Seven steps to developing an effective communications plan

This week Alice Gugan, who works with the U&I team on communications and marketing, has written seven steps to developing an effective communications plan. This is a really important area for any project involved in the Users and Innovation programme as many of the themes will be based on new and emerging technology; effectively communicating to potential audiences what a project is about is of paramount importance when little or nothing is known in the area.

Marketing or disseminating your project is more than having a website. Your project is exciting and dynamic and for the most part people will want to know about it! Sometimes it’s not easy to see clearly and distinctly which bits to tell others about.

Take a step back and try telling a completely new person what it is you do (try telling the cat, if you can’t get someone else to listen, not a dog; too indulgent!). This may give you a whole new perspective.
Marketing is rather a grand term for really what is basically common sense:

  • What are you doing?
  • Why is it important?
  • Why will it make a difference and to who?

A little bit of planning in this area will pay dividends in terms of coherence and consistency in what you want to say and when. You also need to give some thought, especially in complex projects, to who is going to do the talking!

Here are seven things to think about in putting together a comms plan:

1.    Know what your overall priorities and objectives are.

This might sound ridiculous; of course you know; you’ve got a project plan. But how do these objectives translate into messages your audience can either relate to or will be interested in? How do they fit in with what might be happening in the wider world? Many priorities and objectives don’t necessarily need to be relayed to anyone outside a project – they’re merely part of the development. Having those accessible on a website or where people can find them if they need to, should be fine. But one or two will be real corkers, else you’d not be doing the work!

2.    What main themes do they fall into?

Keep these themes straightforward.

3.    Who do you want to tell?

And who needs to know (funders, partners)? How aware of you or your activity are they already? (one of the biggest challenges is dealing with different potential audiences who are at differing ends of the awareness spectrum). Try not to be too ambitious and reach too many people – better to keep it small and do it well. Map your audiences against their likely angle of interest in the project (in the technical or the social networking side for instance?).

4.    How do you think you can reach them?

What do they read/attend/listen to/log onto? How much of your dissemination might be simply word of mouth and networking at particular events? If that works for you, fantastic; don’t discount it! Equally, other partners can help your message get across and often even strengthen it.

5.    What bite-sized messages can you break your themes down to?

Don’t confuse through making a message too complex or irrelevant. Are the end-users really going to need to know all about how the technology works? Focus on what each person needs to know and tell them simply and succinctly. Avoid jargon and too much background. If people want that they can get it later. Less is more, as long as less gets to the point!

6.    What sort of timescales are realistic?

Don’t be over-optimistic; don’t underestimate preparation time and capacity. Having just a few, but strong, key comms milestones is probably a good thing to aim for, with perhaps some drip-feed for inbetween times.

7. And finally

Map all these back to objectives and main themes – keep it focussed on the end goals!

A comms plan often doesn’t seem to be finished – and maybe that’s how it should be, because they do need constant revisiting; things change, both in the outside environment and within the project. So keep going back to it, and treat it as a living document.

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