Research is fundamental to any good comms plan – always has been, always will. But having a standalone research section in our comms plans is no longer the best approach.
by Darren Caveney
Say what? No research section in our comms plans?
Have you lost your mind, you cry?
Before you send me pelters let me explain.
Historically research has been a discreet, standalone section in many a comms plan, my own included.
But I don't believe this approach works any more
The new, free comms planning download I have created has no research section. None.
This is because I have come to the conclusion that research needs to be carried out or examined in EVERY one of the 10 steps of the comms planning process
For example, think about a typical request from an internal service for a comms plan. The start point always has to be the objectives for the plan - why do they need a plan, what problem or issue needs to be solved, what are we trying to sell or achieve?
This element of the comms planning process must be developed with the service area. And the service area should be bringing along with them the context and background and this must include research, intel and data to support the work request and to shape the plan accurately from the very outset.
We shouldn’t wait until step three or four to talk research.
The research could take many forms - it could be desktop, secondary, self-generated through a survey or an assessment of an internal problem.
If there is absolutely no research data at this first stage then we have hit problem number one straight away and as communications experts we need to flag it as a deal-breaker.
Now it might be that the comms team can help to generate ideas for gaining this intel. But without it the comms plan is getting off to a flawed start and makes meaningful and measurable objectives hard to identify and agree.
Let's take another section of the comms plan – ‘Audiences’. What data does the service area have on the past, current and potential audience? This intelligence is going to have a major impact on the later decisions on channel choices.
Without this data on audiences we're hitting problem number two.
You can – and should - apply this questioning, challenging and qualifying at every one of the steps within a good communications plan and not just in a research section.
And that’s why there is no research step in the new comms planning guide I have produced.
Once we have collected all of the necessary data and completed the early steps of the plan we can then use our own data sources to decide upon the tactics and then the best fit channels to delivering our activity.
“Without a great communications plan we are simply guessing with our choice of tactics.”
The internal customer asking you from the very outset for a poster, a Twitter account or a video is bypassing all of the good discipline the planning process forces us down.
Selecting the tactics in the absence of a great, research-backed comms plan leaves us guessing. Our roles are too busy and important to guess and we’re doing ourselves a disservice to churn out tactical activity.
Print the guide and the worksheets and try it the next time you're asked for a plan, and –even more importantly - when you’re not asked for a plan.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
image via NASA on the Commons