Effective communication plans add value to organizations and often make the difference between success and failure of programs. But, what is an effective communication plan? Communication is defined as "a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior." Effective communication planning helps overcome obstacles by creating a common language and framing the message. These plans assist in organizing a key message hierarchy and pinpointing specifics about your audience in terms of timing and delivery.
Plan to Communicate Effectively
Effective communication plans set the stage for managing the message, achieving results and measuring success. The plans identify the basics of who, what, where, why and how for any communication project, program or company. Creating a plan forces you to think about your objectives and anticipate reactions, including barriers, before going public. A communication plan also focuses your efforts by providing context, setting priorities and developing alignment. It enables you to develop a consistent message that builds momentum and is tailored to the media used.
Building the Plan
While communication plans vary in size, depending on their scope and purpose, some key components include: Analyze the situation. What is the problem or opportunity that exists? How is the industry or company changing? Are you launching something new? Do you have research or survey data? Is this an emergency or crisis situation? Are economic or political factors relevant? What is the history? Identify the primary and secondary audience. What is the size of your audience? What is their knowledge of the situation? How will they be effected? Are they receptive? Streamline the message. Why do they need this message? Are you influencing your audience? Asking them to take action? Will they resist it? Are there layers to the message? Determine distribution. How will you reach your audience? Can groups help you communicate this message? What media fits with your message? How quickly does it need to go out? What is the preference of your audience? Set goals. What are you trying to achieve? How will you know if you achieve it? Is it measurable? How long should it take? What is your budget? Measure the results. Did you achieve your goals? Are there next steps needed? Do you need to measure over a period of time?
Types of Communication Plans
Depending on your business, communication plans usually are found at various levels of the organization. From a corporate standpoint, the plan focuses on the vision, mission and strategies of the business. It could also include branding of the overall organization. At a product level, communication plans might help launch a product, extend a product line, build a brand or increase market share. The public relations group seeks out what is newsworthy and how to use the media to reach multiple markets. It can also include crisis communications, as well as community relations. In human resources, the focus is on employee communication. How can we relay information to our employees about strategies, programs, changes and training? For investor relations, the goal is to gain financial interest in the company, build reputation in that community and increase ratings.
Getting the Word Out
With the growth of media, communicators have many choices, but knowing your audience is critical. Ask your markets what they use frequently. Determine what your message requires. Is it urgent? Do you need feedback? Are you building a community? Each of these would lead to a different distribution system. In many cases, more than one communication vehicle is necessary to ensure the message reaches your market. Common distribution channels include: Emails Meetings Social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace) Websites/blogs Newsletters/newpapers Presentations Press releases Letters Publications Manuals Handouts Television Radio Videos Webinars/webcasts Training sessions
Road Blocks to Effective Communication Plans
One key factor in ineffective communication is the difference in how we talk, read and think. We speak at about 100 words a minute, read at around 200 words a minute but our thoughts work at more than 500 words a minute. That means we can easily get distracted. Add to that our growing list of incoming emails, the increasing number of traditional and online media sources and our seemingly endless meetings. An effective plan needs to tackle these issues by gathering knowledge of your specific interest groups, getting feedback and applying this data to developing effective messages. It often means delivering that message in many formats over time.
Carolyn Stendahl is a marketing and communications professional with more than 20 years of experience within healthcare, information technology, publishing, engineering, education, retail and human resource industries. Her range of work includes developing content for print, Web, video and e-mail programs, as well as writing press materials and articles.