So you’ve just developed a new initiative, service or product that’s going to make a real change to the way your organisation goes about its business or deals with its customers. But how do you tell all the people involved with your business – those that would be affected and those that could have an effect – about the change that’s about to happen?
What you need is a communication plan. A communication plan need not be onerous. It’s simply a matter of identifying what you need to say, who you need to say it to, and the most effective way to say it. A lot of people are going to be interested in what you’re doing and you need to identify:
- Who they are
- What to tell them
- How to tell them
- Who is going to tell them
- When they are going to be told
The communication plan
Start with a brief, one sentence statement of what the change is, how it will help and who will benefit. Literally 25 words or less. Put it at the top of page one in italics, quotes, bolded, boxed or some other way to make it stand out. This one sentence is your initiative’s raison d’être, and it will help you keep focused while you develop your plan.
Next comes a brief story on what has brought about the change. It might be the changing needs of a key target market, a new form of technology that can be applied to your business, or some other initiative that will fill a market niche you have identified.
Keep it brief and punchy, using active speech and plain English. Try to keep it no longer than three paragraphs with no more than three sentences per paragraph – if it goes longer give it a hard editing and pare it back – and then put it under a heading like Situation analysis or Current situation.
Next step is to identify the people that need to know. You already know who they are; it’s simply a matter of mapping all of your business’s stakeholders that will be affected or potentially have an effect. Obviously customers, also employees, volunteers and contractors, perhaps suppliers, and maybe other businesses and service providers that refer people to you. If your new product or service might have political implications, what about the local MP or even the state or federal cabinet minister with responsibility for the field in which you work?
Is there potential media interest in what you’re doing? If so, the media should also be on your stakeholder list. Bear in mind though, that the news media does not provide free advertising and once you’ve given the media the information you’ve no longer got control of the message.
If what you need to communicate has a potential bad news angle it might be best to communicate directly with the people that need to know first, and at the same time get ready for media enquiries rather than give the media the story and expect it to run your way. The media is not necessarily your friend.
So what you’re looking for is all the people or groups that have a real or potential interest in – or an effect on – your service or product. List your stakeholders in order of importance along with a short sentence of how they would potentially be affected by the changes, or how they could affect what you’re trying to achieve. Remember there is no such thing as a ‘general public’. Each of your ‘publics’, or stakeholders, are different so each will probably perceive your product or service differently. Put your list into your communication plan under the heading of Stakeholder analysis.
Now make a list of short, concise sentences that say the what, where, when, why, how and for whom of your product or service. Refer back to your one sentence at the top of page one to keep you focused. While you’re building your list keep referring back to your list of stakeholders and put yourself in their shoes. This will help to ensure you have the answers to all of their potential questions.
Your next step is to identify the best way to tell each of your stakeholders what’s happening. There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution to communication. Each stakeholder or group of stakeholders will have one or more preferred ways of receiving information and your challenge is to find the best and most effective method or methods.
The right channel could be anything from a simple letter to a mass media advertising campaign and might include newsletters (printed or email), your website, brochures, flyers and point-of-sale information, banners and posters, even press, journal, internet, radio or TV advertising, journal articles, maybe a media release to all media or just a call to the editor or a journalist at the local paper, or even setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account.
New media and ways of getting your message out are emerging all the time and each channel is worth investigating to see if it’s where your stakeholders will be seeking information. Does your organisation have a call centre? If so customers are likely to call with questions so consider a briefing for call centre staff and developing a Q&A so they can provide a simple answer to the most common questions. You can use your key messages as a starting point for your Q&A. If you have the names and addresses of your customers and other stakeholders then a personal letter is often a cheap and effective channel. If necessary you can tailor individual letters to different stakeholder groups.
Now you’ve come to the part where you can really start to simplify things, and one really useful way to do this is with a matrix. Just list all of the channels available to you on one axis and all of your stakeholder groups on the other. Then for each stakeholder tick the box for the channel or channels you have selected as the best option. Here’s a simple example:
|Personal Letter||Newsletter||Website||Media Release||Briefings||Social Media|
That’s it, you’re pretty much done. All you’ve got to do now is assign tasks to the people who are going to help you, set deadlines and tick off each part of the plan as it’s completed. One way to do that is to tabulate your plan, print it out and keep it on your desk or pinned to the wall.
Be sure to include the following:
Message: What do we need to tell them?
Channel: How are we going to tell them?
People: Who’s responsible for doing it?
Deadline: By when does it need to happen?
And that’s your communication plan. It’s simple, effective and should only take a few hours to complete. It’s also there as a reminder in case anyone gets lost along the way.
And finally, remember that quite often plans don’t go according to plan and even the world’s best communication plan will still need tweaking and updating along the way.