Writing a communication plan is hard. You need to assemble many disparate, and sometimes competing, thoughts into one coherent flow.
For that reason I am posting an email I wrote this week – with some modifications – to a Communications Director with a problem. She is working for a large agricultural company that produces controversial but valuable products. It attracts opposition from a minority of noisy city environmentalists.
She needs to grow the business and protect its reputation.
I will set out a brief summary now of what I hope you took away from our meeting. You don’t want to hurry your plan. Your company is conservative, and we are dealing with controversial products, so we need to ensure we cover all the bases, and we need to be risk averse.
Research. It seems silly to say it, but you need to know what goes in the plan. Wisdom matters. Part of your preparation could include talking to some of the people who like you work in companies where their products are controversial. Nothing beats experience. If it’s rubbish in, it’s rubbish out.
You need a plan that engages the executives upstairs, and lays out the stakeholder engagement you need that will give them confidence For that reason, it shouldn’t be complex. It should be short and readable. Use short sentences and plain language, avoiding marketing gobbledygook.
Then there is a sure-fire way to lay out a readable plan: Aims, Objectives, Strategies and Tactics.
The core indicators of success should always be growth (customer retention, new business) and reputation. And factor in your costs – Return on Investment (ROI). If the company has a meaningful business plan (many don’t) then the communications plan should integrate into that.
This is where you can get tangled up in knots, because strategies get confused with objectives. It helps to write ‘ensure’ at the beginning of each objective – ‘Ensure no negative city media’ (Strategies and Tactics are ‘how’ we achieve our Objectives.) The way I do it is to list the groups of people who are interested in the products (stakeholders) and define an objective for each one.
Now without going into detail, here is a sense of what is needed:
Stakeholders (not in order of priority)
National (city) media:
– ‘Ensure no negative city media’.
– Media is a tool to reach other stakeholders, but also influences others.
– Strategically, care needs to be taken because careless media engagement will simply attract the attention of the environmentalists who want to put you out of business. The media loves controversy.
– However, because you have a valuable and misunderstood product, eventually you will need some city media understanding.
– Start slow: Initially it is better to have one journalist who understands your product and ethics than take risks with many. Less is more.
A priority is the search for ambassadors. This is important but they are wasted if you are not prepared to also stand up for your product (hence you as spokesperson). The mistake many companies make is to believe ambassadors can be your only spokespeople – that became passé about 20 years ago. They’re just hired guns and the people who matter will see through it.
A priority is political relations
In your case rural and environmental politicians, both government and opposition. They need to understand your products and ethics. You can bet the people who want to put you out of business will be lobbying them too! Don’t forget – engage, then educate.
Strategies and Tactics
Now that you have your objectives, you can see from your stakeholders above that it’s relatively easy to design strategies that impact growth and/or reputation with each group.
A simple list of what can go wrong, and how you prepare for them.
Timeline & Budget
These are the two resources that slow the process down – both are limited.
And again, spend wisely. Think Return on Investment (ROI) for both Growth and Reputation.
Now to give it structure, all you have to do is layout what you do first, second, and then onwards, first monthly and then yearly.
A special note on Social media
It is not a stakeholder, but a tool – a series of channels, so don’t make the common mistake of employing a junior to do all social media. It’s now too complex and getting more-so. Employ an agency that has good strategic as well as tactical skills.
And you need to be skilful too – you can’t lead if you can’t see. As discussed, if I was in your role, I would become comfortable with Twitter and to a lesser extent LinkedIn and Facebook. Twitter is the preferred medium for politicians and journalists and a lot of people are Twitter voyeurs for that reason. Your website content is, of course, critical. Monitoring and analytics are important.