How to Write a Communication Plan

Light pink notebook on yellow background. 10 steps to writing a communication plan blog post
Light pink notebook on yellow background. 10 steps to writing a communication plan blog post

Communication is key to running a business. Full stop. The secret is to have a solid communication plan in place to keep all your teams and stakeholders aligned. But how do you write a communication plan and what exactly is it? In this blog, we’ll explore 10 key steps to writing a communication plan for easy reapplication across multiple channels.

Table of Contents

What is a Communication Plan?

A communication plan is a document and/or calendar that provides marketing & PR teams a cohesive structure for crafting their messages. It is designed so everyone has a clear understanding of which stakeholders should be contacted and when.

Your plan is the glue that helps your campaign from hitting any roadblocks and it’s a bible to refer to when marketers get stuck in a messaging rut (or rather, try too hard to get out of a well-established rut - not all ruts are bad when it comes to branding). 

When writing a communication plan, think of it as a template that you'll be able to use for all different communication efforts. Speaking of templates, we have a free communication plan template available just for you!

Communication from a marketing and PR perspective covers a lot of bases, and cohesion in planning across all teams is super important.

What is the Difference Between an Internal Communication Plan & External Communication Plan?

Person at laptop computer typing out a newsletter

An internal communications plan is the framework you use when communicating with all your employees. The types of communications in your plan can include company updates, product announcements, and other important business news. These internal updates will often be delivered by way of an internal newsletter

An external communication plan outlines how, when, why, and where you need to connect with your different audiences, such as social media followers and email subscribers, and other external stakeholders such as investors. 

Planning this communication, whether internal or external, requires having a clear strategy so you know who needs to be contacted first and what you want to accomplish when you deliver the message. Is the objective to encourage employee engagement around some exciting company news? Then you need to connect with your social media manager first. Is the objective to announce a new software update? Then you may want to connect with the product marketing team to anticipate some FAQs. 

What Should a Communication Plan Include?

Green speech bubble on yellow background showing three thinking dots made out of craft paper. How to write a communication plan blog post image

The more specific you can be with times, dates, media contacts, goals, and objectives for each communique, the more useful your communication plan will be in keeping everyone aligned. 

An effective communications plan should include:

A clear schedule

Who needs to be communicated with and when? Have a list of all possible stakeholders, both internal and external, who will be receiving communication from your company.

For example, if you’re announcing a product update, will it include a press release? Does it need to be announced to investors first? How soon after the press release goes out will you send internal communications

Goals

Make sure you include the specific goals behind each type of communication from your company. Note that the goals should apply specifically to the communication method (such as social or email). We'll go into this more below.

Key messages

What are the key messages you want to get across in your communication? This should be related to your goals. If your CEO is speaking at a conference, you make send him a communication plan that highlights key messages he/she must include in the presentation around your market share, your hiring expectations, or new markets you've recently entered.

These key messages should be tailored to the demographic you are trying to reach, and fit the medium you are using to communicate them through.

Tip: Remember to think about how your brand voice and personality when developing the key messages during your communications planning.

How to Write a Communication Plan

When crafting your plan, here are 10 steps that are important to keep in mind for effective communication with your key stakeholders. Your strategy will always evolve, and it's important to let it, however, the steps below provide a great starting point for building a template that can serve as a reference point for your organization:

1. Identify the current status

Start mapping out your communication plan based on the current status of your marketing strategy and the ROI you saw the previous year. Analyzing your social media reporting, or marketing reporting, in general, will be critical when it comes to informing the direction of your strategy.

This way, you can design your plan more confidently, based on the data. It is important to not get too hung up on historic data, however, given that the subject of your upcoming communication will usually be different. But you can still analyze receptiveness based on time of year, time of day, news outlets that performed better, multimedia style (video vs still image for example), etc.

Childs spinning top toy balancing on a table. Looking at past metrics is important for writing a communication plan

You can do this analysis yourself, but it can be a lengthy process. If you already have a media intelligence solution like Meltwater, you can use it to gain in-depth insights into how your current and past communication strategy is working, track industry developments, and keep tabs on competitors.

To get you started use the below metrics and look for patterns to optimize your plan:

  • Media exposure – tracks coverage (both editorial and social media) volume over time.
  • Top sources – breaks down social media buzz by channel or publication.
  • Google Analytics – provides a clearer picture of what types of posts generated website traffic.
  • Share of voice – compares coverage volume for two or more topics/ competitors.
  • Sentiment – assesses the tone of a brand’s coverage over time.
  • Trending themes – uncovers conversational patterns surrounding a topic.
  • Top locations – helps identify the top markets discussing a brand or event.
  • Top social posts – explains the social content with the highest social reach value within a given date range.

2. Be clear about the objectives

Clearly define the communication goals and objectives within your plan. Specificity is extremely helpful in this step - write down the details of who you plan to communicate with and why. Ensure that your strategy goes hand in hand with the various department’s business objectives. It’s a lot easier to get buy-in if you can prove how your plan contributes to the wider picture, illustrating how it benefits the company and drives bottom-line ROI.

