How to create an external communications plan
Get down to the basics and walk through building an external communications plan step-by-step.
Taking the time to craft a strategic external communication plan can elevate your outreach strategies and create new opportunities. While it may seem like a challenge, piecing together a communication plan that is interesting and actionable is doable with the right tools and a few tricks up your sleeves.
Here’s what you need to know.
What it is and why you need external communications plan
An external communications plan is a strategic overview of how your company or organization will communicate with target audiences. These plans are important because they provide guidance for meeting the goals and objectives that an organization wants to achieve. It can include growing your online presence, increasing investor funding, and even driving sales.
While you can run a business without a strategic external communication plan, lacking one can make things more difficult for content creators and communication teams alike. One team may use a specific term for a deliverable that another team doesn’t use. Without a plan, it’s hard to determine the process and reporting structures. These plans offer structure and make it easy to determine deadlines and direction for communication initiatives.
What goes into an external communications plan
A lot of strategy and long-term thinking goes into cultivating an external communications plan. Many communications teams begin the process with a SWOT analysis. It’s a popular method for organizations to gauge their existing limitations and identify growth opportunities. The acronym stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
It begins with an internal evaluation of strengths and weaknesses. From a communication standpoint, this might look like identifying your highest-performing communication channels and less effective deployment strategies.
Once this is done, you can move on to identifying external opportunities and threats, including market changes and new competitors. Finally, you can use your SWOT analysis to target external opportunities and address potential threats.
It can make it easier to identify which audiences and channels deserve the most attention, and what communication strategies are most appropriate for outreach. From here, you can determine goals and objectives. These are some starting points that may be used to help develop more specific goals:
- Increase brand awareness within a specific market segment.
- Establish thought leadership within an industry through content marketing efforts.
- Increase lead capture and sales for specific products or services.
These goals and objectives should be as specific and measurable as possible, the less room there is for ambiguity, the easier it will be to measure progress and identify pain points.
A clear timeline for execution and benchmarking should accompany these goals, too. Defining what each department is responsible for keeps things running smoothly.
How to develop a successful communications plan
Though there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach to developing an effective communication plan, there are a few necessary steps that communication teams need to take to start the process.
1. Identify target audiences. Who is the primary target you are trying to reach? Consider not just demographics, but values and other defining attributes as well. This stage has some overlap with defining goals and objectives, which should always be primarily considered when selecting a target audience.
2. Analyze current comms. What are you communicating to stakeholders? Does it align with your goals and values?
3. Investigate current media relations. What are your existing communication strategies? How effective are they?
4. Create messaging. Put careful thought into the overarching messages, values, and themes of your new communication.
5. Develop tactics. Consider what actions need to be taken to meet your communication goals, this will vary depending on your audience. Strive to include a variety of tactics to create a robust plan.
You might consider some of these popular strategies:
- Social media campaigns
- Press releases and press kits
- Traditional advertising (television, radio, print)
- Email newsletters or updates
- Blogging and content marketing
- Video marketing on YouTube or other platforms
- Events such as webinars, seminars or conferences
6. Select channels. What is the best way to deliver these messages? What is your audience most likely to engage with?
There are a few different strategies that can be used across different media channels, for example:
- Social media-focused approach: it involves creating and sharing engaging posts that are tailored to the platform’s audience. This includes visuals, videos, infographics, and other types of content that can be used to promote products or services interactively.
- Print and media advertising: it includes creating ads to be placed in newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and other outlets. Ads should use creative visuals, captivating copy, and compelling calls to action to increase engagement and conversions.
- Driving web presence through SEO: Content marketing through SEO involves optimizing website content to appear higher in search engine results. This includes keyword research, link building, and other tactics to improve visibility.
7. Begin deployment. Start deploying or sharing content based on your determined strategic plan and using the tactics you have outlined.
8. Collect data. Analyze the outcomes of your communication plan. Keep regular benchmarks to help measure progress over time.
9. Analyze results. Determine what worked, pivot where needed, and compare outcomes against your starting point to help determine if you’ve met your goals.
Tools that can help keep your external communications strategies afloat
Content and deployment comprise the other part of developing a strong external communications strategy. The right tools can make this part of your communication strategy a little easier.
Social media management and marketing automation tools
Social media management tools, like Sprout Social and Hubspot, make it easy to schedule and deploy marketing material based on a predetermined schedule.
These services generally allow you to create and set a deployment schedule so that content is regularly shared without needing to manually post. They also make it easy to measure analytics and engagement, which can go a long way in determining which messaging efforts work and which are falling flat.
Content creation tool
Readymag makes it easy to create full suites of external communication materials including presentations, landing pages, and even online corporate publications. When you’ve created something that aligns with your communication strategy, you can easily save it as a template for future use. It’s a modern solution that saves creatives time without sacrificing quality.
As leaders and innovators across industries are turning away from outdated communication delivery methods, many are looking for new ways to create and share branded content. Find out more about how organizations are using elevated communication content to showcase brand values here.
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