Looking Back, Looking Forward

Communications Strategy Past, Present, and Future

By: Dan Voss and Mike Murray
STC Fellows
Florida Chapter, STC

This is the third installment of Looking Back, Looking Forward, a new column appearing periodically in Memo to Members. This installment examines our chapter’s communications strategy past, present, and future while presenting a year-end challenge for our chapter to consider in the upcoming new decade.

The Looking Back, Looking Forward series is also archived on the chapter history page on the Florida Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) website under the tab “Looking Back, Looking Forward.” 

What is the Basis of this Article?
The content of this article is based primarily on four documents, three from 2001-2007 and one much more recent, from 2017:

  • A Communication Awareness Plan written in July 2001 that describes a proposed external communication campaign to establish the then STC Orlando Chapter as a key player in the Central Florida technology industry
  • A Proposal to Establish an STC Orlando Media Kit submitted as an academic project in a University of Central Florida (UCF) technical communication course in February 2005
  • STC Communication Strategy, a detailed and well-written document outlining our community’s communication objectives for the 2006-2007 chapter year that remains remarkably relevant today
  • The STC Florida Chapter Communication Strategy developed by the chapter president and vice president in 2017, focusing on the newly renamed STC Florida Chapter’s initiative to re-establish a statewide STC constituency.

What Exactly is Communications Strategy?
What do we mean by communications strategy? That can mean a lot of things, including a comprehensive communication plan both internal to our organization (STC) and external to the Central Florida business community.

In the 2001 Communication Awareness Plan, communications strategy meant formulating specific plans to make sure businesses throughout Central Florida knew that as technical communicators, our talents extend far beyond just technical writing. In addition, we hoped to make technical communicators aware of the myriad job opportunities they might not realize they were qualified for.

The second document was a proposal to develop a media kit to tell STC Orlando’s story to Central Florida’s technology industry and the technical communicators supporting it.

The third document is an excellent example of a well-structured, detailed communication strategy that includes four specific objectives along with planned activities to achieve those objectives. The four objectives were Culture, Conversations, Credibility, and Celebration. It includes both external and internal elements of strategic communication, although its primary emphasis is on communication within STC.

Unlike the first two documents, which were aimed mostly at an external audience, the fourth document focused on an “internal” audience—engaging disenfranchised at-large STC members in Florida whose chapters had dissolved—with the ultimate goal of extending communication externally to Florida technical communicators in general.

In addition to these guiding documents, the chapter’s Coaches and Rising Stars in the 2017-2018 Leadership Development Program (LDP) built a comprehensive online Community Resources Toolkit presented at Leadership Day at the 2018 Summit in Orlando. These valuable resources for building/rebuilding an STC community remain available on our website. Key among them when it comes to communications strategy is a module of resources under the subtitle “Chapter Communications,” including the aforementioned 2017 STC Florida Chapter Communication Strategy. We will address that in more detail a little later.

Why is Building a Foundation So Important?
The 2001 Communication Awareness Plan was our chapter’s first stab (at least in this century!) at bringing the need for an overarching communications strategy to the forefront. Later that same year, chapter members Mike Murray and W.C. Wiese sat down with some of the prominent players in this topic at UCF, including Dr. Dan Jones, an STC Fellow.

At the time, the UCF curriculum listed “Technical Writing” as one of the university’s majors, but participation in this major had been dwindling. Earlier, Mike and W.C., in conjunction with STC Headquarters, had been successful in working with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in making a change to their Job Classification Guide from “Technical Writer” to “Technical Communicator.”

The UCF technical communication program, led by Dr. Jones, was successful in convincing the university to change the name of the major course of study to Technical Communication, and class sizes soon increased. With this step, we felt we had established an important foundation that had to be in place for the next big push in implementing an overall chapter communications strategy.

Any Successful Project Needs a Champion
However, following an auspicious start, effort on the communication strategy front was quiet until February 2005, as the chapter leadership team focused on numerous other important initiatives on the way to three consecutive Chapter of Distinction Awards in the Society’s Community Achievement Award (CAA) program.

