What is strategic communication?

Two business colleagues working together on a digital tablet while standing in a hallway of the office building.
Two business colleagues working together on a digital tablet while standing in a hallway of the office building.

Today, effective communication is more important than ever for businesses. Strong communication helps drive key business outcomes, build relationships with audiences and even improve the business’s internal processes. 

Improving communications by using data and analysis is now a sought-after skill - one that falls under the umbrella term of strategic communication

But what exactly is strategic communication? Below, we'll look at the definition and purpose of strategic communication, how it's evolved, and what you should know about a career in this field. 

What is strategic communication?

Strategic communication is the messaging that businesses and organisations use to work towards achieving their mission. It is purposeful communication that drives high-impact and goal-oriented outcomes. Strategic communication involves the careful design, implementation and evaluation of communication methods as part of an overall strategy, which focuses on results rather than on specific tactics.

The International Journal of Strategic Communication defines this field as “all communication that is substantial for the survival and sustained success of an entity. Specifically, strategic communication is the purposeful use of communication by an organisation or other entity to engage in conversations of strategic significance to its goals.”

Your career in strategic communication may focus on internal communication or external communication. Internal communication is for staff within organisations, while external communications are public-facing messages. Professionals working in strategic communication can function in either one or both of these areas.

Strategic communicators take responsibility for the development and production of a wide range of communication campaigns, from digital, traditional and social media to marketing, advertising and large-scale multi-faceted communication strategies.

The types of communication outcomes that can be achieved vary widely, depending on factors such as the goals, work and target audience of an organisation and the communications tactics that it employs.

What is the purpose of strategic communication?

In our increasingly global and digital world, strategic communication has become essential to the functioning and success of many different types of organisations. These include government, corporate, consultancy, community, service, advocacy, industry and not-for-profit groups, all of which employ strategic communication as an essential tool in achieving their core goals.

Depending on the organisation's goals, strategic communication may have a range of targets, such as:

  • distributing information to stakeholders
  • growing public support
  • raising funds
  • selling products
  • building employee buy-in and loyalty

For an organisation’s messaging to achieve its goals, strategic communicators must ensure that outputs are targeted to key audiences through appropriate channels and at optimal times.

It is also vital to use research and data to generate feedback on communication initiatives to refine strategy and messaging over time, as well as measure progress toward goals.

As Forbes magazine writes, “Anyone can create a website, send out newsletters and post on social media. But no matter what communications tactics you use, without a strategy to guide them, these efforts will not amount to much when it comes to meeting key performance indicators and return on investment.”

How has strategic communications evolved?

Research on strategic communications describes how communication management has evolved over the last century. Fields of “public relations”,  “advertising” and other communication specialisations had developed into separate ‘silos’ of practice. However, these distinctions have been becoming less relevant as the fields converge into one broader strategic area of practice.  

The field which began as “public relations” is responsible for “advising management on and implementing a wide range of communication between organisations and their stakeholders.” It is largely focused on interactions with the public and external stakeholders. As such it has come to overlap with the other externally focussed forms of communication in particular, with these different roles being united in applying a strategic ‘purpose’ to communication development.

Strategic communications has been used as a term for many years, but it officially emerged as a subdiscipline of communications in 2007, with the publication of the first issue of the international journal dedicated to this field.

It has since developed into a broader area that encompasses public relations but also embraces elements of many other disciplines. These include marketing, community engagement, media, social media, management, corporate communication, advertising and sales.

Strategic communication in the digital era

Communication has changed drastically over recent decades with the rapid evolution of the digital age. For communicators, this has meant moving away from traditional public relations approaches, which focused on print publications, broadcast media and in-person events, and instead moving towards digital and online channels.

According to the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Strategy 2018-2025, “Emerging technologies, growing amounts of data and smarter ways of getting insights are changing the way people, businesses and governments interact.

“The pace of change continues to blur the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds.”

Research by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) shows that digital media has increasingly become the main source of information and entertainment for most Australians. This was further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This research also shows that particular age groups, such as “digital natives” aged 18 to 34, rely on digital technology across many aspects of their everyday lives. Over 90 per cent engage in multiple internet-based activities on a daily basis.

This fundamental change has transformed the field of strategic communication, thrusting it into full immersion in the digital age.

It has also opened up a diverse range of new channels and methods that organisations and businesses can use to recruit and communicate with stakeholders - including digital and social media platforms, website content, multimedia, newsletters, email marketing and online advertising.

How strategic communication is changing today

Strategic communication has evolved into an umbrella term that encompasses the many different types of communication activities that businesses and organisations use in today’s digital world.

