GuidesCustomer researchCommunication plan 101: Overview, content and examples

Communication plan 101: Overview, content and examples

Last updated

22 February 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Strategic communication plans help businesses to run efficiently by relaying the right information to the right people at the right time. They ensure that everyone who needs to be informed is kept up to date with the task or event at hand, and serve to minimize consequences if issues arise.

Take, for example, a large university hospital spread across many campuses. A project manager in charge of transitioning the institution’s paper record-keeping to a digital platform will need an effective communication plan for a successful outcome. Or, a communication plan will help a retail chain's chief operating officer (COO) navigate and reduce adverse outcomes from retail thefts, inflation, controversial backlashes, and store closures.

After reading this article, you’ll know what a communication plan is and how to implement one effectively. You'll understand the elements of a communication plan and who to include to create a functional plan for a successful outcome.

What is a communication plan?

The point of a communication plan is to make sure everyone with a stake or interest in a business or project and the outcomes of its actions are informed, updated as events unfold, and made aware of goals and objectives.

This leads to educated decisions and coordinated efforts, resulting in a productive, efficient business or project.

The importance of communication plans

Communication failure can result in:

  • Higher costs

  • Late milestone deliveries

  • Business interruptions

  • Misunderstandings

These can have severe consequences for your business. A communication plan prevents such lapses because it defines strict parameters for everyone to follow.

If you don't adhere to a plan or don't have a communication strategy in place, especially when having to communicate with different entities in different locations, this can have a negative impact on your business, customers, suppliers, and employees.

How communication plans are used

There are various types of communication plans, serving different purposes and with different advantages. These plans can be for:

  • Information: ensuring the recipients are provided with facts and resources to help them make an informed decision.

  • Persuasion: changing how the recipients of the message think or behave by using emotional messages rather than factual ones.

  • Collaboration: useful as a project management tool because it involves two or more parties working together to achieve a common goal. These project communication plans ensure all involved know their communication requirements' precise goals and objectives. It also can be a way for all team members to be held accountable for their part in the collaboration and to measure the progress of the project at each milestone.

  • Crisis management: these are plans business owners hope they never have to activate but should have in place to respond to unforeseen events. To prepare an emergency plan, identify potential risks and develop communication plans for each.

Elements of a communication plan

Your plan should provide coordinated and consistent messaging to specific stakeholders or target audiences. It will achieve a clear and strategic purpose when put in place.

What should a communication plan include?

There are certain elements that an effective communication plan must contain.

Stating the communication plan’s objective upfront will direct the rest of the content.

Note who will receive and send content, when and where it will be delivered, why it is required, and how it will be provided.

Also, define communication channels, for example, email, Slack, or phone calls.

What shouldn't be included in a communication plan?

A communication plan should not include sensitive information like passwords, credit card details, or personal information. Also avoid offering personal opinions or displaying biases relating to individual stakeholders.

If your business has to follow compliance standards or government regulations, make sure any information in the communication plan doesn’t go against these.

Your communication plan should not contain ambiguities that might cause confusion or uncertainty. It should be clear and concise about the kind of communication you expect and when it should be supplied or received.

How should you communicate sensitive information?

If you need to communicate sensitive or confidential information, follow cybersecurity compliance standards and assign an appropriate secure communication channel.

Face-to-face meetings or encrypted, password-protected, or multi-factor authenticated platforms are secure methods of transmitting sensitive information. Limit these communications to the stakeholders who need to know that particular information.

How to create a communication plan

Before you create a communication plan, identify your stakeholders and how elements of the plan correspond with those stakeholders. Communication goals, methods, and frequency may not all be applicable or may differ from one stakeholder to another.

1.  Set a communication goal

Suppose you want to reinforce a positive perception of your brand. Your communication goals might be to persuade the general public, shareholders, and prospective customers of the positive aspects of your company and its culture and to pass on facts that strengthen this claim.

Another communication goal may be to gather reports and other data on whether those efforts are productive.

2.  Choose a format

Communication plans come in various formats, including specifically designed software platforms. However, you can easily formulate a communication plan in a spreadsheet, on chart paper, or on a whiteboard.

