Content Management, Frequency, and Target Audience are but a few of the components in a Communications Plan. Non Profit(s) and Small Businesses need to be very strategic on what messaging they need and which tactics to use when creating a Marketing Campaign due to the amount of time needed and financial investment it takes for these to work.
Knowing the attitudes and motivators of your buyers/supporters/followers has a direct impact on measuring a plans effectiveness. The following are excerpts from a white paper published by C.S.Simons Consulting in 2012 designed as a FREE resource for those businesses who recognize the need for better effectiveness in their communications but have limited funds to hire a professional Marketing firm. There is also 2 worksheets available to expedite your Communication Planning, feel free to contact me if you would like a copies.
Why develop a strategy around a Communications Plan?
- Planning contributes greatly to success.
- Increases effectiveness of messaging
- Identifies key users and followers
- Engagement, engagement, engagement
- Keeps entire organization focused on Strategic initiatives
What is Strategic Communication?
Strategic communication is planned and accomplishes a specific outcome. It is essentially a project plan for everything you may need to “Market” a product, service or business effort. Designing one will ask the right questions of you as to how you want it presented(see below). It is designed ahead of time so your company controls the exposure and narrative that puts your product/service/effort in the best light to the people or businesses you want to see it. Otherwise you risk the reputation and message being delivered. Below is a checklist to help you organize a Communication Plan of your own.
- Strategic communication is targeted to a particular audience or audiences utilizing known demographics about your customer.
- Strategic communication is designed and delivered to produce a desired result
- Strategic communication aims for results with the best possible use of time and resources.
Strategic communications should be tracked, with measurable performance.
Some key questions to consider at the start of the process are:
- Where are you now and where do you want to be?
- What will you need to do to get there?
- What role can communication, education and training play to achieve your goals?
- How will you learn from your experiences?
Be careful! – what to avoid
- Communication is part of the entire Policy and Strategy implementation process. To implement a Communication Strategy there are many projects to be prepared and undertaken. There must be an understanding of what your customer wants from you, who your customer is and where to find them. Demographics, Attitudes and Motivators is how it is referred to with in the Marketing world. These are addressed first prior to forming a Communications Strategy around how to effectively have that group pay attention to you. Most business people or Executive Directors would agree with this yet this stage often receives little attention until much later on. Often communication is considered only after plans, polices or projects are prepared which strongly reduces the potential for successful project implementation.
- Ad hoc communication is not effective. There is an enormous difference between communication strategically planned and that without strategic planning. It will miss the target audience or deliver the wrong message. You may have very little time to get the attention of your audience, so every little effort needs to be effective.
FREE Checklist for planning a Communication Strategy
Message: This will comprise a combination, of WHO you are trying to speak to, and WHAT you want them to remember or HOW you want them to act.
Timeframes & Frequency: You have to clarify if you are designing a communication strategy with long term goals, a communication plan with short term goals or a communication plan for a specific project. A Strategic Communication Plan will likely utilize all three types of communication plans and is a comprehensive approach for long term messaging.
Target Audience: To create a master strategy, match the goals of your strategic plan to groups identified in the recent membership survey. The membership survey results provide detailed information on demographics such as age, proximity to lake, length of membership, and communication preferences. Use this information to choose which medium to communicate to each demographic. To broadcast a particular message, many organizations choose multiple mediums and alter their message slightly to improve connection with a particular demographic. Much of a communication program success relies upon the content connecting with its target audience.
Budgeting: You must consider costs when planning a single event or campaign style communication. This needs to be in the planning phase to insure its completion. Too often plans don’t become reality because the finances weren’t thought of ahead of time. Include time of any staff in your estimation even though it is part of a different line item. When you want to determine the success of a tactic, all costs must be considered. Include any print materials, ad space, postage, graphic design, sponsorships, office supply and smallwares (table, chairs, poster board, raffle prizes, etc)
Content: The body of the communication and the vehicle for reaction. Utilize demographic information to “speak in a language” that the reader will understand. Incorporate grabbing headlines, pictures or graphs whenever possible as this is a proven to increase attention and action.
Tools & Format; what method or medium would be best suited to deliver message and achieve results. Consider the target audience, and how to best reach them based on prior success. If trying to reach a new target audience, which design works best for the market? Is capital expense needed for a first impression? Is graphic designing needed for a mailing or email blast? Print ready advertisement design? Pictures needed for social media or press release?
Instrumental style communication – You need to be conscious of whether you are dealing with a communication campaign that is organized to raise the interest of the public, politicians and other special groups for a particular issue, or to generate support for policies or plans.
Interactive style communication – A plan is for establishing active dialogue with certain groups and fully involving them in planning, implementing or evaluating (Feasibility study)
Maintenance and Accountability; to assist with daily management of any communication campaign, the creation of tools to help monitor message, frequency, placements and responsibility should be utilized. Examples of such tools are provided in the tools section of this report.
5 considerations for Successful communications
- When implementing, regularly check how feasible the plan is, and what disasters may occur.
- What will affect the success of the message? Which stakeholder is it designed for?
- Be flexible in adapting the plan in case of shortages in money or time.
- What will people’s reaction be – What do they want in the communication?
- If the communication is announcing an event or action item, how much time is given for members to react?
When to use a campaign and when to use single source messaging
A campaign can be designed for virtually any application, after all, more is often better when done right. The primary goal behind a multi-tactic campaign is to leverage each individual tactic/method to achieve greater impact with the desired message.
Some occasions for use of a campaign
- To educate a population on a particular subject
- To tell a story of your brand
- Establish a dialogue
- To create recognition of a subject
- Public Relations
- To display a style or belief system
Single source messaging which is a one time event through standard media such as direct mail, email, website or online posting and is designed as a “one and done”. It doesn’t have a direct connection to either the message that LSPA has agreed to or a direct connection to the mission of the organization. While it is important and informational, it may not lead to a call for action like those in a campaign will from its recipients.
Some occasions for use of single source messaging
- Scheduled events
- Confirmation of expected information
- Thank You’s
- Annual Reports
How Non Profits can identify the role for a Communication Plan
To identify the role of communication it is necessary to ask:
- What is the current Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (behaviors) of the target groups and stakeholders involved?
- What reactions do you want the target groups and stakeholders have?
It is also important to clarify what are the desired changes in the people involved in this issue:
- Is it to change the attitudes of people and/or organizations
- change the mind sets – the way people look at a certain issue
- change the way people feel about an issuer
- change behavior? (more difficult)
To assess the role of communication in this change process it is necessary to understand if the problem is due to:
- A lack of awareness that the issue is important
- Negative attitudes towards the issue or the solutions
- Lack of skills or “know how” to make a change
In these cases the different states of knowledge, attitudes and practices need different communication solutions, and communication may be used as a sole instrument.
Frequently made mistakes in communication planning
The objective of the communication activity is not properly defined or is too vague
- The objectives are too ambitious to achieve
- There is lack of knowledge of what is precisely wanted from the target groups and what is required to achieve the result:
- e.g. is knowledge needed? new skills and practices?
- e.g. do we need an attitude change from them?
- Communication goals are set to change other people’s behavior and values without understanding how the behavior change can take place
- The fact that people need social, economic or other benefits for any kind of behavior change is not considered when objectives are defined
- Indicators are not defined for the communication targets/objectives, making evaluation of the outcome difficult.