Start Here: Why Use a Communications Plan

The communications plan is the guideline that informs all the decisions that your organization will make when trying to communicate.

Simply put, the communications plan will address what will be said to whom, how, and when it is sent to them. It will also establish what resources are available for communicating and how to measure how effective each activity is. The strategic plan is included beforehand to identify why your organization does what it does, which will inform the rest of the details in the communications plan.

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Executive Summary

Explain the purpose of this communication plan. It can be the general plan for your organization or it might be more specific, such as outlining the plan for an event or a product launch.

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Goals and Objectives

Goals should be high level, such as “Increase community engagement.” Objectives should be SMART goals, such as “increase newsletter subscription by 10% in 3 months.”

Your organization’s strategic plan will inform the next couple of sections. If you already have an established strategic plan, then this is an opportunity to extend it to communications. If you have never made a strategic plan, then this will serve as a basic strategic plan.

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Product and Service Description

Describe what your organization does. Include all services that are provided to the public or to other organizations.

This should be more than a list of what you do, and should extend to how you do it. What makes your product or service different and more useful than what the next group is doing? Do you have a specific brand perspective? What are you doing that is unique? Usually differences are in the guiding principles behind your product or service, or in the experience of receiving the product or service.

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Situation Analysis: Environmental Scan and SOAR analysis

Situation Analysis has multiple sections. First, an environmental scan should be where you list ongoing changes happening surrounding your organization. Next a SOAR analysis will help you list where your organization’s strengths are, and what external opportunities exist for the organization. It will also help you express your organizational aspirations and what results need to be seen before those aspirations are achieved.

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Risk Assessment

This section will be about what factors are the greatest risks to the organization. List anything that would make it more difficult for you to continue operation. These factors can be based on factors that you identified during your environmental scan.

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Break

Take a 15 minute break, grab a drink of your preferred beverage, get up and stretch, chat with someone about the weekend. Take a short walk. Come back with a clear mind.

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Audience Analysis

Who is listening to you, and who do you want to be listening to you? What are their characteristics? Where do they live? What do they like to do? What do they think about? What do they care about? Describe your ideal audience here.

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Key Messages

This is where you define what your messages are. What are you hoping your target audiences will take away from your communications efforts? These often form the sound bites used for media interviews.

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Strategies

This next section is very similar to the goals and objectives section. The strategies are top-level descriptions of how you will try to get your key messages across to your audience. Your strategies are extension of your goals, informed by your situation analysis and are how you will get your key messages across to your audiences. Strategies include activities such as developing programs, engaging in advocacy, community outreach or sponsoring local events. This is also where you will decide who the spokesperson or strategy lead is for your communications. The strategies that you choose will determine what kind of tactics you will select in the following section.

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Budget

You must be able to pay for the tactics that you will be proposing. Budgeting prevents your communications from becoming too expensive, and it also prevents you from putting all your efforts in a single tactic. Knowing how much you have available to spend on your communications will keep your tactics reasonable and allow you to plan responsibly.

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Break #2

Take a 15 minute break, grab a snack, get up and stretch, check on your social plans. Listen to some good music. Come back with a clear mind.

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Tactics Summary

The tactics summary is where you brainstorm what you will do to fulfill your strategies. This should be actions such as “Connect with John Smith for potential partnership” or “Send out invitations for event.” These are bite sized actions. The day to day activities that people can do. Get specific.

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Action Plan

The action plan is where the tactics that were brainstormed in the previous section will be given timelines and the responsibility assigned to specific individuals. This is where you use the timelines of your objectives to define the window to complete your tactics to be able to complete your strategies while staying within your budget. The action plan is where everything comes together.

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Evaluation Methods

This is where you establish how you will evaluate the effectiveness of each tactic and strategy you built in the action plan. These need to be selected before implementation so that the evaluation is built into the tactics you are pursuing. Your evaluation methods must also be able to be examined throughout the time that the communication plan is being used so that adjustments can be made. Finally, it must be possible to do a final evaluation after the planned timeframe finishes so that your next communications plan can improve upon this one. Remember that evaluation also requires some of your budget.

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Break #3

Take a 10 minute break. Get your feet up. Call your family. Consider what you’ll have for your next meal. Maybe go eat a quick meal. Only one more section to go! Come back feeling fresh.

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Pre-Mortem

This is a key part of the communications plan. Up to this point, we have been thinking about what we can do to communicate well. Now we flip that on it’s head. Assume right now, that the plan you have just made will fail at some point in the future. What caused the failure? What were the steps that led to failure? How could failure be prevented? How might it fail in 3 months? How might it fail in 1 year? 5 years? What different aspects should be changed to prevent each of those failures?

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Panic Plan

How you respond in a panic situation can make or break an organization. Decide who will be saying what to what audience and when. For example: if a scandal breaks involving your organization, who should be making a statement and how will it be transmitted? Will all those who need to hear it have access immediately? Fill out a variety of different scenarios. This is also where you can prepare how you will apologize if something is your fault.

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