Communications Plan

strategyAt AHA, we have just completed and submitted a strategic communications plan for a start-up organization client. It was clear that this client has many opportunities to use marketing communication and PR to raise awareness of their service and engage their target market and stakeholder groups. However, it’s a small organization and they are in start-up mode. Their ability to implement had to be seriously taken into consideration in the development of the plan.

This is something that we are aware of with every client – from large global corporations to local companies to government agencies and everyone in between. We have worked with some companies that have large budgets and we have worked with those that are financially challenged. No matter who (or how big) the client organization is, it is crucial to ask: What are their resourcing (human and financial) limitations?

Developing plans with clients is one of our favourite things to do and we’re really good at it. And, I have to admit, there are days when I wish that the magical client, with an unlimited budget and who is ready to take calculated risks, would appear and we could see every great idea that could be brought to life. I am starting to think that client is a bit like the myth of the unicorn, Bigfoot or desserts that don’t make you gain weight. They are nice to dream about, but they really don’t exist.

One of the interesting and exciting challenges that we, as communicators, face is how we can create a great plan that generates measureable results and can be implemented within the budget. Everyone who knows me gets that I love a good challenge and, as a PR agency, we have become really good at digging in and developing effective plans that work within identified resources.

Getting a client to talk about the barriers they face during the plan development stage can be difficult – but it’s important. Does the client have the right people in the right roles with the right skill set or do they need to budget for a contractor or consultant? Is the client capable of doing what needs to be done, in house, to meet the deadlines? If not, something needs to be adjusted to accommodate these issues.

Start-ups are often focused on big ideas; there is excitement and energy and inspiration in the room. Sometimes, they look at what others in their field have done and they want to emulate their initiatives, and that’s not always the best approach. Even taking a best practices approach, it’s important to understand what resources it took to achieve those outcomes and if they authentically fit with your stakeholder group, objectives and goals.

We always provide a measurement component in plans. When presenting the draft plan to the client, that is where I start – measurement and its importance. How the elements in the plan will be measured – including the return-on-investment – always leads back to budget. Putting it all into context is important before you can showcase the tools, tactics and technologies that will be implemented.

It’s much easier to develop an exciting plan when you don’t bring resourcing into it. A blue-sky plan is fun to write; there’s nothing holding you back. A realistic plan takes a lot more research and effort, which is why it works when it is implemented. There are no surprises or detours that take the client away from their strategic road map – they just keep moving forward, measuring the return-on-investment and experiencing success.

Most blue-sky plans don’t get implemented because the resources necessary aren’t available. They are just nice stories on pretty paper.

What would you rather have?

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When we are developing a communications plan for a client’s organization, I like to go and spend time there. Depending on the client, that might mean sitting in the employee cafeteria, the lobby or anywhere that staff might gather and chat. Sometimes that means I ride the elevator up and down a few times or go to the coffee shop closest to their office. It is so I can get a sense of the people behind the brand. Because really, that is who delivers on your brand promise. And one of the components of great PR is authentically communicating your brand promise to your stakeholder group.

There are some incredible people that work for your organization that deliver on your brand promise every day. They bring your brand to life and they make real connections with the people that purchase your goods or services. They make your organization a success through each action and interaction they have with your stakeholders.

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I recently wrote a communications plan for a client that occupies a space filled with academics, intellectuals and thought leaders. Just prior to that, I had developed a plan for a client that provides services within a blue-collar industry. On the surface, these clients have little in common and the plans themselves were very different. However, our approach to the use of straightforward language in each plan was similar.

In both plans, we got rid of the corporate speak, we dumped the gobbledygook and we wrote in plain English. Straightforward, no words like synergy, leading edge, next-generation, dynamic interface, etc. This was a big departure from the style of other plans that were done for each client previously. Plans that had cost them a great deal of money were sitting on a shelf and weren’t being implemented. One of the questions I asked before starting the projects was why the previous plans weren’t being used. The plans were solid and they provided a good strategic foundation, but sat languishing on a shelf. It turns out that both clients found the plans overwhelming and had not been able to connect the theory to reality. There was no momentum to move the ideas in the plan into action.

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