Communication Planning for
Table of Contents
- Communications Planning - What Is It?
- Communications Planning - The Six Steps
- Relevent OMAFRA Factsheets
Communications Planning - What Is It?
People and organizations communicate with others for a variety of reasons
- to inform, persuade, prevent misunderstandings, present a point of view
or reduce barriers.
Communications happens when the message you send
is received, understood and acted upon by your intended audience.
Communications planning is simply a process to help
you reach that goal.
The communications plan has been described in a number of ways, including:
- a foundation on which to base decisions and create ideas
- a means of focusing on where you want to be and what needs to be done
to get there
- a tool for discovering opportunities, optimizing challenges and initiating
- a means of monitoring your communications efforts.
A communications plan is all of the above ... and more.
But communications planning is not a mysterious art. It is a straightforward,
step-by-step process that will help you clearly and logically summarize
what you want to say to your intended audience and map out how you will
deliver that message.
Keep in mind, the same logical process used to launch a new consumer
product on a national basis can also be used to inform parents about a
bake sale to raise funds for their child's school trip.
Organizations need to communicate for one or all of the following reasons:
- To inform You may need to let interested parties
know who you are, what you can do for them, what they can do to help
you, or even just how to get in touch.
- To build understanding or change behavior
You may want to encourage others to think, act or feel a certain way;
to stop smoking, for example. This can involve appealing to feelings,
self-interest, or a person's imagination.
- To prevent misunderstandings Even a small misunderstanding
can create large problems for your organization. You can ensure good
communication by putting yourself in your audience's position, paying
attention to their needs and getting to know them.
- To present a point of view Often, this is all you
need to do to accomplish your goal.
- To lower barriers between groups and individuals These
barriers may range from information overload to suspicion and prejudice.
Communications Planning - The Six Steps
Step 1 - Research And Analysis or Take Stock Of
Your Current Situation
Start your communications planning with some research. Research can be
as extensive as commissioning a public opinion poll or as simple as talking
on an informal basis with your clients or staff. It also means asking
the following questions about your current situation and what affects
- What are your organization's goals, strengths and weaknesses? Having
a clear picture of what your organization wants to achieve will help
you determine a good course of action for your communications.
- What resources do you already have? Information, people, money, time
and public support are all valuable assets. Determining which assets
you have and which ones you might need will help you decide on the scope
of your communications program.
- Is there any current research that will help you? Do you need to do
- Has this type of communications activity taken place before? If so,
what was the result?
- What are your major communications opportunities? Perhaps the local
newspaper is always interested in your organization's activities. Or
maybe there's an annual meeting coming up where you can present your
- What are your major communications impediments? Perhaps you don't
have a lot of money to spend on communications so you will need to look
for low-cost opportunities.
The analysis stage involves sifting through the research to look for
information that will help you frame your communications plan. Analysis
can help you:
Step Two - Goals and Objectives
Defining your goals and objectives or what you are trying to achieve
will help you focus on the who, why, when and how of your communications
Goals are the overall changes you wish to cause.
are the short-term, measurable steps you take
to reach your goal.
- If your goal is to increase community support for your local community
development initiative, your objectives might be to:
- increase your membership by 10%
- add two new organization directors
- increase funding from the business community
- encourage positive media coverage of your organization's activities
- inform the community of the benefits of community development, and
- achieve support for your activities from local civic leaders.
When deciding on your objectives, ask yourself:
- Are we seeking to provide new information?
- Are we calling the audience to action?
- Are we seeking to change behaviour?
Your objectives should form a clear statement of what it is you are trying
to do. They should be specific, realistic and listed in order of importance.
They should also be measurable. When you evaluate your communications
plan, you will measure your results against your objectives.
Step Three - Target Audience
The next step in the planning process is to determine your target audiences
- listing the groups with whom you need to communicate, and
- analyzing each group.
When choosing the people or groups your organization needs to influence,
it may be helpful to think about the many different ways you can describe
them. For example, your target audience might be males aged 18 to 24.
But, it could be more helpful to know that your target audience is males
aged 18 to 24 who are car owners or football players or volunteer fire
fighters or teachers.
The more clearly you can define your audience, the easier it will be
to make choices about your messages and communi-cations vehicles.
When analyzing each group, consider:
- What do they already know about your organization?
- How are they likely to react to your message and why?
- What are some factors influencing the audience that receives your
message - for example: literacy levels or multicultural differences?
