A good comms plan helps you to get to where you want to go… without one you are almost certainly going to fail.
You can fire a rocket into the sky and you might successfully hit the moon but the chances are you won’t.
Back in 1969 when NASA put a man on the moon they did so with research, resources, planning, science, evaluation and creativity. Without those elements they would have failed.
I’m going to tell you why I realised comms planning was a good thing.
There are many comms plans. This one is mine. You are free to use it. I’ve uploaded it to Google docs here.
Don’t do fig-leaf comms planning
Here’s a thing. I came to realise that comms planning was the most useful tool very slowly.
For 12-years I was a reporter. Forward planning was literally tomorrow lunchtime. It was the here and now of frontpage leads and by-lines.
Moving to communications, I wan’t sure about comms planning. Some people would demand a comms plan when all they actually wanted was eight pages of text to add to a submission.
“See?” They would say. “We’ve got comms covered.”
This fig-leaf comms planning drove me up the wall. Your work as an attachment that’s never looked at again will never work. There was a better way.
Why you should write a good comms plan
A good comms plan makes a difference.
It asks where you are now, where you want to go, who you want to talk to, where they’ll be, what’s the one thing you want them to do, how much worktime and money you have, how long you’ve got, how you’re going to evaluate to see if it has worked. It then looks at the tactics. In other words, the things you’ll do. The content you’ll write.
Comms planning is a tried and trusted process that leads you to the right answers. It may not be the poster that your client first demanded. But that’s okay. You’ll have something better than a poster.
It stops the ridiculous waste of ‘I want back of bus ads’ without the research into whether or not bus ads will work.
But before you sit down with the comms plan
This is the hard part. It can save a lot of time and spare blushes. The purpose of the comms plan is to help someone move from A to B. For example:
– Move from we need 20 new nurses to having 20 new nurses.
– Move from we need 100 sign-ups to we have 100 sign-ups.
– Move from we need 10 per cent fewer calls to the switchboard to have 10 per cent fewer calls to the switchboard.
But here is the tricky part. You need to put a number on the A and the B. Without that you won’t really know where you are and where you are going to. Like a driver with a map, you’ll be going round in circles.
You need – gently – to ask and challenge whoever is asking you for some PR and comms to go away and define where they are and where they want to go to. You need this to be done ahead of the comms planning session.
UK Government executive director of comms Alex Aiken is a big advocate for not doing comms without a business plan. I get that. It’s a handy rule of thumb.
You can’t write a comms plan if they don’t know where they are or where you are going.
And when you sit down with the comms plan
Here’s a simple rule. Have the people in the room who will make the key decisions and those who will carry them out. Four or five people? That’s fine. Just you and one other person? I wouldn’t bother. You want people to feel as though this is their comms plan.
As the comms person, you are facilitating. Time is of the essence. Spend no more than 15 minutes on each of the first nine elements. Set out the timings at the start. This way you won’t be distracted or go up a blind alley.
Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a couple of hours. Put your phones away. A cup of tea or a drink. Some biscuits, maybe.
Oh, and two things are banned. The word ‘aewareness’. It means nothing. It is nebulous. Why do you want them to be aware? To volunteer? To sign-up? Ask. Challenge politely.
I’ve added timings to this. You can change them for something you are looking to do. It can be maybe 10 minutes far shorter for a small plan, for example. But having timings set out from the off can help keep you focussed.
Where are you now? (5 minutes)
You’ve done this before the meeting, so there’s no need to spend too long on this. This points out on the map where you are.
Where do you want to go and why? (5 minutes)
You’ve done this before the meeting too. This works out where you want to go. Why do it? Because a campaign to recruit 100 new nurses is different to one to recruit 10.
Who do you want to talk to and why? (10 minutes)
This is the part where you work out who you really want to talk to. So, for a campaign to recruit nurses it is members of the nursing profession. You want to talk to them so you can recruit them.
What’s the one thing you want them to do and why? (5 minutes)
Make this a call to action. You want the nurses to go to the recruitment website and apply.
Where do they hang out? (15 minutes)
This is the part where you work out how to reach them. Are there nursing forums or publications? Can you find them on Facebook with ‘nurse’ as a tag?
How much work time and money do you have to help you reach them? (15 minutes)
This is the part where you look at your resources. You may have a day a week of capacity, for example, and a budget of £500. If the budget is zero, this is the point where you establish this and frame if more is needed. If none is forthcoming, this is the point where you manage expectations.
How long have you got? (5 minutes)
How long do you have to recruit people? A month? Six months? 12-months? This sets the timeframe and gives a sense of panic and urgency if that’s needed.
When and how are you going to evaluate? (10 minutes)
This is critical. Be clear at the start so you can see if the campaign has been a success. If you are recruiting nurses, count the number of recruits. But if you just leave it at that you aren’t seeing the full picture. Why do you need to recruit nurses? Because you have to pay agency staff? And how much extra do they cost? £5,000 a year? And how many agency staff are you paying for now? So each one you recruit saves £5,000? So if you recruit 10 you are saving £50,000? This is the point where you may be able to loosen the purse strings if this is needed. In addition, ask what the difference to the organisation will be if the campaign is a success. Will more nurses bring more capacity? How many hours a week? Ask questions. Suggest the research is done. Everyone is busy. But without this data you are flying blind.
Once you’ve got a handle on what metrics you’ll count, look to keep tabs on it. A year-long campaign to cut recruit nurses should be checked at regular stages to see what tweaks are needed.
Who are you going to tell that you are doing this so you can tell them how it has gone? (5 minutes)
This is a simple one. When you run a Marathon you make a public declaration so you need to follow through. Is it your boss? The client’s boss? Work out who that person is.
