How To Write A Good Communications Plan – Part 1 – An Overview

Update: I have now completed this communications planning series and have republished all of the posts as a free strategic communications Planning eBook.

Is there such a thing as an ideal communications plan template? What would it look like?

Blank page, before the writing begins I’ve spent most of the last few years surrounded by communications and marketing plans (comm plans, for short).

I studied them at university, proposing (what I thought were) reasoned solutions to other peoples’ problems. I then joined government and spent a lot of time reading other peoples’ quality assessments and edits on plans and learning from them – what worked, what didn’t work, where the common gaps were and what the essential information was.

Eventually I found myself in a position where I had the opportunity to provide input on comm plans myself. I even helped to develop training on communications planning. Nowadays I’m on the assembly line, writing plans and executing them.

This variety of positions has given me an interesting perspective on what a communications plan should look like. It’s very much clouded by my government experience though, so I’d love to hear from folks on the agency or corporate side (government folks please feel free to chime in too!).

This is the first in what will be a series of posts over time. This one focuses on the top-level overall content of a communications plan.

Together, over the coming weeks we’ll take a more detailed look at each of these sections in turn. At each step of the way I’ll give my perspective and ask what you think – what you agree with… what I’m missing… where I’m way off the mark. Hopefully we’ll all learn from each other.

Content of a Communications Plan

Let’s start by looking at the general sections of a comm plan. Here’s what I’ve used when planning a communications initiative, in roughly the order I approach them. Not all of them are always necessary – this is the broad list:

  • Context - what’s happened before? What’s the history?
  • Environmental Scan – what are the key factors that will affect your success?W hat is the media saying?
  • Stakeholders – your stakeholders and their expected reactions. How you will manage them?
  • Objectives - what do you want to achieve? (should be clear, relevant, measurable… use the SMART approach if you like)
  • Strategy – where are you going, and why?
  • Audiences – who are the key audiences?
  • Announcement – given the strategy, are you making an announcement? What are you announcing?
  • Messages – what are you saying about the announcement?
  • Tactics – how will you implement your strategy, both before, during and after the main announcement (assuming you have one)?
  • Issues – what problems may you have to overcome?
  • Budget – what will it cost?
  • Evaluation – how will you know if you’ve been successful?

So, what do you think? Have I missed areas? Are some irrelevant? In the right order?

What do you look at when you write a communications plan?

(photo credit: tomswift46)

57 comments
SophieBush
SophieBush

Fantastic website.. constructive, intellectual and REAL!! Thanks Dave and keep up the awesome work and education. P.S- I work for one of the largest non-government providers in the New Zealand mental health sector.  We’re a family of ten charitable entities- lots going on. I am part of the human resources policy team- your approach to comms is really helpful and is incredibly useful to approaching many other topics and services.

pinky sayson
pinky sayson

Oh! now i have a clear idea how to develop my communication plan. Your list is a great help. Thanks!

zee
zee

this is such an enlightment when im stuck on my paper abt commplan! greatttttttttt stuff

davefleet
davefleet

Hi John, Absolutely. The aim of this section is to ensure you take into account all of the additional considerations that your stakeholders bring to the table. The more information (up to a point), the better. Cheers, Dave

John Akpan
John Akpan

Thanks Dave, I've an ongoing project that requires a strategic communications strategy and an action plan. I certain your work comes timely!

John Akpan
John Akpan

On stakeholders' expectations, would the way you put it also include their knowledge level regarding the project; their fears and possible incentives therein, to convince them to buy in?

Philip Brookes
Philip Brookes

Dave,

Thanks for sharing this well structured and practical, real-world series with us - in a world of fluffy blog posts long on rhetoric and short on applicability, this is a breath of fresh air. I frequently deal with so many clients who have historically tackled their marketing communications in a completely haphazard manner, and it's great that people Googling for advice and direction on how to improve their marketing communications are likely to find this at the top of the list!

Keep up the great work!

A

Philip Brookes
Philip Brookes

Dave, Thanks for sharing this well structured and practical, real-world series with us - in a world of fluffy blog posts long on rhetoric and short on applicability, this is a breath of fresh air. I frequently deal with so many clients who have historically tackled their marketing communications in a completely haphazard manner, and it's great that people Googling for advice and direction on how to improve their marketing communications are likely to find this at the top of the list! Keep up the great work! A

Mwaura Alex
Mwaura Alex

Good piece of work, am a recent graduate working in a PR agency but finding it challenging to come up with PR proposals for various clients, any one with suggestions on sites with relevant information will be highly appreciated.

Mwaura Alex
Mwaura Alex

Good piece of work, am a recent graduate working in a PR agency but finding it challenging to come up with PR proposals for various clients, any one with suggestions on sites with relevant information will be highly appreciated.

Harshamali
Harshamali

Plz, can you give me format of communication plane

Harshamali
Harshamali

Plz, can you give me format of communication plane

srinivasa rao. Y
srinivasa rao. Y

Hi Dave,
Can you share any examples of a good Communications Plan?

srinivasa rao. Y
srinivasa rao. Y

Hi Dave, Can you share any examples of a good Communications Plan?

