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2016

Planning for Success

Last month, Canadians were glued to their televisions, smart phones and tablets watching our Olympic athletes compete at the Rio Games. We all know that it took years of dedicated hard work to get to this high level of performance and to achieve their dreams. But behind their commitment was something more fundamental -- a comprehensive plan designed to maximize their time and effort, and sharpen their focus as they reached for the podium.

Elite athletes are not the only ones who understand the importance and benefit of planning. Successful organizations, whether they are public, private or not-for-profit, recognize the value of having a strategic communications plan to help them meet their business goals. A communications plan helps organizations align and support operational goals. It determines how and when communications take place. It establishes priorities, tone, messaging, activities and the brand. It guides the organization’s outreach to key stakeholders. And it provides an evaluation framework to gauge success and identify areas for improvement.

Operating without a communications plan is a risky practice for any organization because when objectives are vague, team members can easily lose their focus and activities take place without context. The urgency to post new content to Facebook or develop a news release can mean that high-level communications objectives are overlooked. At the end of the year, you may have an up-to-date website and active social media channels, but you may have made little progress in meeting your strategic business or program goals.

When developing a communications plan for your organization, here are six key steps to keep in mind:

Research your environment, both internally and externally, to determine emerging issues that could impact your organization. Research provides insight and knowledge, which is key to developing a successful communications plan.

Define your communications objectives to give your team a road map for the coming year. It might mean building awareness about a new program, debunking misinformation about your organization or increasing sales of a new product. Objectives help to keep everyone focused and on track.

Identify the key audiences you want to reach and make sure you understand them. Defining who they are, their level of awareness about your organization and their preferred communications channels plays a critical role in the success and outcomes of your communications plan.

Develop key messages that tell your audiences what you want them to know and remember about your organization, your story. Keep the total number of messages to three or four to avoid confusing or overwhelming your audiences.

Identify communications activities and tactics to achieve your objectives and reach your key audiences. They could include online advertising campaigns, new web and social media content, media relations activities, face-to-face meetings, email marketing programs, YouTube videos, infographics and photographs, to name a few.

And finally, develop a measurement and evaluation system using realistic metrics to help monitor and track the success of your communications plan. You will begin to see where your plan is achieving results and where you need to make improvements.

It is hard to imagine a company today that does not want to improve and succeed in meeting its strategic objectives. As our Olympic athletes have shown us, planning is the winning formula.

Lisa is the principal of the Hillbrooke Group, an Ottawa based strategic communications company that has provided services to the public, private and not-for-profit sectors since 1995. She can be reached at lrobertson@hillbrooke.ca

Elite athletes are not the only ones who understand the importance and benefit of planning. Successful organizations, whether they are public, private or not-for-profit, recognize the value of having a strategic communications plan to help them meet their business goals.