Example structure of a communications plan

Yet again – a health warning – the main aim I have in writing this post is to provide me a context to order and collect my thoughts around this topic – not to make it particularly useful for others.

My hope is that, once I’ve built myself my own communications plan, I’ll be in a better place to decide how I want to use this blog in communicating with others, but until then it mostly serves the above purpose.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are several contexts in which I’m working on (or plan to start working on) developing communications strategies for different organisations/groups/people.

I’ve helped write and coordinate two previous communications plans – firstly for GOBLET (Global Organisation for Bioinformatics Learning, Education & Training) in 2013 and secondly in 2016/2017 for SignaLink.

I was lucky to work with Karin van Haren, then communications manager with nbic (the Netherlands Bioinformatics Centre) on the GOBLET plan. With her experience of doing such work in other contexts, Karin guided us through building the plan according to a commonly-used structure – both the GOBLET and SignaLink communications plans are based on this structure.

Structure we’ve used for communication plans so far

Analysis/background

A short e.g. 250 word introduction to the project, the purpose of the plan, etc.

Summary of key stakeholders

A list of different groups of people for whom the project is relevant – they either are impacted by it, or are in a position to impact it.

For each named group, we provide a short description/definition of the group, info on why they are a stakeholder in the project, and also on how we currently interact with that group in terms of messages and communications vehicles.

For example, the SignaLink plan identifies 9 different stakeholder groups, the GOBLET one 8.

List of proposed communication vehicles

A list of the different vehicles (e.g. press releases, websites, blogs on other websites, scientific articles etc.) with a short description of each of them.

Aims of communication per stakeholder plus main message

A short description, for each stakeholder, of the most important aim of our communication with them, and the main message we want to send to them.

Investment of time and money

Time, money, and other resources available for use in communications in association with the project

Priorities and action list

In a way, this is the key section of the document. The work that went into preparing the rest of the document was all about being able to write an informed, evidence-based, prioritisation of the communications activities we want to carry out going forward.

Other people’s take on communications plans

To give some brief context on the above, I spent maybe 30 min looking around for sources of advice and examples of structures for communication plans, see below. Not at all comprehensive, just felt it might be useful for me (and thus maybe others) at some time in the future to have listed a few here

  • This set of pages provides a short rational for building a communication plan, tips on how to build one, and several examples. I like how short it is, and that it provides some example plans, all of which are rather different in structure and focus
  • This page describes a different-but-related structure that can be used for communication plans – in the future I’d be curious to try out changing the structure of the plans I write, taking this into account
  • Another take on building communication plans, and their structures
  • And yet another short take on building a brief communications plan
  • in his short "Handbook for science public information officers" Matt Shipman gives a very brief overview of the structure these plans typically have – it looks to me like lots of the rest of the book will be great for coming up with ideas on how to use specific communications vehicles

 What next

Putting together several current communications plans has highlighted for me the importance of (i) clarifying the objective of the plan and (ii) identifying an appropriate set of stakeholders at whom the communications are directed.

I’ve found that having clear objectives is particularly important, when collaborating on building the plan, to provide a common reference point to the many questions that come up re: focus and purpose.

In a similar way, building a solid list of stakeholders, which are clearly described, and characterised, in terms of their relationship with the project, I’ve also found an invaluable reference point for building the plan collaboratively.

Thus, in the next posts, I’m thinking of focusing one on mission statements (an important part of building a list of clear objectives), and other(s) on listing and characterising stakeholders.

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