Ron Frazier
Ron Frazier

Dave - I am smack in the middle of writing a Comm Plan for a government project my team is working on. I wished there were an ideal Comm Plan template too along with some examples as Julie asked. The areas I am focusing on in my plan (and a couple may have already been mentioned in this blog) are - Goals & Objectives, Stakeholder Identification and Analysis, Feedback & Validation, Facilitation Framework and then I go into the Channels of commmunications which could lead to marketing stratagies. This is where it gets fuzzy to me as Cindy pointed out in her comments and as Jaz explained - I would like to incorporate marketing strategies as well. Great series and look forward to everyone's suggestions and guidnce. Thank you!

Ron Frazier
Ron Frazier

Dave - I am smack in the middle of writing a Comm Plan for a government project my team is working on. I wished there were an ideal Comm Plan template too along with some examples as Julie asked. The areas I am focusing on in my plan (and a couple may have already been mentioned in this blog) are - Goals & Objectives, Stakeholder Identification and Analysis, Feedback & Validation, Facilitation Framework and then I go into the Channels of commmunications which could lead to marketing stratagies. This is where it gets fuzzy to me as Cindy pointed out in her comments and as Jaz explained - I would like to incorporate marketing strategies as well. Great series and look forward to everyone's suggestions and guidnce. Thank you!

Robert French
Robert French

You know, Dave, Karen Russell's suggestion that you make this a PDF ebook, available for download, is a good one. Hope you'll consider, at the very least, just pouring the posts into PDF pages and connecting them all together. We'd love to make it required reading by students.

Also, I searched and do not see your name in PROpenMic.org, the new social network for PR students, faculty & practitioners. We have 1270+ members, in less than 3 months. Hope you'll consider joining us. Share these posts one at a time by cross-posting them in your blog there. You get one free when you sign up. http://www.propenmic.org/

Robert French
Robert French

You know, Dave, Karen Russell's suggestion that you make this a PDF ebook, available for download, is a good one. Hope you'll consider, at the very least, just pouring the posts into PDF pages and connecting them all together. We'd love to make it required reading by students. Also, I searched and do not see your name in PROpenMic.org, the new social network for PR students, faculty & practitioners. We have 1270+ members, in less than 3 months. Hope you'll consider joining us. Share these posts one at a time by cross-posting them in your blog there. You get one free when you sign up. http://www.propenmic.org/

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Hi Tasneem... that's the aim of this series. Hopefully the first few posts have helped with the initial thinking. By the end you should be able to work through all of them and come out with a good comm plan at the end of it.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Hi Tasneem... that's the aim of this series. Hopefully the first few posts have helped with the initial thinking. By the end you should be able to work through all of them and come out with a good comm plan at the end of it.

Tasneem
Tasneem

Hi... sounds damn neat... i was wishing to write a corporate communication plan for 6 months with a specific budget... would you be able to guide on what all should be included in it.

Tasneem
Tasneem

Hi... sounds damn neat... i was wishing to write a corporate communication plan for 6 months with a specific budget... would you be able to guide on what all should be included in it.

Jaz
Jaz

I have to do an assignment where the target audience is the government. The question is:

"The managing director of BAA airports has asked you to provide a draft communications plan based upon a budget of 4 million pounds that will provide a campaign to convince the government that while airports and airline flights produce environmental pollution the needs of business, the economy and overseas holidays outweighs the costs. You should utilise ethical arguments as well as economic ones in your communication points. The plan should have clear targeting, media choice, communication points etc. It should be mainly practical but you should introduce the plan with one early chapter discussion based upon marketing communications theory."

In this case how should the comm plan be set out.

Thank you

Kind Regards

Jaz

Jaz
Jaz

I have to do an assignment where the target audience is the government. The question is: "The managing director of BAA airports has asked you to provide a draft communications plan based upon a budget of 4 million pounds that will provide a campaign to convince the government that while airports and airline flights produce environmental pollution the needs of business, the economy and overseas holidays outweighs the costs. You should utilise ethical arguments as well as economic ones in your communication points. The plan should have clear targeting, media choice, communication points etc. It should be mainly practical but you should introduce the plan with one early chapter discussion based upon marketing communications theory." In this case how should the comm plan be set out. Thank you Kind Regards Jaz

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Julie: Unfortunately I can't personally - all our plans are confidential. I hope to share (and draw out) some best practices as we move through this series, though.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Julie: Unfortunately I can't personally - all our plans are confidential. I hope to share (and draw out) some best practices as we move through this series, though.

Peter Soeth
Peter Soeth

Dave,

I typically build it into the review and ask myself are things going well and should we be doing something differently?

During a crisis or crazy situation, it is something that I do at least on a daily basis, but on something more long-term, it is a little longer term review.

