Every organisation relies on communications with its market, internal staff and the general public. These communications are essential to the ongoing development
of your business and if incorrectly framed they can lead to problems of misunderstanding and confusion. It is important that you plan how you want
to communicate with your different audiences.
Your Communications Plan is all about your Brand. Your organisation stands for something, it should have a vision of why it exists what the value it provides.
If you don't have this clearly defined first then you will fail to effectively communicate the right messages.
Developing a communications strategy is an art, not a science and there are many ways of approaching the task. The following provides a framework for you
to work from. Your final plan will vary according to the type of communications strategy you are wanting to develop be it for a specific project or
the promotion of your business, products or services. Just as with your organisational strategy, it should establish the following:
Tools and activities
Evaluation and amendment
Your objectives are the
key to the success of your communications strategy. Be very clear about the driving influences to your communications strategy plan. Your objectives,
once correctly identified, should ensure that your communications strategy is organisationally driven rather than being driven by the communications
themselves. Understand, your communications activity is not an end in itself. The communications in all their different forms should serve and hence
be aligned with your organisational objectives. Ask yourself what you can do within communications to help your organisation achieve its core objectives.
By aligning your communications and organisational objectives you will reinforce the importance and relevance of communications. This will provide a convincing
case for the proper resourcing of communications activity within your organisation.
You should identify those audiences with whom you need to communicate to achieve your organisational objectives. Recognise that
you will have a number of different target audiences and each will have their own characteristics and needs. As such each will require different approaches
to how you can best communicate with each. There is no single strategy that works with all your audiences with equal result.
The best audiences to target in order to achieve an objective may not always be the most obvious ones, and targeting audiences such as the media may not
always help achieve your objectives. Whilst you may like a higher media and political profile, activities aiming towards this may ultimately be self-serving
and only communications driven, with no wider impact. They can even have a negative effect if you dedicate resources towards this that would otherwise
be put towards communicating with key stakeholders.
Know what you want to say ahead of time - plan what your audience wants to hear, how they want to hear about it and the context
of how you will deliver those messages.
Strategic targeting and consistency are key to your organisation's messages. Create a comprehensive case covering all the key messages, and emphasise the
different elements of the case for different audiences.
To maximise impact you should summarise the case in three key points which can be constantly repeated. Remember that communications is all about storytelling:
use interesting narrative, human interest stories and arresting imagery.
Tools and activities
access to the right tools can make the difference of making or breaking your communications plan. With so many different media channels both in the
traditional media and now digital media, you need to identify those tools that will most effectively and efficiently distribute your messages to each
of the selected channels.
Identify the tools and activities that are most appropriate to communicating the key messages to the audiences. These will be suggested by your audiences,
messages, or a combination of the two. For example, an annual report is a useful tool in corporate communications whereas an email newsletter lends
itself well to internal communications. Ensure that you tailor your tools and activities to the level of time and human and financial resources available.
Resources and timescales
You do not have unlimited resources so understand what your limitations and capabilities are. Determine what you can and should do yourself and then consider
what can be achieved through outside resources. Also be cognisant of the costs, not only direct but those hidden costs.
The key rules to observe are always to deliver what you promise and never over promise. Use your resources and timescales to set legitimate levels of expectations
and outline the case for more dedicated resources.
Evaluation and amendment
If you fail to measure the results of your communication then you will not realise whether you have achieved your objectives and you will not understand
how you need to modify and adapt your communications. As with any Strategy, it is not set in concrete - it is not a fixed immovable object - it is
a living breathing thing that needs to be reviewed and modified.
It is essential that you assess the effectiveness of your strategy with both your internal and external audiences. Find the tools that enable you to measure
the numbers, gauge audience reactions and responses. You should use open questions with appropriate prompts and benchmarks and, if possible, get someone
independent to do the work. Consider and discuss the results carefully and use them to amend your strategy. With digital media the task is far easier
with so many analytics tools available to measure just about every aspect of your digital communications.
Example audiences to consider are your staff, funders, key political targets and media. Questions you should consider asking are:
What do you read/see/hear?
What works/doesn't work?
What do you want to see more of?
What information do you need that you are not currently supplied with?
How often do you want us to communicate with you?
Understand that this is not an autocratic process. A strategy belongs to the whole organisation and should be representative of all stakeholders in that
organisation. Drawing up your strategy is a team effort, involve representatives from each area of your organisation and on a smaller scale, the entire
organisation. Feed the communications strategy into the organisational strategy to ensure maximum alignment and efficiency.
Written by: Greg Tomkins