What should a communication plan contain
The optimal communication plan in 10 steps
Unfortunately, many marketers struggle to come up with a professional communication plan. And that's a shame because it's probably the most important guide within a marketing department.
In this article I am describing a practical step-by-step planto create an optimal communication plan and manage it over the long term. At each step I will show how it looks in practice with an Excel document and a digital communication planner. I promise that after reading this article you will see communication planning through different eyes and get to work to implement it. Are you ready? Then you should do the following:
- Sketch the project structure of your communication plan
- Assign a time frame and budget to each project
- Define the communication channels for each project
- Allocate communication moments to each channel
- Add the tasks to the project structure of your communication plan
- Define your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
- Write out your communication strategies
- Complete the plan with cost items and invoices
- Think like a team
- Make a report
Note: This article was written with the understanding that you want to create a complete plan that includes ongoing projects (website, social media, PR, etc.) and temporary projects (product launch, campaign, events, etc.). Are you only focusing on one project that you need to create a communication plan for? Then this article is just as useful for you. You can skip step 1 as there is only one project in your plan.
Below is a link to a practical Excel templatewith which you are able to adopt the structure described immediately.
Outline the project structure of your communication plan
A communication plan is based solely on Communication projects. Looking at the plan as a tree, the projects are the main branches that support the entire tree structure. Frequently occurring project examples are: websites, social media, email marketing, content marketing, PR, an event, participation in a trade fair, advertising, sponsoring, marketing tools, a media campaign or a product launch for which communication has to be created.
Which projects can your communication plan be divided into? Important: Start with “broader” projects. By that I mean projects that have sufficient channels, moments, tasks, costs, invoices or notes. A little later in this article, I'll go into these terms further. For example, “social media” is ideal as a project, while “Instagram” is too limited. So create a clear list of around 20 projects.
Perhaps what you currently feel like a plan is actually a separate project within a larger marketing plan? This makes it immediately clear to everyone how you see the relationship to other projects and teams within the company or business unit.
The next task in this step is dividing the projects into logical groups. For example, group all digitally oriented projects in the “Digital Marketing” group, all events in the “Events” group, all trade fair projects in the “Fairs” group and all campaigns in the “Campaigns” group. Last step: create an overview in a document that you can work with later. You can create this in an Excel document or use it directly in a digital communication planner. In this article, I'll present both of them as real-world examples.
Assign a time frame and budget to each project
Now you have a list of projects that we will be in on this step a project plan can implement. Determine one for all projects Timeframethat you want to incorporate into your plan. For example, a trade fair can be planned in the period from March 20 to 25, a campaign can run in the 38th week, a customer event can be planned for one day or a product launch can be scheduled for 3 months. But ... There are also projects that run continuously, such as the website, social media, PR or marketing tools. These are scheduled throughout the year.
For now, focus only on the periods that are in the "Macro planning" must be visible. The listing of all projects will likely take up an A4 or A3 page, including the time periods in which they run. For the fair, which runs from March 20th to March 25th, you should plan numerous tasks and activities beforehand and afterwards, but we'll go into that a little more later. At this stage you should make sure that you have an overview. Because that has a very calming effect.
Have you assigned the periods? Well. Then you are ready for any project a budget assign. This is also a good test to see whether your project structure is logically structured. In a later phase you have to be able to quickly assign the costs and invoices for each project.
Define the communication channels for each project
In this step we will continue with the communication calendar Channels complete. Every good project needs a multichannel approach or several channels in order to be successful. For example, you can advertise your participation in a trade fair using various media and channels, such as the website, the e-newsletter, the e-mail signature, LinkedIn, internal communication and sales advertising. And a campaign for a specific target group is carried out via several channels (omnichannel) such as the website, retargeting, Google Ads, social media ads, news articles, PR, TV commercials, radio commercials, posters and PoS advertising.
The structure of channels can be different for each project, but can be copied for similar projects. This means that the same channels can always be used for every trade fair or every media campaign.
Your communication calendar suddenly looks very full. On the horizontal level you will see a division into year / month / week and on the vertical level you will see a long list of projects and channels.
Allocate communication moments to each channel
Now we're going to tackle the missing horizontal component in the communication calendar: the Momentsin which communication is planned for each channel. When creating the communication plan, you already know certain times: the e-newsletter is sent out on the first Thursday of the month, the radio commercials for a campaign are booked on certain days, the workflows for website content (news, blogs, white papers, etc. ) are set on a weekly basis or you have a retrospective plan for a customer event.
The result is one Micro-planning, in which all projects, all project-related channels and all moments for each channel are clearly shown. Such a view of communications planning may seem like a given, but it is still lacking in so many marketing departments. What is the reason? Every marketing specialist is busy with his / her partial planning and thus never gets an overview.
Important: Make sure you do this micro-planning in a single document is being held. Never distribute this over several planning documents, because then you lose the overview and changes in the calendar will not be communicated to everyone concerned. This is when using a stand-alone Excel file becomes problematic, especially in a team with multiple marketers. The step to a cloud version (e.g. Google Sheets) or a digital marketing planner is then obvious.
