Why Communications Plans Fail

Communications professionals understand that the strategic planning process is a vital part of any project. A comprehensive plan not only helps manage the project, but includes all of the research and results necessary to demonstrate value of the communications team. 

So what keeps these professionals from completing a good strategic plan? In my experience, one of the biggest factors is time. Internal professionals are bombarded with “urgent” action items. They’re often proceeding directly to a solution without understanding the “why” behind the message.

They also neglect some of the most vital components. While each step is important, some steps frequently get missed. Here are some of the most frequent mishaps I’ve encountered that, with some time, can drastically improve a communications strategy: 

1.  Not having a goal or objectives. Goals are broad statements that include the intended results. Objectives support the goals and are more clearly defined. When crafting goals, you should consider what you’re trying to achieve. What outcomes do you want to see as a result of your communication efforts? This sounds obvious, but it’s often missed. 

Objectives state definitive outcomes and are usually time-sensitive. They should include as many of the 5W’s and the H as possible. Good communicators measure the success of their plans against well-established objectives.

For example,  “Start an IT security program” is not the best goal. It doesn’t state the audience outcome. 

“To generate awareness and compliance with our new IT security program” is an example of a good goal. It states the expected audience outcome and connection to the company.  “98% of our U.S. organization will complete the new online security program training by the end of Q1” is an objective to support that goal.

2. Not conducting enough research.  Many communicators feel their research is complete once they’ve taken a look at their audiences. Yet, they frequently forget to examine the organization itself.

What is the story of the organization? What is its situational analysis? Where is the organization headed and how can it achieve sustainability? Asking the tough questions, and staying the course, will only enhance the deliverables and increase results.

3. Thinking you know more than the research. Research is essential to any communication plan—whether conducted to identify a goal or to understand the audience, situation and environment. 

Researching the organization and the audience comes into play. Surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other mechanisms provide clearer focus on the audience. Communicators learn who they are, and if thorough enough, understand their habits, concerns and preferences. All this data is invaluable when planning communications.

When communicators believe they know better than their research, the situation can get hazy. Communicators often take a “shotgun” approach, not aligning the audiences with the proper channels. They try different media, rather than focusing on what is most effective. 

Moving forward

With the 24/7 onslaught of complex communications, sometimes its best to review the basics. New approaches, ideas, apps, and media channels are developed every day, mucking the water and distracting professionals from the tried and true plan. Keep your goals, objectives and research in mind. This will help you stay the course.