Six steps in planning your strategic communications


A good communications strategy should help you focus on your big picture; why you are doing what you are doing, who you want to communicate your work to and how and when you’ll do this.  A communications plan then focuses on the specific projects within this strategy and fleshes out how you will get across your big picture to your audiences.


Step 1 – Prepare

Sounds obvious, but you need to be clear  who inside and outside your organisation needs to be involved/consulted as you plan your communications strategy.


Consider who you need to involve and why, and how their support is critical to the success or failure of your strategy. The matrix below is a useful way to map and understand the way you need to communicate with them during the process.

Your team

What skills do you have in the team to help you deliver the strategy? ie media/website skills, audience or competitor knowledge. It”s crucial to understand your skills to make sure you play to them when you decide the channels you will use to communicate.

Internal ambassadors

Who are the internal ambassadors who will champion the project for you? It’s important your whole organisation gets on board with your communications work as everyone will have a part to play in delivery.

Roles and responsibilities

Depending on the size of your organisation and scale of the project you could set up a Task and Finish Group and project team. You can assign roles and responsibilities to help clarify everyone’s role and responsibility. See the attachment on the right hand side of this page: ‘Communications planning – project roles and responsibilites’.















Step 2 – Review

Before you  consider in detail what you want/need to do, it’s really important to understand how things are working now. You really want to understand both the internal and external environments you are operating in, the key challenges you face, and how you are currently doing.

Four helpful tools to help you

PEST (Political, economic, social and technological analysis) A PEST analysis helps you understand better what factors are currently happening in the world that can have an effect on your organisation.
2 SWOT – helps you look at internal and external facts and consider how to deliver your communications plan.
3 Competitors review – This is useful if you have key competitors close by. Create a small list of your key competitors and, depending on your circumstances, you could visit them, check out their website and marketing materials, press releases etc and see how they are positioning themselves.
4 Creative review of your communications materials – It’s really helpful before you plunge into your plan to take a look at all your current communications materials. This isn’t just what’s in print, but what’s on your website, social media, signage etc. Take a step back from you day job and consider what first impression do they give? Is there a consistent look and feel and language used? Do they convey your brand effectively?


Step 3 – Define audiences

Now you’ve completed your review you’ll want to think more carefully about who you communicate with currently and what makes these individuals tick? And also who you could  be talking to and what makes them tick? Consider the following steps:

1 Identify existing audiences
2 Identify new audiences
3 Identify the key audiences you are going to focus on
4 Get to know each audience better  – through research – consult those who know your organisation and ask they what they want
5 Consider audience consulting groups to test ideas before rolling out


Step 4 – Agree and set objectives

1 First ask and find out if you have a clear organisational strategy because your communications work must start at organisational level. If there isn’t a clear strategy, seek out the most
common interpretation of the organisational plan.
2 If you do have organisational objectives, consider how communications can achieve the greatest impact to deliver them.
3 List your organisational objectives in big picture terms and use them to think about what you found out in your prepare and review steps earlier. This will help you plan well.
4 Consider the impact, affordability of each of your communications objectives and decide which will be the most effective.
5 Use SMART objectives wherever possible.

Organisational objective
To provide training and create opportunities for older people with sight loss.
Programme objective
Increase number of older people with VI in xx area who are using IT adaptations by 30%.
Communications area
Behaviour change
Communications objective
Persuade older people (define age) to access our IT training services through awareness and service promotion.
Communications KPI
X% increase of our older service users using training services



Step 5 – Messaging

It’s always good to develop a core script that reflects who you are, what you need to say about your organisation and the issues you want to focus on. This gives you a simple and consistent message you can use on all work, and ensures you keep your colleagues on message across your organisation.

Your core organisational messaging would include:
1 Who you are (single sentence)
2 Your vision, mission and values
3 What you do and who you do it for
4 Your approach
5 Your supporters and partners

Down a layer, your audience messages need to consider:
1 Why the specific issues you are discussing matter
2 Why your audiences should care
3 What you do and your impact
4 What are you asking your audiences to do.

To get this right, all your research will pay off now as you consider what motivates your audience, what’s in it for them, why it is relevant for them and how current and local it is. Remember to develop different messaging for different audiences.


Stage 6 – Channel planning

Consider what channels will reach your audiences the best and where the skills are in your team to manage them.

Consider the following types of channels when you are planning:
1 Owned media – these are what you control – your website, leaflets, shop fronts, resource centre, residential homes etc
2 Earned media – this is what you’ve worked hard to bring to your organisation – external news, TV and press coverage
3 Bought media – this is your paid for advertising whether online, or in print
4 Social media – Depending on your organisation you may use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc

Look at each audience and the media you might use for each and try to identify audience ‘touchpoints’ for these.

Then build a framework for the activity (see below example)

Communication planning tool


Bringing it all together

Draw up a short plan for each project with a simple timeline and a short summary of the various communication elements.  See communications planning template.



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