How to Write an Effective Communications Plan [+ Template]
Remember the “Tide Pod Challenge?” That horrendous time at the beginning of 2018 when adolescents filmed themselves ingesting laundry detergent?
While it was a funny (albeit dangerous) start to the new year, this small boost of infamy was a PR mess for the detergent brand in question, Tide, whose crisis communication team had to figure out how to respond to America’s teens swallowing their toxic product. Tide’s parent company, Procter & Gamble, was swift in their response, thanks in large part to their communication plan.
What is a communications plan?
The goal of a communications plan is to give information to stakeholders within a company when something goes awry. It should include company policies, which stakeholders should be receiving what, and who gives it.
Communication plans clarify the purpose of a business, measure success, and give a definitive definition of an audience. For example, an independent coffee company might define their purpose as “selling coffee and bagels locally,” measure how much of each flavor sold, and describe their audience as “The busy professional or university student looking for an alternative to Starbucks.”
If companies don’t have a communication plan, they’ll be unprepared when disaster strikes. It may be unlikely that your company will find teenagers eating your product for internet fame, but not so unlikely that you’ll never find yourself needing a procedure to effectively handle dire situations.
Now that we’ve gone over how a communication plan can be helpful, let’s learn how to write one that will be effective.
Featured Resource: Communication Plan Template [Download Now]
Need a free, easy-to-use communication plan template? HubSpot has 12. Check out this toolkit for everything you need to build your own.
This is part of a template offered in the toolkit. For this particular template, the organization is separated into phases, a description of that phase, and who needs to complete that action. Communication plans can get tricky, but writing an effective one will prove itself with its longevity.
This communication checklist below, by Prezly, gives a great overview of the details of a crisis plan from beginning to end. It can be used as an effective guide when drafting a crisis management strategy.
Image source: Prezly
How to write a communications plan
- Estimate a timeline
- Measure results
Before sitting down to get rollin’ on that plan, you need to first decide where it’ll fit into your business. Complete a state of the union; an audit of the current climate of communications within your company and identify problem areas.
For example, you might conduct an audit to identify gaps in your marketing plan. To do this, you’d want to carefully gather and interpret data on current marketing plan performance and build a path forward based on those results.
In this example, that path forward might be to grow web traffic (the gap) by increasing blog publishing volume.
After your evaluation, lay out a few goals based on the data from the results. What do you want to achieve with this plan? When in doubt, remember that goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. If an advertising agency focused on small businesses were to make a SMART goal, an example could look like this:
“To increase employment applications for the client by 25% over the course of one quarter.” This goal is specific, focusing on one area of advertising, measurable by including a percentage, attainable through advertising, relevant to startups looking to hire more talent, and timely by including a timeframe.
If a crisis communication plan is for stakeholders, which ones are you writing for? If not all, your plan should cover a fair amount. Stakeholder examples include employees, investors, customers, local government officials, and media outlets.
If you’re writing for media outlets, a press release detailing your goals is a good idea for keeping the audience in mind. There should be processes for who will speak to the media outlets, an outline of what they will say, and an action plan put in place going forward.
When writing the communication plan, work with groups or representatives from your stakeholder groups to improve accuracy. Strategies should solve goals or potential risks. An example of a risk for the advertising agency would be making sure ads deliver the right message before going public, so, in their plan, they would detail different steps to ensure that is taken care of.
5. Estimate a timeline
You should have a ballpark estimate of how much time each step in executing strategy will take. For instance, if your plan needs to go from the higher-ups down to the employees, it’s good to take into account how long going through the chain of command will take. It’s also smart to infer how long a media cycle will last.
For instance, for a minor slip-up on an ad campaign, the advertising agency might estimate the cycle for controlling the issue would take a month to meet with the client, the stakeholders, and employees and discuss steps moving forward.
6. Measure results
There’s always room for improvement. Measure the results of the plan after presenting it to stakeholders, and run a “post-mortem” after executing your plan in times of need.
For example, the ad agency might not have met its goal of increasing prospective applications by 25% within a quarter. They might rework their goals to give themselves more time or pivot their quarterly focus to fit those goals.
Some aspects of building a communication plan can be a “choose your own adventure” journey. The key is choosing aspects that best reflect what your business needs in times when effective communication is key. What do your stakeholders need to know, and how are you going to best communicate that?
Communication Plan Examples
A basic communication plan should include an analysis for the stakeholders you’d respond to and the procedures for what to include in those conversations. You might also include an overview of your business, potential communication challenges, and risk management strategy.
Bright Hub Project management has an example that includes how to put this information — and more — into your communication plan as a project manager. This example is great because it details how communication managers write crisis plans and acknowledges that sometimes the busy marketer or project manager does as well.
Source: Bright Hub
The National School Public Relations Association has a free version of a sample communication plan in PDF format. It’s a great example of how to format a crisis strategy and how to fit your budget into the plan.
Here are some extra tips to keep in mind to help your plan shine.
When describing procedures for handling crises, include who the situation involves. This lets stakeholders envision decision-making processes.
If you’re part of a larger company with a broad stakeholder list, it’s okay to split up target audiences for your plan. For instance, maybe your audience is more than just “consumers.” Split stakeholder groups for easier comprehension and more distinct solutions.
Originally published Sep 18, 2019 4:00:00 AM, updated October 01 2019