Broadening out their messaging in new and different ways enables organisations to engage with a wider range of stakeholders, and to grow and find alternative pathways towards achieving their goals.

As well as focusing on public-facing activities, such as digital, traditional and social media campaigns, contemporary strategic communication includes:

  • Internal communication that targets staff within organisations, such as email campaigns, internal social media channels and events which build company culture or drive organisational change.
  • Integrated marketing communications and advertising campaigns to promote or sell products or services, including online and social media advertising.
  • Community engagement, including consultation sessions, newsletters and surveys to connect with people or groups in order to gain their feedback and support.
  • Crisis communication, such as releasing statements in response to emergencies or unexpected events and engaging with affected communities. These aim to strengthen the organisation’s reputation and can also build capacity and support in specific areas.

These are just some of the many types of activities that are now included under the strategic communications banner.

It is important to note that this rapidly developing field will continue to evolve into the future, constantly taking advantage of new technologies and communication channels.

Key skills and techniques in strategic communication

Given its application across a wide range of industries and organisations, strategic communication is a field that requires a varied set of skills and techniques.

As a strategic communication professional, you'll need knowledge and skills in:

  • Traditional and emerging communication practices.
  • Communication strategy and strategic planning.
  • Media liaison.
  • Stakeholder engagement and intercultural communication.
  • Applying the principles of equity, inclusion and social justice.
  • Organisational storytelling for both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Contemporary advertising and digital marketing techniques.
  • Crisis and reputation management.
  • Using evidence and data-driven approaches in research and analysis.
  • Understanding broader political, community and regulatory considerations.

Specific positions may also require particular in-depth skills and experience relevant to their organisation’s strategic communications plan, such as multimedia production, or extensive knowledge of current and emerging social media practices.

Careers in strategic communication

A career in strategic communication can be satisfying and fulfilling, with plenty of opportunities for varied work in creative and cutting-edge areas.

With a strategic communication degree, your career can progress into a wide range of senior leadership roles in areas such as marketing, communications, advertising, media and public relations.

Relevant job titles might include:

  • Head of Communications and Engagement
  • Global Manager of Internal Communications
  • Director of Media and Communications
  • Director of Public Relations
  • Head of Corporate Communications
  • Head of Corporate Affairs

Strong growth in future job opportunities is projected for this field, according to employment projections from the Australian Government’s National Skills Commission (2021-2026). This includes 11.4 per cent growth for marketing and advertising professionals, and 4.4 per cent growth for public relations managers.

Why study strategic communication with UTS Online?

A postgraduate qualification in strategic communication can be your stepping stone into a dynamic career in this exciting and rapidly developing field.

Become a leader in the communication profession

In UTS Online’s Master of Strategic Communication, you will study contemporary course content designed by academic scholars and leading industry experts.

“With effective communication becoming ever more critical to success for businesses, government departments, charities, community groups and other organisations, we have created a program that helps people build the knowledge and skills to develop communication that delivers results and effectively meets set objectives,” says UTS Course Director Dr Andrew McCowan.

“This program is designed for students who are looking to progress their career and become leaders in the communication profession. Students will embrace a different learning experience that prepares them to thrive in the communication environment now and into the future.”

Benefit from cutting-edge content

The course incorporates core subjects which cover the broad range of skills and knowledge needed for senior roles in this field. Subjects include strategic campaigns, emergent communication practices, intercultural communication, stakeholder engagement, crisis communication, organisational storytelling and applied research methods.

Electives provide options to align your studies with specific career goals, including digital marketing, data regulation and processing, business analytics and branding.

As well as staying ahead of the curve on the latest trends in strategic communication, this degree will equip you to meet the ever-evolving challenges of this field, and to thrive in a variety of workplace settings.

It will enable you to create powerful and inclusive communication strategies backed by data-driven insights, that are effective, thoughtful and truly influential.

Flexible and supported study

UTS Online provides the convenience of 100% online delivery with regular intakes every two months. This empowers you to strike a balance between personal and professional commitments whilst unlocking new opportunities.

UTS Online excels in supporting students throughout the learning journey, including access to a dedicated Student Success Advisor from enrolment through to graduation. Mentoring support is also available from academic staff who are passionate about your success.

For those who are not yet eligible for the master’s degree, UTS Online offers the Graduate Certificate in Strategic Communication as a pathway.

Get ready to communicate with purpose

Advance your potential to drive high-impact outcomes for organisations and businesses by becoming a leader in the strategic communication profession.

Find out more about UTS Online’s Master of Strategic Communication on our website, or contact our Student Enrolment Advisors on 1300 477 423.