3. Craft your strategy

Glowing lightbulb showing many connections inside.

A well-thought-out strategy is where you can nail down the actual action items and assign responsibilities to bring your communication plan to life. There are several models and templates marketers can use to map these internal and external influences including SWOT analysis, Porter's 5 Forces, and PESTEL.

A SWOT analysis is a good place to start when analyzing internal and external insights. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can use this framework to benchmark the progress of your new communication activity to make sure your plan is as effective as it could be.

Porter's 5 Forces model is widely used to assess external forces, along with a PESTEL analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal). You can use this template when you'd like to determine if your plan needs to change based on competitor activity, large internal company shifts, or if you spot a potential crises brewing.

4. Who is your audience?

Your company probably already has a clear idea of who your target audience is and your various marketing personas. But it’s always a good idea to revisit these since trends can impact consumer behavior and this will affect how you communicate with them. Using a social listening and monitoring tool is a great place to start - allowing you to dip into the natural focus group of social media to gain a deeper understanding of your target audience. 

Remember that your communication plan needs to take into account a lot of different audiences - and the messaging tone and context will differ depending on who you are communicating to. For instance, how you communicate the same piece of news to an investor is vastly different than how you should deliver it to your social media followers.

5. What is the message?

White text in sidewalk chalk saying "You Got This". Understanding what message you want to send is important to your company communication plan.

What message are you trying to communicate? Messaging that worked last year isn't guaranteed to work in the current year; this is especially true if there have been industry changes or internal shifts at your company. For example, a competitor may have come into your space, causing you to no longer be the most innovative supplier. 

Your communication should then be amended to convey a more enticing value-prop, and you should work to refine the way you represent your product. As you make this change, consider how your communication strategy should look for letting your key stakeholders know about it.

6. Channel selection

Old fashioned jukebox cover, with selection buttons. Choosing the channels for your messaging is an important step to your communication plan

Where will your messaging be taking place? Determine the communication channels that will be used, when you’ll use them, and whom each channel is intended for. Each communication method will accomplish different goals as well, so have a place to define what you’re hoping to achieve.

For example, in a social media post, you may be looking for new followers, likes, or comments. Whereas for an email you’re probably looking for an increase in open rates or CTR.

Your communications should cover the many communication mediums you're using in your marketing strategy such as:

  • Social media - engage with new and potential customers, find influencers, track competitors, and address customer complaints
  • Email marketing - communicate with your subscribers to promote events, new blogs, and move them further down the marketing funnel
  • Internal newsletter - keep your employees abreast of company news, changes, product updates, and announcements
  • Print - connect with consumers through physical brochures, newspaper articles, or signage. 
  • Push notifications - a particularly helpful strategy if your business has a mobile app, but push notifications and SMS marketing is not limited to apps. This is a useful way to get in front of eyes that may not check their email or social media regularly.
  • Digital ads - make sure you’re well-aligned with your paid advertising team so you can ensure the ads you have running are relevant and topical to any current campaigns or upcoming events.
  • Online media - reach out to journalists with story pitches or press releases to reach a wider audience than those who already follow you or are subscribed.  

7. Determine your budget

Budget is, of course, an essential part of the planning stage for your communication strategy. It’s important that you ensure you’re realistic in matching your plan with your resources: even a small budget can have a big impact if resources are used properly and you understand where your strengths lie.

8. Assign responsibilities

Make sure the appropriate point-person is clearly defined in your communication plan - and make sure their responsibilities lined are outlined carefully. Are they responsible for pushing campaigns live or is there another person's final "ok" needed for sign-off? Who should be contacted if they aren’t available? Who will be helping them with all the necessary assets? You’ll want to have all these questions answered in your plan.

9. Establish a clear timeline

Two coworkers planning out a timeline with sticky notes.

Communications planning is most effective when your timeline is well laid out with target dates and times. This also makes it easy to identify certain next steps that need to happen, such as follow-ups or feedback requests. You’ll also be able to see where certain blockers are happening and can work to correct them.

A good place to start is with a Gantt Chart Template, which helps you map out each quarter and its specific objectives in one timeline. Ensure to leave room for unforeseen projects and activities that may occur during the year.

10. Follow up

Lastly, know that your communication plan is not infallible. There will always be changes, though they shouldn’t be made lightly or in a vacuum. Because so many departments and teams are involved in ensuring your communication plans go off without a hitch, it’s essential that you keep everyone involved.

Have a check-in with your team to evaluate your goals and performance regularly to see if you’re meeting your milestones and objectives. During these check-ins, there may be unexpected opportunities that you find to elevate your message, or you may spot a potential crisis brewing, meaning you’ll need to do an emergency adjustment to your crisis communications plan

Need help with ongoing follow-up on your communication plan?

With insights found using Meltwater’s media monitoring tools, you’ll be able to keep up to date with how your brand is featured in the media and keep track of important industry news and trends. And be sure to check out our free communications plan template to help you get started.

By using data-driven insights you can better understand how best to communicate with your target audience and internal stakeholders. Fill out the form below if you’re interested in learning more about optimizing your communication plan!

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