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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, crisis 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.
The majority of master’s in strategic communication programs are applied programs designed to prepare students for advanced careers in communication strategy for various types of organizations. These programs tend to have coursework that focuses on practical skills and how communication theories and research can be integrated into strategic communication initiatives.
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 organizational and corporate communication programs, 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.
- Crisis Communication: The management of crises and mitigation of risk for organizations and the public through effective and timely communication. Essential crisis and risk communication methods, and how to develop and implement a crisis communication plan for a variety of organizations and situations.
- 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.
- Strategic Political Communication: The principles of strategic communication as they apply to political campaigns, policy reform, public education, and other political and public affairs objectives objectives. How to build compelling cross-channel messaging to connect with target audiences and motivate political action.
- Strategic Health Communication: How to optimize health outcomes across different contexts, from patient-provider and health care team dynamics to broader public health and health care marketing strategies. The interpersonal, organizational, and mass media concepts and tactics that can help improve communication flows within medical organizations, motivate large audiences to make important lifestyle changes, and achieve other health-related objectives.
- 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 for a Master’s in Strategic Corporate Communication
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2-Year Sample Curriculum Plan for a Master’s in Strategic Communication with an Emphasis in 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.