Peter Soeth
Peter Soeth

Dave, I typically build it into the review and ask myself are things going well and should we be doing something differently? During a crisis or crazy situation, it is something that I do at least on a daily basis, but on something more long-term, it is a little longer term review.

Julie
Julie

Hi Dave,
Can you share any examples of a good Communications Plan?

Julie
Julie

Hi Dave, Can you share any examples of a good Communications Plan?

Lizzie Azzolino
Lizzie Azzolino

Hi Dave,

What I call a "theme" is probably very similar to your "announcement" -- a catch phrase that embodies the campaign's message -- clear, direct and creative.

Lizzie Azzolino
Lizzie Azzolino

Hi Dave, What I call a "theme" is probably very similar to your "announcement" -- a catch phrase that embodies the campaign's message -- clear, direct and creative.

Cindy Stephenson
Cindy Stephenson

Hi Dave, Great topic. I'd be really interested in the difference between a communications plan and a marketing plan, and when one approach is one more appropriate than the other. Just as you outlined for the communication plan, what are the key elements of a marketing plan?

Cindy Stephenson
Cindy Stephenson

Hi Dave,

Great topic.

I'd be really interested in the difference between a communications plan and a marketing plan, and when one approach is one more appropriate than the other. Just as you outlined for the communication plan, what are the key elements of a marketing plan?

Palin Ningthoujam
Palin Ningthoujam

Nice article post. Just for my clarification, are you including a competitive mapping as part of your environmental scan. If not, I would like to include that. I would also like to know the target audience before forming my strategy.

Palin Ningthoujam
Palin Ningthoujam

Nice article post. Just for my clarification, are you including a competitive mapping as part of your environmental scan. If not, I would like to include that. I would also like to know the target audience before forming my strategy.

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Michael: Depends on how much time you have! As David says, sometimes you'll be asked to crank one out pretty much on the spot. Other times you'll have a while. In an ideal world, the research can take much longer than the writing.

David: Agreed!

Lizzie: That's an interesting idea. I normally include that as part of the 'announcement' piece - do you have it separately?

Shama: I completely agree - milestones can be great focal points in an ongoing rollout.

Peter: Neat! I look forward to your input we get to that section. For now - do you include that all in the evaluation section, or are the tactics for it included elsewhere too?

Dave Fleet
Dave Fleet

Michael: Depends on how much time you have! As David says, sometimes you'll be asked to crank one out pretty much on the spot. Other times you'll have a while. In an ideal world, the research can take much longer than the writing. David: Agreed! Lizzie: That's an interesting idea. I normally include that as part of the 'announcement' piece - do you have it separately? Shama: I completely agree - milestones can be great focal points in an ongoing rollout. Peter: Neat! I look forward to your input we get to that section. For now - do you include that all in the evaluation section, or are the tactics for it included elsewhere too?

Peter Soeth
Peter Soeth

Under evaluation I think that you need to have more than being successful. There needs to be a way built into your plan to change path and tactics if things you don't anticipate show up. It is the unknown that will get you.

I think this is a great series and I am looking forward to it.

Peter Soeth
Peter Soeth

Under evaluation I think that you need to have more than being successful. There needs to be a way built into your plan to change path and tactics if things you don't anticipate show up. It is the unknown that will get you. I think this is a great series and I am looking forward to it.

Shama Hyder
Shama Hyder

Hi Dave,

I try to really go after measurement and milestones in communication plans.

Great post!

-Shama

Shama Hyder
Shama Hyder

Hi Dave, I try to really go after measurement and milestones in communication plans. Great post! -Shama

Lizzie Azzolino
Lizzie Azzolino

You provided a very thorough list. I just completed a PR "action plan" for a final project at the University of Georgia's Grady College. I was taught to always include a theme. An overall theme helps to set the tone for all messages and communications materials. Whenever possible, I included the theme in my news releases, pitch letters, the newsletter, brochure, etc.

I look forward to reading the series. I'll be on the lookout!

Lizzie Azzolino
Lizzie Azzolino

You provided a very thorough list. I just completed a PR "action plan" for a final project at the University of Georgia's Grady College. I was taught to always include a theme. An overall theme helps to set the tone for all messages and communications materials. Whenever possible, I included the theme in my news releases, pitch letters, the newsletter, brochure, etc. I look forward to reading the series. I'll be on the lookout!

David Jones
David Jones

Michael: sometimes you have months, sometimes you have days. It all depends on the task at hand.
The worst is when you're asked for a plan today for something that ends up not happening for months. Grrr.

davefleet
davefleet

That's great to hear! Thanks Sophie - glad you're finding it useful.

Randi
Randi

Why don't you simply load it up on a normal file sharing site, such as dropbox, file.it, or any other.  I hate that I have to register or pay to be able to down load...

davefleet
davefleet

Hi Randi, I had originally done that, but found that the bandwidth costs were crushing my hosting plan :) At the time, Scribd did not charge; I'll upload it to SlideShare so you don't face that issue. Cheers, Dave

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