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Sarah Browning is a communications specialist who works with not-for-profit organisations to achieve their IC needs. Here she describes the key steps in developing a communications plan.


As any self-respecting internal communications professional knows, communication is only worth the time and effort if it’s truly effective and adding value. But how can you be sure that this is going to be achieved? I always advise my clients that the best way to get the results they need is to start with a communications plan.

The steps below will help you to keep on track. Following a step-by-step approach is a great way to make sure that you end up with an effective plan.


1. Why?


The best place to begin is with the purpose of your communications. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want people to do, say or feel as a result of your communication? It may be that you want to engage them with your project, gather their feedback or motivate them. Or perhaps you are looking for a more practical outcome such as adopting a new policy or promoting a new product. Whatever it is that you want to achieve, you stand a much better chance of achieving it if you’re clear from the start what you want to do.


2. Who?


Next, think about the audience for your communications. This may be a small or big group, more than one group or an individual. They may be from one department or across your whole organisation. They may be based in a factory, work in an office or be on the road. Think about the roles they perform, the communication channels they have access to and the topics they are interested in. Do they already know about your project or have they had previous experiences – good or bad – that will colour their view?

The aim here is to put yourself in their shoes, really get to understand them and their perspective.


3. What?


Be clear about your messages. What do you want to say? And what does your audience want to hear? This isn’t necessarily the same thing! It’s important to know what they’re expecting, as you may need to adapt how you present your messages – for example, present smaller chunks or facilitate an open discussion to dispel rumours.

When putting together your key messages, keep it simple. If your project is complex, try to break it down to must-know and need-to-know information and think about phasing your messages over time.


4. When?


Speaking of phasing, remember to spend some time thinking through your key dates and any time-specific factors for your audience. For example, do you have a launch or deadlines? If you work somewhere with fixed busy periods, such as month end or start of term, these are best avoided for communications where you need everyone’s attention.

It’s also a good idea to find out about other big communication activities in your company. Try to avoid clashing with or contradicting other initiatives – if this happens, everyone loses out.


5. How?


This is the part that many people want to start with – what channels or media are you going to use? The trouble with this is that the conversation can often go like this, “Communication at our company is rubbish….. Let’s have a newsletter/SharePoint site/Twitter account… Now, what shall we say, who shall we send it to… Why is no-one reading my newsletter/SharePoint site/tweets?!”

Tempting as it is to start with the tangible output, I’d strongly urge you to resist. If you follow a step-by-step plan, by the time you get to this stage, your channels should more or less choose themselves. Knowing what you want to achieve, who and where your audience are and what you’re going to say make it much easier to identify what will be successful. Use different methods to reach different audiences – much more effective than shoe-horning your message into a one-size-fits-all approach. Make a note of the channels you will use and what you’ll use them for.


6. How’s it going?


Keeping your communication two-way is vital in ensuring its effectiveness and success. This step should really be 1b, 2b, 3b etc, as you need to be checking how it’s going at every stage. Find out what people are saying and keep your ear to the ground. Build these chances to gather feedback into your plan.

And that’s it – your plan is done!

One final point: it’s great to have an effective plan in place to guide you, but remember that all communication involves human beings and so things won’t always run smoothly. If feedback tells you that things are changing, be flexible enough to change your plan to fit the new circumstances.

www.browningyork.com

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