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Make the most of SWOT analysis for communication projects
By Kim Harrison,
Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com
SWOT analysis is widely used in strategic planning and can be a powerful tool in assessing your relative position. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It is most effective when you have defined the problem or concern that needs to be addressed and ideally have also developed your goal statement or intended end state for the project. In this way it helps to give clarity between where you are and where you want to be.
SWOT analysis is best undertaken by a cross-functional team of 6-8 people who can provide a range of perspectives, especially people from areas relevant to the issue or problem for which you are preparing a communication plan. Therefore, in addition to communicators, you should include people who are broadly in tune with communication such people from your marketing branch, your PR firm, your market researcher, a representative from operations and HR etc.
SWOT analysis is quite simple in principle, and you should keep the process simple – avoid complexity and over-analysis. but you need to beware of the danger of being tempted to merely compile a list rather than thinking about what is really important about the parts of that list in achieving the goal of the project. You may also be drawn into presenting the resulting SWOT lists uncritically and without clear prioritization so that, for example, weak opportunities may appear to balance strong threats.
You can use specialised software to show the SWOT lists graphically, which can help you to clarify the factors being considered.
A SWOT summary can be useful for strategy development in a communication project or program as well as in an annual communication plan. It is especially useful for deciding the key points in your messaging.
It is all very well to work out your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, but what do you actually do with these insights? SWOT analysis is not much value unless you actually use the key factors identified to contribute to your communication plan. To keep all this manageable, the factors should be prioritized. You could note the top three factors from each of the four quadrants to form a total of list of 12 factors, and then reduce the total list to the top 5-6 factors that would have a bearing on your communication strategy. Be careful to evaluate which factors are the strongest and focus on them. As noted earlier, don’t get drawn into presenting the SWOT lists without clear prioritization so that, for example, weak opportunities may appear to balance strong threats.
Since resources are always limited, you can’t afford to follow up every SWOT item, so you need to attend to the most important – prioritize them. The SWOT factors could be prioritized by urgency, importance, strategic advantage, cost, lead-time for completion, duration of actions, etc.
One strategy is to cross-link the four quadrants of factors to identify how strengths can be used to take advantage of opportunities and to tackle threats. Similarly, the weaknesses can be examined to ensure they don’t compound the threats or stop your organization from exploiting the opportunities relating to the project.
About the Author
Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.
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