A communication plan answers the question “What do we communicate to put a project, campaign, product, event, brand, company … on the market?” It shows at a glance which mix of techniques you use to reach and convince the target group(s). The communication plan is therefore an indispensable document in a marketing context. But how do you approach this when different parties are involved in the planning process?
Think of a marketing agency or marketing freelancer, marketing colleagues in your company, an important supplier who intervenes in the planning or the management that influences the flow of the planning. In practice, I see a lot of marketers getting stuck when communication between the various stakeholders is not going optimally. In this article I describe the 3 most common techniques for sharing a communication plan(ning) with others and I provide tips to avoid misunderstanding and frustration.
Spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are without doubt the global leaders when it comes to communication planning. The simplicity and low threshold are the two most important drivers for marketers to prepare the plans for projects or campaigns in spreadsheets and then share them with others. Every day thousands of Excel files worldwide fly by mail from here to there between the various interested parties. One party makes the planning and sends it on, the receiver processes it and sends it back. That's how it goes until the project or campaign ends. So, it's no coincidence that at a certain moment the planning logic is completely lost.
Doesn't the solution lie in cloud servers (such as Office365, Dropbox and Google Drive) so that mail is not used, I hear you think? Half of it is, yes, because it forces all the parties to work on one and the same communication plan. Not for the other half though, because it is still too attractive and low threshold to create different spreadsheets (event planning, content planning, media planning, etc.), certainly if different marketers lay the puzzle pieces of the communication plan. Moreover, some people don't find their way around server environments that they don't know, so that they nevertheless fall back on mail traffic with the communication plan attached ... By the way: have you ever considered the fact that spreadsheets are designed for working with numbers?
To completely free yourself from the addiction to spreadsheet planning: communication plans are never enough on their own. Every expression of communication needs one or more tasks, has a budget, is linked to a briefing or explanation document, must lead to results in a dashboard and is food for discussion. The fact that all of these are in the planning leads to a maze of information that is virtually impossible to manage and understand with spreadsheet navigation. In practice, a communication plan is therefore often accompanied by a task plan, a budget plan, a results dashboard (all in separate spreadsheets of course), a PowerPoint presentation or Word document with an explanation or strategy and with comments in chat tools (such as Slack, WhatsApp or Messenger) or ... mail. Whoever has to manage all this in a complex planning environment (such as retail with its many campaigns) would go crazy for less.
In the search for worthy alternatives to spreadsheets, Project Management tools such as Trello, Asana, Monday and Jira are the first in line for giving form to your communication plan. On their websites, they shout about how much better communication within your team is when you start using their tool. But communication about a communication plan does not automatically lead to a professionally shared communication plan. First of all, let's blow our own trumpet: marketing project management software encourages teamwork and that's a big step forward compared to the micro-planning culture that clings to spreadsheets. It's therefore easier to set up shared communication planning between the various stakeholders and, thanks to the digital environment, a link with other schedules is easier to set up.
Nevertheless, every week I encounter marketers who are running into the limitations of Project Management tools when they have to set up or manage communication plans. The biggest frustration is the narrow focus on task management that is embedded in such tools. You are very quickly overwhelmed by a cascade of tasks while the intention was a clear communication plan. Project Management tools are of course made for task management, not for communication plans that must display the communication mix in an uncluttered timeline. Are you in a creative environment in which you have to bring a project from A to B? Then project management tools are the solution. As a marketer, do you engage in communication planning where a shift in, say, the advertising strategy has no impact on, for example, the content strategy? Then you will not have an ally in Trello, Asana, Monday or Jira when creating and sharing your communication plan with others.
Marketers underestimate the power of Marketing Project Management software, perhaps due to the more extensive setup that follows opting for a marketing planner. But the bonus is priceless, because marketing planners are designed from the ground up for setting up communication plans with projects and campaigns. Think of them as intelligent spreadsheets, where you also create channels and color time blocks under a horizontal timeline. So much for the comparison. Within the framework of shared planning with colleagues or stakeholders you will find a true ally in Marketing Project Management tools! On one central platform, your communication plan will take shape and can be enriched and linked to tasks (in a separate task module), with budgets (in a separate budget module), with results (in a separate dashboard module), with notes (in a separate note module) and with discussions (in a separate chat module).
Anyone who wants to share his or her communication plan professionally with others will find exceptional added value in a digital marketing planner. No separate plans, no flood of emails, no attachments or links to unknown servers required. You add others to the schedules and they reschedule or comment on the existing schedule via the internal chat. That's how it goes, project after project, campaign after campaign.
Excel, Google Sheets
Project Management tools
Asana, Trello, Monday, Jira
Marketing Project Management tools
This blog article is part of a series on shared marketing planning for efficient collaboration. Below you'll find all the articles that will help you find your way around.