What's the Plan?
Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Earlier this week, I did a live video presentation about communication planning. If you missed it, you can find the video on any of the Miller Public Relations social media channels linked in the footer. Below is a recap for those of you who prefer to see the information instead of hearing it:
Why is communication planning important? Like any other activity, it's important to have a plan, or risk ending up on a path to a destination never intended. Communication planning helps to narrow the audience, the message, and the tools used to deliver that message. It even helps in a crisis! Having a communications plan provides a view of what you desire from your external communication efforts, even when those efforts are knocked off course by unforeseen events. While this process requires effort and resources, it certainly ends up saving much more in the long run through the increased effectiveness and efficiency.
So what exactly is communications planning, and how do I do it? This is an abbreviated description of the steps involved in the creation of a communications plan. There is obviously much more to it than this, but the intent of this article is just to provide a general idea of the process.
Identify a clear objective based on your organizational goals, just as you would a sales objective, production objective, or training objective. If you treat communication as an operation, you can measure the progress and results. The communications objective should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. More importantly, it must support one or more goals of your organization overall.
Identify the audience
Narrow down your intended audience as much as possible. When I hear clients say their audience is "the general public" or "the media," I know we have some work to do. Put thought into what groups you must reach in order to achieve your objective. Also, consider who you DON'T need to reach. This can be just as helpful in establishing your target audience. Once you have an audience established, don't stop there. Consider their motivating self-interest as well. This part may require some research, but it's well worth it. If you've done the work to figure out the specific audience you need to address, why not take the next step and learn what will drive them to action?
Determine your messaging
This step leans heavily on the previous two. Each key message must support your communications objective and must be tailored to your identified audience. This is where you can avoid wasted effort with external messages that fit your audience perfectly, but don't accomplish the objective. It's equally as wasteful to broadcast brilliant messages that directly address the objective but fail to resonate with your audience. Brainstorm in this phase by writing different messages, experimenting with tone, language and content. Have fun with different word combinations and vocabulary. When a message starts to sound good, always put it through the test; asking yourself if it supports the objective and also resonates with your audience.
Strategies and tactics
What will be the actual method of delivering your message(s) to your audience? Take care only to start on this step once you've completed the others leading up to this. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people start with the medium, then try to work backwards to the message. Have you ever heard anyone say "we should start a blog" or "maybe we could do a podcast" before even considering the content? You are not alone. Make sure you are choosing strategies and tactics based on your audience and the content of your messaging. Avoid the temptation to start here. Your identified audience will play a large roll in the selection of these methods, as you need to make sure you are reaching out in a way they will be receptive to.
The often forgotten step. Remember to decide what methods you will use to evaluate the effectiveness of your communications plan ahead of time. Success is often subjective, so setting clear benchmarks for your plan to achieve at the beginning is crucial. After a year, it's easy to say "we gained x number of followers" or "we saw a significantly higher engagement rate" and then declare success. This would be accurate if that were your objective, but it's important set those criteria before putting the plan into motion. The evaluation section makes it much easier to go back at a later date and measure effectiveness against clearly defined key results.
So that's it in a nutshell. Of course, this was a VERY compressed version just to provide an idea of why communication planning is important, and what goes into it. There are entire books written on this topic, like Strategic Communications Planning by Laurie Wilson and Joseph Ogden. That's where the overarching ideas for this article came from, and it's a book I use as a guide often. I highly recommend it if you're going to dive deeper into actually drafting a full communications plan.
If you would like to learn more about how a communications plan could help your organization, or need a quote for a custom tailored plan - please give me a call! You'll find my contact information in the footer.