Strategic communication is defined as the development and implementation of communication initiatives that further the mission of an organization. This definition encompasses many types of communication across a variety of fields, including public relations, advertising and marketing, communication within a corporation (such as employee training and HR communications), business-to-business communication, and online content strategy. Strategic communication also includes the social and political advocacy, public policy communication, community education, and public service content that non-profit organizations develop and disseminate. Communication professionals who specialize in strategic communication or communication management can work in one or more of the aforementioned areas, managing multiple projects or channels of communication at once.
Strategic communication is one of the foundations for the success of organizations and corporations across all industries, both in the for-profit and the non-profit space. It is also an important part of politics, social change, and health care innovation. Individuals who are knowledgeable and skilled in strategic communication can find work in all of the aforementioned fields, and more. Their expertise is broadly applicable to roles that require them to develop communication strategies, craft meaningful messaging for different target audiences, and advise company leadership in making sound decisions when communicating with their employees, the public, investors, and other stakeholders.
Classification of Strategic Communication Programs
MastersinCommunications.com classifies master’s in communication programs based on their curricula and areas of emphasis. Master’s in strategic communication, master’s in communication management, and master’s in integrated communication programs (including some integrated marketing communications) often have similar curricula. Therefore, all three types of programs may be found on this page, including ones that are not specifically called strategic communication programs. However, master’s in communication management programs are also classified under master’s in communication studies and master’s in organizational communication, depending on their curricula.
Master’s in communication programs with a specialization in strategic communication train students to engage in a wide variety of written, spoken, visual, and interactive communication. These programs include courses on the theory and principles of strategic communication, human psychology and behavior, public relations in corporate and non-profit settings, advertising and marketing, interpersonal communication, community education, trust and brand building, and political or social advocacy. As strategic communication is a broad field that ranges from interpersonal communication to communication for mass audiences, graduate programs in this field can vary even if their program titles are similar. In addition, some programs offer a wide variety of elective courses, and allow students to specialize in a particular area of strategic communication, such as advocacy and social impact, corporate or organizational communication, public relations, or marketing and advertising.
Curriculum Details for Master’s in Strategic Communication Programs
Master’s in strategic communication programs typically require students to complete a set of core classes that cover the fundamentals of strategic communication, such as persuasive rhetoric, communication ethics and law, and leadership in communication. After completing this core, students progress to specialization courses. As mentioned previously, strategic communication is a broad field, and some programs may focus on one area within this field, or offer students the option of taking electives in multiple areas of strategic communication. As programs vary in course content, titles, and sequencing, students should ascertain what areas of strategic communication most interest them, and locate the programs that provide courses or concentrations in these areas. Examples of courses that comprise the concentration section of master’s in strategic communication programs include but are not limited to:
- Organizational Communication Management: The role of communication in creating positive organizational outcomes within a company, and also driving company growth through ethical, informative, and persuasive messaging between a company and its stakeholders. How to identify a company’s communication needs, craft communication that connects with stakeholders both within and external to the company, and integrate business skills and financial insights into the development of communication plans.
- Leadership in Interpersonal Communication: The interpersonal communication principles and skills that are important in professional settings across all industries. How to motivate others through persuasive rhetoric, and use sound communication skills to build strong teams within a company and also form strategic partnerships with other companies and invested parties. Leadership principles in small team settings as well as larger organizational contexts, and the role that communication plays in strong leadership.
- Strategic Digital Media Campaigns and Analytics: The major forms of digital communication, including written website content, social media, email, and multimedia content such as graphics and video, and how they are incorporated into corporate communications, PR and marketing campaigns. This course also covers the latest technologies available that allow organizations to analyze the impact of their campaigns on their target readership, and to adjust their strategies accordingly.
- Strategic Storytelling: How to tell a compelling and persuasive story by understanding what your target audience is invested in and create a story that engages and informs them. Crafting persuasive content that moves audience members to action. How to understand human psychology and behavior, particularly people’s reactions to new or repeated information and how it is presented.
- Effective Social Media Strategy: How to leverage social media in different types of campaigns, including marketing and advertising, social and political advocacy, fundraising, community education efforts, and public service communication. The phenomenon of “going viral” and how individuals and corporations can develop highly shareable content that advances their mission or solidifies their brand identity.
- Communication and Media Research: How academics, communication professionals, and business leaders alike can use communication and media research to develop sound communication strategies and assess their impact. How to use quantitative and qualitative research methods to evaluate historical consumer behavior and make projections in order to develop strategies that meet consumers’ needs or desires.
