by Nancy Rathbun Scott
Overworked and underfunded business communicators (are there any other kind?) have a right to ask whether the work involved in developing a corporate communications plan is worth it. The answer is yes because a written communications plan will:
· give your day-to-day work a focus,
· help set priorities,
· provided a sense of order and control,
· achieve CEO and staff support,
· protect against last-minute, seat-of-the-pants demands, and
· provide peace of mind.
What Is a Communications Plan?
Communications include all written, spoken, and electronic interactions with your audiences. A communications plan puts in writing:
· your objectives-corporate imperatives you want to accomplish with your communications,
· goals or program of work-methods by which corporate objectives can be accomplished,
· audiences-people to whom your communications will be addressed,
· timetable, tools, and budget-what specific products you will produce to accomplish objectives, when those products will be developed, and how much they will cost,
· evaluation-how you will measure the results of your overall program.
What Products Are Included in a Communications Plan?
A plan encompasses objectives, goals and tools for all communications, including, but not limited to:
· periodic print publications,
· online communications,
· documentation and manuals,
· meeting and conference materials,
· media and public relations materials,
· marketing and sales vehicles,
· legal and legislative documents,
· incoming communications, including reception procedures and voice mail,
· communiques with employees and board members,
· corporate identity materials, including logos, print and packaging,
· certificates and awards,
· annual reports,
· speeches, and
When to Develop the Plan
The best time to develop your plan is in conjunction with your annual budgeting or organizational planning process.
Where to Get Information
Data for the plan comes from five sources:
· your corporate mission statement,
· a communication audit (that is, review of all materials currently being used),
· customer surveys and focus groups,
· input from advisors and consultants,
· discussions with employees and other department heads.
How to Develop the Plan
Take the following steps to develop an effective communications plan:
1. Conduct a research-communications audit. Evaluate your current communications. Some companies hire firms to do this, but the price for the objectivity of an outside auditor can be high. To conduct your own audit, find out:
· what every employee is doing in the way of communication,
· what each communication activity is designed to achieve, and
· how effective each activity is.
To get the answers to these questions:
· brainstorm with communications staff,
· talk to other department heads,
· interview the CEO,
· interview board members,
· survey customers,
· host focus groups, and
· query non-customers.
2. Define your objectives. Armed with information from your audit, define your overall communications objectives (that is, the results you want to achieve). These might include such objectives as:
· excellent service to customers,
· customer loyalty,
· increased sales per transaction,
· centralization of the communications effort,
· increased employee teamwork,
· improved employee retention and recruitment,
· improved product delivery,
· visibility for the company, and
· influence on media, consumers, and other audiences.
3. Define your audience. List all the audiences that your company might want to contact, attempt to influence, or serve. Included on your list may be:
· general consumers,
· commissioned sales force,
· prospective employees,
· federal, regional, and local governments,
· industry spokespeople, and
· the media.
Define your goals. With stated objectives-and considering available human and financial resources-develop your goals or program of work. In other words, develop a comprehensive, multi-task approach to achieving each objective.
Identify tools. Decide what tools will be used to accomplish the stated goals. These tools are the nitty-gritty tasks you'll be tackling all year-everything from a simple flyer to a glossy employee magazine to a CD-ROM catalog. Don't overlook less obvious tools such as lead qualification forms, posters, report covers, contact manager software and web sites. Plan to brainstorm ideas with your staff (or even a colleague or two from a noncompeting company) in a totally freewheeling afternoon.
Figure costs. In order to select among the options available, develop cost estimates for each approach. At this point, estimates are close enough to land you within established budget parameters so that you can make choices. Later, more precise costs can be pinpointed.
Establish a timetable. Once objectives, goals, audiences, and tools have been identified, quantify the results into a calendar grid that outlines roughly what projects will be accomplished and when. Separate objectives into logical time periods (monthly, weekly, etc.).
Evaluate results. Build into your plan a method for measuring results. Your evaluation might take the form of:
· a monthly report on work in progress,
· formalized department reports for presentation at staff meetings,
· periodic briefings of the CEO and other department heads,
· a year-end summary for the annual report.
Developing a written communications plan will take effort. Plan on three or four days the first time you do it. Once in place, the written plan will smooth your job all year, earn you respect from the CEO and other staff, help set work priorities, protect you from last-minute demands, and bring a semblance of order to a chaotic job.
Nancy Rathbun Scott is a business writer living in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.nancyscott.com for more information.
© 2004 Nancy Rathbun Scott