04 Feb Strategic Communication Planning
Posted at 16:51h in Communications
A good communications plan has the right balance of architecture, engineering and project management – your audience is waiting.
I wrote my first communications plan at Qantas in 2003. Sitting in front of a blank template on a screen, I compared it with a completed plan that lay printed on my desk.
I had to meet the project owner; work with them to develop a list of key messages; agree a process for sign off; understand the project’s milestones, and learn about the project’s intended audience: how they did – and would – receive information. A voyage of discovery began.
Return to the present of 2019 and I’ve written 100+ communications (comms) plans since. I’ve learned how to ask the right questions of owners, stakeholders and audiences – a constant image of what the completed plan should look like and achieve is always front of mind.
Today, I find myself across the table from clients who broadly fit one of three descriptions:
They know they need a comms plan, but don’t really know what one is or where to start.
They refer to comms plans with some knowledge, but are not practiced in writing or implementing them.
They have a comms plan template, work with them and know their value, but have neither the time nor resources to write, let alone manage, another one.
In my communications career, I’ve worked across corporate, SME and sole trader environments. That has meant writing, developing and implementing a wide variety of comms plans, including: the introduction of the A380 to the Qantas fleet; part of the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) at SBS; a strategic change management initiative for a global IT business, as well as advising several startups and entrepreneurs.
I believe there are three key reasons why some comms plans work brilliantly, yet others flounder. In the brilliant plans:
The key messages are drafted, developed and agreed with the business (unit) owner.
There’s a clear stakeholder map, with each stakeholder familiar with the comms plan and their role within it.
The comms plan always has an owner, responsible for achieving sign off of all collateral and meeting deadlines for delivery according to an agreed channel matrix and timeline.
I’ve sat with many people eager for my help with a letter or brochure about a topic or product. I’ll ask for their key messages. “Well, that’s what this letter or brochure is for, to tell people about it. I just need your help writing it.”
In larger organisations, documents frequently arrive with an instruction to be sent out, showing little appreciation of the broader communications picture. I call this postbox comms, which has no strategic value for any business.
Everyone thinks they can write, which is often where it begins. Someone starts writing, not planning – certainly not developing a strategy – which requires a concentrated look at the larger communications framework.
It may surprise you, but when thinking about communication, some very intelligent people will start with the end product, for example, a letter, email or speech. Imagine doing that with a building: “I think we’ll start with the building and work our way back to the drawings.” Try selling that concept to a group of engineers and architects.
I’ve worked with people eager to have a comms plan, thinking it will tick that box for their project and someone else will take care of it. I’ve had managers ask me to slice and dice a particular comms plan seven different ways, believing it would somehow improve the outcome, no matter how simple or complex. While the plan itself needs to be a useable document, management of that document is equally important.
It’s been 16 years since I sat in front of that first, blank communications plan template. I’ve learned a helluva lot about strategic communications planning, execution and how to manage people to bring a document to life – and keep it breathing for the lifetime of a project.
A well-crafted comms plan will solve a communications problem for you, save you time, money and stress. And that’s because it becomes:
The central source of all truth.
A list and checklist for the owners of that truth.
A blueprint for how and when that truth will be disseminated.
My three best-practice guidelines for building a great comms plan:
Find, or design, a comms plan template that works for you and your business.
Complete the plan as if it were a jigsaw puzzle, answering the: who, why, what, when and how of your communication.
Once it’s completed and stakeholder sign off is achieved, open it daily to see what’s happening next and who you/the owner need(s) to speak with to complete the next part of the schedule.
I’ll leave you with some Confucius:
If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.
If you’re confused: Contact Geoff.