- Communication Strategies for Social Change: How non-profit institutions determine their messaging to target audiences, and the channels by which they access these audiences and motivate them to act. How different forms of media can be used to advance a cause, spread awareness of a social issue, galvanize fundraising and volunteer efforts, and sustain the brand identity and reputation of non-profit organizations.
- Communication Strategies for Public Policy and Advocacy: The history and structure of public policy in America, and the role that communication plays in political advocacy and legislative change. The different types of communication are relevant to political campaigns, such as political advertisements, public relations announcements, and speechwriting.
Below are two curriculum plan examples for students pursuing a master’s in strategic communication or communication management over the course of two years of study. One of these plans has a focus in strategic corporate communication, while the other focuses on strategic communication for social change. Students should note that the plans below are only examples, and that programs vary in their course content and sequencing. In general, master’s in strategic communication programs are comprised of between 30 and 60 course credits, which students may complete within 12 to 24 months of full-time study, or 24 to 36 months of part-time study.
2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan in Strategic Corporate Communication
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2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan in Strategic Communication for Social Change
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Students should also note that, in addition to master’s programs in strategic communication, other master’s in communication programs with different specializations, such as political communication, health communication, and corporate communication, often include courses in strategic communication. For example, a master’s in health communication program may include courses in strategic storytelling or organizational communication management. In health communication, storytelling that motivates positive change and communication that facilitates efficient and effective care are capabilities that health communication professionals need. Due to the fact that strategic communication is a concept that is often covered in many different master’s in communication programs, students should assess their professional goals and select programs with courses that provide them with the skills they would like to build.
Students who want to focus their studies specifically on organizational communication, political communication or public relations and marketing communication should research programs with those specializations as well. For more information, view our Master’s in Organizational Communication, Master’s in Political Communication, and Master’s in Public Relations and Marketing Communication pages, respectively.
Potential Careers for Graduates of Master’s in Communication Management and Strategic Communication Programs
As mentioned previously, strategic communication is at the core of all types of important communication in corporate, political, non-profit, and health care settings. Individuals who earn a master’s degree in strategic communication are trained to work in a wide variety of roles that combine strong communication skills with organizational strategies, digital media savvy, and knowledge of human psychology and behavior.
Graduates of master’s in strategic communication programs may work as consultants for organizations that need to build and maintain a positive reputation with the public, or who need to revamp their internal structure and create better employee training and management systems. They may work at health companies or political advocacy companies to create educational materials for the public, or they may work in the PR and Marketing department of a corporation, designing consumer-facing and business-to-business messaging. Examples of professions that graduates of these programs may enter include but are not limited to:
- Corporate Communication Consultants: Corporate communication consultants specialize in helping companies improve their internal communication, including employee and leadership training, human resources communication, and team-building strategies. These consultants may work with leadership to clarify and help convey a company’s long-term mission and short-term goals to its employees, revamp a corporation’s team-building strategies or internal messaging between leadership and employees, or work with managers in a company to help them better motivate their employees through interpersonal skills development.
- Political or Social Issues Lobbyists/Advocates: Lobbyists and advocates work for non-profit and political organizations to craft communications that motivate legislators and/or the public to take action against social or political problems. They may handle online and print publications for their organization, write the promotional materials for fundraising events, or use social media to connect with individuals in their community and spread awareness about issues.
- Marketing Directors: Marketing directors manage a large portion of a company’s external-facing communications. Marketing directors focus on advertisements and other content that promote a company’s products or services. Marketing directors typically manage a team of specialists that create campaigns around the launch of or an update to a company’s consumer offerings. In addition, they ensure that any marketing content created aligns with the company’s desired brand identity.
- Public Relations Directors: Public relations directors uphold a company’s reputation and optimize its relationships with the public, other corporations, investors, and other stakeholders. They accomplish this by crafting careful external-facing communications (including press releases, social media posts, informational print and online content, and speeches), organizing speaking engagements and business events, and facilitating partnerships with other companies. They also consult with leadership to ensure that they promote their company’s desire image and foster consumer trust.
- Campaign Strategist: Campaign strategists combine their knowledge of American politics and the many social and political issues facing the American people with their skills in effective campaigning to plan and implement campaigns for a political candidate or for a certain social cause. Campaign strategists design and/or write the scripts for political advertisements, craft candidate speeches, and handle public communications to uphold their candidate or their organization’s desired identity.