Communications planning is one of the key elements of a successful marketing and public relations program.  But all too often these beautifully crafted, wonderfully researched, and well-written plans simply fail to deliver.  Here are six reasons why.

1) The organization doesn’t really know who it is and what it wants to communicate. 

You might laugh when you hear this. Of course you know who you are.  Maybe you make computers. Or you provide meals to low-income residents. Or you lease office space.  But these examples communicate specific tasks and activities—not value.  A good communications plan, therefore, will start with solid messages that explain the problems you solve, the value you bring to your customer, client or donor, why they should want to engage with you.  Don’t start planning your media relations campaign or launch your Facebook page until you understand and can articulate who you are and why and to whom you matter.

2) The organization is trying to communicate all things to everyone, sending a muddled, confused, or dull message.

When it comes to engaging audiences, companies and organizations often go for quantity over quality. With limited time, budget and manpower, you have to focus your communications initiatives efforts where you will get the most bang for the effort.  We all know this.  But in practice, harried marketing and communications directors, often at the direction of senior leadership, try to reach everyone. Target and use the 80/20 rule—80 percent of the impact will come from 20 percent of your target audience, those who are most interested in or in greatest need of your enterprise. These folks are not only your best shot at scoring new attention, but they are influencers themselves who can spread the word about what you do.

3) Internal silos prevent sharing and leveraging of information. 

You don’t have to be in a large organization to find turf battles and walls. With budgets growing tighter,  many communications directors find themselves fighting with other departments for their share of the pie.  You might also meet resistance from program, product and other departments to sharing what is happening and working together.  Sometimes the very structure or processes within an enterprise limit collaboration and sharing.  But it is precisely an ongoing exchange of ideas and information that allows for great content creation and the development of effective communications programs.  Part of any good communications planning effort should include a mandate from top management that communications is important—with an emphasis on sharing  If you are starting a communications planning process, bring other key department leaders to the table with you.

4) Communications efforts are divorced from organizational strategy.

Far too many communications plans really are nothing more than a list of tactics, frequently unrelated to achieving larger organizational, revenue and marketing goals. Without clarity around how communications supports larger business objectives, all you will end up with is a lot of Twitter posts, press releases, blog entries, ad placements that aren’t moving your enterprise where it needs to go. Communications planning must be part and parcel of general strategic and business planning and must have the full support of leadership.  (Do you hear a theme here?)

5) Content is not king and it must be.

The most effective communicators offer meaningful content that their audiences can use. Content is the foundation of social media.  Can you provide your customers, donors, partners with information that they can use, be entertained by and act on?  Your communications plan should deal with what, how and why content will be produced, who will be responsible for creating it, and through what means it will be delivered. Too many enterprises want to broadcast lists or notices about themselves and their work, without the content that aggregates industry news, highlights trends or provides insights (hopefully like this blog post).  You must give value, and content is a top-tier way of establishing your worth to key audiences.

6) Communicators think they have to be visible on every front.

We’ve seen companies and organizations struggle with keeping up with a website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter feeds, Instagram, and LinkedIn, while also running robust media relations, advertising, and direct engagement campaigns.  It’s a sure-fire recipe for wheel-spinning or even burnout.  Take a hard look at where your audiences are most engaged.  Then focus on those platforms and media.  As you build your capacity, you can then branch out to other platforms with the potential for growing your audience and building your reach and influence.

Communications planning, when done right, can catapult an organization to greater visibility leading to increased market share and revenue. It can be a force for healthy change within an organization. The key is a thoughtful approach and the support of executive leadership.