communication plan

Imagine a world without senses; no sight, hearing, touch, taste, or smell. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. The five reliable ways you make sense of the world have abandoned you. Without senses, you can’t communicate, and what happens when we can’t communicate?

You wouldn’t have the ability to sell your best qualities during an interview, missing out on the chance of landing your dream job. Your desire to be a world class attorney is out the window, without the ability to convince the jurors through your powers of persuasion. And perhaps, most importantly, you wouldn’t be able to tell those closest to you just how much you love them. Our senses make a world of difference to how we feel, and ultimately, how we conduct ourselves. And communication is at the forefront.

Imagine a world without the ability to communicate. Ideas are what push our world forward, and ideas won’t grow if we don’t communicate. If we don’t communicate, it means we stop sharing ideas, we stop sharing knowledge, we stop sharing emotions, and we stop learning.

Communication is vital – so what happens when a business lacks communication?

A solid communication plan is critical to the successful implementation of your communication strategy. It provides a roadmap and step-by step guide for your team to follow to achieve your desired results.

We recently explained why a strong and reliable communication strategy held the key to business success. But where do you go from there? How do you break down the mountain of  information from a communication strategy and apply this to your marketing activities?

You need a well-articulated and thought out communication plan.

What’s the difference between a communication strategy and communication plan?

Your communication strategy relates to the guidelines and documents that your company uses to deliver the right message to the right audience, both internally and externally, to meet your objectives.

Your communication plan, however, is focused on a specific event, project, or initiative. It follows the basic structure of your strategy but provides less analytical detail and more specific information, such as a workplan.

Much like an effective communication strategy, an effective communication plan is all about clarity. Your strategy clarifies your business goals and objectives, as well as the relationship between your audience. It covers messaging, channels, materials, and activities, and leads to consistency across all mediums.

Your communication plan sets out a clear framework on how to push your specific strategy forward. It includes a detailed list of your objectives, tasks, goals, target audience, messaging, and communication tools, as well as a specific timeline and budget.

It explains in detail what you need to achieve, when, how, and by who.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Let’s discover more about why a communication plan is so important, and how to create one.

Table of Contents

What’s The Problem?

Your communication strategy establishes company-wide understanding of both internal and external communications.

But it needs a structured communication plan to support it.

Without such a plan, there are 5 major issues which can arise, resulting in wasted time and money.

  1. No clarity of direction

Your goal may be to tap into a new customer base, increase revenue, or sell a new e-book. Each goal is important, but the tactics involved in achieving them are different. Without a clear plan for your specific goal, it’s almost impossible to determine how you are going to achieve it.

  1. Unclear audience

If you don’t clarify who you are trying to reach and why, your messaging may not resonate with your audience. This leads to a greater chance of your message being misunderstood and ignored.

Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.
― Alexander Graham Bell, Inventor

3. Misuse of Resources
If you don’t understand your audience, messaging, communication tools, timeline, and budget, then you can’t identify the more efficient way to reach your specific target audience. And, if your messaging doesn’t reach the right audience, you may not meet your objectives. Instead, you will have wasted valuable time and money, and lost potential leads.

4. Stakeholder and Staff Confusion
Staff often report that they feel siloed, that their work is isolated from others. This shows a lack of communication across the business, with staff having no clear picture of the business goals. No communication plan, or one developed without structured conversations with staff and key stakeholders, means your messages are unlikely to be supported across the company. This contributes to its likelihood of failure. This is particularly relevant in the aftermath of COVID-19, where many staff have been required to work from home. You need to communicate efficiently and effectively with staff. After all, if they aren’t on the same page, how can you expect your audience to be?

5. No Path to Success
In the business world, everyone is searching for key metrics. But, it’s hard to measure those metrics if you don’t know what they are or what you are trying to achieve. Without a well-written communication plan, with benchmarks and an evaluation process, you won’t know if you are going off course. Your strategy might not work and your tactics may not produce results.

A goal without a plan is just a wish.
– Antonie de Saint-Exupéry

Why does this matter?

It’s integral to have a communication plan as part of your communication activities.

Your business will know what it is and what it wants to communicate
You should have solid messages that explain the problems your business solves, the value it brings to your audience, and why that audience should engage with your product or service. There is no sense in tackling various channels until you understand who you are, why you matter, and who you matter to. And you can clearly articulate this.

Your business will know its audience
If you are unclear on your audience, how do you expect to reach them? When it comes to audience engagement, businesses often go for quantity over quality. If you have limited time, budget, and manpower on your side, you need to focus your communication efforts where you will get the most ‘bang for buck’.

Silos will be removed
Internal silos prevent sharing of important business information. You don’t have to be part of a large business to notice there are ‘walls’ within the business. Without a clear strategy or plan in place, your staff won’t know what they are trying to achieve. An ongoing exchange of information, however, as part of your communication plan allows for greater content creation and development of successful and effective communication efforts.

Communication efforts will meet organisational objectives
It’s commonplace for communication plans to become a list of tactics unrelated to the communication strategy, and the larger organisational objectives. Without a clear plan on how communication supports your business goals you end up with a mess of mediums and messages that don’t equate to much.

