A communications plan is a written document that sets out how you are going to engage 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 an editable word version below:
- Provide one or two sentences about the topic your communications plan covers.
- Outline why you need to communicate.
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- Resource (hours or dollars).
- 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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