I’ve worked in communications for a while now, and one thing I’ve noticed — consistently — is that the same two elements of communications plan get overlooked time and time again:
These almost always get sacrificed in favour of the bright, shiny part of the plan: tactics.
What’s more, your objectives and strategy are the most important part of the plan. They’re the part that frames the ultimate goal that you’re trying to achieve, and provides a focus for the tactics that should aim to achieve that goal.
That means that, sadly, most communications programs fail to live up to their true purpose.
I think this failure stems from two primary misunderstandings:
1. People don’t understand the difference between objectives, strategies and tactics.
Simply put, your objective should state what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to sell 30,000 units of something? Increase customer loyalty? Reduce employee turnover? Remember, too, that there are business objectives and communications objectives, and the latter should flow up to the former.
Your strategy defines how you will achieve the objective you just outlined. If you’re looking to sell product, for example, one strategy might look to raise awareness of the product among a key audience. Another option might be to improve its visibility among key purchase-driven search terms.
Your tactics provide the final level of detail in your plan – the granular activities that will drive towards your strategies, and which ultimately fuel the accomplishment of your objective.
Too few people understand the difference between these three areas. If they’re on the client side, they’re the ones who, despite the great program delivered, still ask “but how many media impressions did we get” even if the business results are there for all to see. On the agency side, well, they’re the ones who risk those same clients never having the business results to ignore in the first place.
It’s CRITICAL that people get their heads around this, as these parts of your plan ensure you’re driving at the right result.
2. People focus on shiny.
Lots of people, especially in the communications industry, are highly creative and really enjoy the creative side of things. Let’s face it, brainstorms are fun. Blue sky thinking, a “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” mindset and no consideration of limitations is a nice mindset to have. Unfortunately, I’ve found that that often comes at the expense of strategy – of putting boundaries around creativity to ensure it is pointed in the right direction.
I had a great discussion with a colleague last week after a brainstorm. I commented that we had some great ideas coming out of the session, but that at that point most of them totally diverged from our strategy for the program. Her response (paraphrasing) was: “Agreed. It’s our job to take those ideas, filter them and tweak them so they fit.”
The perfect team combines people with creative strength alongside those with a strategic mindset, so you get the best of both worlds.
Want to improve your planning? Educate your team and your client about the difference between objectives, strategies and tactics, and make sure they’re taken into account when developing your plan.