Preparedness is essential for any business to function smoothly and quickly get back up in case of setbacks. This applies to every aspect of your business, particularly your communications. As the bridge connecting your business to your customers, your communications strategy plays a key role in establishing a strong relationship with your audience.
In this guide, we show you the step-by-step process to create an effective communications plan. Let’s get started.
Guide to Creating an Effective Communications Plan:
What Is a Communications Plan?
As the name suggests, a communications plan is a strategy for delivering key brand messages to your audience. It helps you to establish the audience you want to reach, the messages you want to deliver, and the channels through which you’ll spread the message. A communications plan is also important for identifying and outlining how you want to present your brand in front of your target audience.
Why Do You Need a Communications Plan?
There are a number of reasons why having a communications plan is essential for businesses. Some of the biggest reasons include:
Effectively Managing a Crisis
A key benefit of having a strong communications plan is preparing your business to manage a crisis effectively. If your brand reputation is at stake because of previous business decisions or marketing campaigns/messages, a communications plan can guide you on how to respond appropriately.
Remember when KFC ran out of…of all things, chicken? Back in 2018, the iconic fried chicken chain was experiencing delivery delays that led to a majority of their restaurants in the U.K and Ireland running out of chicken. KFC’s PR and marketing team instantly got to work, rolling out ads with rearranged letters to own their mistake.
According to Campaign US, the apology appeared only once in two national newspapers but was shared over 219 million times on social media and reached 796 million. It continues to be one of the most talked-about crisis management examples. The company also took to Twitter, responding to popular questions with facts, showcasing transparency and easing customers’ minds. This is the perfect example of how an effective communications plan can save your brand reputation in times of crisis.
There's gossip in the hen house, here's the facts... pic.twitter.com/lEuyiOZx2h
— KFC UK (@KFC_UKI) February 21, 2018
Supporting New Product Launches/Business Initiatives
A communications plan is also essential for supporting your new business initiatives or product launches. It helps you establish the key messages you need to deliver to ensure that these initiatives are a success.
Consistent Brand Messaging
Having an established communications plan gives you clarity on how to communicate with your audience, which allows you to keep your messaging consistent. This strengthens your brand image and helps you to build a strong reputation.
Building a Strong Relationship with Your Community
Your communications plan can also outline how to engage with your audience in different situations. This enables you to be responsive, so you can keep your community engaged and establish a strong relationship with them.
Steps to Creating a Communications Plan
Now let’s move on to the most important part–creating your communications plan. The process involves nine key steps:
Step 1: Audit Your Existing Communications Materials
Start by reassessing what you already have and what you’re already doing. Conduct an audit of your existing communications materials and strategies to look for any problem areas. This audit process can help you identify what’s working and what isn’t or whether there are any missed opportunities. You can follow the steps below to perform your audit:
- Take a look at every single aspect of your current brand communications. This includes communications across every channel – from email to social media to direct mail. It also includes all the elements of those communications – from text and design to even email subject lines.
- Now assess all this communications material and try to identify trends and understand performance. Are there any messages that worked much more effectively than others? Or perhaps there are messages that delivered poor results. Do you notice a change in how you communicate over time?
- To get an even more comprehensive analysis, get other people involved. Collect feedback from your customers, team members, and stakeholders to see how they feel about your communications and what you can do better.
Step 2: Establish Objectives Based on Your Audit
Once your audit is done, you can start to establish definite goals using the information and data from the audit. What do you hope to achieve using your communications plan? Ideally, the objective should be specific and measurable. It should also be time-based and attainable realistically.
For example, the goal for a marketing communications plan to promote an upcoming product launch may be to “achieve X number of preorders before the launch date.” Or let’s say your recruitment team needs to write a communications plan to attract more candidates. The goal for this could be to “increase applications by 25% in the next quarter.”
You can also have an ongoing communications plan without a specific, measurable goal. In this case, the results are less quantifiable but you can still have an objective in place. For example, you may have a communications plan to prepare your PR team for crisis response. And the objective of this plan would be to “craft an immediate response and deescalate potential crises.”
Step 3: Clearly Define Your USPs
What makes your brand different from the competition? Your communications plan should include a clear messaging about the unique value of your business. This unique selling point (USP) should be utilized in different aspects of your marketing communications – from your ad copy to your website to your slogan.
Perhaps you have a better price point than your competitors? Or maybe your products are high-priced but incomparable in terms of quality. Maybe you offer better customer service than all your competitors. Whatever your USP is, make sure it’s clearly defined in your communications plan.
If you don’t have a USP yet, you can determine it using the following questions:
- Do you offer anything that your competitors don’t?
- What problems does your product/service solve?
- What would make people choose you over the competition?
