4 Issues for Communications Leaders to Consider for Strategic Planning

November 04, 2019

Contributor: Jordan Bryan

Key trends in communications spend and allocation plans for 2019, including mixed forecast for budgets.

Measure seven times, cut once. The old adage urging a wealth of preparation to prevent costly mistakes later applies equally well to strategic planning — the periodic exercise in which organizations define their strategies and make resource-allocation decisions to pursue them.

Many companies and functions fail to prepare properly for the strategic planning process, but proper information gathering is a critical part of the prep. For communications teams, the first step is to verify the business context so they know how to focus their own time and resources to support the most important business outcomes. It is also critical to evaluate the maturity and importance of key functional capabilities that will be needed to support the overall business goals.

As communication leaders set their strategies, Karl Schmidt, Practice Vice President, Gartner, shares key ideas from the 2018 Gartner Communications Resource Allocation Benchmarking Survey that should be considered to support business objectives.

Mixed forecast for communication budgets

Communicators have mixed expectations for their 2018-2019 budgets. Among surveyed communications leaders, 44.2% expect budgets to increase compared to 40.4% last year. The average expected budget increase is 2.3%, up from 1.8% in 2017-2018. Fewer communications leaders in Europe (9.1%) expect budgets to grow than in the U.S., where more than half expected budget growth.

Communicators report spending less time and money on graphics and creative services. In 2018, fewer than 57% report involvement with these activities. In the past two years, budgets have decreased by nearly 40%.

Investments in audience engagement

The choice of communications channels will remain key to reaching the right stakeholders at the right time. Communicators report budget increases in social media, media relations, corporate website, corporate social responsibility and executive communications, four of which increase target external audiences. Social media is the only activity with no reported budget decrease for 2019.

Companies continue to invest in communication skills training for their employees

Internal investments in measurement activities and communications training

The percentage of communicators responsible for measurement and monitoring continue to grow. In 2018, 82.8% of communicators report being engaged in measurement and monitoring activities. This percentage has more than doubled in the past two years, now at 3.9% of total communication budget, excluding marketing and advertising, corporate social responsibility, charitable active and corporate sponsorships.

Communicators see an increase in their budgets for activities related to development and training. Companies continue to invest in communications skills training for their employees, with 87.1% reporting engagement with these activities. The percentage of the budget dedicated to leader/manager communications training has more than doubled in the past four years.

The evolution of the role

The communications function is increasingly evolving from strict order-taker to a strategic partner. Communicators’ responsibilities are now more specialized and delineated from other business activities to drive value. To deliver high value, the average communications function is responsible for roughly four fewer activities now than 10 years ago. Communicators expect to invest internally at a higher rate than externally.

Forty-three percent of communicators expect more resources for staff expenses in 2019, approximately twice the amount expected for non-staff and vendor budgets. Leaders also anticipate staff budgets to increase by more than 3%, while non-staff and vendor may decrease. Communication functions must appropriately spend and allocate resources to provide measurable, high value to the organization in support of their business objectives.

Gartner annually surveys more than 100 heads of communications to provide insight into budget and staff resource allocation across the communication function.

This article has been updated from the original, published on August 17, 2018, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

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