Whats the timeline of tactics for it all? (15 minutes)
This is something you can start in the session but you may need to work up away from the planning session. Tactics are all the things you’ll look to do. The posters, the Facebook ads, the LinkedIn discussion.
Picture credit: informedmag / Flickr https://informedmag.com/
When you’ve got a difficult message to deliver don’t just send out the next cab on the rank. Instead, use a bit of research to send out the best one.
Who is delivering the message is just as important as what they are actually saying.
But when time and effort gets spent on the the words very little gets spent on thinking through who will say them.
Who will say it? And what will they say? Here is a couple of pieces of research that should help guide who will say what for you.
A case study with trees and angry people
Back when I was in the public sector, an issue blew up with trees being cut down on common land. The simple equation was this:
Trees are good, so cutting them down is bad.
That’s a perfectly understandable response. The thing was, it was more complicated than that. IKt boiled down to:
Trees are good but they’re damaging rare heathland.
The offending trees themselves were self-set. In other words, birds had eaten berries and the seeds had ended up germinating where they fell. Trouble is the heath land they had germinated on needs protecting as there isn’t much of it. Sounds technical? It was. Luckily, we had a named countryside ranger who was using social media for the organisation. So, she was better able to communicate what was happening.
Why? Because she was a trusted individual and an expert in her field. She had also built a relationship with people. What was the alternative? A politician who wouldn’t have had the same clout.
Who will say it? Trust and shooting the messenger
Our reaction depends a great deal on who is sent out of the door to deliver the message. If we don’t really believe whoever has been sent out we won’t believe what they say. The 2016 Edelman Trust barometer sets out through extensive polling what people think of people with different job titles. See the board of directors on the right? They’re least trusted. Your employee? Markedly more trusted and the person like yourself even more so.
Who will say it? Trust in politicians is low
Data from Ipsos Mori was posted on Twitter earlier today by Ben Page. If you don’t already do follow him. He’s often insightful. The research shows that politicians are trusted by 15 per cent of the population and nurses and doctors at more than 90 per cent are the most trusted. The research is here:
The data is useful if you are in the public sector. While many of us would like politicians to be more trusted the hard reality is that they are not. Seeing as that’s the landscape we’re faced with, I’d argue that we need to be more thoughful in the way we deliver messages. The trusted member of staff is likely to be more effective. This also has the spin-off of making the approval process that bit quicker.
Of course, black is not white and there are occasions when a politician fronting up a message is the best route. This is where the small ‘p’ nouse of a comms officer is important.
Who will say it? Content is king
Of course, there’s a chance the message may be better delivered not by an individual but by a piece of content. The sharable infographic, the video or the image may be the best way to deliver the message. Especially if it is financial data that frankly, is a bit dull. Make the telephone directory come alive in other ways.
What will you say?: Honest communications, please
One last set of data to check before you respond also comes from the UK edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s about honesty. The research breaks down the population into the informed public and mass. In other words, college educated and high media cosumers and the rest. The stats here are so striking they can’t be avoided. We all want honest communications. My own take on this is that this is messages that are straight and don’t try and pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.
So, if that message is honest, straight and comes from people who are likely to be trusted, you’ve got a chance.
If you call cuts cuts and not efficiencies you are more likely to cut through. Especially if they are delivered from someone people can trust.
I’m email@example.com and @danslee. Shout if I can help. I’ll be co-delivering a workshop on How to Communicate in a Digital World in Edinburgh on December 9, Birmingham on January 24 and Manchester on February 16. More info here.
Picture credit: Exile on Ontario Street / Flickr
Yesterday was a good day. It was the unawards in a cinema that saw prizes given in 18 categories to an audience of 140.
We gave out the prizes and then mopped up the disappointment of those who missed out with a film. ‘Groundhog Day’ was the main feature. This is a story of a man in the media forced to live his life over and over until he changes his ways.
Chatting to people over lunch afterwards it seemed the choice of film echoed a strand in people’s professional lives.
Every day people fight to get good things done.
Which is why getting out of the office, learning and above all talking to people are so important. Be reminded it’s them. Not you.
And every day while you’re in the office do one small thing better or differently. It doesn’t even have to be big.
In six months time you’ll look back where you came from and be amazed at how far you’ve come.
I’m firstname.lastname@example.org and @danslee. Shout if I can help.
For the last 18-months or so I’ve been helping deliver video skills workshops with one of the brightest people I’ve come across in a long time.
Steven Davies is a freelance cameraman, University lecturer and throughly good chap. A while back I asked about how he saw the future of video.
Virtual reality, was part of the answer.
Virtual reality is footage shot that allows someone with a headset to be immersed in a different world. Google cardboard can be bought for a few quid and is a way to view the content.
For young people
I’ll paraphrase him, but the problem with talking about virtual reality is that it’s like dancing about architecture. It doesn’t really work. So seeing this Google clip at #firepro on what virtual reality – or VR – can do in classrooms is inspiring. If you are not sure what it is take a look at this for 90 seconds and see the reaction of schoolchildren. It’s amazing.
And it’s older people too
Don’t think it’s just for young people, too. There is this example where VR works with old people. It puts them in a safe recognised environment and works well with dementia sufferers. You can take a look here. The older person is immersed in an environment.
The opportunites for PR people are immense. It is entirely a new exciting blank piece of paper. The ability is to place the VR headset wearer in an environment. I’ve blogged about this before.
Shout if I can help email@example.com and @danslee.
Picture credit: Maurizio Pesce / Flickr