5 Steps to Developing an Effective Communications Plan
As we enter the final quarter of the year, it is imperative that PR professionals start planning their communications plans for 2021. It has been a year of unprecedented challenges, movement restrictions and economic headwinds brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the road ahead is still fraught with many uncertainties.
After months of shelving your campaigns, it is time to make up for lost time by relooking your campaigns and chart out communications plans for next year. With 2021 around the corner, here’re 5 steps to start developing an effective communications plan.
1. Know what your brand stands for – Identify action words that form the basis of all content
At a fundamental level, every piece of content should tie in closely with your company’s mission, vision and values in some way. Take sports apparel giant Nike for example. It has always revolved around the concept of innovation. Its mission statement is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world, and its core values include performance, authenticity, innovation and sustainability. Now, if you take any press release or content from Nike, you will notice that it fits nicely into these key themes.
Regardless of their size, brands should be clear on their values and purpose from the beginning. From there, keywords that are aligned with your brand will emerge. Out of those words choose 2 or 3 action words that capture the essence of the brand. (For example: nourish, create, deliver, provide, inspire, innovate.) These words would frame and anchor all future content. By weaving these action words into your peripheral content, it will help build up brand image as well as brand association.
2. Research your target audience and media
Contrary to popular belief, some brand content can be either tone-deaf or not written for a targeted audience. The worst is when a company is so fixated on writing for their investors that they forget who sustains their business – customers.
Some companies are so impressed by themselves that they simply talk about how amazing their products are. Instead of focusing on ‘why should I care?‘, they go on about ‘why I should buy a product?‘.
To avoid falling into this trap, think: ‘Out of everyone in the world, who am I targeting?‘ The better you understand your customer’s persona – mindset, problems, and needs, the higher the chances of the content providing actual value to them.
But, never forget the media – journalists and influencers are your conduits to reaching your desired audience. Therefore, they should be included in your research, right at the outset.
First, find out which media outlets and platforms your target audiences turn to. Then, find out which journalists or influencers match your target audience? Think about what type of content would the media find useful for their audiences? (These answers can be derived from media monitoring.)
According to PR Newswire‘s 2019 APAC Media Survey, the top three multimedia elements that journalists prefer to use in their articles are high-resolution photos, videos and infographics. Next, you can begin building up media lists to reach your target audience. And when you send pitches to journalists, treat them as if you are talking to customers – centre your pitch around how your news can solve their problems or make their lives easier.
3. Do a competitor analysis of your brands
Brands should not stay in their bubble. Instead, they should monitor what their competitors are saying through their press releases and media coverage. They should also keep abreast of relevant development of general and industry news, and what trending topics and issues the media are discussing. Through this analysis, brands can zero in on key content themes.
4. Have a long-term content plan and set out goals
Strategic communication is most effective when you have a long-term plan. Typical time frames for a content strategy plan can range from 3, 6 to 12 months.
Proactively plan and find upcoming opportunities to tell your story in the way you want to say to it. To do that, you should use your media lists and audience insights to deep dive into events, forward features, press events, holidays and see where your story may fit and where you can add value with your news.
Next, time your communications to coincide with the media‘s publishing schedule. A well-organized opportunity calendar should match a timeline of products launches and essential initiatives against the publishing schedules of the media.
Identify potential new angles from research done on top industry topics, what competitors have been communicating to the media (through press releases and media clippings) and what has the media written about.
5. Evaluate and adapt your plans consistently
Unfortunately, with all these steps in place, you can never guarantee that everything you do will be 100% perfect. Neither can you ensure that every decision was the right one when building and executing your communications strategy?
Therefore, it is essential to continuously monitor and be open to feedback so you can adapt and respond in real-time. Perhaps the words you choose don’t accurately represent what you do or there is some confusion over what your business focus is?
Media monitoring can help you fix this. Strategic communication is most effective if messages are honest and repeated frequently. Companies need to send their messages via the most effective channels and have a long-term plan in place.
Find out how PR Newswire can support the implementation of your communications strategies through a full range of highly tailored services, from content writing, comms audit to media pitching.
This blog post is written by Thomas Skelton, Communications Strategy Manager at PR Newswire.