3.  Identify stakeholders

Determine the stakeholders to include in the communication plan depending on the goal you are working toward. Identifying the stakeholders may require analyzing stakeholder relationships, such as:

  • How they are positioned in organizational charts

  • Their responsibilities and how they relate to your goals

  • Internal and external information needs

  • The location of the stakeholders

Once you identify the stakeholders you'll include in the plan, determine their level of demand for information to help achieve your goals and prioritize them accordingly. For example, invested stakeholders who might be involved when trying to reinforce a brand perception could include:

  • Loyal customers

  • The general public

  • Shareholders

  • The marketing team

  • The executive team

You would create a plan that includes who will be sending content, who will be receiving it, the kind of content that will be sent and its priorities, how it will be sent, and the frequency of the communication.

The difference between stakeholder engagement and communication management plans

A stakeholder communication plan should not be confused with a stakeholder engagement plan. When your business establishes a communication plan with stakeholders, it's usually a one-way channel from you to the stakeholders and typically does not result in a conversation.

Stakeholder communication plans may include:

  • Newsletters

  • Text messages

  • Social media posts

  • Emails

  • Snail mail

When businesses create stakeholder engagement plans, their purpose is to form relationships and connections with stakeholders, not just to inform and update them. These plans encourage participation in the form of dialogue or two-way communication between you and the stakeholders. They are usually people with an interest in your business’s decision-making or problem-solving processes.

4.  Identify methods of communication

The method by which information is dispersed will also differ between stakeholders. If stakeholders are not readily available because they're located elsewhere, internal reports, face-to-face meetings, and presentations, may not work under these circumstances.

When including stakeholders in other locations, consider using:

  • Email

  • Online databases

  • Digital communication platforms

  • SMS texting

  • Video conferencing

5.  Determine who provides communication updates

Certain members of the business or team will be responsible and held accountable for the results of a communication plan.

For example, if the goal is to reinforce positive brand perception, the chief communications officer (CCO) on the executive team might use press releases sent by email to media outlets to inform the general public. The chief financial officer (CFO) may generate reports for the shareholders or convey information via video conferencing. The marketing team may use websites, advertising materials, and social media to remind prospective and loyal customers of a lasting positive impression.

The marketing team may also research whether the communication efforts are successful. If they find the efforts inadequate, they may advise the executive team and other marketing team members. This may be done through reports, presentations, meetings, and online communication platforms so they can make corrections before the positive perception decreases further.

6.  Determine the frequency of communication

Scheduling the frequency at which you expect team members to update stakeholders is an efficient way to hold them accountable. They can adhere to the schedule without you having to spend time sending reminders.

However, your plan should not include unrealistic or ambiguous expectations. It should also should assign appropriate priority levels to any communication content.

How do you create a communication schedule?

Depending on your goal, whether a product launch, other event, project completion, or marketing campaign, teams will need to follow a timeline from start to finish. That's when a communication schedule becomes important.

It must display critical times when communication content is due. These timelines make it easy for everyone involved to plan their part in these efforts and deliver their content when the appropriate stakeholders need it.

How to use a communication plan for project management

Whether you're a project manager for large or small projects, it might be necessary to convey information between team members, departments, employees in different professional roles, government employees, and other roles required for your project.

You can start by creating a directory including the emails, phone numbers, and locations for each role involved in the project. Then, the communication plan you create will identify these roles and your expectations from the people in them.

Don't get lost in the details

Don't include too many details in your project management communication plan, as this can cause confusion or uncertainty. A communication plan's purpose is not to provide a project roadmap but to ensure everyone involved is aware of their expected communication contributions (not their actionable contributions).

Standardize the process

Standardized communication plan formats so they’re the same for all projects will minimize effort and confusion, especially if the same team members work on different projects.

Team members will easily recognize what's expected of them when you consistently list criteria in a communication plan based on a template.

Keep your plan up to date

As goal phases or milestones start and end during the project, adjust the communication plan by adding or deleting stakeholders or changing other elements as needed to reduce wasted effort and time.

What should you do if your project changes?

If the scope or direction of your project changes, explain to all stakeholders why the changes are necessary and how their communication process and expectations may also have to change.

Alerting them as soon as possible will get your project back on track. In addition, remember to update the plan.

Communication plans aid efficiency and successful outcomes

Effective communication plans are essential for the profitability and reputation of a business. Whether using communication plans for project management or crisis management, they can help reduce costs, minimize missteps and errors, and efficiently propel your business to success.

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