A recent post talked about building and maintaining active support for your initiative among those who can make a real difference to your outcomes! This is imperative for change programmes and projects.
Making sure that your colleagues and key stakeholders are aware of the activities you are undertaking, is vital to ensure your success. It helps to maximise opportunities for synergies, allows people to learn from each other and wins you support.
When you have analysed the people and groups around you, you will be ready to develop your communications plan.
A communications plan is a written document that describes
- what you want to accomplish with your communications (your objectives),
- to whom your communications will be addressed (your audiences)
- the ways in which those objectives can be accomplished (your key messages, strategy and tactics)
- when you will accomplish your objectives (your activity schedule),
- how you will measure the results (your evaluation)
Keep it simple. Your communications plan doesn’t need to be pages long – just clearly presented and easy to understand.
Make it focussed. Don’t try to do everything, be realistic about what’s achievable.
Every communications plan will be different but most should include the following key information.
Be clear from the outset about what you are trying to achieve – it is the vital first step in creating your plan.
When considering your communications objectives, ensure that they complement the overall objectives of your initiative.
Make sure your objectives are SMART
This is where the work you have done already to identify your stakeholders comes into play. The success of any communications activity depends on knowing your audience.
Once you have identified your target find out as much as possible about them. This will help you to ensure you are using the most effective routes to communicate with them.
Once you’ve got an initial list, try to identify some overall priorities. This will help you ensure that the majority of your time, energy and resources are concentrated on the most important audiences.
Once you have identified your target audience, think about what messages you are trying to communicate.
Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of your overall plans? You can download a template for a SWOT analysis at this link. See how you can turn your weaknesses and threats into strengths and opportunities even before you begin your communications plan.
Developing key messages will help you to be clear about what it is you want your target audience to ‘hear’ or understand as a result of your communications activity. The messages may well be different for each of your target audience groups, although there will be many that are common for all.
Avoid statements that are too complex. Cutting the waffle and aiming to be as succinct as possible is the best way to create messages that work. A good way to try your messages out is to see if they pass the ‘elevator test’. Imagine you are in a lift between floors and only have a minute to explain your message to a companion beside you. Would they understand what you are trying to say?
Now you are ready to consider the overall strategic approach that you are going to take to achieve your communications objectives. Your strategy should be about what you are going to do to achieve your objectives, rather than how you are going to do it.
The strategy provides a unifying ‘big picture’ into which all of your individual communications activities fit. For, example, are you going to actively engage with your key stakeholders at regular intervals? Perhaps you are going to promote the achievements through your company websites or will you publish a regular newsletter!
Set out the principles of how you intend to communicate!
The tactics are the specific communications activities, tools and techniques that will make each part of your strategy a reality. Some of the most popular include:
- Press releases
- Information packs
- Leaflets, stickers and posters
- Websites and social networking/blogs
- One-to-one briefings
- Direct mail/email
The communications activities you choose should fit into your overall strategy and be driven by your objectives, target audiences and key messages.
Budgeting and other resources
How much money do you have available in the budget? How much time and other resources do you have available? The answers will dictate the size and scale of your communications activity.
If you find yourself having to cope on a shoestring, remember that it is possible to do effective work with a small budget as long as you are realistic and well focussed.
Keep in mind your key stakeholders.
Once you have decided on your tactics you will be in position to put together a simple activity schedule. This should outline how you plan to roll out each set of activities over a period of time.
Make sure you think carefully about other key dates or events that may impact on your timing and the milestones in your overall activity. At this stage you should also consider specific roles and responsibilities. It is useful to circulate your communications activity schedule to your colleagues so they can see what is coming up and identify potential synergies or conflicts at an early stage.
It is crucial that your activity plan outlines the criteria that you will use to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of your communications activities.
How will you know if you are making an impact? Build into your plan a method for measuring results. Your evaluation might take the form of a monthly report on work in progress – a formalized writtens report or a presentation to the governance board, the programme team or another management meeting.
Remember – communicate clearly and simply – be honest!
Start early and make sure people know where and how to get access to good information.
But one warning, if you have promised any particular communication, for example, a monthly newsletter, make sure it is actually produced on time and has good quality of information! Nothing is more frustrating than something that doesn’t arrive or looks good but doesn’t actually tell you anything about an initiative that impacts directly on you!
If you are just setting out on a change, and have not done this before, I hope this helps.
If you have any questions or if you have experience and tips to offer, I would love to hear from you.
Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring ++44(0)7867681439