guidelines for social responsibility, and we are taking steps to understand and apply the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #92 (Business and Reconciliation).
If this resonates with you and you’d like help designing strategic solutions, please visit our website and contact our team here.