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Key insights into implementing communication plans

01 Jun, 2020 Annual communication plans, Communication campaigns, PR planning, strategy, budgeting

The implementation stage of your communication plan will need to outline the various communication methods or channels to the key stakeholders. It is important to identify measurable actions that each stakeholder group or sub-group needs to take to fulfill the selected goals essential to implementing your communication plans.

For example, if the CEO wants to change the corporate culture, then before developing a communication plan you should first discuss what observable and measurable behaviors will be different if people respect each other more or have more integrity, etc. Once the behaviors reflecting each desired cultural value are defined, the behaviors can be measured before and after the communication plan is implemented.

Each communication activity should be based on an objective – either a process or a results objective – so that completing all the planned activities means that all the objectives have also been met. This should signify successful achievement of the plan.

The results should be measured against the objectives, which should have been written in quantifiable terms to see how closely the actual result for each objective has matched the intended result. In total, all the component results contained in the plan should add up to successful achievement of the overarching results objectives when implementing communication plans.

The communication techniques (also known as communication processes or tools) used to achieve objectives can be categorized into activities such as:

  • issues management
  • crisis communication
  • stakeholder communication
  • employee communication
  • change communication
  • safety communication
  • investor/financial relations
  • media relations – corporate and marketing publicity, social media activities
  • community relations
  • risk communication
  • event management
  • marketing communication
  • sponsorship activities.

The individual channels may be widely varied. In this era of electronic communication there are many more channels available to communicators than in the past, and research has shown that a combination of channels generally provides the most effective result. However, too often the communication method used is employed for its convenience to the sender rather than its effectiveness in changing the behavior of the stakeholders receiving the message.

Many communication channels are available, and research has shown that a combination of channels generally provides the most effective result. However, too often the communication method used is employed for its convenience to the sender rather than its effectiveness in changing the behavior of the stakeholders receiving the message.

At all times, be mindful to keep your approach to comms planning and implementation at a strategic level, rather than implementing communication activities that don’t really create a strategic benefit to the organization. This 2021 PR Daily article, “4 ways to help your team move from tactical to strategic communications,” may help you to keep the ‘big picture’ in mind when weighing up actions to take.

Select the most effective combination of channels when implementing communication plans

A rule of thumb is to use multiple channels of communication frequently enough to change behavior or attitude. For instance, in a government lobbying campaign to gain support from Members of Parliament or Congress, you can hold a series of briefings, workshops and working groups with relevant parliamentary or Congressional committees and key government officials. Other channels may also include ongoing meetings with political party leaders and other relevant Members of Parliament or Congress.

Each target audience will need to be reached through credible and accessible channels of communication. Some of the techniques include face-to-face meetings, phone contact, meetings, teleconferences and videoconferences, emails, letters, reports, brochures, media releases, ie all forms of print and electronic media, and media conferences, as well as social media campaigns to your end audience and also to their influencers.

Sample communication internal implementation plan outline

An example of a change communication plan is shown above, covering the period leading up to the launch. Planned communication would continue after the launch. Notice how the communication processes or channels are varied to suit the different target segments, even though all the recipients are employees in the same organization, and how different channels reinforce key messages.

Wherever possible, the implementation activities should be tested on a focus group or a suitable sample of other people so that the actions can be fine-tuned when the full-scale activities take place.

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of applying a convenient label to the activities that are based on the broad communication process, such as saying the project is a community relations campaign, or it is a government relations project. Most PR plans comprise a complex, interconnected range of activities and therefore a label based on one communication process can be a simplistic and limiting approach. It is far better, therefore, to work back from the objective of the project or program and use a working title relevant to that. For example, “Communication plan to gain the support of ABC Community Group for new zoning application,” rather than saying “Community relations plan for …”

Decisions need to be made when implementing communication plans

Decisions will need to be made on timing, length, extent and cost of the implementation.

If the logistics of the communication program are too large to be handled effectively by in-house PR staff, it may be necessary to use PR consultancies to assist with the effort. External consultants may have expertise that is not available in-house, such as skills in strategy development, issues and crisis management, media relations. They may also bring objective analysis and counsel unhindered by internal politics.

