What is communications planning?

Does your organization use communications plans? As I’ve written before, I recommend every organization–nonprofits, charities and small businesses–have at least an overall communications strategy.

In my earlier post, I distinguish between a plan and a strategy. While I continue to stand by that, the best practice for communicators (or those carrying out communications functions) is to have both a communications strategy and plans. Additionally, integrating strategy into your plans is desirable.

What is communications?

Communications is connecting your audience with the message you are delivering so that it is received, understood and acted upon.

Organizations need to communicate for one or all of the following reasons:

  • To inform / raise awareness / educate
  • To build understanding or change behaviour
  • To prevent misunderstandings
  • To present a point of view
  • To lower barriers between groups and individuals

What is communications planning?

Communications planning is a process to help you reach your goals and objectives. Your plan helps you to communicate in an organized manner. You can avoid creating or sending a communications piece at the last minute and you are not simply repeating what you did last year because that’s what has always been done. You will know what needs to be done and have a framework for deciding if that great idea suggested fits with the rest of your plan and your available resources.

A communications plan helps you to communicate effectively, improves the quality of your efforts and the return on your investment of time and funds and helps you evaluate your success.

When do you need a communications strategy/plan?

When communicators speak of planning, they include these three types:

  • Overall strategy – The big picture that guides all your communications efforts and how they fit together and support each other to achieve your goals and objectives.
  • Annual plan – Your plan for the year. Ideally, it falls out of your overall strategy and looks at how to move segments of it forward. At minimum, it outlines what you’re doing when with additional context.
  • Specific initiative – A plan for a project or a campaign. In short, you have a specific communications need you are meeting. The project or campaign may be proactive in addressing meeting a goal or responsive to meeting a need or issue that has arisen.

There is a common process for each of these plans and strategies. There is no single format or template that is used nor one single way to create a communications plan. Each variation though has common components. It is important to use a format that works best for you and those and anyone who needs to know or review the plan.

In all cases, make the plan clear. It should be easy to read and understand so that it is easy to read, find specific items when needed and to implement.