Content is king
To be an effective communicator, you must provide meaningful content that your audience benefits from. Content is the foundation of your social media presence. Are you able to provide your customers with information that they can use, act on, and be engaged with?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

When done effectively, a communication plan can catapult your business into greater awareness, leading to increased revenue and overall market share.

What’s the Solution?

Communication creates engagement. The importance of communication is often underestimated when you are creating and implementing your strategic plan. While those involved in this plan may be in the loop, those outside the direct team are often left in the dark. Effective communication involves informing all staff and managers of the plan, its importance, their role, and how they may be affected. To achieve overall business success, your  plan relies on the activities of multiple people throughout your business.

From an overall business strategy comes a communication strategy, which is finely milled into individual communication plans based on a specific activity.

So, now that you have a business and communication strategy, what’s next?

Developing Your Communication Plan

Your communication plan needs to clarify the relationships between your audience, messages, channels, and activities. It helps you identify who you need to reach for a specific purpose, what you want them to know and how you will reach them.

Several key components make up a communication plan.

Executive Summary

This section includes a high-level description of the plan, why it exists, and an overview of how you will implement the plan of your specific project. Consider it a summary and complete it last so you can capture what you have outlined in the rest of the plan.

Background

What has happened to bring you to this point?

This section should include information on your company’s mission, vision, and values. These statements inform all aspects of your business communication. Include a list of major events and issues that have determined the need for this plan. This gives you insight into the value and importance of the plan and ensures you are heading in the right direction.

Purpose

What is it you are trying to achieve with this communication plan?

State the overarching purpose of what you want to achieve. It should fall directly from the communication strategy and every element of the plan should be developed to work towards it. Use this statement as a guide for every activity, and ask yourself “is this activity, channel, message, etc the best choice to achieve this purpose?”

Objectives

What do you want to happen to help you achieve your purpose?

Outline what you expect to achieve when you implement your communication plan. You could include a range of factors that will depend on what your plan intends to accomplish. Focus on updating and educating people who the project affects.  You can get as specific as you like with your communication plan objectives, which may include:

  • increasing awareness of the project, its relevance, and importance.
  • providing opportunities for feedback from stakeholder groups.
  • creating a conversation among staff and key stakeholders to gain overall awareness and acceptance of the project.

Outcomes

What will be the result of your objectives being met?

This is where we get to the guts of your plan. What is it you want it to achieve? What are the outcomes you expect or require from implementing the plan?

This section should reflect your business objectives. Remember that your key messages are what you want to communicate, while objectives are the results you want to achieve.

Here are some possible objectives:

  • Develop a promotional video on our latest product that 90% of our audience engage with
  • Achieve 85% client satisfaction with the e-book launch as measured by a customer satisfaction survey
  • Get 100% approval rate from Board members on new branding

Stakeholders/Audiences

Who are you trying to reach with this plan?

This section is as simple as it sounds. Who is it you are trying to reach with this specific communication activity and why?

For example, you may be interested in reaching:

  • Females aged 25-35, interested in high-end fashion.
  • High-income net worth individuals interested in property investment.
  • Australian distributors of agricultural supplies.
  • Vehicle owners in the local area.
  • Attendees at local football events.
  • Staff.
  • Potential or current shareholders.
  • Stakeholders in the general community.

The size of your audience doesn’t matter. What’s important is that your audience is listening. – Randy Pausch

Key Messages

What are you trying to get across to your audience? Remember the value.

Key messages are the main points of information you want your audience to hear, understand, and, most importantly, remember.

They are bite-sized pieces of information that communicate what you do, why you do it, the value you bring to your specific audience, and how you are different.

Key messages are imperative as they serve as the foundation of your company’s branding and should be reflected in all written and spoken communication.

Ensure your key messages are:

  • Concise: focus on 3-5 key messages.
  • Relevant: balance what you wish to communicate with what your audience needs to know.
  • Compelling: design meaningful information to stimulates audience action.
  • Simple: avoid jargon and acronyms and use language that is easy to understand.
  • Realistic: use active, not passive, voice.
  • Memorable: ensure your messages are easy to recall and repeat and avoid long, run-on, sentences.
  • Tailored: adapt your language and depth of information to communicate effectively with different audiences.
  • Strategic: define, address, and clarify the benefits.

Issues/Risks

What could bring you undone or impact you reaching your objectives?

Are there reputational implications involved with this communication plan? Is time or budget a factor in achieving the objectives? Could an internal or external event affect your chance of achieving the objectives?

Outline any issues or risks that may arise during this communication plan and how you will overcome them if they arise.

Risk is like fire: If controlled it will help you; if uncontrolled it will rise up and destroy you. – Theodore Roosevelt

Activities/Tactics and Timeline

How do you plan to implement your objectives?

In this section, outline what activity is directed at what audience, and the message you are conveying. It’s good to create an author for each section so they are aware of their involvement – ensuring all participants understand their responsibilities.

A simple table like below is the perfect way to break down your communication plan timeline.

communication plan timeline

Measurement
How can you measure that you have reached your objectives and outcomes?


