A communications strategy and plan will help you to make best use of your time and resources. It’s an essential tool for ensuring reach and impact, partnerships and funding. Read on for tips and free templates.
The types of people I work with are often naturally brilliant communicators. They’re creating change in education, social justice, and wellbeing, often through music and the arts.
They understand (and care about) their ‘audiences’ deeply. They develop work that responds to their needs – often with and by, rather than for, those people. And they are skilled relationship-builders.
But they often lack sector support, confidence and resource for comms. And there’s rarely a member of staff with responsibility or specialist skills in this area.
So comms often takes a back seat (alongside monitoring and evaluation – which is inextricably linked. But that’s for another blog!).
If this sounds like you, read on.
Why do I need a comms strategy and plan anyway?
A strategy makes everything to do with communications a lot easier – from decision-making to content planning.
It’ll also help you to prioritise so you don’t waste time and money on things that won’t help you in achieve your goals.
A strategy can be particularly helpful for organisations with a creative, social or educational purpose. That’s because we tend to be driven by our own passions and missions. So even if your work is highly needs-based, collaborative, participatory, co-created – your communications and marketing may not be.
What is a communications strategy?
It’s anything that outlines how you’ll communicate with the people you need to reach, to achieve your goals as an organisation. It’s the thinking you do before you work out your plan.
It’s firmly linked to your vision, mission, values; central to your business planning; and fundamental to the success of your organisation.
The format you use needn’t be a long, text-dense document. It could be an infographic, video, slideshow, or document, or something more creative.
How is it structured and what’s in it?
It’s helpful to work through it in three interlinked stages. At each stage, you’ll need to ask yourself and your team a series of questions.
Below, I’ve included examples of templates I’ve created for this, that you can download. These are specifically created for people focused on participants, beneficiaries and wider stakeholders – rather than ticketed audiences and visitors.
You’ll find many more, along with other useful links and resources, in my online communications strategy course (scroll down to find out more).
Every organisation is different and needs a different ‘scale’ of this process. So my advice would be to make this process your own. Do things differently, get creative, invent your own tools and templates, take your time or speed up the process.
Stage 1: Where are we now?
- What are all the methods that we use to communicate – and all the ways that people get to hear about us?
- What works/could be improved (audit)?
- What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis)?
If you’re already on my emailing list, you won’t be able to access the templates via the links in the article (as you’d have to subscribe twice) so if you’d like them, simply email me.
Stage 2: Where do we want to go?
- Who are our ‘audiences’ or stakeholders. Who do we want to influence or persuade to take action, who can help us reach our end beneficiaries? How do we prioritise these? Who do we need to involve internally?
You might think of them as: beneficiaries (who gains); supporters (who helps); stakeholders (who has influence). And in each case, amplifers – who can help you reach them? (Source: Charity Marketing by Ian Bruce.)
- What do we know about them, their likes/dislikes, hopes and needs/pressures – and how can we respond?
- What do we want to achieve with communications, to achieve our organisational goals, mission, vision?
- How do we prioritise these?
Stage 3: What do we want to communicate? Key messages and branding
- How will we convey who we are, what we do, why we do it and why that matters?
- Do we have evidence to back this up – stories, quotes, videos, photos?
- What are our ‘key messages’?
- What do we want to convey as our ‘brand’ (includes our values)?
After you’ve decided on your strategy you’ll be in a much better place to go on to make decisions about HOW you’ll achieve your aims. So Stage 4 is …
Stage 4: The plan: what activities will be most effective, what will we do and when?
There are many things that you *could* do and tools that you *could* use – from media relations to attending events. Your strategy should help you prioritise those that are most suitable and most effective for you. It’s useful to plan in terms of 1 year to 18 months:
- Start by thinking about your communications goals/changes you want to make/outcomes
- And also your audiences (beneficiaries, supporters, stakeholders, amplifiers)
- What communications activities will help you reach them, achieve your goals (including building awareness and reputation)?
- Make sure to consider audiences’ access needs – see this blog, point 4 for some tips
- What do you need to deliver these – people/time, money, specialist skills.
- Use a planning tool to map these out
- Strip out anything that it unrealistic – it’s great to be ambitious, but better to do less, and do it well.
- My short, online, on-demand courses in communications strategy and planning, social media, and writing to win hearts and minds – created for organisations with a focus on participants and beneficiaries, rather than ticketed audiences and visitors. The only courses of their kind.
- Free digital communications consultancy and resources for those working in the arts and culture in England – digitalculturenetwork.org.uk.
- Communications and marketing resources and training for arts and culture in the UK – with a focus on ticketed audiences and visitors – culturehive.co.uk; www.a-m-a.co.uk
- Data and consultancy about cultural audiences – audienceanswers.org; https://www.audiencefinder.wales/
- Communications advice, resources and training for charities – charitycomms.org.uk, www.ncvo.org.uk,