Building a Communication Plan: Every Piece Matters

Article 7 min
Watch how to construct an effective communication plan by fitting together pieces from research to evaluation.

There's a lot riding on your communication plan, so you'll want to make sure it's clear, concise and cohesive.

Imagine there’s a growing traffic problem at an island Navy base, and how a communication plan might be formed to address this problem. Let’s walk through this story:

“Shortly after arriving at her new command, CDR Alexander was faced with a problem that had tempers flaring in just about every unit. Both civilians and the military were being caught in traffic jams as they attempted to access the base. Junior enlisted were regularly disciplined for missing shifts, and civilians complained about the inability to reach their destinations to fulfill their contracts. The CDR stated this was an untenable situation and needed to be resolved. STAT."

A communication plan has three sections: research, action planning and evaluation.

Let’s explore each one and see how it carries out in this story.

Research

Research breaks down into three parts:

  • Background
  • Situational Analysis
  • Problem/Opportunity

Traffic and base access is at the heart of the commander’s intent, so background research will tell us about the environment and the demographic makeup of those caught in the jam.

Situational analysis capitalizes on the research to answer the questions: where are we now, and what could get in the way of success?

Problem and/or Opportunity is a one or two-sentence statement of the main difficulty or opportunity, including main difficulties if it’s not resolved.

For example: Disciplinary actions are rising. Readiness will be impacted by the reliance on a single entry point onto the base.

Action Planning

Now that we know what our problem is, and the consequences of inaction, let’s start action planning. This includes:

  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Key Publics
  • Themes and Messages
  • Strategies and Tactics
  • Calendar
  • Budget

A goal is one sentence that re-frames the overall problem or opportunity in a broad, positive restatement that does not have to be quantified.

For example, a goal statement specific to this situation might say: Decrease tardiness and increase readiness.

Objectives answer the question, "What will it take to meet the goal?" Your objectives need to be S-M-A-R-T. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Some objectives for this plan might be:

  • Reduce the number of cars traveling through Gate 4 by 65% within 6 months.
  • Increase the efficiency of vehicle and ID checks by 50% in 3 months.
  • Promote the benefits of additional access by rehabilitating the North Entrance Bridge within 12 months.

Before we can pin down messages, strategies and tactics, we need to know about our key publics. Who we are talking to, what motivates them and what change do we want to see, for example, behavior, attitude, or knowledge? Keep in mind, this may be more than one group, and each group will require a different message, strategy and tactic. For example, pedestrians, vehicles, trucks and boats would arrive at the bridge at different times. Each would approach the bridge expecting their needs to be met.

Because their needs and expectations vary, each key publics’ themes and messages must be tailored. Themes are short summary statements, and messages give credibility to the theme. In this case, the theme is readiness.

For example: Be ready and able to respond to any situation at a moment's notice! The North Bridge will allow travel onto the island to be 25 minutes faster on average.

What will you do to win over your key publics? Those are your strategies and tactics.

Strategies are your action plan for achieving your goals and objectives and tactics are the creative methods used to get the message through specific channels.

For example, let's say research showed that a whopping 54% of your commuters are environmentally conscious. One of your strategies could speak to that key public of environmentally conscious commuters.

Your strategy could be to focus on environmental leaders during the bridge rehab process.

Some tactics might be:

  • Invest in environmental studies of the area.
  • Create videos showing an understanding of local ecosystems and post in community-oriented Facebook groups.
  • Invite local conservation leaders to a town hall with the Base CO.

Calendars show when each tactic begins and ends and the relationship of each tactic to the other in a continuum.

Budgets are also organized by public and strategy. The budget projects the cost of each tactic. This is influenced by fiscal year budget and allocations.

Evaluation

Lastly, we evaluate. Methods of performance are the desired results established by the objectives. Evaluation tools are the methodologies used to gather the data. These tools must be included in the calendar and budget.

You might use Facebook or YouTube analytics to see how the ongoing process is being perceived, but you will also need a follow-up evaluation to determine if the bridge rehab did actually reduce base traffic.

Keep in mind all of these elements are fluid intersecting loops that you must consider throughout the entire process. When all the pieces of your plan fit together, you're in for a smooth ride.