A great many marketers believe that the communication plan is now ready and begin their work. By no means! Read on to discover how you can get out of your now Communication calendar - because that's exactly what it is - being able to make a plan.
Add the tasks to the project structure of your communication plan
Imagine a marketing meeting in which several projects are discussed ... For each project, the communication calendar comes on the screen and the meeting begins. Questions like “Who will do what and when?” And “Can you take care of this task?” Will certainly be asked. It is used as a component "Task planning“Added to the communication plan. You have two options: you give each marketing specialist a free hand to plan their own tasks, or you agree to centralize task planning within the agreed project structure.
Let's first look at the first option: each marketer will now plan tasks within a specific area of responsibility. One will do the planning with a notebook, a second with an Excel list and for a third a task app (such as Wunderlist) is ideal. This possibility does not prevent a project from being implemented correctly. However, it has significant disadvantages. What do you do when there is a discussion about who is responsible for the job? Where does a marketing manager see the overall picture in relation to the tasks within each project? How do we create checklists for recurring projects?
Yes, that's right: I prefer a single central document, which represents all tasks within the structure of the communication plan in a centralized manner. A plan in Excel then has an extra "Tasks" tab with a list of tasks for each project. Each task then shows an administrator, a deadline and (optionally) the status. This is a standard feature in a digital marketing planner.
Define your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
If you don't know which direction to go, any strategy or plan is feasible. And that's not the purpose of your communication plan, is it? He tells us how to get from A (today) to B (December 31st?), With which projects, through which channels and at which moments we do it and who is responsible for which task. But also tells us where we want to end up with our plan, how we can achieve it, where we want to see growth and when we can open the champagne (and there is a bonus ;-))
In normal usage are KPIs simply Targets. Admittedly, do KPIs sound a little better? OK, now we should start determining your KPIs. Please note that you have to start from your project structure! For example, a B2B marketer could determine the following KPIs:
- Website: number of unique visitors, leads via the website and / or visitors to the landing page
- Social media: Followers on the LinkedIn company page
- Email Marketing: Newsletter Subscribers
- Content marketing: number of blog articles, number of webinars (optional: number of participants) and / or number of whitepapers (optional: number of downloads).
- Event ABC: number of participants
- Participation in the XYZ trade fair: visitors to the stand, information packages sent and / or the number of offers
- Product launch GHI: Appointment requests (leads) via the website and / or qualified marketing leads
For B2C marketing, projects and targets can vary considerably, because marketing is more about omnichannel communication. A B2C marketer could then set the following objectives:
- Website / webshop: banner clicks, visitors via SEO, webshop sales and / or number of backlinks to the website
- Social media: average Facebook engagement, growth in Instagram followers and / or LinkedIn shares of posts
- Email marketing: average click-through rate of email newsletters, visitors to the page via email subscriptions and / or KPIs related to marketing automation actions
- PR: Press clippings (press attention) or KPIs related to influencers who are under contract
- Advertising: Web visitors via social ads, views via YouTube ads and / or leads via retargeting campaigns
- Campaign XYZ: total reach of campaigns, visitors to the campaign website and / or sales via the webshop vs. sales in the store
That seems pretty labor intensive, but once your KPI system is mature, you will have a fantastic one Dashboard available to measure the quality of your marketing and communications investments. Management will also attach great importance to the figures from the KPI dashboard.
Tip: Start by measuring a few KPIs and expand the list step by step. Quite a number of marketers overwhelm themselves with enthusiasm and then give up. That is unfortunate …
Finally, with Excel dashboards, you always have to enter the numbers manually. I recommend doing this on a monthly basis at the beginning. Users of digital communication planners have the advantage that the rather large amount of KPI data is read in automatically.
(Read more about which Marketing KPIs are important in this blog post)
Write out your communication strategies
Marketing specialists are doers. That's why I put this step in 7th place. Because you are also considered a thinker and strategist. So, be fully immersed in how your communication plan works, but at some point, take the time to think too:
- Why do we always choose the same channels within this project?
- How can we increase customer traffic from the webshop?
- Shouldn't we better expand our social media strategy?
- How can we increase the number of visitors to a trade fair stand?
- Where can we be innovative or experiment with content marketing?
These thoughts often run through the minds of marketers. Include this in the plan as soon as possible. You clear your mind for other communication challenges. Extra bonus: You also make this available to colleagues and your management. If the Communication strategy is comprehensible and broken down, then you take a step forward as a marketer.
Make sure you don't just go ahead and do things. Think for yourself, experiment, make new suggestions and refine and renew your communication planning. And write down your ideas on the same document or platform that you use to create your plan. Don't spread your ideas over countless Office documents. Does management ask you to present or report on your communication strategy? Then a centrally formulated communication strategy will save you a lot of time.
Complete the plan with cost items and invoices
Marketing and budgeting are like brother and sister. They are often fraught with conflict, but they also cannot function without each other. Budgeting and cost management belong in every modern communication plan. Isn't that the case with you? Then you may not be able to answer the following key budget questions directly:
- How much of the total marketing or communications budget have you used up to date for this year?
