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How to Write a Communications Plan

Updated on November 8, 2015
Communication word collage
Communication word collage | Source

If you’ve ever faced resistance in the face of change on the job, a good communications plan can help support your change management initiative. Not only can a good communications plan help ensure you keep all of your stakeholders in the know, but it can also help your organization garner support for a project or organizational change.

What is a Communications Plan?

A communications plan will help you organize what is important to tell all of your stakeholders, what the message is that you want to communicate, how to say it, and when to say it. A communications plan should cover the big 5 questions – Who? What? Why? How? When?

Start by making a simple matrix, like that below, to help keep your plan organized and that you can fill in as you walk through each of the steps below.

Audience
Message (What)
Purpose (Why)
Method (How)
Target (When)
Internal Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
External Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Check out these easy steps below to help you get started building a successful communications plan for your business.

Step 1 – Know your Audience

Question mark cube
Question mark cube | Source

The easiest place to start building your communications plan is by identifying your audience. If your project requires you to keep people both inside and outside of your organization informed and up to date, start by making a list of internal vs. external stakeholders.

Some examples of internal vs. external stakeholders

Internal Stakeholder Examples:
External Stakeholder Examples:
Executive level leadership
Executive sponsors of the project
Department managers
Business owners
Front line employees
Front line customers

Once you have a list of all of your internal and external stakeholders, it may help to make a note under each one that answer the following questions:

  • What do they know?

  • What do they need to know?

  • Which groups have higher priority over others?

  • Do different groups require different messages?

Once you have answered basic questions about each audience segment, it’s time to determine what to communicate to each of them.

Your communications matrix should now have the audience column completed:

Audience
Message (What)
Purpose (Why)
Method (How)
Target (When)
Internal Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
Executive Leadership
 
 
 
 
Managers
 
 
 
 
Employees
 
 
 
 
External Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
Executive sponsors
 
 
 
 
Owners
 
 
 
 
Frontline customers
 
 
 
 

Step 2 – What is your Message?

Message word bubbles
Message word bubbles | Source

In thinking about what the message is you need to communicate to your audience, simply think about answering the question “what?” The purpose of the message and how it will be delivered will come later.

Use the following checklist to help determine what it is your audience needs to know:

  • What does your target audience currently know? (identify this for the list of every audience segment you made in step 1).

  • What do they need to know?

  • What don’t they need to know?

  • What tone of voice will you need to take with each audience? (You may take a professional, straightforward approach with executive communications while your communications directly to customers may need to be more energetic and tangible)

  • What are your audience’s concerns? Make sure your messages for each audience address their unique and individual questions and concerns. Remember, an internal employee’s questions about a project or change may be completely different from those an executive sponsor is concerned about.

Once you have answered those questions, fill in the 2nd column of your matrix:

Audience
Message (What)
Purpose (Why)
Method (How)
Target (When)
Internal Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
Executive Leadership
The business value of the change.
 
 
 
Managers
What your team needs to know about the change.
 
 
 
Employees
How the change will affect your day to day job.
 
 
 
External Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
Executive sponsors
Benefits of the change for the organization.
 
 
 
Owners
How the change will impact your bottom line.
 
 
 
Frontline customers
How the change will impact your day to day job.
 
 
 

Step 3 – What is the Purpose of your Message?

Man asking question
Man asking question | Source

During this step, answer the question “why?” Why is it necessary to communicate each message (What) to each of your audiences? Answering this question will help you understand why it is important to communicate each piece of information to your employees and customers and the value that communicating that information will bring to your business and your customer value.

Some common reasons for communicating key messages to stakeholders:

  • To increase understanding around the change and the project

  • To highlight the benefits of the project or the change

  • To call out the positive impacts to the organization’s bottom line

  • To let the audience know any skills or information they will need to learn in preparation

  • To help your audience understand how it will impact them

Remember, try to answer “What’s In It for Me?” when identifying the purpose for each communication to ensure you have all of your audiences well informed.

Once you know “what’s in it” for each of your stakeholders, fill in the 3rd column of your matrix:

Audience
Message (What)
Purpose (Why)
Method (How)
Target (When)
Internal Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
Executive Leadership
The business value of the change.
To inform of the financial and customer value.
 
 
Managers
What your team needs to know about the change.
To prepare teams for the change before it happens.
 
 
Employees
How the change will affect your day to day job.
To allow employees to learn skills and day to day changes before the change happens.
 
 
External Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
Executive sponsors
Benefits of the change for the organization.
To inform of the cost savings and benefits.
 
 
Owners
How the change will impact your bottom line.
To garner support for the change by highlighting impact to bottom line.
 
