As you’re looking to implement or update your strategic plan, make sure you’re focusing on the things that matter most. In our work with clients, we’ve found five factors that contribute to successful plan development and implementation, while boosting credibility with business leaders for the communications team.
- Remember the purpose of planning. Communications plans are intended to drive action in pursuit of outcomes, including business and policy outcomes. Make sure the actions you will take (the what) are articulated clearly and coherently in your plan, along with the intended results (the why).
- Use facts and data. Information should shape your process, guide your thinking and be referenced throughout your plan. This may include data on business performance, the competitive landscape, market valuation, audience attitudes, the regulatory or policy landscape, or other factors unique to your business or situation. Business leaders like data, not for data’s sake but so that they can be confident your plans are grounded in reality.
- Tie your plan to specific business objectives. Is your goal to improve awareness or reputation? Why? For what purpose? Business goals might include capturing market share, driving household penetration, boosting your stock price, securing a needed permit, improving employee engagement, reducing the risk of adverse policy or regulatory outcomes, or successfully launching a new product to meet sales goals. Whatever they are, the business objectives driving your communications plan should be articulated clearly.
- Set verifiable goals. To keep implementation on track and demonstrate communications performance, plans should be based on verifiable goals. At the most tactical level, goals can be programmatic – did we do what we said we would do? They can be based on outputs – how many earned media impressions, how much social engagement, how many consumer or employee touchpoints? More strategically, goals can be based on outcomes – did we change perceptions, secure the permit, achieve the sales goal, get the funding? Verifiable goals also need a basis for comparison. How did our communications performance compare with the goals we articulated in our plan, or with the performance of our competitors, or with last year, or with industry benchmarks?
- Build in accountability. Your plan should make clear who on the team is accountable for what actions, outputs and outcomes, along with an implementation timeline and mileposts for reporting progress to business leaders. Pairing specific initiatives with the names of team members who are responsible has a wonderful way of boosting performance and results. Be careful about engineering (or over-engineering) a plan with goals that are beyond the capacity of your team to execute. Aim for stretch goals, set yourself up for success and allow for flexibility, too. The past two years have demonstrated how quickly things can change.
Smart strategic planning, disciplined implementation and fact-based results reporting all help communications and public affairs leaders earn a seat at the table. Winning the respect and confidence of the CEO and senior leadership team should be a goal of the annual planning process, and the time to start is now.
Paul Raab is managing partner for Linhart PR, a partner in The Worldcom Public Relations Group.