Step 1 of the Modern Communications Plan: Vision and Desired Achievements

Yesterday I offered a template for a modern day communications plan. If you haven’t refreshed your plan in the last 18 months, you may want to consider doing so.

I will blog about each section in the coming days. First up is identifying your vision and desired accomplishments. Also developing a list of goals and objectives is important. Determining these upfront will ground your planning and execution and ensure communications programs result in what you want and need.

Vision
With communications, an end is never truly reached. It is an ongoing effort. But, when do you know you’ve arrived at a place where you can say it is working? Write up your vision for the communications effort. Once reach, influence and action is obtained from your communications, what is the big result? What is the reputation and image you want to develop?

A good result of a communications effort for a nonprofit organization might be to reach “go to” status on all things related to their cause. For a business, it may be developing a level of authority or be seen as the most customer friendly of all competition. Regardless, name the reputation and image you want to have resulting from the effort. This segment of the plan keeps everyone on the same page and working toward the same status, character and standing in your market or industry. It is grounding.

Our Greatest Accomplishment
By listing a Greatest Accomplishment you are essentially telling everyone there is a specific goal you want to reach that will illustrate when you have “arrived.” What is the “holy grail” achievement that would show your influence is working?

An example would be for an organization to have changed a particular conversation in its marketplace or to have introduced a new idea. For some businesses, getting on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (in a positive light, of course) is seen as the ultimate success. Whatever it is, give everyone something to strive for that is concrete and achievable. It is motivating.

Goals and Objectives
This section differs from the Greatest Accomplishment. What are the mile markers that show you are making things happen and are headed in the right direction?

Goals are milestones to reach, likes steps on a giant communications ladder. They include things such as number of followers, fans, likes and engagement levels from audience members. Other goals might be getting published, having so much traffic at a trade show booth, and holding a certain number of events to positive acclaim and more.

Objectives are things you create, such as sparking new conversations, new ways of thinking, and new levels of status and standing. Other examples include moving from proactively pitching the media to having the media reach out to you for commentary or being asked to be a guest blogger regularly. Regardless, list them as specifically as you can. It will keep the plan “working.”

On Monday, I’ll delve deeper into the Target Audience section.

A Template for the Modern Communications Plan

Beyond the usual strategy and tactics (reaching out to reporters, attending trade shows, etc.), what are some of the things that need to be considered as part of today’s communications planning? Below is a template that we use for planning our clients’ overall communications and special projects. Each day I will blog about the main parts, including providing questions  that need your answers, tips and techniques, and identifying the big changes taking place in the world of mass communications.

  1. Vision. This section is a one paragraph answer to how the organization wants to be known. Or, if it is a project, what do we want to leave behind when the project is complete?
  2. Our Greatest, Desired Accomplishment.  This section highlights the single most important communication accomplishment that the organization or project can achieve in one year.
  3. Goals and Objectives. This section differs from the greatest accomplishment in that goals are things you reach (milestones such as audience numbers) and objectives are things you create (new creations, such as new conversations and ways of thinking or a new status).
  4. Target Audience. This section can include demographic data, market research, and other information that describes who you are communicating to.
  5. Main Communications Channels. This section should describe the main channels (social channels, traditional, media outlets, events and shows and more) that you are going to use to push out your information, thought leadership and ideas.
  6. Strategies. This section discusses the main strategies employed and why.
  7. Main Tactics. This section is the action plan. It answers what you are going to do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to move the communications effort forward.
  8. “We Won’t” List. This section does precisely what the title says. Knowing what you will not focus your attention on (but could) is vital to having a focused effort.
  9. Content Strategy. The section addresses how you are  going to assess, develop and manage the ideas, thoughts and content you will use to direct conversations, viewpoints and reputation and image.
  10. Positioning, Messaging & Storytelling. This section should include your story and message guide, from a positioning statement, value proposition and spotlight pitch on the organization or project to a few signature stories that illustrate what you are accomplishing or how you think.
  11. Monitoring & Measurement. This section, one of the most well-intentioned but often ignored  areas, will go into measuring how well you are doing and how to share that with managers, executive teams and other stakeholders.
  12. Team Players. This section will identify – by name – who is going to design and implement the plan.

We are open to your ideas, as well. If you believe a modern day communications plan should include sections we neglected to include, let us know. In the meantime, check back daily for the plan’s breakdown.

The Modern Strategic Communications Plan

If you google “how to write a communications plan” you will receive thousands of hits containing templates, advice and guidance on how to take your reach, influence and visibility to new heights. But, if those suggested formats were written before 2009, they aren’t complete. Here’s why.

Smart organizations develop a communications plan that will help steer you and your colleagues to greater reach and influence. But, today’s communication plans must include strategies and timelines that a few years ago were not even possible. The new communications game of visibility demands a new way of thinking.

Just a few trends coloring today’s communication landscape include the democratization of information and influence by social media, the introduction of tiny messages (140 characters or less), the rise of the visual medium and entertainment (games), a reduction in objective journalism, and content going mobile. Add a whole new generation of workers who don’t communicate or consume information anything like previous generations along with a coming mass exodus of the baby boomers into retirement and one could say it’s not just a whole new ballgame. It’s a whole new sport.

Are you ready?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll break down each part of the planning process for a communications effort that fits modern times. Yes, that means social media will be addressed. But, we also will discuss the rise of storytelling over messaging, the breakdown of the communications heirarchy, having a content management strategy, having a “we won’t” list, and more.

What is perplexing you about today’s communications landscape? I’ll try to address it in this series.