Best Practices for 2018 Communications Planning

As temperatures finally start to drop and murmurs of holiday parties are upon us, many of us are wondering how we got to the end of the year so quickly.

I enjoy this season because it’s when I get to work with clients in reflecting on the progress made so far this year and begin one of my favorite tasks: communications planning for the year ahead.

I am a firm believer that while things will never go according to plan, they’ll go nowhere if you don’t have a plan at all, so now is the time to put that plan into place. If you have the discipline to do it before everyone gets distracted with the holidays, you won’t find yourself looking up at the end of Q1 and wondering what happened. Having led this process for organizations of myriad shapes and sizes, I’ve learned a few things that could make this year’s plan your best yet, presented in my five favorite quotes…

5 Quotes to Guide Effective Planning

“Nothing for me without me.”

I thank Kelley Peterson, past president of the Professional Chapters Council of the American Marketing Association, for this one. She articulated perfectly the concept that if you’re launching a program that affects others, you must include them in the process to reach success. When it comes to planning, that means including other departments within your organization, as well as input and involvement from outside stakeholders. This process will take longer but it will also yield much stronger results. However, the way you seek that input is critical because doing it wrong can backfire.

“Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer.”

Here’s something far too many organizations do: Gather a big group of non-communicators representing key business units in a room with a whiteboard and ask, “What do you think we should do?” While these sessions are well-intentioned, typically the feedback is given in very tactical terms. So instead of having a strategic conversation about the forward direction of the organization relative to your communications goals, you’re playing defense and trying to avoid offending key stakeholders whose ideas are off the mark. To make the best use of their expertise, ask questions that will provide the strategic insight you need. This could include the motivations of the target audience, changes among the competition or trends within the sector. Then, you can keep the tactical decisions in departmental realms where they belong.

“You have to know when it’s time for champagne.”

As far as I know, this is a Stacy Armijo original, not least of all because champagne is one of my favorite libations. This comes up when working through the goal-setting element of planning. Sometimes, we communicators are fond of goals like, “increasing awareness” or “capturing mindshare” or “driving the conversation.” These are all valuable pursuits, but they’re exactly that: the pursuit, not the destination. As such, how will you ever know when you’ve arrived? Specificity is key and that's why there should always be outcomes focused on a point in time, such as: “achieve a 2 percent increase in market share over competitor X” or “increase member satisfaction ratings by five points." By having specific quarterly milestones and year-end outcomes identified in your plan, you will know when to pop that champagne cork.

“Sacrifice perfection in the name of progress.”

I can’t tell you how many planning processes I’ve watched stall (and eventually die) because those facilitating would accept nothing less than perfection. That might surprise you because perfection sounds like a good thing, right? It can be, except that the perfect plan never completed is worthless. That’s why I favor progress over perfection in my planning process (say that three times fast). I seek consensus among team members, not full agreement (which will never be achieved). Rather than delving deep into implementation guidance, we outline only the elements necessary to scope budget requests. This simple, fast-paced approach creates a plan that is practical, well-rounded and most important, complete.

“Never take ‘no’ from someone who can’t give you a ‘yes.’”

My husband is fond of repeating this mantra in his sales role. For me, it informs how I seek approval of a communications plan. I’ve watched as a program is proposed to a large group when only one or two of those involved actually have authority to approve it. However, everyone has opinions, and it only takes one person to speak against it or “reply all” with a criticism and the sentiment of the group turns negative. That's why I like to present or preview proposed programs one-on-one to key stakeholders. In doing so, I’m always clear about the broad input sought to create it. In this process, I can also ask a few key questions, such as: “Do you think this is on the right track?” or “What’s missing that you think we should consider?” That allows you to not only improve your program but also to surface opinions individually. Then, once you get to the big presentation, everyone has been included in the process, so they’re less likely to criticize (and if they do, you’re ready with a sound response).

That’s it: my five quotes to create a strong communications plan for 2018. Intrigued? I’d love to tell you more and explore if Pierpont can help make next year your best year yet for marketing and communications. Drop me a line at sarmijo@piercom.com to learn more.

Stacy Armijo is Executive Vice President of Pierpont Communications, supporting the firm’s work across Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. She spearheads strategic planning and program execution for clients across diverse verticals, including healthcare, financial services, nonprofits and more.