PLANNING FOR ACTION – CRAFTING A COMMUNICATIONS PLAN THAT YOU CAN ACTUALLY USE
By Mike Pinkston
How many times have you poured your energy into a plan, communications or otherwise, only to see it languish on a shelf, lifeless and spent as soon as the ink is dry? A plan can serve a variety of purposes. Sometimes it is just a tool to organize your thoughts; sometimes a place to hold your relevant data, goals and objectives; or sometimes you are just checking a box (in which case maybe it is best to shelve it immediately). But the best plan is a tool that not only defines your goals and objectives, but brings them within reach.
Communications plans can be particularly difficult since communications is such a soft science, but following a few basic principles can lead you to a plan that is meaningful, concise and actionable.
Meaningful. The plan should clearly state its purpose, goals and objectives, scope and assumptions. Don’t feel that these section headings are set in stone. For example, if you can combine the project scope with your assumptions, by all means, do so. There is no need to write a bland paragraph just to check a box in some plan template. Being concise is important, but we’ll talk more about that in a bit.
The plan should also identify your audiences, your messages and your delivery methodology. The point is that your plan should outline what you want to accomplish, why you want to accomplish it and how you are going to accomplish it. In many cases, this is your opportunity to sell your project – don’t cloud it with meaningless information.
Concise. The plan should be succinct. Don’t ask your audience to slog through four pages of background before they get to the meat of the plan. Lay it out simply and keep it concise. Use clear headings, simple sentences and short paragraphs. Make it easy to follow and easier to execute. Remember that your communications plan should be a living document. Requirements will likely change over the life of the project, so your communications effort should evolve as well.
Actionable. The plan should be practical and useable. Write five or six simple messages that will form the basis for all of your communications. Each message should be no longer than two sentences, and you should stick to those messages in every communication moving forward. Remember that it takes at least three, and as many as 20 repetitions before your message will sink in, so don’t deviate! You will get tired of repeating the same thing over and over before your audiences even realize they’ve heard it before.
Next, build three tables. Your audience table should include your different audiences, the outcomes you would like to achieve with those audiences, any activities you will employ to support those outcomes and any special characteristics of that audience. For example, if you are serving a dispersed organization, you must identify how you will reach your various readers. Do they typically read emails, or are they on a secured network that won’t let certain traffic through? Do you have to reach them through print mailings (don’t laugh; this actually occurs), or can you direct them to a distribution site like an intranet or extranet?
Then, build a communications tactics table. Include the tactic, target audience, frequency, content and release mechanics. Your list of tactics may be as simple as a series of emails, or as broad as a full-blown campaign including meetings, newsletters, websites, video products, advertising and more.
Finally, build an action table. This will be your execution guide. The action table should include each individual communication, the date (and sometimes even time) of release, the target audience, the message, the release mechanics and the responsible party. This is your day-to-day guide to execution. Follow the plan and watch your project come to life.