The Essentials of Developing an Effective Strategic Communications Plan
November 6, 2023
We have all ended a productive Zoom meeting feeling like we engaged in meaningful conversation, only to stare at our reflection on the desktop, feel confused and think, “Oh no, what now? Where do we start?” A strategic communications plan can curb uncertainty and provide guidance.
In communication, like most aspects of business, planning and goal setting are key to success. Creating a plan can involve assessing strengths and weaknesses, analyzing objectives, discussing key performance indicators, and determining what resources it will take to turn your abstract plan into action. One of the most effective ways to start this process is by putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards) and articulating your ideas.
Start With Research
Research is the foundation for any plan and will provide valuable insights to inform decisions throughout the strategic planning process, from defining the problem to determining the right messages to identifying feasible methods of performance evaluation. Even if there’s an urgency to begin outreach to your key audiences, don’t skip this step. The investment you make in research will pay off, not only throughout your planning but also in the outcomes you achieve.
Set Clear Goals and Objectives
Few things motivate teams and sustain their enthusiasm more than a clear, measurable and achievable goal. Whenever possible, ensure your goals are data-driven and communicate them clearly to everyone involved in the implementation of your plan. If you can, invite your clients or team members to participate in the goal-setting process so you have their buy-in from the start. Transparency in goal setting will allow clients and coworkers to know not only what your goals are but get them thinking early about their responsibilities and related contributions to achieve them.
Once you’ve identified your goal, consider what measurable changes you hope to make along the way to achieving your goal or the end result you hope to achieve. These are your objectives. Specific, measurable and time-bound, they should signal changes in awareness, opinion or behavior among your target audiences.
Develop Strategies and Tactics
With the foundation of your strategic communications plan in place, it’s time to outline who does what, when and how.
Strategies dictate how you will reach your objectives through certain messaging or approaches to the work. For example, you could build awareness through an aggressive media outreach, target a small group of key stakeholders through direct communications or activate employees as brand ambassadors via internal communications.
For each strategy, you will also need tactics that dictate how resources will be applied. At this point in the planning process, it’s time to get “into the weeds.” Be specific about the communications vehicles and tools you will use … How many news releases will you distribute, when and to whom? What stories are important to amplify on social media, and on which platforms? Which messages are better shared via email and how many emails will you send? This will help you establish a budget and allocate resources appropriately to cover the costs of time and materials.
In this part of the plan, you may also want to include the operational tactics required for execution, such as details about the review process or number of meetings it will take to finalize deliverables, among other activities.
Additionally, it is important to remember that even the best-laid plans are not foolproof. Spend time considering what difficulties you could face in execution. Establishing contingencies and preparing for multiple eventualities can save time, money and stress in the long run.
Execute, Evaluate and Repeat
If you have taken care in the creation of your plan and have methods in place to measure or observe progress, then the implementation and evaluation portions of the process should prove the easiest. It’s important to remember that planning and execution are not a linear process; as you receive new insights, be sure to adjust your plans accordingly. You may even need to conduct additional research or change your objectives along the way.
Achieving your communication goals is not a consequence of fortune; it is an outcome of precise planning. By gathering information, setting clear measurable goals and translating ideas into precise, action-oriented plans, you can chart a path toward more effective communications. While no two communication efforts are ever the same, they all start with strategic communications planning. Effective communication happens when the entire team is aligned, and a robust communication plan can effectively and efficiently do just that.