Comms planning. You need to do it. You need to be aware of the icebergs too.
by Dan Slee
A short while ago I blogged about the comms planning template I use and how 12-years of experience had gone into it.
They got the need to move from ‘A’ to ‘B’, they said. They saw the need to quantify where they were and where they were going. But the person who they were doing the planning with didn’t quite see it and it really undermined the whole process. It’s a really common problem.
So, it got me thinking about the common problems with comms planning and what you can do about it.
‘We’re too busy to get the numbers…’
You’re on the launchpad. You’re ready to fire the rocket… but the person you are working with doesn’t really know where they are going. They can’t quantify where they are or where they want to go.
That sinking feeling starts and you know this isn’t going to work. But don’t worry. You aren’t the first person this has happened to although it took me time to realise it wasn’t just me.
I spent a long time trying to work out the way round this. Then I realised that actually, I needed to help them work this stuff out before even starting comms planning.
Always count the widgets. You need more nurses? How many do you need? Ten? A hundred? Pinning this down at the start makes a massive difference. Maybe you need to help them do that quietly before the comms planning process.
‘We don’t have time to mess about, just do it…’
It’s five past six on a Thursday and you get someone asking for a press release for a big announcement that’s taking place at 10am the next day. How long have they known about it? Six weeks. But they’ve been busy, alright? So, just write the press release, would you? We’ve all been there. What you are going to produce isn’t going to make a difference. It may well be vanity publishing. You are being a glorified shorthand typist. Once the dust has settled, grab someone senior and ask them who they want to talk to and why. Start to have the strategic conversation so you can make your tactics work better.
‘I know what I need. It’s a back of bus ad’
The person who knows the answer before they’ve done the comms plan can be the bane of a comms person’s life. Unless you have the numbers to back it up it’s just an opinion. No matter how senior that person is. The beauty of the comms plan is that it’s a process that shakes out all you need to know.
Tell them that you need to work through the process to check what the right channel is. It may not be a back of bus ad. But if it is, it’s worth having the evidence in case anyone asks, isn’t it?
‘There’s no budget.’
If that’s the case, that’s fine. But by working through the comms plan and you find that Facebook advertising to brass band enthusiasts will help you reach an audience of brass band enthusiasts and that’ll cost £50 you have the evidence. It’s funny how sometimes purse strings are loosened when there is good evidence. Equally, if there is no budget and they want to recruit 10 new teachers to save £10,000 then you can manage their expectations.
‘You can’t prove that your comms has helped me move from A to B.’
Yes, you can. Sometimes it is harder than others but thanks to the internet you can show that people saw that ad, clicked that link and signed that electoral register. It can be very direct. You can also show that the steps you took led to this outcome. You can compare it to no comms in a similar period last year led to different outcomes. You are going on this journey together, remember. It’s not just comms’ success it is all our success.
‘I’d like me some of that awareness stuff, please’
Awareness is so vague, so nebulous and so hard to pin down it’s a currency that has the value of a Weimar-era million mark note. Why do they want awareness? So people can sign-up? Think of the difference you want them to make to your organisation. Think of the bottom line. If its just awareness they want, don’t do it. If its awareness in order to sign-up to a direct debit to reduce the late payment of council tax, you have something to go on.
‘Our audience? It’s everyone.’
The biggest brand on the planet doesn’t target everyone. It targets demographics. Lots of them. The only TV advertising outside of Christmas Coca Cola does is Diet Coke on daytime telly aimed at women aged 20-45. Blokes? They drink full fat Coca Cola. That’s why they used to sponsor the Football League. They don’t aim at everyone. They aim at chunks of audience.
If they insist they are targeting everyone, ask for a Coke-sized budget. If you don’t get it, ask them to list on a piece of paper everyone they want to speak to. Then ask them to list their top five. Then top three. Then top one. You can work with that.
‘We don’t have time to evaluate.’
It’s a common problem and I absolutely get why evaluation is such a struggle. In the public sector, there can be so much fire-fighting that the thing that’s fifth on your list never gets the attention it deserves. The thing is, you are doing comms to make a difference and you need to count the difference you are making because no-one else will. The evaluation is key to that. What worked? What didn’t? What difference did that make? This is vital. Teams that evaluate tend not to get cut.
‘We don’t think of pounds, shillings and pence in what we do.’
Back in the old days before the financial crash there was money in the public sector to do some great things. There still is. Just not so much. What keeps important people awake at night is often at its core money. There isn’t enough to go around. The service is being changed to cut costs. The new process is launched to improve things but make it more efficient. In all the evaluation you do see where the money is. By doing this you are making a material difference and you’ll help important people sleep at night.
‘Or report back.’
I get why you struggle to do this. But you need to. It completes the loop. You said. We did. This is how we helped.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.
Picture credit: University of Washington Libraries / Flickr