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Creating a Communication Plan

Communication planning is the process of focusing the right messages on the right audiences at the right time. Organizations communicate to inform, persuade, prevent misunderstandings, present a point of view, or to reduce barriers. A plan will ensure efficient and effective communication that fits the resources of the organization.

Conduct a communications audit for your organization or a particular project:

  1. Define your identity – the organization’s mission, vision and goals, the look and tone of its communications and interactions.
  2. Inventory of materials – print, Web-based, news releases, etc.
  3. Inventory distribution modes – newsletters, briefings, webpages, listservs, presentations, media, etc.
  4. Determine internal communication pathways – how do employees and internal stakeholders receive and distribute information?
  5. Summarize the findings and analyze the effectiveness of current strategies.

Goals & Objectives
With information gleaned from the audit, define the goal – the overall changes you wish to cause or results you want to achieve – for your communication efforts. Once the goal is clearly stated, define the objectives that you will pursue. Objectives are short-term, measurable steps to reach the goal that form a clear statement of what you are trying to accomplish. They should be specific, realistic, prioritized and measurable. When determining objectives, consider the purpose of each by asking the following questions:

  • Are we trying to educate or provide new information?
  • Are we calling our target audience to action?
  • Are we trying to change behavior?

Key Messages
The cornerstone of an effective communication program is a set of key messages that focus the audiences' attention and help the organization meet its communication objectives. To form these key messages, consider your objectives and identify the essential idea or set of ideas you want to communicate. Create three to five simple, specific statements as your central or key messages.

Target Audience
Given the goals and objectives of the communication plan, define your specific audiences:

  1. Identify the groups with whom you will communicate (3 or 4 major categories)
  2. Analyze each group
    • What do they already know about your organization (or project)?
    • How are they likely to react to your message and why?
    • Are there any cultural, linguistic or literacy factors influencing the audience that will receive your message?
    • Are there any barriers or difficulties to communicating with each group?

Determine which communication vehicles you will use to reach your target audiences given the resources available and your objectives. Tactics can be roughly divided into the following categories:

Public Relations
  • Print & broadcast media relations
  • Community relations
  • Government relations
  • Organization outreach
  • Web site
Paid Advertising
  • Print
  • Radio
  • TV
  • Outdoor – billboards
  • Mass transit
  • Mall displays
Word of Mouth
  • Internal/employee relations
  • Public meeting attendance & participation
  • Personal contacts

Implementation Timeline

Map out your communication objectives, key messages, target audiences, and tactics on a timeline; then assign a budget and specific responsibility for follow-through by activity.

Consider planning a 12-month timeline for an overall organizational or project communication plan. For a special event, set the date and work backward to the present; try to give yourself at least a month to plan (and order materials) before launching the communications campaign.

Evaluate & Revise
Review your implementation map at selected intervals (such as monthly, quarterly, or following an event) to assess the effectiveness of your tactics, your success in reaching your target audiences and the strength of your messages. Are you achieving results? If not, revise the plan based on feedback from the field.

A communication plan is only useful if it is a "living" document that continuously changes to reflect new information and make progress toward your goal. Build in time to revise your plan at set intervals throughout the implementation time period.