When people think of communications as a practice, I’m willing to bet they’ll immediately think of Olivia Pope (Scandal), C.J. Creig (West Wing), Samantha Jones (Sex and the City), Shauna Roberts (Entourage), or even Don Draper (Mad Men).

While Hollywood does a good job of glamourizing (or even demonizing) the practice, communications is actually quite complex and involves a lot of theories. Yes, theories are not just relegated to the sciences!

This past month, I had the privilege to dive into those theories and other important strategic communications practices with the fellows from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

The importance of strategic communications has grown significantly in the last 15-20 years as companies began to encounter more challenges that couldn’t be fixed with just a marketing or advertising department. Now, strategic communicators not only focus on internal and external communications, they also focus on sustainability efforts, crisis management, marketing, advertising, research and development, media bookings and preparation, and so much more.

While folks could spend years trying to unpack all the information that exists within the strategic communications realm, here are some key takeaways I shared with the Humphrey School policy fellows:

  • Your Principal Doesn’t Know Everything:

Regardless of how they portray themselves on TV or in meetings, there’s one important rule to remember when working with principals: they don’t know everything. People, especially those in positions of leadership or power have their strong suits. As the lead on communications at your non-profit, business, or campaign, it’s your job to make sure they have everything they need so they can present themselves as experts in their field or industry.

  • Do Your Homework:

If you’re interested in running a successful communications campaign or plan, then it’s absolutely essential that you do your homework first. The key? Research, research, research. Research gives you insight into market trends and industry analysis, it will help you understand whether a campaign has been tried before, understand your audience, and what tactics would work best to help you reach your audience. Furthermore, research can give you insight into competitors, areas to avoid or embrace, and even reporters that you’re looking to work with.

  • Responding is Important. Knowing When to Respond is Crucial:

Sometimes the need to respond can feel overwhelming – especially when you’re staring down the barrel of an impending crisis. Responses are important, but knowing when and how to respond are equally important. Remember: just because someone asks for a comment, it doesn’t mean you’re required to give them one on the spot – or even at all. Sometimes you need to gather information, sometimes it’s best not to feed into the hype. Sometimes a press conference is better than a statement or vice versa. Whatever the choice may be, it’s important to take time to absorb that information, do the necessary fact-checking, and take time to understand what the best response will be.