Creating a Communications Plan
With a very serious face, a colleague walked up to me after a community event and asked me how to do a communications plan. I am sure that the look on my face was that of surprise. For over 20 years, I have been working in the area of public relations and marketing doing tons of communication plans, but I truly had to think about it. Interestingly enough, when you do things over and over again you have to stop and think how to explain the process to someone who hasn't done it before. I suggested reading a book or going online but that was not a very satisfying response and they kept holding on to my arm. Like the saying, it's like riding a bike, you never forget, unless you have never been on a bike before. That's my drive today for writing a post on developing a communications plan. It also got me thinking of other ideas to help companies and organisations in their campaign or project planning.
A communications plan is a document that details what you are trying to achieve, who is your priority audiences to reach, how you will reach them and how you plan on disseminating your message. It's important to have a clear communications plan for your business or project. The plan serves as a strategic road map that shows where you are going and how you will get there. It's key to include team members and community stakeholders in the process. Active listening is essential when planning campaigns or projects.
The following is a list of steps that should be included when preparing your plan:
Tell about the mission of the agency or organisation
This is an opportunity to share information about the organisation and talk about the work that is being done, what you want to do in the future, and share some of your accomplishments in the work that you are doing.
Who do you serve:
An opportunity to share about the audiences that your agency or organisation is serving. It may also be helpful to share why you serve them.
Provide information about the audiences that you want to reach with your campaign or project. Many organisations are funded to reach, for example, the Asian/Pacific Islander, African American, Latino, Elderly, Female, Male, Youth, LGBTQ or Transgender community. It's extremely important to be familiar with the communities you are planning to reach.
Goals & Objectives
After conducting a series of team meetings, develop a clear list of goals and objectives to be successful with your campaign or community engagement efforts.
What are the necessary steps to reaching your goals and objectives. When working with organisations I often encourage team members make a list of all the steps needed to reach the goals of the communication plan. Many items on the list could be combined after much discussion and review.
This section is necessary for a great campaign. It's important to create key messages that the community can relate to and take action. It truly helps if trust has been created over time with communities that you want to reach.
It's key to involve stakeholders, community members and your team in an open and honest discussion about the key messages without judgement. Your audience(s) will always tell you what is needed, how to create and position messages and the best places to project those messages to get their attention.
The biggest mistake made by corporations and organisations is not being willing to include the people they hope to reach in their marketing efforts. Community forums or conducting paid focus groups with your priority audiences is a great way to have authentic discussions and receive honest feedback on key messages.
In your plan, list the type of communication methods that will be utilised to promote your social marketing, media campaign or community engagement event. Most people today use all types of social media networks to promote campaigns. There are also other avenues that can be used like outdoor advertising, bus and subway promotions, bus shelters, inside bus ads, advertising with with Uber or Lyft cars, etc. There is also point of sales or POS advertising with community or neighbourhood businesses. Once again, knowing your community well provides lots of information that will help to shape your communications plan and the actual promotion.
There are many ways to promote your campaign that most people are aware of today. For example, there is radio, television, earned media, sponsorships, cable networks, print media, billboards, mall advertising, press releases, cultural events, media interviews, banner/display ads, and most importantly through word of mouth (WOM).
Conducting an ethnographic study is also an excellent way to learn about a population that you don't know very well. The information that returns from such a study will provide the corporation or organisation with a tremendous amount of information to tell where people go for fun, what makes them happy, about their values and also if they will be interested in what you may be promoting. It can also give you a better perception of who the audience is and what's important to them and their families.
Tools - If you are developing promotional items, try to discover what gifts or collateral will catch the attention of your priority communities. Try not to waste money on useless items that get tossed in the trash. Promotional items should be the latest model of materials that can be used and appreciated.
Roll Out of Campaign:
This section will highlight how the campaign will be rolled out to the priority communities. What will you do that is different to get media attention and the attention of your audience? Ask yourself, what will make my campaign different from others?
Sometimes people call this part the necessary evil that can slow the process down. Most organisations feel there just isn't enough money to do all the wonderful things that they want to do. Try not to dwell on that fact, but use the funds that you have and do the best you can do to create a positive campaign. With many clients I have created quarterly sections within a plan that may alleviate stress and allow you to create priorities.
The purpose of evaluation is to identify effectiveness of the event, staff, and community partners. It also provides:
Assessment of how well your objectives matched the needs of your priority audience
Determination of whether or not you achieved your objectives and goals
Documentation that the objectives were achieved
Discovery of the challenges, barriers and best practices for the future
Detection of what worked well, what didn't work well and why it didn't work
Lessons learned to improve future events or projects
If you start with these items, you will be well on your way to starting your communications plan. Have a question, feel free to send us a note at Promotions West: email@example.com