Successful Strategic Communications Plans Are Realistic, Achievable, and Flexible

By Arthur W. Samansky

dered by corporate management as part of the regular planning process, or are conceived by a communications executive seeking to establish a long-term "vision" or change the existing communications direction. But building a solid strategic communications plan (stratplan) can be arduous and, in some ways, frustrating: * There are numerous styles of stratplans, primarily because many, and maybe even most, communicators haven't had much experience in building them. * Given the sensitivity of stratplans, borrowing a successful one from a colleague at another company to use as a model, is unlikely at best. * And, even if obtained, the borrowed plan inadvertently may steer off-track the creative think-

Strategic communications plans: they are or-

ing necessary for the planner to build a plan suitable for the organization. For these and other reasons, planners, especially novices, spend considerable time trying to "re-invent the wheel." Often, the "wheel" doesn't come out round. To help resolve the dilemma, the following suggests a workable template for developing a successful stratplan. It uses media relations as the appropriate discipline in question. But the same outline, with obvious adjustments, applies to all other communications disciplines. The culture of the planner's organization, and instructions from the management committee overseeing the effort, may mean making adjustments to the proposed template. Nevertheless, the steps required to complete the proposed template are likely to make plan-customization for a specific organization easier to manage. The material gathered in the process, even if not used specifically in the plan, also will be helpful in discussing the plan with other communications disciplines and in front of senior management.

The Best Plans Are Roadmaps To Goals
The best stratplans are roadmaps to what a communications department or group plans to do, subject to clearly unforeseeable "traffic jams" and "detours." Moreover, despite the name - strategic plan - a good plan includes an outline of the tactics which will be employed to achieve the strategy. In addition, the plan should cover at least a year, either calendar, or fiscal, matching the organization's accounting year. Many plans are built to accommodate a rolling two, three or even five years. In multi-year plans, which enable communicators to show how programs will be built, expanded and
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Arthur W. Samansky


the stratplan must have clearly stated goals and objectives against which the communicator and others can measure progress and achievement.objectives which must be achieved in the year ahead.) Include specific names of key news organizations. * include an easy to follow timetable/grid. and push all to participate. To raise the questions and get the answers. 2. Changes in any one plan can. Keep the list tight. to help keep the brainstorming session -. * account for less than perfect conditions. and the types of media likely to be most effective in reaching these constituencies (print. slowed. and. interest in corporate issues/products/services and what impact this might have going forward. the goals and. * whether current efforts are pro-active or reactive and if the strategy should be altered. community. Corporate. 3. market and coinmunications environment review This section is akin to a situation analysis." and the out-years based upon best estimates of likely conditions.strategic plan . reviews of their plans and the brainstorming sessions. for the corporation as well as the various business lines." the second-year plans "realistic. it should include: * in priority order. * helps bring forward good ideas. the first year plans must be "real.a good plan includes an outline of the tactics which will be employed. It's counterproductive not to coordinate the plans of all communications disciplines. the designer must ask a number of very Summer 2003 . The best plans: * are challenging but achievable. Audiences Define the clients/customers/constituents the department reaches and needs to reach. and ways to leverage current year programs. The more refined and detailed the answer the better the plan will be and the more likely the success of achieving the objectives. etc. * provides time for more study or funding. A well-devised stratplan also has other critical benefits beyond laying out a roadmap.leveraged. Negative effects can have serious company-wide consequences. for the future. or the start of ideas. using an outside facilitator. but with more heft. A communications plan based upon limited information can easily result in failure. have a cascading impact on what other disciplines are working toward. programs and deliverables (what actually will be produced) in a specific timeframe. In addition to the overarching review. the designer of the plan should work within the following framework. Good Plans Have Clearly Stated Goals Whether single-year or multi-year. 1. before testing and implementing in a future stratplan. detailed questions and prepare some very detailed answers. economic. Two Key Steps Essential Before Words Are Put To Paper Building a specific portion of this multi-discipline plan requires two key steps before the first words are put to paper. etc. 4. and about which there isn't any question at yearend. It is essential he or she not try to "fool" himself or herself or slip by with easy. and generally do. use the available time productively. altered or postponed. * are flexible enough to accommodate the unanticipated and unforecastable which may require programs to be accelerated. it often is useful to pull together a free-form brainstorming session with the appropriate staff. key messages going forward. The first is to obtain from each business unit a copy of their business plan which will be supported through the specific communications discipline. off-the-top answers. broadcast. Messages Cite. * whether the corporation or outside forces are controlling the message agenda. such as the unit's outside consultant. It: * forces communicators to actively consider "what-ifs" for the new year and beyond. * an indication of the level of media. Outline of programs 25 Stratplans Should Be Coordinated Across Communications Disciplines The best plans also are coordinated with those of all the other communications disciplines in the company. focused. regulatory. * how the goals fit with the corporation's overall growth plans and the business/communications environment. and include worst-case scenarios. and. and. * are cost-effective in terms of dollars and human resources. Through the meetings with business line heads. Second. * commit to specific action items.- Despite the name . in bulletpoint fashion.

