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How To Write A Simple Communication Plan

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:

  1. Who they are
  2. What to tell them
  3. How to tell them
  4. Who is going to tell them
  5. 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.

Situation analysis

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.

Stakeholder analysis

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.

Key messages

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.

Communication channels

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.

Communication matrix

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
Customers  √  √      √
Employees    √
Volunteers  √  √
Contractors  √
Suppliers  √
Service Providers  √  √
MP’s  √      
Ministers  √      
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.

Navigating Change in the Not for Profit Sector

The not for profit landscape is changing dramatically in Australia.  Be assured, it will not be the same in 10 years time, most likely five.  But are we ready?  Have we asked and answered the marketing questions we may need to survive?

Environmental change in the not for profit sector will see organisations reviewing and subsequently relying on effective and targeted marketing to adapt and respond to the new environment in which they are operating if they are to remain sustainable and relevant into the future.

The procurement of human services by governments is also changing.  There’s  a greater outsourcing of services to the non government sector.  We’re now in a competitive environment in which for-profits are emerging and pricing and client outcomes are key. This is creating a hybrid market economy, where on one hand we’re operating in a competitive environment and on the other there are increased bureaucratic, reporting and contract demands on what funding we get, and how we use it.

We have no choice but to be competitive and some of us need to change our charity mentality in this regard.

The economic environment and the response to debt and expenditure pressures by government will see an increased demand for human and social services. This at a time of budgetary restrictions on funding for social services.

We are all too aware of the changing demographics of our community. How will we provide effectively for our ageing population?

There is an increased focus on customers and customer outcomes, as there should be.  Ironically, this is being lead by the changes in how government provides its funding and procures services.

Irrespective, the customer will now have greater choice and control over how they use their money, which service provider they use and even what staff they will have in their home providing those services.

We will see people move between service providers.  The traditional service provider ‘specialist’ model will largely cease.

To meet these needs not for profits will either be large organisations, which have size and scale, or will be niche service providers. The ‘middle ground’, where you provide quite a few different services but to a limited customer base in each, is disappearing.

We need to ask some fundamental marketing questions. Do we know our ‘competition’?  Do we know our customers?  Have we got the right service mix?  Can we deliver on our service promise?  Have we got the right pricing structure?  Do people know who we are?  What is our reputation?  The list goes on.

For me, there are three key marketing lessons:

  1. Differentiate or die.
  2. The customer is key.
  3. Outcomes are pivotal.

Keep these points in mind, and navigating change in the non profit sector may be a little more manageable.

Encouraging Voluntary Behaviours

Last week I came across this fundraising box at Subway.

The sign promised that in exchange for helping I would feel good.  My inner philanthropist thought why not!  So I donated the coin contents of my purse and instantly received a good, warm fuzzy feeling.  Given that before making my way to the counter I had no intention of making a donation anytime soon, this campaign demonstrates the power of an appropriate value proposition to encourage voluntary behaviour.

Exchange in social marketing is often non-monetary and typically involves something else the target audience wants for performing the behaviour; where the benefit is most often personal and psychological in nature, such as a good feeling, social recognition or praise.  People always want to know what’s in it for them.  Therefore appealing to an individual’s self-interest, through a direct and timely exchange, is in every social marketer’s best interest – particularly when encouraging voluntary behaviour change.

So how can you appeal to an individual’s self-interest?  One way is by increasing the perceived value of what they receive in return.  Social marketing programs should attempt to manage social issues by ensuring the benefits (or perceived benefits) outweigh the costs associated with the advocated change – increasing the likelihood of voluntary adoption.

Whilst the concept that giving to others can make you feel good about yourself is not revolutionary, it is often overlooked or forgotten; replaced with classic campaigns involving images of in-need individuals designed to elicit sadness and guilt.  The ACT for Kids’ feel-good campaign is a perfect example of where a direct and timely benefit is offered in exchange for a voluntary behaviour, in this case a donation.

Another great example of an effective self-interest value proposition is from Kotler and Lee’s text ‘Social Marketing: Influencing Behaviours for Good’ (3rd edition).  An environmental social marketing campaign, aimed at reducing pollution affecting an estuary famous for harvesting blue crabs, reframed the issue as a culinary, not an environmental, problem.  The appeal to the target audiences’ stomachs (self-interest) rather than their environmental consciousness (societal benefit), provided a direct and timely exchange for changing pollutant garden care behaviours to more environmentally friendly behaviours and, consequently, was more effective than previous initiatives to change behaviour.

Whist the underlying objective is distinguishable between social and commercial sector marketing, an understanding of exchange principles is fundamental to both.  Recycling may decrease pollution, reducing energy consumption may help the environment and giving up your leisure time to volunteer may help those in need.  But ultimately, everyone’s focus is on themselves, so providing a good answer to the question of ‘What’s in it for me?’ is extremely important to behaviour change campaign success.