Comms planning can be vital. It sets out a path to take and can save you time and money.
By Dan Slee
A good comms plan helps you to get to where you want to go… without one you are almost certainly going to fail.
You can fire a rocket into the sky and you might successfully hit the moon but the chances are you won’t.
Back in 1969 when NASA put a man on the moon they did so with research, resources, planning, science, evaluation and creativity. Without those elements they would have failed.
I’m going to tell you why I realised comms planning was a good thing.
There are many comms plans. This one is mine. You are free to use it. I’ve uploaded it to Google docs here.
Don’t do fig-leaf comms planning
Here’s a thing. I came to realise that comms planning was the most useful tool very slowly.
For 12-years I was a reporter. Forward planning was literally tomorrow lunchtime. It was the here and now of frontpage leads and by-lines.
Moving to communications, I wan’t sure about comms planning. Some people would demand a comms plan when all they actually wanted was eight pages of text to add to a submission.
“See?” They would say. “We’ve got comms covered.”
This fig-leaf comms planning drove me up the wall. Your work as an attachment that’s never looked at again will never work. There was a better way.
Why you should write a good comms plan
A good comms plan makes a difference.
It asks where you are now, where you want to go, who you want to talk to, where they’ll be, what’s the one thing you want them to do, how much worktime and money you have, how long you’ve got, how you’re going to evaluate to see if it has worked. It then looks at the tactics. In other words, the things you’ll do. The content you’ll write.
Comms planning is a tried and trusted process that leads you to the right answers. It may not be the poster that your client first demanded. But that’s okay. You’ll have something better than a poster.
It stops the ridiculous waste of ‘I want back of bus ads’ without the research into whether or not bus ads will work.
But before you sit down with the comms plan
This is the hard part. It can save a lot of time and spare blushes. The purpose of the comms plan is to help someone move from A to B. For example:
- Move from we need 20 new nurses to having 20 new nurses.
- Move from we need 100 sign-ups to we have 100 sign-ups.
- Move from we need 10 per cent fewer calls to the switchboard to have 10 per cent fewer calls to the switchboard.
But here is the tricky part. You need to put a number on the A and the B. Without that you won’t really know where you are and where you are going to. Like a driver with a map, you’ll be going round in circles.
You need – gently – to ask and challenge whoever is asking you for some PR and comms to go away and define where they are and where they want to go to. You need this to be done ahead of the comms planning session.
UK Government executive director of comms Alex Aiken is a big advocate for not doing comms without a business plan. I get that. It’s a handy rule of thumb.
You can’t write a comms plan if they don’t know where they are or where you are going.
And when you sit down with the comms plan
Here’s a simple rule. Have the people in the room who will make the key decisions and those who will carry them out. Four or five people? That’s fine. Just you and one other person? I wouldn’t bother. You want people to feel as though this is their comms plan.
As the comms person, you are facilitating. Time is of the essence. Spend no more than 15 minutes on each of the first nine elements. Set out the timings at the start. This way you won’t be distracted or go up a blind alley.
Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a couple of hours. Put your phones away. A cup of tea or a drink. Some biscuits, maybe.
Oh, and two things are banned. The word ‘aewareness’. It means nothing. It is nebulous. Why do you want them to be aware? To volunteer? To sign-up? Ask. Challenge politely.
I’ve added timings to this. You can change them for something you are looking to do. It can be maybe 10 minutes far shorter for a small plan, for example. But having timings set out from the off can help keep you focussed.
Where are you now? (5 minutes)
You’ve done this before the meeting, so there’s no need to spend too long on this. This points out on the map where you are.
Where do you want to go and why? (5 minutes)
You’ve done this before the meeting too. This works out where you want to go. Why do it? Because a campaign to recruit 100 new nurses is different to one to recruit 10.
Who do you want to talk to and why? (10 minutes)
This is the part where you work out who you really want to talk to. So, for a campaign to recruit nurses it is members of the nursing profession. You want to talk to them so you can recruit them.
What’s the one thing you want them to do and why? (5 minutes)
Make this a call to action. You want the nurses to go to the recruitment website and apply.
Where do they hang out? (15 minutes)
This is the part where you work out how to reach them. Are there nursing forums or publications? Can you find them on Facebook with ‘nurse’ as a tag?
How much work time and money do you have to help you reach them? (15 minutes)
This is the part where you look at your resources. You may have a day a week of capacity, for example, and a budget of £500. If the budget is zero, this is the point where you establish this and frame if more is needed. If none is forthcoming, this is the point where you manage expectations.
How long have you got? (5 minutes)
How long do you have to recruit people? A month? Six months? 12-months? This sets the timeframe and gives a sense of panic and urgency if that’s needed.
When and how are you going to evaluate? (10 minutes)
This is critical. Be clear at the start so you can see if the campaign has been a success. If you are recruiting nurses, count the number of recruits. But if you just leave it at that you aren’t seeing the full picture. Why do you need to recruit nurses? Because you have to pay agency staff? And how much extra do they cost? £5,000 a year? And how many agency staff are you paying for now? So each one you recruit saves £5,000? So if you recruit 10 you are saving £50,000? This is the point where you may be able to loosen the purse strings if this is needed. In addition, ask what the difference to the organisation will be if the campaign is a success. Will more nurses bring more capacity? How many hours a week? Ask questions. Suggest the research is done. Everyone is busy. But without this data you are flying blind.
Once you’ve got a handle on what metrics you’ll count, look to keep tabs on it. A year-long campaign to cut recruit nurses should be checked at regular stages to see what tweaks are needed.
Who are you going to tell that you are doing this so you can tell them how it has gone? (5 minutes)
This is a simple one. When you run a Marathon you make a public declaration so you need to follow through. Is it your boss? The client’s boss? Work out who that person is.
Whats the timeline of tactics for it all? (15 minutes)
This is something you can start in the session but you may need to work up away from the planning session. Tactics are all the things you’ll look to do. The posters, the Facebook ads, the LinkedIn discussion.
That’s a quick run through. I’m happy to help you. You can find me firstname.lastname@example.org or @danslee on Twitter.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.
Picture credit: Flickr / NASA