Communications planning

A communications plan is a written document that sets out how you are going to communicate with your audiences and stakeholders. You may develop a communications plan for a specific event or campaign, or as a roadmap for the year ahead.

Why prepare a communications plan

Taking the time to plan and document the approach you will take with your communications activities will help you and your organisation:

  • agree priorities and focus resources
  • ensure your communication activities fit with the goals of the wider organisation
  • better understand your audiences and the environment you’re working in
  • ensure everyone is on board
  • improve your ability to achieve your desired outcome

Communications plan template

The following template has suggested headings and comments to help you write a communications plan. Different projects or issues will require different levels of detail. This plan provides a starting point so feel free to tailor it to make it work for you. You can also download a PDF version below:

Purpose

  • Provide one or two sentences about the topic your communications plan covers.
  • Outline why you need to communicate.

Communication objectives

  • List one or more objectives you want to achieve. These should be linked to wider project or organisational goals.
  • It is useful to make your objectives SMART: specific, measurable, achievable/realistic and time bound.

Background and environmental factors

  • It may be helpful if you insert a brief summary of the project or of previous communications on this topic, for example whether anything has been said to staff, stakeholders or the media.
  • Write about any internal or external factors, for example:
    • related or interdependent projects, or
    • other external events that may impact on your communications (eg media coverage of a topical issue; another organisation’s activities that are relevant).

Stakeholders and audiences

  • Ask yourself who needs to know, who can impact your work and who does your work impact? Then list them as either a stakeholder or audiences (stakeholders are those you want to work within your communications or project, audiences are those you are wanting to communicate with).
  • Do you need to break groups down? For example, the public may be too big a group and you might need to think about population sub-groups, like young people or those living in a particular suburb

Approach

  • Talk about (at a high level) how you plan to achieve your communications objectives – what approach will help you get there?
  • Outline the rationale for your approach and the communication activity planned. For example, why you want to target a particular group and how your choice of channel (eg face to face meetings, or twitter) is suited to them.
  • What are the barriers, risks and issues your communications needs to take account of?

Messages

  • Your messages should be focused on your identified stakeholders and audiences. Use language they will understand and take into account their existing knowledge.
  • Depending on the topic, you may develop different sets of messages for various audiences, tailored to their area of interest. Or sets of messages that change as time goes on.
  • Focus on the end use/outcomes rather than the process.
  • Can your messages highlight the positive difference your initiative will make to the audience or
    stakeholder groups?
  • Use the what, when, why, who, where and how questions to make sure you’ve included the basic information in your messages.
  • What is your call to action – what do you want people to do after they hear your messages?

Action plan

  • When thinking about your communication activity think about tools and channels. A tool is something that contains your messages and the channel is how you get it across. For example:
    • tools – media releases, factsheets, articles, brochures, question and answer sheets, posters, presentations, briefings, memos, a tweet or post
    • channels – news media, internet, twitter, facebook, conferences, workshops.
  • Who will do what? Who will be your spokesperson/people, who will draft the communications and who will approve it?
  • You can structure your action plan in a table. Suggested column headings to include are:
    • Communications activity (tool or channel)
    • Target audience
    • Who’s involved and what is their role
    • Timing
    • Resource (hours or dollars).

Measurement

  • How will you know you’ve been successful, or whether you need to change your approach? Frequently used measures include:
    • formal research
    • debrief of project team
    • anecdotal feedback from customers (internal and external)
    • focus groups and surveys
    • number of website hits or facebook shares or retweets
    • number of media clippings or coverage of key messages in the media.
  • A quick check…

    A good communication plan flows and its sections are connected. For example:

    • Do your objectives cover all your stakeholder and audience groups?
    • Is your approach in line with your objectives, and does your communication activity reflect your approach?
    • Do you have communication activity that targets each of your stakeholder and audience groups?
    • Are your messages appropriate for your different stakeholders and audiences?
    • Will your measurement technique help you assess how effectively you met your objectives?

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