Everything a company does, or fails to do, speaks volumes about the company and impacts its reputation. Words are important, but actions speak louder. Many companies plan their marketing and public relations communications but fail to integrate those communications with the actions happening across the company. The result is often disjointed communication that doesn't align with the company's strategic goals and may be unintentionally sending conflicting messages.

To help provide a better understanding of integrated strategic communication, I reached out to Michelle Roberts, CEO of Lead Dog Strategic Consulting. After more than 20 years of conducting strategic planning and crisis management for the government, Michelle is an expert in integrated communications and a member of our Likeable Partner Program. Here's what Michelle had to share:

1. Why is the strategic planning/communication you specialize in so important?

Strategic planning/communication is critical to business success. Anyone can start a business, but not everyone can stay in business. It takes a clear vision and roadmap to know where you want to take your company. Initially, many businesses are simply trying to survive. If they do survive the start-up phase, they will eventually find themselves in the position of having to plan for the future. We help companies identify their strategic goals and map out the objectives, strategies and tactics to reach them. It is a process that is essential for long-term growth and viability.

2. You emphasize the integration of actions, words, and images. Why?

Many businesses think of strategic communication as just words, when in fact, it is so much more. Strategic communication is the totality of the company's actions, words and images, and they all must be aligned in support of the company's strategic goals. Everything works together to build a company's brand identity and reputation. If a company addresses communications individually -- website, marketing, social media, advertising and public relations--and builds silos between these areas, it can create disconnected messaging that confuses potential customers, and can negatively impact a company's reputation.

3. How does this type of strategic planning impact reputation management?

Reputation management is an essential part of doing business. Too many companies think reputation is something that just happens over time. Everything that a company says, does, or fails to do contributes to its reputation and brand equity. All public facing information about a company contributes to its reputation. Do you know what is on the Internet about your company? Do you know what people are saying about your brand? Online reviews now carry as much influence for potential customers as recommendations from friends and family. Companies must be prepared to handle and respond to both positive and negative feedback from multiple channels.

4. How important is listening to this process?

Communication is no longer simply a one-way process. It is a multi-directional process. Listening plays a very important role in strategic communication, branding, and reputation management because it allows companies to do three things. First, listening allows a company to track and then respond to things that are being said about them on a variety of platforms. There are plenty of case studies of communication failures in this realm, especially on social media. Second, listening allows a company to monitor what their competitors are doing and saying. And last, listening allows a company to track trending topics or discussions related to their industry in which they may want to get involved.

5. You say that risk management plays an important role in all of this. How so?

As part of the strategic communication process, in addition to mapping out goals and the path to achieve them, companies must also plan for how they will protect their brand and reputation. Companies must actively evaluate what risks they face as part of doing business and identify mitigation strategies. Essentially, this is insurance for the brand and reputation of the company. By incorporating risk management planning into the overall strategy, companies can often avoid potential crisis situations altogether or be much better prepared to handle them if they do occur.

6. You emphasize company culture in this process as well. Why?

A company's balance sheet doesn't always tell the whole story. Company culture plays a very important role. Companies must create and nurture a culture in which employees feel ownership of, promote, and protect the brand and its reputation. Employees are the biggest ambassadors of a company's brand; yet they are often neglected in that role when companies focus solely on external communication. Nurturing the culture and empowering employees positively affects all other aspects of company operations. Employees are also closest to the customers, so they have a critical role to play in the listening function for the company as part of reputation and risk management. They must be empowered to address issues or raise red flags when necessary.