Step 4: Identify and Describe Your Key Audience
Who’s going to see and listen to your message? Knowing your audience is key to developing an effective communications plan. This will help you to craft messages based on the unique needs, interests, and pain points of your audience. And you’ll end up with messages that resonate with the people you want to reach.
This step can be divided into two parts – identifying who your audience is and defining your key audience. Start by looking at your data on various analytics dashboards to learn more about your existing audience. For example, Google Analytics can help you learn about your website visitors. And social media analytics can show you your follower demographics.
Next, you can use the information to develop a description about your key audience. For example: “Young parents in their twenties looking for parenting solutions.”
You can create multiple key audience groups depending on your research and your brand goals. So you can break up your audience into multiple segments and name each group to better organize your information.
Step 5: Develop Your Brand Message Keeping Each Audience in Mind
Now that you have your key audiences defined, it’s time to craft a brand message that would resonate with them. Take your unique selling point and find a way to tailor it to appeal to each audience group. The following questions can help you develop your brand message:
- What should this audience know about my business?
- What values does this audience have that I should consider?
- What voice and language can they relate with?
By answering these key questions, you can craft a message that would make each audience feel understood. This would involve addressing their pain points and centering your message on their values. After crafting your key brand messages, you can organize them into a table or chart to easily align the message to the audience group.
Step 6: Create Your Plan
Next, you can start to develop an outline of your communications plan. While the specific structure may vary for each organization, your plan should typically contain the following details:
- The purpose of your communications plan
- A schedule for publishing different messages
- A framework for escalating situations – when to escalate and whom to escalate to
- The tasks and responsibilities that are assigned to each team member – who should handle responses, who should handle escalations, who should handle marketing messages, etc.
- What to do and what not to do in different situations
Step 7: Determine Your Communication Channels
Another crucial aspect of your communications plan is your channel. How will you spread the message? This largely depends on the type of message you want to deliver and whom to deliver it to. For example, email newsletters, press releases, and social media are ideal for spreading your message to customers. But in case of employee-focused messages, you’ll need to do it through team meetings, conference calls, and company-wide emails.
For your marketing communications plan, you could consider the following channels to deliver your message:
- Your blog – To share valuable information, establish authority in the field, and share brand updates/news
- Social media – To build a strong community around your brand and engage with your fans
- Email marketing – To engage existing customers with sales offers, newsletters, and marketing messages
- News publications – For official announcements and public relations messages
- Print collateral – Brochures, flyers, and direct mail can strengthen your marketing communications
- Digital marketing – Allows you to display targeted messaging through pay-per-click advertising
- Traditional advertising – Television and print advertising can help you reach a massive audience outside of the internet
- SMS marketing – For sales announcements, exclusive offers, and order status updates
Out of these channels, it’s particularly important to further break down the social media channels you need to use. This mostly depends on the audience you want to reach and which social platforms they use.
Step 8: Assign Team Members to Deliver the Message
Once you have all of this set up, it’s time to decide which of your team members should deliver the message. For example, social media managers will typically handle all messages related to social media. On the other hand, your marketing team may handle all your marketing communications. You may further break down the responsibility for each individual, assigning persons to handle email blasts, television ads, media relations, and so on.
It’s important to get as granular as possible with this so everyone is clear on what’s expected of them. This will help you execute an organized communications plan across all channels and departments.
Step 9: Establish a Rough Timeline to Execute Your Plan
The next step is to estimate a timeline for each step in your communications plan. For example, how long will it take to control a minor mistake in your advertising message? Or in the case of internal communications, you’ll also have to consider the typical duration it would take for your message to go through all the relevant departments.
Planning for Effective Communications
Now that you have a clear idea of the steps you need to take, it’s time to start creating your own communications plan. Being prepared with a solid communications plan can help you respond quickly and avert potential crises before they escalate. If you need more help creating a plan, use the templates below for reference.
Communications Plan Template #1
Communications Plan Template #2
Communications Plan Template #3
Communications Plan Template #4
Frequently Asked Questions
What should a communications plan include?
A communications plan should typically include information about your objective, target audience, key message, timeline, channels, and directly responsible individual.
What are the five components of a communications plan?
The five components of a communication plan are the target audience/stakeholders, objective, key message, appropriate channels/medium, and assigned team member.
How do I make a communications plan?
You can make a communications plan by defining your goal, identifying your target audience, creating your message, deciding on the right channels, and assigning a team member to deliver the message.
What is a communications plan example?
One example of a communication plan is a marketing communication plan for promoting a product launch. This would typically include specific and measurable goals like “driving X amount of product demo signups before launch date.”
What is the purpose of a communications plan?
The purpose of a communications plan is to clearly outline how and where your message should be distributed. It helps to define who should receive the message and who is responsible for distributing it.