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an illustrated Q&A

The One Where We Answer Your Burning Questions on Communications Planning

Serenity now. Am I right?

As communicators, 2020 was a heavy lift. So we are turning all of our attention right on ahead to 2021.

With that in mind, we recently hosted a webinar called “Building Your 2021 Communications Plan”. Having a written plan for your marketing and communications is essential to your 2021 success. A plan clearly defines your strategy and goals so you always have a guide to reference. It’ll help you contribute to your organization’s strategic goals while making a strong case for marketing and communications.

Get caught up by viewing the webinar:

We had so many follow-up questions from our attendees after the webinar, and as usual, we just couldn’t get to them all! So, here are your burning questions and our “serenity now” answers:

P.S. You may also want to reference our Annual Communications Plan Template which will help provide context for some of these questions:

Q: Sometimes you mention ‘marketing plan’ instead of ‘communications plan’. Same thing? Different?

A: They’re very similar. In my mind, everything is communications. In our world and in our clients’ worlds, marketing and communications are usually tackled by the same teams tasked with the same goals. They’re very much tied together. So in the webinar, you will hear me use the terms pretty interchangeably.

Q: Can you discuss the overlap between the communications plan and the overall operational plan in small organizations?

A: If by “operational” you mean the organization’s overall strategic plan, then there is definitely overlap. Your organizational strategic plan is primary, and your communications plan should ladder up to the goals and strategies laid out in that strategic plan. Your goals should always contribute to a strategic business objective. In this way, you know communications is contributing to high-level goals and you can prove your value.

Q: Why would I create a communications plan when my leadership doesn’t see the value in a written plan?

A: Write the plan anyway. And once you’ve written it, share your goals and how you’ll measure them. Then, share your metrics around those goals at least once a quarter. When they see how you’ve planned and accomplished key goals that serve your organization as a whole, they will (hopefully!) begin to see the value of a written plan.

Q: How drastically should my communications plan change from year-to-year?

A: That depends on how much your company’s strategic plan changes. Your communications plan must help achieve the organization’s overall strategic plan. Most organizations have a three-year strategic plan. That means your communications plan ladders up to that same strategic plan for about three years. You may have some goals that cross over multiple years. Therefore, the communications plan may not change all that much while you’re in the same strategic plan but it could change a lot when the strategic plan changes.

Q: How do you handle it when your boss/board says, “I know it’s not in the plan but we need to be agile and responsive”?

A: One of the biggest benefits of having a communications plan is that it keeps you on track, and helps you say “no” when necessary. When you’re building your plan, you’re considering what you’re able to accomplish in the next year with the resources you have in place. While some flexibility should be expected, not every new idea or need can be accommodated. There’s a difference between turning around a blog post vs. launching a new program, event, or service. If the request is coming from the top-down, the first response to this question might be “Remember the plan we all agreed on at the beginning of the year? What item in that plan are we going to cut to be able to accomplish this new initiative?”. In other words, how will your organization make time, money, or team members available for the new initiative? If the answer is “we’re not,” then something has to give.

Another way to mitigate this pain point is to build your plan to about 85% of your team’s capacity (if you can). That way, a buffer is naturally built-in. You might do the same for your budget so you have room to run with any unexpected “opportunities”.

Q: I have a mixed bag of programs—some have fixed deadlines, so those are easy to plan for. It’s last-minute scheduling that is a challenge.

A: Where are the last-minute changes coming from? In the same vein as the previous question, you simply can’t do it all. You’re not a department with unlimited resources. The resources you have should already be allocated to various tactics to meet the goals that you already outlined. So, again, what has to shift so that you can focus on the last-minute items?

You mention using personas to better understand your audiences. Do you validate personas with the organization’s board?

No. We know your board members’ opinions carry weight. However, identifying personas is a process that requires research, and only research can provide validation. So, if they weren’t involved in the research process that is required to develop a persona, their opinion wouldn’t come from an insightful place. (We don’t make the rules, sorry!)

Q: I love your persona examples. Do you all have persona templates available for us to customize?

A: We don’t have templates for building personas, but we do provide it as a service!

For more information on personas, we recorded a podcast with Blackbaud all about the topic.

Q: At our organization, I do a communications strategy plan and our membership director does his own strategic plan. How would you recommend blending these?

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A: This is a real challenge. Your first step might be to have some early meetings to align your overarching goals. Then, depending on how those goals break down, you can build out tactics either together or individually. For some goals, they may live only in the membership department. Conversely, you’re likely to find that many of your goals require collaboration among your teams.

We’d also recommend deciding who has final ownership of the plan, and how and when the plan will be updated. The clearer you define roles and responsibilities, the better.

Q: Can you speak to how you validate the metrics that you set?

A: There may be times when you have to set metrics without any historical information, especially if the metric is around a brand new initiative (ex. Attendee metrics for a new event). In those times, it’s still important to set a starting metric when possible. When setting metrics for a new initiative or goal, we’ve referenced benchmarking from the industry, past Google Analytics data, or even conversations with other organizations who have done something similar.

Q: In goal setting, do you provide “impact metrics”? For example, an 80% retention rate means ‘x’ amount in revenue, this much in cost to service, etc.

A: Yes, we use our attributions and analytics to help paint the story of how communications impacts revenue, membership, attendance, etc. This is important for showing the value of communications. Depending on what you’re measuring, a well-structured marketing automation platform, contact management system, and analytics software can help enable this reporting.

Q: I often struggle with how to measure my goals. For example, we want to expand our brand awareness, but how do you measure/track this growth?

A: Brand awareness is one of the hardest things to measure. To understand it fully, brand awareness requires research, surveys, and other efforts that can be cumbersome. So, a simple way to consider it could be by asking yourself, “What does someone being aware of us look like?” Awareness could be measured in engagement or sign-ups. For example, you could measure resource downloads, attendance at webinars and conferences, web traffic, newsletter sign-ups, etc. as “awareness”.

Q: Any insight on being a one-person team?

A: The biggest difficulty in being a one-person team is finding time to do everything. It’s really important to make time to plan. You have to put time to draft the plan on your calendar and you have to block off time, or it won’t get done. Once you have the plan, you know what you’re expected to do for the year. Also, see my answer above about unexpected requests. :)

Q: Should all “given” activities be included somewhere in the tactics of each goal? Like newsletters, monthly emails, etc. Should those things be represented in a communications plan? Or do goals represent the above and beyond?

A: Your plan is your own. Do you want to include those things? Or are they just things that have to get done and you have full confidence they will get done whether or not they are in the plan? We often include those things and they typically live under a goal that reads something like “Build engagement with current audiences”. At Mighty Citizen, we typically include a goal for us to increase our engagement, often both with new and existing audiences. That’s where our thought leadership comes in (content creation, events and webinars, downloadable resources, etc.). We like to set metrics around these activities so they live in our plan. That doesn’t mean I list every webinar in my plan. That planning lives in our editorial calendar but I might include, “Develop 6 Mighty Citizen webinars” in my communications plan under the engagement goal.

I hope this has been helpful. And, we get it. Planning requires a lot of time and expertise. Need help building your communications plan for next year? Mighty Citizen can help! Contact us and see how we can work together to accomplish your goals.

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