The implementation phase requires decisions to be made about project management of the communication activity. The communication strategy document should outline the roles and responsibilities of the members of the project or campaign group. This is especially important where the organizing committee comprises representatives from different areas within the organization or external representatives from a PR consultancy, advertising or marketing agency.

Government information projects often involve people from more than one department or agency, so it is essential for all participants to understand who has the lead role, and who have other roles and responsibilities so that nothing ‘falls between the cracks’ during the implementation phase. Everyone needs to be clear about who will approve the creative concepts and whose budgets will pay for the activity.

Using charts for project management

Charting the planned stages of a project can be an extremely valuable technique to ensure the project is running to time and all necessary actions are taking place when they should. In public relations projects, several types of charts are used such as Gantt charts, PERT charts, and to a lesser extent, critical path analysis and sophisticated project management software for more complex work.

Gantt charts

Gantt charts showing the scheduled start and finish of each part of every PR project can be used to help ensure projects are running on time. A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart developed as a production control tool in 1917 by Henry L. Gantt, a US engineer and social scientist. Frequently used in project management, Gantt charts provide a graphical illustration of a schedule that helps to plan, coordinate, and track specific tasks in a project. Gantt charts may be simple versions created on graph paper or more complex automated versions created using project management applications such as Microsoft Project or Excel.

A Gantt chart is constructed with a horizontal axis representing the total time span of the project, broken down into increments (for example, days, weeks, or months) and a vertical axis representing the tasks that make up the project. The bar spans may overlap if work is conducted on more than one task at a time. As the project progresses, secondary bars, arrowheads, or darkened bars may be added to indicate completed tasks, or the portions of tasks that have been completed when implementing communication plans.

Automated Gantt charts store more information about tasks, such as the staff assigned to specific tasks, and notes about the procedures. They also offer the benefit of being easy to change. Charts may be adjusted frequently to reflect the actual status of project tasks as, almost inevitably, they diverge from the original plan.

Gantt charts give a clear illustration of project status, but they don’t indicate task dependencies – they don’t show how one task falling behind schedule affects other tasks. The PERT chart, another popular project management charting method, is designed to do this.

PERT chart

A PERT chart is a project management tool used to schedule, organize and coordinate tasks within a project. PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) was developed by the US Navy in the 1950s to manage the Polaris submarine missile program. A similar methodology, the Critical Path Method (CPM), which was developed for project management in the private sector at about the same time, has become synonymous with PERT, so that the technique is known by any variation on the names: PERT, CPM, or PERT/CPM.

 

Above image: PERT chart.

A PERT chart presents a graphic illustration of a project as a network diagram consisting of numbered nodes (either circles or rectangles) representing events, or milestones in the project linked by labeled vectors (directional lines) representing tasks in the project. The direction of the arrows on the lines indicates the sequence of tasks. In the diagram, for example, the tasks between nodes 1, 2, 4, 5, 15 and 16 must be completed in sequence. These are called dependent or serial tasks. The tasks between nodes 1 and 2, nodes 1 and 3, and nodes 1 and 6 don’t depend on the completion of one to start the other and can be undertaken simultaneously. These tasks are called parallel or concurrent tasks.

Tasks that must be completed in sequence without requiring resources or completion time are considered to have event dependency. These are represented by dotted lines with arrows and are called dummy activities. The small numbers between the nodes indicate the time (in this case the number of days) allotted for each task.

The PERT chart is sometimes preferred over the Gantt chart because it clearly illustrates task dependencies. On the other hand, the PERT chart can be much more difficult to interpret, especially on complex projects. Frequently, project managers use both techniques when implementing communication plans.

Further insights into implementing communication plans

You may find my article, “Organizational strategic planning explained for communicators,” helpful for relating operational planning to the  organizational strategic planning process.

Also, many organizational structures contain multiple business units, and therefore you need to convert corporate head office activity to the business unit level. The chart below shows a sample checklist of this:

If you enjoyed this article, we recommend this book

Annual Communication Plans Annual Communication Plans

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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