What is a communication plan?
A communication plan is a thorough plan explaining the actions you'll take to communicate information to stakeholders. It ultimately identifies your essential brand messaging, including branding basics like your value proposition, while using different types of storytelling to share information with the public. In addition, every communication plan has a crisis management strategy built in to help you respond in times of a crisis, so it's important to have conflict resolution skills.
Communication plans can be used for almost every aspect of your marketing strategy throughout different types of marketing, enabling you to communicate your key messages. It may also help you identify which personalized campaigns you'll use to share this information. Your communication plan will cover everything from discussing product launches with the media to handling a crisis.
Companies without plans are unprepared when there's a potential threat to their reputation. For example, if your product was misused and caused harm, you'll need a strategy for how to deal with the repercussions, including how to answer journalist questions. Most small businesses don't have to worry about worldwide PR nightmares, but reputation management is still vital to any effective communications plan.
How to write a communication plan
Your plan is part of your communication strategy. It'll need to cover several elements, including how you'll talk about your products and services and how your business will handle a crisis. For example, a project communication plan can help you discuss new products with investors, while an all-encompassing plan can be used to support key stakeholders deal with potential disasters.
Here's how to write an effective communication plan.
Review your existing methods of communication and guidelines
Your strategic plan should reflect on existing communication methods and guidelines to determine what works and doesn't. Some small businesses might not have a plan at all, allowing them to start fresh. However, if you have a plan, you'll need to go through it to determine if any areas are still relevant to your company.
For example, if you're writing a project communication plan for a new business, you'll need to convey different messages to stakeholders, such as deadlines and action items. Meanwhile, if you're writing a communication plan for a product launch, reviewing your marketing strategies to ensure they align with your new messaging is a good idea.
Identify the objectives based on your findings
Always define your goals after analyzing the existing communications materials. During your audit, you may have missed key marketing collateral like flyers or packaging designs to launch your new product effectively. Laying out your goals after identifying gaps is crucial to ensure you have a successful plan in place.
It's best to have specific and measured goals before starting your communications planning to ensure it can accomplish all essential objectives. For example, a company launching a new product might have a goal of increasing sales within the first month by 15%.
Different departments in your organization might have different communications plans. For example, your warehouse management team may have a plan to pitch new packaging to save money on shipping costs. This team would then need to identify specific goals, such as reducing shipping costs by x amount.
No matter the goals, they can help you have something to aim for with your communications plan. They'll also give you something to measure against after you get your initial baseline metrics.
Pinpoint your target audience
Identifying your target audience before writing your communications strategy is crucial because you need to understand who the plan is for. If you're writing a crisis communications plan, you'll write it for stakeholders like the CEO or a PR representative to speak on behalf of the company. In addition, if you're writing a communications plan for launching a new product, you'll need to consider who your customers are and how you'll market to them.
Make a draft
Now that you know your goals and who you're writing for, you can begin your first draft. If you already have a template to work from, you can start filling it in. However, if this is your first time writing a communications plan, you can begin with an outline to help you identify the essential messaging points.
Your communication plan should have information detailing what the plan is used for. For example, if it's used for product marketing, it should clearly state its purpose and appropriate times to use it. It should also include a crisis communication plan describing how potential problems will be handled and by whom.
Depending on your communication plan type, you may also specify different marketing campaigns or ways you'll achieve your goals, including steps to reach your objectives.
Get feedback from the appropriate team or audience to help you identify pain points and areas of improvement in your plan.
For example, if your communications plan is meant to help stakeholders deal with crises and threats to the company's reputation, you can talk to stakeholders directly about different responses to common issues. Many project stakeholders are experts in their fields and may have experienced some of these crises within their careers, which can help you get valuable feedback on handling them.
Additionally, if you're creating a communications plan for employees, you can speak to them directly or send them your draft to obtain feedback.
Determine which communication channels you'll use to distribute your message
How and where you distribute your message depends on the type of communication plan you have. For example, if you create a communications plan for employees, you'll likely distribute it internally via email.
However, if you make a communications strategy for stakeholders, you can discuss it with them in person to help them understand what it's for and how to use it.
Meanwhile, if you're trying to share your message with customers, you might use email marketing newsletters, leverage social media, or put it on your website in a strategic place, depending on what the message is.
Create a schedule
The timing of your message is just as important as the message itself. For example, if there's a crisis and you don't act fast enough, it can be challenging to recover, which is why a plan is vital in the first place.
Let's say you have a PR nightmare on your hands, and the media is making misleading claims about your company. In this case, you'll need to act fast to refute those claims and use various small business PR strategies to get your message out, including using social media to communicate with customers and the public and scheduling interviews with journalists to tell your side of the story.
The same is true if you're launching a product. Timing your message can help generate buzz and excitement before the release date. Then, when your product launches, you already have customers interested in purchasing it.
Know who's responsible for delivering the message
The type of communications plan you create will dictate who is responsible for delivering the message. For example, if you're launching a new product, your marketing team will likely market it through various strategies and channels. Meanwhile, if there's a reputation crisis, your CEO or a representative from the company will probably deliver the message to the public.
Conduct a final review
Once you've finished your communications plan, give it one more review with the team to ensure everyone is on the same page. By now, you should have all the information you need in terms of feedback, but reviewing it one more time can help you catch any potential issues, including grammatical mistakes or confusing action items.
Test and analyze your results
Once your communications plan is complete, you can start testing it and measuring your results. As you already know, you should always continue improving on your strategies. You can measure the results of your plan after it's presented. For example, if you launched a new product intending to increase sales by 15%, you can measure your progress throughout the campaign.
If you don't reach your goals, you at least now have a baseline to help you create more realistic objectives for your next communication plan.
Top components of an effective communication plan
To build an effective communications plan for any department, you'll need these elements: