Communications Plan

A communication plan often entails developing objectives, strategy, a budget and follow up assessment. Objectives of a communications plan include using it as a tool to effectively communicate with the target audience, to resolve problems, or to maximize opportunities.

Communication without objectives can lead to unknown, unintended, unacceptable or disastrous results. Not only may the outcome be adverse, but the costs for damage control may also become problematic. Objectives should follow the widely popular “SMART” framework. Objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-sensitive.

A framework for developing a plan to communicate effectively and efficiently is based on what industry experts refer to as the “Communications Cycle”. Messaging, targeting, distribution, monitoring and measuring, and assessment are steps within the cycle.

Messaging involves deciding the purpose of the interaction, along with key points. Determine the who, what, where and why of the message, and the effective message formats. Effective avenues may involve direct communication, indirect communication or a combination of both. Direct communication may be a lecture, presentation, conference, one-on-one, or similar method. Indirect communication may use electronic devices such as email, telephone, video, text, teleconferencing, multimedia or internet.

Expert sources are individuals who can deliver or discuss topics related to your business or industry. Experts can be newsmakers, creating buzz or feedback. There are several ways to leverage an expert source. One proactive method to use experts is to provide an experts list to reports or list them online. Listing online can be done through a website, organization or media site. ProfNet is an online service that has section to network experts with journalists seeking sources.

Targeting profiles the intended audience. The public, corporate community, investors, media, consumers, former clients, prospective consumers, competition, non-costumers, for instance, and the particular demographics define the target group. Once determining the target audience, you can then more effectively ascertain how to reach that group. The target audience can be assessed regarding their location, their methods of information access, what drives their decision-making, and how to make an impact. Detailed information about your target audience promotes more effective communication.

Distribution develops avenues for message delivery, which can range from simple to complex. Just as important to messaging and targeting, tailoring distribution channels to each target audience should be based on the means by which information is accessed.

Affordable distribution channels include using an online media room on corporate websites to post news and materials for reporters and others. Information can be announcements, or automated postings, downloadable content and company points of contact.

Electronic marketing via e-mail or fax to a pre-determined target list can be simple, cost effective and a successful distribution strategy. Limiting the target recipients can be purposeful and effective, or it can be seen as limiting. It depends on the communication objectives. For example, emailing a follow up survey to customers who filed a complaint may be an effective method for customer recovery and satisfaction. Emailing or faxing notice about an upcoming event to only those customers is not effective.

On the other end of the budget spectrum is using a newswire distribution service. The costs involved may be offset by the communication objective of national or international reach. Another advantage to enlisting a news service is when the service provides search engine optimization (SEO) of its news releases. SEO will likely make communication messages more attractive to search engines such as Google or Yahoo!

Social networking sites may be appealing because of the lower costs, except the tradeoff is the high exposure can also result in more scrutiny and criticism. Such scrutiny and criticism will not be as manageable as other distribution methods.

Monitoring and measurement of any plan is critical and should be ongoing throughout a campaign. An easy and inexpensive method to monitor activity is to keep a log with proofs. Keep a tear sheet collection from printed articles, and printed web results. Google News provides an online no-cost, simple tracking method. Professional clipping bureaus can pick up the sometimes time-consuming task.

The quantity of coverage is important, as well as whether the intended outcome was achieved. Key points, tone of coverage, and ripple coverage should be assessed. The implementation of the communication plan should be monitored and measured to determine the achievement of objectives.

Assessment is the last communication stage. This stage extracts lessons learned from the execution of the communications plan for future use. Lessons learned may include modifications to the executed plan. If the wrong audience responded, then perhaps tweaks in the media mix are in order. If audience responses showed message misunderstanding, adjust the messages for better response.

A solid media list should be at the core of every public relations campaign. Media lists can be built from first-hand knowledge, online sources or from media databases. Although there’s a cost involved, media databases offer the most efficient means for gathering information and accessing important details about specific reporters.

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