- For which projects do you need to go over budget?
- What is the percentage of the digital projects in relation to the total budget?
These are just three important budget questions that every marketing manager should have an answer to hand immediately. But that also means that the information immediately available have to stand. In the communication plan, of course. "But the accounting department can get the numbers for me quickly?" I can read in your mind. Hm, fast is a challenge. But above all: In what format and in what structure do you get the numbers? Undoubtedly in the form of accounting logic that makes accountants happy but guaranteed to give you a headache. And certainly not in a form that follows the logic of your project structure. It will give you puzzles and present too many or too few numbers because, according to the (accounting) logic, these are not booked as marketing costs. But maybe it's out of your budget.
It's a good place to start when you're after the approval of all marketing expenses (signing the invoice - digitally or otherwise) noted the costs under the project where you think they belong. Does a sign company send an invoice for the lettering of advertising banners? Then you can assign that to the correct construction project within your plan. The accounting department will generally book that away. Are you getting billed from your digital agency for the online ads they manage? Ask the agency to break down the invoice according to your project logic.And immediately note the partial costs under the correct project.
Do you immediately think of an Excel file when you read this? That is possible. In the example below, you can see how budgeting fits perfectly into an Excel communication plan. The question is, can you keep this up with a lot of bills coming in? Then it would make sense to be able to make a quick entry or to link the invoice with the accounting software. A digital communication planner provides several options for this.
Think like a team
You have already read it in the introduction to this article: A communication plan is often a necessity and a guide in order to steer everyone in the same direction. So that you don't build your team around many mini communication plans that are characterized by chaos, incompleteness and even relative structure. Regardless of whether you work with 2 or 3, with 15 people in different sub-teams or with 30 in an international environment: The communication plan is the place where all information flows together, the hub from which everything is sent and the oasis where the marketing team leaders can find an overview and insight.
So, an optimal communication plan should be the following Team criteria fulfill:
- It is a common document or a common platform
- every team member or marketer updates their own data on a daily basis
- Each project bears personal responsibility or has a project manager who monitors the progress and planning, but also determines the project strategy
- Team members can delegate tasks to each other
- Team members have insight into the communication planning of the others (this way a social media marketer can better coordinate with a campaign marketer)
- Discussions take place within the plan (and no longer via email)
- any marketer can add notes, annotations, documents, or attachments to the strategy or notes within any project
- Moments should be booked in multiple calendars (a social ad can be part of both social media planning and the planning of a specific campaign)
Are you able to do all of this? Then you have the "non plus ultra" in the area of communication planning. It couldn't be better. That is why there is also "An optimal communication plan" above the list. However: this is not a utopia at all. You need to fix the following 3 things:
- The team must be motivated to think, plan and act centrally
- There are Processes, agreements and workflows necessary that your team adheres to
- You have to Marketing technology (in the form of a digital marketing and communication planner), because the products and software packages from Microsoft or Google only drive you digitally to fragmentation.
If you can do that, you can work on creating and executing your plan over the long term. I guarantee it will make a huge difference. If you're the CMO, marketing director, or marketing director for a variety of marketers, then you simply have no other choice. Unless you love chaos and uncertainty yourself. But that's not your style, is it?
As a small bonus in this step, the following should be noted: If the entire team pulls together and works within the same structure, yours will Marketing Meetings from now on it will be shorter and better. The data is centralized and it only takes a click of the mouse to put it on the agenda. That's fantastic, isn't it?
Make a report
There are many in marketing Stakeholders Involved: general or business management, sales colleagues, customer service representatives, external marketing agencies or freelancers are some of the actors often represented who are interested in the information from the communication plan or want to actively participate. It is already a good starting point if the plan contains centralized information. So you can click on stakeholders quickly.
Excel lovers are getting on ice here as they likely don't want to share the full plan with anyone else. Or maybe you only need part of the marketing plan for reporting? Then you need to have a good knowledge of spreadsheets or the partial rights of the cloud services from Google or Microsoft in order to share the right information with the right person. Digital communication planners provide special solutions for this.
The reporting of the communication plan is done in practice in three different ways:
- You share the full plan and grant reading and editing rights
- You report or share a specific part from the plan (e.g. business management wants to see your dashboard with KPIs and results every month)
- They generate specific (PDF) reports from the plan
This last step is one of my hobbyhorses when accompanying marketers or marketing teams in creating and implementing their plan. Unfortunately, I have seen all too often that marketers do not get the respect they deserve because they do not, poorly, or poorly report within the organization.
That's it. This was the vision of my ideal communication plan. This is not magic or abracadabra, but born out of a sheer necessity and a reality for marketers who want results, organization, trust and respect within their organization.
Are you convinced and do you want to get to work right away? Then download our Excel template (in English). Do you want to take this professional and check off all of the steps in this article? Then start immediately with the Husky Marketing Planner. You can test it for one month free of charge and are accompanied by experienced communication planners. Guaranteed success!
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