Your communications plan

A communications plan helps your group:

  • set priorities and focus resources where they are needed most
  • clarify your aims and target audiences
  • sharpen your message by having key messages
  • understand the environment in which you'll deliver that message
  • be proactive avoid reacting only to external events
  • integrate your communications work on a particular issue, i.e. media activities,
  • lobbying, fundraising, communications with members, etc.
  • ensure that everyone in the organisation can clearly communicate your aims and activities.

The first step in your planning should be forming a communications planning committee. The more members of your organisation participate in the planning, the more successful it will be. Try to engage staff, board members and volunteers in the process. You may even look at appointing someone to lead the committee; this will keep your planning work moving and ensure overall continuity.

Communication planning process

  1. Background - What are we communicating about?
  2. Objectives - What do we want to achieve with our message?
  3. Key audiences - Who exactly are we talking to? Include groups inside as well as outside the organisation.
  4. Issues - What are the issues of concern to the key audiences?
  5. Communication strategy - What is our overall approach and do we know everything we need to? ??
  6. Research - (if information is lacking)
  7. Key messages - What are the key messages we want to communicate?
  8. Tools/methods - What channels will we use? What channels do our audiences use?
  9. Action plan - What actions are required to start, maintain and complete the process?
  10. Accountabilities and timelines - What are the timelines for each stage, as well as the whole project, and who’s responsible?
  11. Budget - How much money do we have to spend?
  12. Measures - What is our measurement tool and goal?
  13. Finalise communications plan*
  14. Implement plan*
  15. Review progress*
  16. Make changes as required

*Notes:
1. To finalise the communications plan:

  • Get agreement and sign-off from all participants and organisational authorities. Be clear about the agreement so there are no surprises or problems within the group when the communication begins.
  • Prepare for impact what will the communication result in? Will handling increased calls and product demands require extra staff? Think this through.

2. To implement the plan:

  • Check all stages are on track. Ensure you obtain sign-off and that delegated authorities are clear about their role make sure everyone knows who is the spokesperson. You may need to monitor this.

3. To review progress:

  • Define your review processes. How will you know if you have achieved your goals? How often will you review progress?
  • Refine the strategy, vehicles or message if review suggests you should. Should you increase activity? Decrease? Promote the results or outcomes?

Communications plan

The end result of the full communications planning process is a written communications plan (see following template). The plan documents the process for effectively communicating with all of your audiences and stakeholders.

Communications plan template

Executive summary

Write this last so you can tie in all information within the plan. Provide an overview of the plan. State the problem or opportunity and explain how communications can help. State the objectives and expected outcomes, and cite any research used in forming the plan.

Purpose/goal

State briefly why you are communicating and what you hope to achieve, e.g. inform the public, manage expectations, change behaviour, marketing etc. This doesn't need to be longer than a couple of sentences.

Background

Set the context. How did we get here and why do we need a communications plan? How does the project/communications fit with the group's objectives, purpose, vision and values? Describe the project and provide background.

Situation analysis

Consider the issues that might affect the way you communicate with your audiences/stakeholders. These may be political, environmental, socio-economic, legal, operational, etc. Think about types of communications initiatives that could help. Include any research, previous history or lessons learned from other projects.

Objectives and measures

What are your communication objectives and how will you measure them? The objectives should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). You will need to have something to compare your measurements against so the objectives can be evaluated at the end. This may involve using formal or informal surveys, team meetings, face-to-face enquiries, unsolicited feedback to managers, team leaders, observation etc. Note: Your communications objectives relate only to the effectiveness of your communications and shouldn't be confused with the overall project objectives they are additional.

Communication Objectives

Measures

E.g. To increase awareness of your services among new migrant communities by 20 per cent

 

Number of new migrants surveyed after the project who were aware of the services you provide, compared to those surveyed prior to the project commencing

 

Stakeholders

Identify your key stakeholders. These are people or organisations that have an interest in the outcome of the project.

Person or Organisation

Their interest

Our interest

                                     

                                       

                                         

 

 

 

 

 

 

Target audiences

Who are the target audiences you wish to communicate with? Divide your audiences into internal and external. Remember to be specific e.g. the external audience may be the general public, but existing members of your group may need to receive a different message than prospective supporters. In many cases, there will be secondary audiences that need to get the message as well.

Risks/issues and mitigation

Identify any communication risks or issues that might affect your project and outline how you will mitigate them. When identifying risks, be sure to make the distinction between what is a risk, and what is a consequence of a risk. Use the matrix below to determine the level of risk. Ensure the mitigation strategies are picked up in the Action Plan and responsibilities assigned.

Risk

Mitigation

 Risk without mitigation 

 Risk with mitigation 

 E.g. The organisation will be criticised for lack of consultation

 Consult as widely as possible, keep key stakeholders informed 

 Medium-High (8)

 Medium-Low (2) 

Use the following diagram to determine communication risks.

Impact(if risk occurs)

high

6

8

9

medium

3

5

7

low

1

2

4

 

 

low

medium

high

 

 

Likelihood (of risk occurring)

Key messages

What are the messages you wish to communicate? Ideally there should be one key message or phrase people can remember and repeat, or no more than three to five important messages you want people to know. Develop a series of secondary messages to be used for different audiences or situations. These secondary messages could be in the form of questions and answers. Note: Messages are not explanations. Keep them brief.

Questions and Answers

Develop a series of questions that you most commonly hear about your organisation, and their succinct answers. Follow the who what why where when and how formula. If you are holding an event think about the questions you might be asked about its history and inspiration. These Q and As are for the use of anyone who might be asked questions by the media.

Tools and tactics

What communication tool/approach or combination of tools will be most effective? Most communication strategies use several tools. For example a broadcast email will provide a different result from an email direct from the chief executive, which will differ again from using staff meetings. A media release is a cost-efficient way of getting information to the general public, but there is no guarantee of publication, whereas a paid advertisement is guaranteed to run. Other tools to consider include newsletters, your website, fliers, posters, brochures, face-to-face meetings, blogs, etc.

Timing

Your group's communications plan is for the whole year. You can also have a communications plan for any events you want to run or campaigns you want to promote which will re-state your key messages and add ones relevant to the event.

  • when do your group's main events happen?
  • when are project or other milestones happening?
  • what else is happening during the year e.g. is it election year? what impact will that have? When are school holidays, with people away?
  • include key project milestones or events that you want to tell your stakeholders or audiences about.

Budget and resources

Factor in how much communications will cost. You need money for everything from design to paper to advertisements and you may need to pay for some external communications expertise.

Action plan

Outline what needs to be done, who will do it and when. Make sure all those with responsibilities agree to them. Your communications plan will need to be regularly monitored and updated. Identify whether it is the project manager, project sponsor or who has final sign-off on materials.

Date/Timing

Action

Responsibility

                      

                                       

                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitor the effectiveness of your communications plan as the project is implemented, and change your tactics if necessary. Get together at the end of the project and determine whether your objectives were met, and work out what you would do differently next time. For thorough evaluation you might want to take a simple survey of some members of your target audiences to see if your message got through.

Tip: SPARC offers the guide Creating a Stakeholder Communications Plan. It details an eight-step planning framework designed for those who don't have a communications background. It offers examples and prompts that aim to help you think strategically in order to develop a pragmatic communications plan. Available from: http://www.sportnz.org.nz/managing-sport/search-for-a-resource/guides/stakeholder-communications-plan.

 

Next page: Communicating via the media

Previous page: Introduction to communications

Contents of the Community Resource Kit