Planning communications (or Communications Mistake #1)

“Get something out there.”

Every communications professional has been given this instruction at one time or another. Get a story out. Maybe there is a topic, a launch, an activity, a photo, something to talk about. But maybe there isn’t, and someone just feels that there needs to be more done.

The first question any communications person should ask when confronted with this question is – for what purpose? Why?

And too often there is no good answer.

There are ample good ideas and good opportunities for communications activities. Everyone has a good idea in them! But not every good idea is the right idea.

Not taking a moment to plan out why you are doing something or what you want to achieve, means that at best, activities are not as effective as they could be, and at worst, can be detrimental to your aims. Research has shown that too many social media posts can actually turn off your audiences, so caution is warranted!

This is one of the most common mistakes I encounter in communications. It’s a crowded space out there, with an overwhelming number of people clamouring for attention and social media algorithms that work against inefficient content posting. So you need to make sure what you are doing is going to work, and think about why and what and who.

You need a plan

Communications planning is one of the most overlooked, but essential, steps in any effective communications approach. Planning your intended outcome means you can make sure that your message, medium, tools, all of it, get you where you need to be. It also means you can be proactive, look for opportunities to shape your message, before others shape it for you.

So how do you plan effectively, in a role that is so often reactive?

The first step is to start from the end goal – what do I want to achieve. What would success look like in this activity, campaign, project. Or, even better, for this year or budget period, or the next three years!

You might identify a few important objectives. That means you also need to prioritise – what aligns most strongly to what you are trying to achieve across all communications activities, or at a strategic level for your organisation.

Take your time in working this out – go for a coffee, or a walk. I do some of my best strategy thinking while running! It might seem like you don’t have the luxury of taking that time and just need to get pen to paper, but not doing so will ultimately cost you more time in the end. Planning communications activities is a core part of delivering communications activities – and planning requires focused time and energy. Even if only 15 minutes over your morning coffee.

While planning out your objectives, you also need to think about your key messages. What are you actually trying to say? For example, pretend (realistically!) that your end objective is to make people aware of your organisation’s work and support you with donations. In that case, your key messages would be around your organisation’s work, how donations make a difference to that work, and importantly, how supporters can make donations.  

When crafting key messages, remember they need to be engaging – facts, figures, useful information.

You also need to know who you are talking to. Are they potential supporters, who may know of your cause but who may not know your organisation. Or are they government officials, who you are trying to influence for funding for a specific activity/project. So another key element of the planning stage is to determine who you are actually directing your messages towards. I’ll cover this in the next post!

One of the other benefits of having a plan means having a more strategic overview of what you are doing and why, which they gives you the power to say ‘no’ if you need to.

So next time someone says “get something out there”, I hope you feel a bit more confident in saying “what for?” and making sure it is the best possible approach and message to achieve your overall objectives.

Could your communications approach do with a bit more planning? Get in touch!

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