Business communication is no different from any other project you undertake: to be successful, you have to nail down the scope, schedule, and budget. Of these three components, scope is the most important, because the other two vary in relation to it.

But scope is often the hardest piece of the puzzle to put in place, because communication isn’t a physical object, with four walls and a roof and a floor. And it isn’t always easy to quantify. When we talk about scope, content length, style, and appropriate media are some of the items we might discuss, but there’s much more to scope than that. Without a well-defined scope at the beginning of our communication project, we end up with wasted brochures, unread web pages, misplaced social content and more – then scratch our heads and wonder why our communication effort didn’t deliver the way we wanted it to.

So how do we define and clarify the scope of a communication project? It has to be more than “We need a ____” (website / brochure / press release / presentation / white paper / ad or any number of things with words in them). These are simply products, and while they may be part of the scope, they do not define it.

A handy abbreviation I use for defining the scope of any communication is “AM/PM”—Audience, Message, Purpose, Medium. If you want to get your team all on the same page, then that page should describe each of these components in detail. In this post we’ll look at the first two.

Audience – Many a communication project goes off the rails right here. Who are the intended recipients of your communication? It’s crucial to know not only the audience you’re talking to, but also where they are, what they care about, and how they are likely to respond.

Sometimes in the spirit of economizing, we get caught up in the “adaptive reuse” of our messaging and forget who we’re trying to talk to. When that happens, we’ve lost the whole reason for communicating in the first place.  For example, content or images that work on Facebook don’t often work as well on Twitter or Instagram. Audiences are quick to pick up on messages that seem meant for someone else. Better to create discrete communication for discrete audiences.

Message – Just as vital as knowing who we’re talking to is knowing what we’re trying to say. Ask yourself, “What is the ONE thing I want my audience to take away from my communication?” It should be explicit and unambiguous. The message is not the purpose, and it is not necessarily a call to action. It is a statement, in every sense.

Don’t let cleverness or profundity get in the way of your message, especially in advertising. More words or great infographics do not necessarily make a message clearer. Your communication must have a point, or it is literally pointless. Having a clear grasp of the message will help you whittle away distracting and diluting elements.

In the next post I’ll talk about the other two vital components of communication scope: purpose and medium.