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Author: Elise Constable
Contributor: Natalie Toohey

Defining and managing your project’s stakeholders will help you manage the way people see your project, build interest in it, and help you achieve your project's goals.

Main topics covered in this article include:

1. Identify your stakeholder groups

'Stakeholders' are groups of people who have an emotional or financial 'stake' in your project. This means they can help or hinder your project goals. By managing stakeholders, you can minimise problems and conflicts, and get full support for your project from the people who matter. While every project is unique and will involve different stakeholders, some examples include:

  • media
  • industry groups
  • Government
  • the community
  • volunteers
  • business groups
  • high profile individuals.

Stakeholders can be internal or external, and change from project to project. Stakeholders can affect the success of your project, even if you choose not to manage them.

2. Set out goals and steps for communication with stakeholders

For each project, prepare a simple stakeholder map to help you manage which stakeholders you communicate with, and why, how and when you do so. A quick brainstorm with members of your group will identify your main stakeholders. Useful questions to consider are:

  • Which stakeholders are most important to the project, and why?
  • What do you want each group of stakeholders to think, feel and do in relation to your project?
  • What is the best way to communicate with each group of stakeholders? For example, through email, community meetings, or the media?
  • When will you need to communicate the relevant milestones of your project to each group of stakeholders?
  • Who is responsible for managing stakeholders throughout the project?

3. Create 'key messages'

List the main messages, or 'key messages' you need to communicate to each stakeholder group.

Your key messages should convince your stakeholders to support your project. They should encourage:

  • awareness — what the project is about and what its benefits are
  • support — detail the benefits and the cost of involvement in terms of money, time and commitment
  • action — what needs doing, and what others are doing to support the project
  • achievements — including any awards or recognition.

Make sure the language you use is consistent, relevant, active and, where possible, visual.

4. Set up a communications channel for each stakeholder group

A communications channel is how you get your key messages across to each stakeholder group. Your communications channels may include:

  • your website
  • email
  • community information sessions
  • meetings
  • media editorials
  • phone calls.

You can use these channels to get information across on a one-to-one basis (for example, by phone), or to a group of people (for example, by email). The channels can also be two-way (in the case of a blog, for example). Your choice of channel can affect the perceived importance of your messages.

Each project will need a set of core communication channels, and these may exist already in your group. You can also use the communication channels of other companies or organisations to reach your stakeholders. For example, regular local council publications, websites, meetings and so on.

When thinking about how to communicate with each stakeholder group during your project, it's useful to consider:

  • how your stakeholders want to receive this information
  • how you want your stakeholders to feel
  • which channel of communication builds the most trust between you
  • how often do you need to communicate this information.

5. Listen to feedback and adapt accordingly

Stakeholders are a great source of information, and for your project to succeed, it's vital to get their feedback on a regular basis.

You can measure feedback quantitatively, using website hits, bulk-buy sign-ups, and number of event attendees — or qualitatively, through feedback forms, emails and phone calls to your group, letters to the editor, or comments from community forums.

Identify the main sources of stakeholder feedback you want for your project. Then set up the best method to capture this information effectively, and report it to the planning team regularly. Be sure to give your group feedback so they can use it to adapt the project, if necessary.

More information

The Public Relations Resource Center
The Public Relations Institute of Australia
Communications Consultancy Organisation
Reaching and engaging the green consumer

Planning your communication strategy
Measuring your marketing impact - research, feedback and evaluation
Using the media