The spotlight returned briefly to communication strategy in 2005 when a Proposal for an STC Orlando Media Kit was developed as a project in one of Dr. Jones’ UCF tech comm classes. The proposal was an excellent blueprint for developing the media kit, but the plan was never executed because no “champion” stepped forward to make it happen. Again, the chapter’s communication strategy initiative moved to the “back burner.”

In June 2006, the detailed Chapter Communication Strategy set the chapter’s strategic objectives for the upcoming 2006-2007 chapter year as described above. However, follow-up on that valuable strategic communications roadmap was minimal as chapter leadership again turned the community’s attention to other priorities.

New Chapter Leaders Take Up the Cause
Ten years later, in 2017, Chapter President Bethany Aguad and Vice President Nick Ducharme picked up the baton, establishing a visionary integrated STC Florida Chapter Communication Strategy designed to launch and sustain the new STC Florida Chapter’s initiative to rebuild STC’s constituency in Florida by strengthening a then anemic virtual component in our communication toolkit.

Now, as we approach 2020, the chapter has moved to the cutting edge in leveraging virtual communication technology to support our statewide STC educational outreach effort. All our educational chapter meetings are now available remotely, and we have established proof of principle for a “hybrid” meeting format combining a face-to-face meeting in Orlando with a virtual audience from all over the state (and beyond). We also have established virtual networking meetings to build the statewide STC community.

In short, we have made great strides in internal STC communications within Florida.

Public Relations Effort Still Languishes
However, to the external audience, the general public, technical communication still remains a relatively less well-known and even less understood career. Depending on where you are in the world, under the umbrella of “technical communicator” you may be called a technical writer, a technical author, an information developer, a documentation specialist, an editor, or yet another job title.

Chances are that if you tell the average person you are a technical communicator, you will receive a blank stare or a blunt question—what’s that? Even when you begin to explain, many people will still have the wrong impression, thinking you write technical books or technical code, rather than performing a broad range of job functions spanning a wide variety of industries and making a critical contribution to the bottom line.

Our Newest Communications Challenge
This survey of four past chapter sorties into communications strategy leaves us with an important public relations challenge going forward. This would be an excellent time to resurrect the long-dormant initiative to build an STC Florida Media Kit. Instead of STC members statewide, however, the initial target audience should be Central Florida technical communicators and the companies and organizations they work for. Ultimately, the idea would be to extend this outreach throughout Florida. To accomplish this mission, we need to:

  • Develop an updated chapter brochure, both printed and online, to increase our visibility in Central Florida and statewide
  • Post the brochure as well as flyers announcing chapter educational meetings on bulletin boards at Florida businesses that have a technical communication staff
  • Add a public relations component to our website inviting businesses with technical communication requirements to consider STC as a primary resource for meeting those requirements
  • Add a social media component to the Media Kit, including more active use of our LinkedIn portal.
  • Revitalize the Gloria Jaffe Award by promoting it in the workplace to elevate the professional status of technical communicators as key contributors to business success
  • Partner with corporate sponsors to provide increased resources to support our statewide professional and educational outreach
  • Over time, develop Local Interest Groups (LIGs) of the STC Florida Chapter statewide, reaching out to technological industry and technical communicators in their respective locations. 

In short, we need to “brand” ourselves in an eye-catching manner that captures the interest and support of Florida’s burgeoning technology industry. 

This initiative should move to the top of STC Florida’s priority list. But how?

We Need a New Champion!
Ay, there’s the rub. Our core leadership team is already stretched to the limit without taking on yet another pacesetting STC initiative—but, paradoxically, a successful foray into the Central Florida public relations arena could expand our ranks and result in more member resources as well as industry sponsorships. This, in turn, could pave the way for similar growth statewide.

If this is to happen, we need a champion to lead the charge and two or three volunteers to help broadcast our message to the public. To spearhead this drive, our chapter needs to fill its too-long-vacant position for a Public Relations manager.

What a terrific mentor/mentee project this public relations project would make! It might also be a suitable academic project for a technical communication course at UCF, just like the proposal for an STC Orlando Chapter Media Kit back in 2005. But this time, let’s take it the rest of the way.

It is time to get this done!

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