 
Frontline customers
How the change will impact your day to day job.
To prepare customers for changes; highlight the benefits.
 
 

Step 4 – What is the Method of Delivery?

Mobile social media
Mobile social media | Source

Now that you know who you are communicating to, what you are going to say, and why you are going to say it, you need to determine the best way to deliver the message. Depending on your organization, it may be helpful to keep a “cheat sheet” of all the different communication channels that are available.

Some common communication channels may include:

  • Email communications

  • Written communications delivered via mail

  • Text message reminders

  • Social media messages

  • Town Hall meetings

  • Mixed media

  • Press releases

  • Flyers or Posters

Tip! While email communication may be convenient, don’t hesitate to publish the same message using multiple channels. There is no harm in sending a friendly reminder. Too much communication is better than not enough.

Now, you can fill in the 4th column of your matrix:

Audience
Message (What)
Purpose (Why)
Method (How)
Internal Stakeholders
 
 
 
·      Executive Leadership
The business value of the change.
To inform of the financial and customer value.
Email communication
·      Managers
What your team needs to know about the change.
To prepare teams for the change before it happens.
Email communication
Employees
How the change will affect your day to day job.
To allow employees to learn skills and day to day changes before the change happens.
Email communication, posters, flyers, town halls
External Stakeholders
 
 
 
·      Executive sponsors
Benefits of the change for the organization.
To inform of the cost savings and benefits.
Email communication
·      Owners
How the change will impact your bottom line.
To garner support for the change by highlighting impact to bottom line.
Written, mailed letter
·      Frontline customers
How the change will impact your day to day job.
To prepare customers for changes; highlight the benefits.
Written, mailed Letter, email reminder

Note: Always assign an “owner” behind each item you list in your “method” column whenever possible to ensure accountability that the messages are delivered on time and accurately.

Step 5 – When is the Best Time to Communicate?

Target date alarm clock
Target date alarm clock | Source

Your communications plan is almost complete! You’ve identified your audience, the message you want to communicate, the purpose behind each message, and how you are going to deliver it; now you need to figure out the best timing to deliver these messages to each of your audiences. Below are some questions you may want to think through to help you determine the best timing for each message.

  • Who needs to be informed first?

  • When is the change taking place?

  • How soon ahead of time does everyone need to be informed?

  • Are there deadlines you need to be mindful of?

  • Are any of your audience stakeholders going to be unavailable or do they have dates you need to work around?

  • Are you delivering your message using more than one method for each audience? Which needs to happen first, second, third, etc.?

With those questions, answered, you should be able to easily complete the last column of your matrix with start and end dates to ensure you are accountable to your timeline:

Audience
Message (What)
Purpose (Why)
Method (How)
Target (When)
 
Internal Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
 
Executive Leadership
The business value of the change.
To inform of the financial and customer value.
Email communication
Start: mmddyyyy End: mmddyyyy
 
Managers
What your team needs to know about the change..
To prepare teams for the change before it happens.
Email communication
Start: mmddyyyy End: mmddyyyy
 
Employees
How the change will affect your day to day job
To allow employees to learn skills and day to day changes before the change happens.
Email communication, posters, fliers, town halll meetings
Start: mmddyyyy End: mmddyyyy
 
External Stakeholders
 
 
 
 
 
Executive sponsors
Benefits of the change for the organization.
To inform of the cost savings and benefits.
Email communication
Start: mmddyyyy End: mmddyyyy
 
Owners
How the change will impact your bottom line.
To garner support for the change by highlighting impact to bottom line.
Written, mailed letter
Start: mmddyyyy End: mmddyyyy
 
Frontline customers
How the change will impact your day to day job.
To prepare customers for changes; highlight the benefits.
Written, mailed letter; email reminder
Start: mmddyyyy End: mmddyyyy
 

For a communications planning overview, check out this video

Step 6 – Deliver your Plan!

Congratulations! You have successfully completed your communications plan. Once you share your plan with project stakeholders, you can now get to work creating your messaging, finalizing the look and feel of your materials, and delivering your messaging to your stakeholders in accordance with your timeline.

With a little advanced planning using a matrix template, creating communications plans for your projects will allow you to keep all of your stakeholders informed, avoid confusion, misunderstanding, and garner support for your project. Change can be uncomfortable for many people in the workplace. Carving out time to create a good communications plan can help even those most uncomfortable face the unknown head-on with confidence and understanding.

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    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 3 years ago from California

      Lots of really good business suggestions here.

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Sam Deal 3 years ago from Earth

      These charts seem very useful for someone involved in business. Nice work!