showing which items will be employed to build on corporate strengths and overcome weaknesses. Budget Estimate the department's staff and non-staff costs for the next 12 months. speech training) will be added or increased (or eliminated) going forward and. 26 . was ranked most important for retaining customers and targeting niche audiences. PR ranked equally important to advertising in stategy development. But PR's relevance extends beyond conventional lines: PR also was ranked most important for generating word of mouth (61%). marketing executives said PR was most important for overcoming a crisis (83%). Actions/Programs. building awareness. and indicate by placement of a marker whether the program is scheduled for the start. marketing executives have high expectations of what PR can do . direct marketing and the Internet against various marketing objectives. The effort to build a plan along these lines clearly is hard work. will be implemented in what timeframe. which polled 328 CMOs. 10. "The days of PR as an isolated marketing tool are over. if necessary. and lack of logic or reality in the plan. generating word of mouth and pre-market conditioning. and * which will be continued/expanded/eliminated Specify which programs. to ensure personnel can carry out the plan. 6. message development. In contrast.S. public relations. include what we have labeled a T. When asked to rank the importance of advertising. Current Team Explain the strengths and weaknesses of the media team now. cultivating industry thought leaders (71%) and building a corporate reputation (67%).P. Theme Marketing Executives Cite Public Relations as Key Element of Brand Marketing and Reputation The majority of marketing executives say public relations is the most important communications discipline for building brand reputation. and author of "Building A Successful Strategic Communications Plan@. PresentationFormat Prepare an executive summary of the entire plan. especially a religious holiday. The 9. It also can affect clients. * have a definite vision and a viable means of successfully getting to the goal.g" He can be contacted at eminiees@mindspring. including certain religious holidays. marketing VPs. and budgets can be shared for a specific task or program. and. Discuss other issues which caused the department to miss any year-earlier objectives and/or are likely to cause stumbles going forward.) 11. managing director and executive vice president of creative and strategic development at MS&L. as well as a PowerPoint version (the concise slide format serves as a second check on the logic and fit of the overall plan.and it is up to us to deliver on that. and launching a new product. keeping in mind the current state of the business and the outlook as discussed in the opening analysis. (Tools. to achieve which objective. 5. aimed at which media. Within this section. Old Bethpage.State what media programs: * are currently being planned. But the end product re-enforces with senior-most management that the communications professionals are: • an integral and important part of the team devoted to supporting the long-term corporate objectives. Supporti7gprogram71s 12. and building a brand's reputation (48%). for which group or job title. 8. Be sure to check dates so as to avoid holidays.g. "Clearly. and how/if it should be altered to meet objectives. according to the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee Marketing Management Survey. and provides a ready format for presentation to other corporate units and communications disciplines. Putting the budget issue last prevents a planner from shutting off or dismissing creative thinking. using which specific tools. Strategies) outline. 7. vendors and personnel. * cost-effective) PRQ Arthur Samansky is president of The Samansky Group.samanskygroup. too." Public Relations Quarterly Theme the plan so that upon first sight all know what the department plans to accomplish.. Tiger Team Assemble a Tiger Team to find holes. marketing directors and brand managers. Holding an event on a holiday." said Michael Marino. on the other hand.Y (www. Include a timeline which graphically shows the program/activity. N. pre-market conditioning (50%). in priority Indicate what training programs (e. advertising was viewed as most important for promoting an existing product or service. middle or end of the month in question. Direct marketing.A. Seek Synergies Coordinate the plan with other communications disciplines and look for areas where plans can be leveraged. focused on the value and contributions of PR in the marketing mix and how important integrated communications programs are today. and acquiring and growing customers. It's far easier to scale back an activity or substitute an activity for a more promising one to stay within budget. can cause enormous negative community reaction and media publicity. Staffing-needs to accomplish tasks Indicate realistic additional staffing needs.

newsletter-clearinghse.htm#PRQ Copyright 1982-2003 The H. . All rights reserved.W.COPYRIGHT INFORMATION TITLE: Successful Strategic Communications Plans Are and Flexible SOURCE: Public Relat Q 48 no2 Summ 2003 WN: 0319601041011 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. To contact the publisher: http://www. Wilson Company. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited. Achievable.

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