When is a communication plan good or bad?

Peter Desmyttere
February 25, 2020
⏱ 6 min. read

The communication plan is one of the cornerstones of a professional marketing policy. Marketers who work without a communication plan are condemned to work ad hoc within a multitude of tasks with deadlines. In other words: hopping from task to task is not the most ideal way to conduct a communication or marketing policy. The communication plan draws the lines (vision) for the future, divides the umbrella concept of ‘communication’ into different projects, gives peace of mind and puts all noses in the same direction.

How to set up a professional communication plan, I described in a previous article. In this article I want to hold up a mirror to marketeers who set up a communication plan. Quite a bit of marketing literature describes the components of a communication plan, but hardly offers a control mechanism that tells what makes a communication plan good or bad. Does your communication plan pass the test below?

Is the communication plan complete?

A communication plan for a brand, company, business unit or campaign is only professionally workable when it is complete. Is your media planning in one document, the campaign overview in a second overview, the content planning in a third and your event planning in yet another planning document? Then you can hardly speak of 'the communication plan'. 

Marketing managers need a central and complete communication plan that bundles the communication of different channels, divisions or media: one overview that clearly indicates the direction and techniques by which a brand, company, business unit or campaign is put on the market.

Example of a complete communication plan combining different communication disciplines (content marketing, online advertising, ...) and multiple communication channels.

Is the communication plan shareable?

A professional communication plan is shareable with others. Only solo marketers who do not or hardly work together with others can afford to have a non-separable version of their communication plan. Another example of a non-separable plan is a content marketing overview that is managed by a content marketer in an Excel file at a personal location on the server. 

Marketers who work together in a team benefit from making the communication plan as shareable as possible. This means in the first place that different colleagues on the communication plan can work together. Transforming a stand-alone Excel file into a Google Sheet is a movement that is therefore often made in marketing. Even better is the use of a digital communication planner to which you can add users. These can be external marketers (e.g. a freelancer or a marketing agency), colleagues from other divisions (e.g. sales, customer support, product, ...) or members of the management. Digital communication planners have the advantage of a rights system, where different types of users can be added to the communication plan.

Example of a shareable communication plan that allows different users access, with each user being given pre-determined rights when using the plan.

Is the communication plan filterable?

"What keeps us from putting everything into one communication plan is the overload of data that then occurs." is an argument I hear quite often.  In order to maintain an overview, the communication planning is then cut up into subplans, which in turn leads to a lack of ... overview of the entire planning. Of course, we never get there that way.

The solution? One central, complete and shareable communication plan in which we can zoom in and out thanks to filters. As a content marketer, do you only want to see your content marketing planning? Are you an event marketer who has no added value to content planning? Then a professional communication plan will provide you with filters to see just the information you need. Digital communication planners have these filters built in as standard. They offer the best of both worlds: filters to view the entire communication plan, one or more filters to see a specific selection of the communication plan.

Example of a filterable communication plan where you can filter the entire communication plan according to user, according to project, according to status and according to tags (self-selected selection criteria).

Is the communication plan intuitive?

In terms of architecture, a good communication plan is structured in such a way that it can also be easily read and interpreted by non-users. Is your communication plan unreadable for your digital agency? Does a newcomer in the marketing team take a hat off when he or she is involved in the planning for the first time? Does the sales manager or the CEO need a manual to unravel your ingenious communication plan? Then your communication plan overshoots the mark.

In the article '5 methods to structure a communication plan' I described 5 techniques to build a communication plan in a logical, understandable and readable way. The perfect symbiosis between project groups, projects, channels and moments that come together in a readable and intuitive communication plan is pure magic.

Let me go back to the very first example from this article. Admit it, even if you are not familiar with this communication plan: at a glance you understand the content strategy and you have insight into the way in which communication is conducted via online advertising. In this example, you can of course click through on the items to see more detail, but for the intuitive overview this is not yet an added value.

Is the communication plan integrated?

A communication plan never stands alone. Many communication moments involve one or more tasks for one or more people, multiple communication channels require a budget plan, you want to integrate results into your planning or it is necessary to attach files, briefings or notes to the planning. Are you up to the challenge? Then you will have to abandon Excel or Google Sheets as a planning tool and take the step to a digital communication planner like Husky.

Digital communication planners like Husky make it possible to integrate tasks, budget, results, discussions, files, ... into the planning so that even more information is centralized, without losing the overview.

Integrating 'other' planning data in the communication planning is very useful in practice. You save a lot of time by centralizing and unlocking data. With digital communication planners, the possibilities are almost endless. Linking social media planning to sending software such as Hootsuite? Link files to proofing software or servers? Embed external dashboards into the planning? All possible!

In this example you see a Google Data Studio dashboard with content marketing KPIs. This external dashboard is directly attached to the content marketing planning in Husky so that planning and results are only one mouse click away. 

Is the communication plan measurable?

Every marketer, marketing director or CEO wants to see return on investment sooner or later. That's why communication plans in Excel are often enriched with tabs full of results from different sources. I make a huge plead for bringing planning and results together. After all, the best communication plans are driven by results. Negative indications in the results (such as the drop in demo requests in the example above) can then quickly result in an adjustment of the communication strategy. For example, I recently worked on a communication plan for a large retailer in which the daily sales results had to be immediately visible at the top of the communication plan. 

Digital communication planners are a must-have for those who want to link marketing planning and marketing results. After all, they allow to define and maintain KPI's (see example below) or to integrate marketing KPI dashboards with results in the planning (see example above).

Is the communication plan reportable?

Marketers don't work on an island. On the contrary: they roll out the red carpet for sales, support management in strengthening the brand or in repositioning the company, or they are the crucial factor for product managers in marketing product innovations. Isn't it logical that they want to keep a finger on the pulse when it comes to communication planning?

Two things should be avoided: a lack of communication and loss of time due to fragmented reporting. In the first case, colleagues and management remain hungry, which is not a positive thing for your position within the company. In the second, you get a planning related question from colleagues or management: "When does the campaign start? Will you send me the media planning for the product launch? Which events are we going to do this autumn? …” Such questions are time wasting and deadly for your efficiency.

There are only 2 ways to report your communication plan quickly and professionally: you give colleagues or management access to a shareable communication plan or you regularly send a report with the information from your communication plan. The last possibility is only possible with specialized communication planning tools. They can write your communication plan to PDF in a single movement.

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