9 Steps to a Strategic Communications Plan

Does marketing frustrate you?

Maybe you’re a communications manager and feel overwhelmed on a daily basis… Or,  you’re a nonprofit leader who sees that sizable allocation for marketing, but you can’t really tell what you’re getting out of it…

A strategic communications plan will help align your marketing and communications efforts with the organization’s overall goals and provide the team with the direction it needs to create a real impact.

Here’s my 101 on the key components of a strategic communications plan (with the abridged write-up below). And, here’s a plan template to help get you started when you’re ready.

Key components of a strategic communications plan

Organizational goals

Where is your organization going? What are the top priorities for the next 2-3 years? This is your north star.

Communications objectives

How can communications advance those organizational goals? Just like finance, programs, human resources… communications isn’t an independent entity. It exists to serve. Decide what are the achievements you want to strive for in marketing and communications that support the direction of the organization as a whole. I find 3-4 priorities to be the sweet-spot for a small communications team.

Audience

Who are the people you need to help achieve those goals? It may be teachers, nurses, legislators, donors…it depends on who you are and where you’re going. Identify these segments of people, then get to know them. Create personas based on their behavior and preferences so you can communicate from their point of view (not yours).

Message

You know who your audience is and now you must be crystal-clear with what you want them to know and what you need from them. This isn’t a script for every engagement, rather it’s an underlying theme for all communications (from you and your non-communications colleagues).

Tactics

Tactics are the activities you will be carrying out through the year (or maybe 6 months works better for you). These are the social media campaigns, newsletters and donation appeals, but also the CEO meetings, program webinars and other communications activities that may not be driven by the comms team (but need to be included). Your mix of tactics will vary depending on audiences and objectives.

Timeline

The best way to keep yourself and your team accountable to any plan is to schedule it. With a communications plan, a schedule also ensures coordination across all departments. It saves the organization from bombarding the same audience with various messages all at once.

Responsible person

Who is taking responsibility for this tactic? A communications plan is not an action plan for the communications team to tackle on their own. Think of the communications director as a conductor – someone who leads and coordinates the team, but not necessarily the one playing every instrument. Communications is an organization-wide effort, but busy colleagues need to know their role.

Budget

What is this tactic going to cost you both in money and hours? When you look at the resources required to implement a particular tactic, you may rethink it. Do you need a website overhaul? Will you need a consultant to manage data? What are printing costs?… You know better than anyone that your resources are limited. It’s time to figure out where you’ll get the best bang for your buck.

Analysis

If this is your first communications plan – good news: you only have to start from scratch once! Track the success of your tactics. For example: Did you achieve what you set out to achieve with that Facebook campaign? By measuring success (and defining what success is), you’ll know if it was a worthwhile effort and something you should continue.

Resources

This is a high level overview to get you started thinking more strategically about your communications – thinking about what you want to achieve rather than what you plan to do. 

Creating a communications plan can be a game-changer for you and your organization – and I want it to be easy!

I created a template and populated some of the content to give you a simple starting point.

Go get ’em!

Get my free template

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