With 2023 in the rear view mirror, what does 2024 hold?
If you haven’t updated your communications strategy, now is the perfect time to do so. And if you don’t have a communications plan, it isn’t too late.
When I started my business nearly 25 years ago, we would create five-year communications strategy plans. Now, with the ever-changing traditional and digital media landscapes, greater uncertainty and the need for rapid response, we now recommend six-month to one-year plans, with frequent check-ins, unless we know have a major event or product launch on the horizon that requires longer-term planning and preparation.
A communications plan is a roadmap for how and when to reach and engage target audiences. A good communications strategy lays out a destination, in this case, goals and the means to achieve them. And as with a roadmap, sometimes you have to be prepared to take a detour or even reverse course when there are unexpected events. A good planning process will not only help you achieve goals but prepare you for what you can’t predict.
Here are some critical elements of a good communications strategy and plan.
In map-making, the audience plays the role of the destination—that is, the people who need to hear your message. Because few of us have endless resources, audiences must be prioritized. And you must pinpoint not just who you need to reach, but what makes them tick. Looking through a Prism of Value®, we’ll need to know what’s in it for them to buy from us or support us. How well do they understand us and what we do? What barriers can we help them scale or opportunities can we lead them to pursue? And we’ve got to be careful to define each audience clearly. “General public” doesn’t cut it, so be clear about the details of each important audience, from demographics to motivations.
Akin to reaching your destination with the roadmap in hand, goals are about what you want your audience to do or what you want to have happen after the message arrives. Do you want your audience to buy something, advocate on behalf of something, go somewhere, give something, understand your issue, or do something new? Communications goals must be specific, attainable and measurable. And they should support strategies to manage reputation, strengthen relationships and promote what you do. Don’t overreach, though. One of the biggest mistakes a company or nonprofit can make is to set a communications goal for which communications is not necessarily the answer.
Messages are the roads and routes that connect the company or organization to the audience. You want your messages to be direct routes – not filled with twists and turns that make it harder for someone to hear, understand, and engage with you. Good messages are bold, inspiring, relevant and urgent. Great messages reaffirm your identify, express the promise you bring to your audiences, and put a “human face” on products and services. They establish a connection and, above all, are memorable.
Means are the vehicles through which you send your messages. And this comes next to last for a very good reason. When planning a trip, you would probably decide where you want to go and what you want to do before determining how you’ll get there. But unlike your favorite vacation, a communications effort is rarely about the journey alone. Decide whether to use news media, social media, face-to-face contact, email marketing, and/or a host of other tools and tactics only after you’ve defined your audience, picked the best routes, and settled on a destination.
These are the measures and benchmarks we use to determine if you’re on the right track: sending the right messages, using the right vehicles, and ultimately achieving your goals with your target audiences. It’s not enough just to get there. It’s equally important to know whether you got there using the most effective messages and tactics with the wisest deployment of resources. Metrics will help assess this.
Ready to get started planning your communications strategy? Wainger Group has a free Communications Plan 360™ (hyperlink) to guide the process. And reach out at any time for a 30-minute consultation at no charge. Email [email protected] or call me at 301-340-6831.