In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Strategic Communication

  • Introduction
  • Defining Strategic Communication
  • Textbooks
  • Resources
  • Theorizing Strategy
  • Critical and Postmodern Approaches

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Communication Strategic Communication
Kjerstin Thorson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0007


Strategic communication is an umbrella term to describe the activities of disciplines including public relations, management communication, and advertising. However, strategic communication is also increasingly recognized as a developing subfield within communication. As such, it explores the capacity of all organizations—not only corporations, but also not-for-profit organizations (including advocacy and activist groups) and government—for engaging in purposeful communication. The strength of the approach is its emphasis on strategy rather than on specific tactics as well as its focus on communications understood holistically. This approach is particularly valuable given the increasing difficulty faced by organizations in differentiating among communication activities (and results) appropriately “owned” by various functional groups. Further, the increasing complexity of a global, digital society has challenged the capacity for organizations to engage in long-term strategic planning. From both scholarly and practitioner standpoints, key questions explore the extent to which professional communicators within organizations are a part of strategy formulations, the degree to which, if any, communications are aligned with organizational strategy, the effectiveness of communication strategies and campaigns, and the role of organizations and stakeholders in society. Research in strategic communication draws on diverse disciplines, including organizational communication, management, military history, mass communication, public relations, advertising, and marketing. Hallahan, et al. 2007 (see Defining Strategic Communication) notes that “although the term strategic communication has been used in the academic literature for many years, scholars are only now in the process of coherently exploring this in terms of a unified body of knowledge” (p. 4). Works chosen for inclusion in this review are, therefore, drawn from various disciplines, with particular attention to those that attempt to synthesize or explicate links across disciplines.

Defining Strategic Communication

Strategic communication is a term used to denote the higher-level concerns behind communicative efforts by organizations to advance organizational mission. It is, therefore, inherently multidisciplinary as work in this area draws on literature from a wide array of other subfields, including public relations, marketing, advertising, and management. This section includes works that attempt to explicate the concept of strategic communication for scholars or practitioners. Hallahan, et al. 2007 provides a definition of strategic communication and argues in favor of expanding use of the term to encompass more participatory communication practices, while Argenti, et al. 2005 focuses on explaining to interested practitioners the framework of strategic communication employed by the contributors. Steyn 2003 focuses on strategy within corporate communication in urging that stronger links be built between the “what” and the “how” of content being communicated to stakeholders. Zerfass and Huck 2007 argues in favor of extending the range of strategic communication to include processes of innovation and leadership.

  • Argenti, P. A., R. A. Howell, and K. A. Beck. 2005. The strategic communication imperative. MIT Sloan Management Review 46.3: 83–89.

    This piece is directed at the practice of strategic communication. The authors offer best practices for managers based on interviews with CEOs and top practitioners as well as definitions of communication functions. The framework employed serves as a great introduction for undergraduate courses.

  • Hallahan, K., D. Holtzhausen, B. van Ruler, D. Vercic, and K. Sriramesh. 2007. Defining strategic communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication 1:3–35.

    DOI: 10.1080/15531180701285244

    Defines strategic communication as “the purposeful use of communication by an organization to fulfill its mission.” Identifies key concepts, including audience analysis, goal setting, and message strategy. The term strategic has been most often used in the context of management and decision-making power. The authors propose expanding its use to encompass “participatory communication practices” in which power relations are less one-sided.

  • Steyn, B. 2003. From strategy to corporate communication strategy: A conceptualization. Journal of Communication Management 8.2: 168–183.

    DOI: 10.1108/13632540410807637

    Argues for communicators to provide input to, but not take part in, corporate strategy formulation. Corporate communication strategy should be linked to corporate strategy. Suggests a route to develop corporate communication strategy—“what” should be communicated—and demonstrates how that strategy inspires strategic planning processes—“how” to communicate.

  • Zerfass, A., and S. Huck. 2007. Innovation, communication, and leadership: New developments in strategic communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication 1.2: 107–122.

    DOI: 10.1080/15531180701298908

    This article pushes the boundaries of strategic communication by theorizing innovation communication and the role of leadership communication.

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