Is your company or organization churning out press releases every week that don’t get picked up? Are you spending money on digital and print advertising but seeing sales decline? Are your employees unable to send a consistent message about your organization to customers or donors? If any of these things are occurring, chances are, it is a result of poor or no communications planning.
OK. I can see your eyes rolling. “Please, I’ll do anything, but don’t make me go through another planning exercise.” Hey, if it were easy, everyone would do it and you wouldn’t have this opportunity to distinguish yourself from the pack! The fact of the matter is communications planning is essential to success. And it needn’t be a slog. With the right strategists at your side, the process can wow you with “aha” moments—and even entertain as you go along. Here are five reasons to take the plunge.
Reason 1 – Clarity of Purpose When you plan a trip, you take along the GPS or map. A communications plan is a navigation tool to help you define exactly where you are going and how you are going to get there. Is the goal to increase sales among existing customers or to expand and tap into new customer bases? Both of these are reasonable objectives, but the tactics and strategies to achieve them would be very different. Without being clear about your goal makes it hard to know how to achieve it.
Reason 2 – Audience Definition Communication is a two-way street. You can put out all the communications messages you want, and use every available vehicle, but if the words fall on deaf ears—or maybe no ears at all—you’ve wasted valuable time and money. The communications planning process helps an organization clarify exactly who they are trying to reach and why. Much of the time, when we ask clients who they want to engage, they will say, “the general public” or “business leaders.” Those categories are both fairly vague and unless your marketing and communications budget rivals that of Coca-Cola, you are going to find it difficult to reach everybody everywhere. (And even Coke targets specific demographics.) Each of your audiences has different needs, expectations, and motivations. The communications planning process helps you hone in on the one (or ones) you want to reach so that you can be more precise and effective in your communications efforts.
Reason 3 – Staff and Stakeholder Alignment There is nothing worse than a company or nonprofit where the staff and board cannot clearly and consistently articulate the very same message about what the enterprise does or why it matters. A frequent refrain from company employees is that they are “siloed.” They don’t understand where the company is headed and how their work ties into the larger picture. In nonprofits, we hear the same complaint, along with the fact that board members who are responsible for major fundraising efforts don’t know what they should say about the organization. An effective communications planning process will include structured, facilitated conversations with staff and other key stakeholders. The very process helps generate buy-in and support for the plan, and, in addition to defining the message, will uncover key organizational issues to be addressed to make the plan more successful.
Reason 4 – Smarter Use of Resources A good communications plan will save an organization a great deal of time and money. With an understanding of the audiences, solid messages, and alignment of staff, board and other stakeholders, organizations can identify the best strategies to reach their target audiences and achieve their goals. Today we have more means to communicate than ever before in human history. But without a plan, companies and organizations are in a wasteful, ineffective “throw it on the wall and see if it sticks” mode. A communications plan expresses, clearly and succinctly, what you want to say about your work. It identifies key channels and the most appropriate audiences to engage. It targets specific changes. And it integrates the effort: for example, the radio ad takes you to a specific part of the organization’s website where there is additional information. There, they might find a coupon or an opportunity to sign up for Twitter updates. If they like what they see, the customer, client, or donor is given a chance to interact and will stay connected. But, depending on your organization, your scope, and your goals, such incentives have to be carefully choreographed to avoid costly wheel-spinning.
Reason 5 – A Way to Measure Success With companies and organizations carefully watching their budgets, a communications plan also provides a yardstick to measure how well strategies are working. Everyone is searching for “metrics” these days. But if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve, it’s awfully hard to measure it. A good communications plan should include benchmarks and an evaluation process. In that way, if you are going off course or a particular strategy isn’t working, you can make a mid-course correction. Without that critical plan and the accompanying measurement processes, organizations and companies cling to tactics that aren’t working, wasting money, losing market share, or eroding their position and stature.
The key to communications planning is know that a simple document in and of itself is not the end game. The process of creating a dynamic plan is equally important, because it involves meaningful conversations with staff and stakeholders, as well as key audiences such as customers, clients, donors, investors, and partners. And the plan sets the stage for an ongoing—but well-strategized series of events—to keep your team on point and on target. In a future blog, we’ll talk about how to create an effective communications plan.