Step 1: Creating a Situational Analysis

Strategic communications planning is the foundation for successful and impactful communications and marketing activities. Each month, Vanguard Communications is releasing a new article describing each step of this important process. Read past articles from our Strategic Communications Planning series. Interested in bringing the strategic communications planning process to your organization? Send us a note and let us know how we can help.

As shown in the graphic below, the completion of a situational analysis is the first step in a successful strategic communications planning process. It provides a framework and context from which your organization will craft your strategic communications plan.

Strategic Communications Planning Process

In plain terms, a situational analysis is a report of all internal and external organizational information that is relevant to your communications and marketing activities. For example, as we deal with COVID-19 as a nation, a situational analysis should include how this pandemic is impacting your organization, your brand and your communications outreach. This comprehensive research and assessment will sharpen the focus for communications planning by answering key questions about your organization’s communications needs and focus areas. While situational analyses can take many forms and have varying levels of detail depending on the size of your organization, a few common situational analysis formats are below.

Common Formats

  • Media analyses of news coverage about the focus area of your organization (e.g., health, environment, conservation, etc.)
  • Competitive analysis about your field and organization
  • Digital media audit detailing your organization’s performance across websites, social media and mobile apps
  • Organizational SWOT analysis
  • Environmental analysis to assess what’s going on in the world and how it affects your work

If your organization does not have the formats noted above, a good place to start is to answer the following questions and save them for future reference as you complete each stage of the strategic communications planning process.

Key Questions for a Situational Analysis

  • What is your organization’s mission and vision?
  • What are your major communications initiatives? Have they been successful? Why or why not?
  • Describe your current communications capacity, including staffing, consultants and budgetary resources.
  • How does your organization make decisions about communications? How is information shared internally?
  • What are your organization’s biggest strengths related to communications? What are your biggest challenges?
  • What are the most urgent programmatic needs for your organization? Are they being communicated effectively?
  • What are the most urgent communications needs for your organization?
  • Is the media aware of your organization and the problems it is trying to solve? What about key audiences?

Situational Analyses in Practice

We’ve found that organizational communication is most effective when teams examine these key questions often—not just during a biannual planning process. Doing so ensures that you are regularly adjusting your plan to meet internal and external changes and challenges.

In fact, Vanguard recently completed a situational analysis for a health association. The research was designed to inform choices about audience segments, messaging, content strategies and tactics for the organization’s vast online repository of scientific information. The analysis involved an audit of content and multimedia performance, as well as staffing capacity for the communications department. Following the audit, which included sections on digital media performance, content production workflows, and staffing recommendations, the organization adjusted its communications content strategy, as well as staff roles and responsibilities.

We also currently lead a research project with the University of Florida that takes the form of media analyses, which assess the prevalence, tone, keywords, geographic location and audience demographics of media coverage and conversations about the mental wellbeing of men and boys. The content of the reports guide community-based organizations and advocates in messaging and strategies to better communicate about the real experiences of men and boys with mental health needs.

The bottom line? Don’t skip this important step in communications planning. Situational analyses are an important investment of time and resources that will set up your organization for future communications success.

Do you need help with creating a situational analysis or the larger strategic communications planning process? Send us a note and let us know how we can help you achieve your communications goals!