by Mike Warner
We all know that strategic communications planning is not a one-size-fits–all-process. After more than 16 years of working with organizations of all sizes and budgets, though, some common themes have emerged. I strongly believe every organization needs all of these five ingredients in place at the outset to ensure the planning process yields an operative plan.
1. Meet before you plan
While everyone wants to avoid holding meetings to plan (more) meetings, you do need to solicit a mix of voices inside and outside of your organization prior to planning your future communications strategy. These can be as simple as 15-minute discussions where you ask what your immediate goals are, what your organization does well, what you need to work on and who you need to reach. The insights are guaranteed to surprise you.
2. Involve your leadership wisely
Is your CEO or executive director the kind of person who likes to be a part of the process, or does she prefer to review completed work? And if she wants to be highly involved, does her presence suck all of the energy out of the room? You need to do some soul-searching and be honest about the personalities at play.
3. Think ‘outside of the office’
If possible, take your team offsite to plan together. A change of scenery can spark creativity and help participants let go of the ‘way we always do it.’ There are many spaces that will donate space free or at reduced cost. In fact, I recently conducted a planning session at a restaurant, and all we had to pay for was the food.
4. Have a facilitator
To develop an effective communications strategy you need collaboration, but someone, ideally a neutral facilitator, must guide the way. I recommend hiring a PR professional if you have the resources, but if not, see if a colleague from another organization can help. If you are a funder, look to your grantee pool. The important thing is to have someone who will hold your feet to the fire and make sure you follow an agreed-upon process.
5. It’s all about the audiences
The most important piece of any communications plan, in my opinion, is nailing your audiences. Don’t let your organization get away with saying things like ‘we need to communicate to the public’ or ‘we know who our audiences are.’ Hold firm and identify exactly who you want to communicate to and what you want them to do.
As with baking, having the right ingredients does not guarantee success, but if you don’t start with the right stuff your strategic communications plan will never come out of the oven!