- Are there any difficulties you might have in communicating with each
Possible Target Audiences
Mass Communications Representatives
- Newspaper editors and publishers, key reporters
- Radio and TV station managers, news directors, key reporters/announcers
Government Officials and Elected Representatives
- Mayor and local government officials
- Police officials
- Local MP and MPP
- Political party officials
- Officials of chambers of commerce or boards of trade
- Farm organizations
- Community service organizations
- Officers of service clubs
- Veterans' associations
- Community action groups
- Minority group leaders
- Youth group leaders
- Industrial and commercial business owners
- Officials of merchants' associations
- Employment agency management
- Contractors and construction company officials
- Union leaders
- Professional engineers
- Members of school boards
- School superintendents
Step Four - Key Messages
Taking into consideration your objectives and target audiences, it is
now time to identify the essential idea or set of ideas you want to communicate.
Ask yourself - What does the audience already know about this issue? What
does the audience need to know? What do we want to tell the audience?
Now, develop the message or messages you want your target audience to
hear and to believe. Write down each message in a simple, specific statement.
Keep in mind, to motivate people, you must show them that you will help
meet their needs. A clear description of the benefits to your audiences
will help ensure that your message is received, understood and acted upon.
Step 5 - Communication
There are many communications vehicles available from which to choose.
A number of them are listed on the last page of this Factsheet.
Having done your communications analysis, you will be able to narrow
your choices to the communications vehicles that:
- fit with the resources you already have
- are the most effective communications vehicles to reach your target
audiences and influence them with your message(s), and
- help you achieve your goals and deliver the outcomes you want.
Timing is another very important consideration when choosing your communications
vehicles. You don't want your messages competing unnecessarily with other
events. Finally, there is the budget. Don't let a limited budget discourage
you. There are many inexpensive communication vehicles.
Your communications plan may need a theme to tie it together. The theme
line should be a short, punchy version of your main message and should
be the link between all your activities and materials. Foodland Ontario's
There's No Taste Like Home slogan is a good example of capturing a message
(that Ontarians should buy Ontario-grown food) in one catchy phrase.
Make a list of all the activities that will take place:
- before the launch of your communications campaign; for example, preparing
a mailing list, writing a news release
- at the time of the launch; for example, distribution of the news release,
- as a follow-up; for example, responding to media inquiries resulting
from the news release.
If you develop a long-term plan, be sure to build in some check points
to monitor progress and aid adjustments.
Step Six - Evaluation
How will you know if you are successful? Will the audiences receive the
messages you intend them to receive, or will they get an entirely different
By evaluating your communications plan, you can learn how your plan worked
with various audiences, which activities had the most impact, and which
parts of the plan failed.
There are a variety of formal measurement techniques for measuring the
results against your objectives, such as: readership surveys, attitude
audits, focus group sessions. You can do your own evaluation on a less
formal basis by assessing media coverage and talking to your clients.
The evaluation of your first plan should form the foundation of your
next communications plan.
- print - newspapers, magazines; good for conveying details
- radio - effective if carefully targeted
- television - effective in reaching broad target audiences, expensive
- outdoor - good for mobile audiences
- transit ads - good for urban audiences
- mall displays - good consumer targeting
- brochures/pamphlets/publications - good communications tools if they
are targeted to those who need the information and are open to the message
- posters - highly visible for a long time, can suggest a special occasion
- newsletters - a good communications tool when targeted carefully
- annual report - important corporate information
Media relations (an indirect communication)
- regular contact with journalists
- mailing lists - must be well maintained
- one-on-one interviews with the media
- meeting with editorial boards
- news releases - print
- electronic releases - video, audio
- news conferences
- talk shows
- information kits - background information
- letters to the editor
- issue spokesperson - having someone available to speak about an issue
- feature articles
- web site postings
Public Service Announcement (PSAs)
- cable television and radio often accept community PSAs
- direct mail - direct, expensive
- public speaking - very effective personal contact, needs time commitment
- AV presentations - provide a dramatic message
- personal contacts - effective, time consuming
- public meetings - bring people together, can provide competition or
opposition with a platform
- site tours - provide in-depth information, can eliminate suspicions
- educational opportunities - visit classrooms, meet with teachers
- sponsorship opportunities
- regular contact with key officials
- add government officials/offices to your mailing list
- briefings/briefing documents
- special events
- trade shows or special client-group meetings
- annual and other reports
- annual meetings
- employee annual report
- information in pay envelopes
- letters sent to employees' homes
- bulletin board messages
- electronic mail messages
- employee special events
Relevent OMAFRA Factsheets
- Social Marketing For Organizations, Order No. 92-097