10 Practical Steps to a Successful Communications Plan

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What do you want your target audiences to do? Whether you want customers to buy a new product or service, or to mobilize the public around an issue, you need a communications plan!

We all know how essential it is to develop a good communications plan to properly define the actions needed to trigger those actions. A communications plan helps understand a situation in order to choose the best strategies and tactics to reach a target audience.

However, such an exercise requires an investment of time that can seem heavy when our agendas are already full!

Here are a few simple steps to follow in order to prepare a successful communications plan.

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1.  Define the specific mandate

First, you must define the assignment by asking what the challenge is. Is it to raise the visibility of the organization, an awareness campaign, a promotional event or internal communication? Defining the mandate is the basis of any project, and your communications plan is no exception.

2.  Analyze the situation

Once the assignment is well defined, it must be set in its broader context. This will allow you to better identify the causes of the problem, and therefore make a more precise diagnosis. To do this, develop a portrait of the situation using a review of media coverage, research the competition and your sector of activity, analyze the data collected during a survey, etc.

3.  Define the goals

Once the diagnosis is made, establish your main objectives. In communications, the objectives are often grouped under three main headings: to raise awareness, to educate or to inform about a product or service. Sometimes it's more about the attitude of customers towards the product or service, meaning that we want to persuade or provoke a change in attitude. Finally, some communications plans aim to get people to take action, such as by changing their behaviour. That applies if we want to get them to join a cause, for instance.

4.  Choose a target audience

Who do you want to reach and what is the demographic and sociological profile for each of your audiences? The more specific your targets and the more closely they are linked to your objectives, the more effective and potentially successful your actions will be. For each target audience, you will need to determine the approach, style and content of your communications.

5.  Figure out a communications axis

The axis is the theme of your campaign or event. Like a lighthouse, it is the axis that will guide the editorial line of your communications. What do you want to tell your target audience and what do you want them to remember? The communications axis is the main idea that will be used in all your messages.

6.  Establish a communications strategy

The purpose of a strategy is, among other things, to plan the various actions. It is at this stage that is determined how the message will be delivered. You must establish the right tools, and choose the right influencers and opinion leaders who will have an impact. Just like the schedule and the calendar, these elements are part of the communications strategy.

7.  Determine the means

It is important to select the most appropriate communications tools to achieve your goals. Whether it is by organizing an event, media relations, a campaign on social media, or through advertising, all means are possible. The target audience to be reached and the message to be conveyed will guide the choice of the most appropriate media, techniques and tools.

8.  Develop the message

The message aims to inform, educate, persuade, convince, promote... and seduce. While provoking a change in behaviour or attitude, the message must remain coherent and transparent. Because, for example, a speech is not written the same way as a brochure and does not address the same target audience, rigour is required when designing messages.

9.  Determine the budget

It is important to evaluate your human, financial and material needs for each of the communications tools that will be deployed. You must also determine the budget at the beginning of the mandate, as this makes it easier to work with the various suppliers.

10.  Evaluate the results

It is at this stage that you can readjust your aim, if necessary, in order to reach the original targets. Measure the perception of the message with criteria that will evaluate awareness, sales growth, etc. It is recommended that you choose at least one measurement technique in order to get a first-hand impression of the message. Then you will be able to adjust before a second round of evaluations.

This article was inspired by Bernard Dagenais' book, Le plan de communication, l'art de séduire ou de convaincre les autres, Presse de l'Université Laval. This article is intended as a reference tool and in this sense, it does not replace the value of a communications consultant.

Do you want to develop and implement a communications plan or are your communications strategy needs changing?