There are five key factors that measure the overall success of your communication plan.

  1. Was communication received by my target audience?
  2. Was the information digested?
  3. When did they access my information?
  4. Did they understand what we were trying to communicate?
  5. How will I ensure future interactions with this audience is captivating?

So how do you find the answers to these questions?

1. Did my target audience receive my communication?

If your primary communication channel was email, you can check to see if people opened the email (open rates) and clicked the links (click rates). Most email marketing platforms, such as Mailchimp, will provide analytical data for your email campaigns so you can easily analyse relevant metrics.

2. How much of the information did they digest?

Since different audiences respond to different methods of communication, it’s important you package your communication efforts in various ways. Measure what pieces of digital content were opened and consumed. How did they interact with your communication? With the email marketing example, you can look at click through rates, and the number of unsubscribes.

A great benefit of digital communication is the analytical data you can pull to easily and accurately determine what channels and audiences work best together. If you are considering face-to-face communication, you can get feedback through a survey.

3. When did they access my information?
All communication efforts are time critical, therefore it is essential to understand when your communication was accessed. This is where live analytics is important. You can also see who has not interacted with your specific communication methods, which gives you the chance to follow them up. For example, when communicating mandatory training to staff.

 4. Does my audience understand what I am trying to communicate?
It’s easy to measure if your communication was received, but was it understood? When it comes to 1-1 communication, you can assess one’s body language and get feedback through various means, such as word of mouth or surveys. In the digital landscape, you may like to provide an online survey to check their comprehension and reaction.

Your survey should be short and sharp. In most cases, five multiple choice questions with true/false answers or a likert scale will be enough to encourage your audience to respond.

5. How can I ensure future interactions with this audience is captivating?
To improve upon the information shared, it’s important to measure the effectiveness of your communication plan. When you communicate to an existing or new audience, their response may change. It’s important to regularly analyse what is working and what isn’t so you can adjust future communication plans.

Budget

What is your overall spend towards communications or this activity?

With a lot to consider when it comes to budgeting for your plan, it’s important to include a budget estimate in your communication strategy. Plan out your communication efforts over the next month, quarter, and year, and provide a small buffer for unforeseen events. This will ensure you have enough money to achieve your communication objectives.

If your communication plan is low-key, the budget may be quite small and consist predominantly of internal staffing costs. If you’re developing a high-profile communication plan, your costs may be significantly larger.

For example, you may be launching an e-book with an upcoming event. Costs may include:

  • Location booking costs for a room or auditorium depending on audience levels.
  • Lighting, audio, and location setup.
  • On-site video requirements.
  • Media advisory.
  • Spokesperson.
  • Catering.
  • Merchandise.
  • Staffing.

You need to understand where these funds will come from before it comes to the crunch. Will they fit in with your pre-determined communications budget, as part of your overall communication strategy? Or will you need extra funding?

Benefits

Knowing what to say is important, but it’s just as valuable to know when or how to say it. Any business is fraught with opportunities for miscommunication, especially without a plan in place. A communication plan will help to keep your communication activities on track, aligned with your audiences’ expectations, and within budget. It will allow you to outline who you will communicate with, when, and how. The more precise your plan is, the clearer your communication is, and the smoother your plan will run.

Let’s run through four reasons why a communication plan benefits your business.

1. Clarity

Being clear when you plan your communication from the start of a project establishes your leadership and sets expectations. Start with a template that can be customised for your project and give relevant team members the change to review it. When all participants understand each detail, you will be able to reap the benefits of working together to reach your specific goals.

2. Development

The more communication between team members working on a plan, the better they’ll work together. Fostering this interaction will ensure the right people are talking wherever possible. It will produce a cohesive team working towards a common goal – reducing those silos we spoke of previously.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. Helen Keller

3. More effective meetings

A solid communication plan prevents unnecessary meetings about who is talking to who, when, and why. Meetings stay on track and on time, ensuring participants get back to your project sooner.

4. Stakeholder satisfaction

Commit yourself to providing regular updates throughout the communication plan process, while actively seeking stakeholder engagement. Saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time can be catastrophic for a plan. But knowing what to say, how, and when will help keep your project on time, within budget, and in line with expectations.

Summary

A solid communication plan relates to the businesses brand, mission, image, values, goals, and audience. It informs them of the value the business can provide, what problems it solves and for which audience. It engenders a discussion about your organisation and industry, leading to continual improvement and innovation that addresses market needs.

No matter the size of your business, a successful communication plan for your key communication activities ensures you have continual buyer input and, hopefully, satisfaction. This gives you the best chance at increasing revenue.

If your business is holding a event, or launching a new project, and you have no set plan in place, how will you measure your objectives and success? How will you know who you are trying to reach and the message you want to get across to your audience?

Communication is a key driver of profit, so having a plan in place is extremely beneficial for business, from both an internal and external perspective. Staff know what is expected of them and when, and your stakeholders and audience know that they can trust your product or service.

Plus, developing a communication plan can be simple, but the result is 10 times as effective!

If you would like to find out more information or want to know how we can assist you in develop a solid communication plan, from development through to implementation, get in touch with us today.