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Getting the right returns from your communications plan - May 30,2008
Doctors diagnose medical problems; architects too have building designs from which they erect some magnificent structures, and auditors and accountants (God bless them all!) have structured work plans and procedures that they follow. Not to be outdone, the professional communicator has the communications plan. However, the sine qua non of all these professionals, the ones who excel, is that they all have a depth of experience, are well-trained, qualified and at the very least are accredited in their field.

I, myself, have never met a doctor or surgeon (no, I am not picking on doctors) who sets about dealing with professional issues without the necessary training. This is certainly not to say that those are not around. I just have not met one. I would even like to hazard that any sane, right-thinking person would run a mile away to avoid dealing with a quack or an unlicensed person wielding er… a stethoscope (it was definately too late to escape that medical reference, sorry). It is my greatest misfortune to have, in my professional life, however met persons who claim to be ‘communications specialists’, ‘journalists’ or p.r. practitioners whose knowledge of the field of communication is as deep as my own professional knowledge of well...medicine (oh, dear there I go again).

The thing about the field of communications is that because nearly everyone (and his granny) can string a sentence together or stand behind a podium or microphone and stir up an audience, there are those who believe that that qualifies them to don the stripes of our profession. Writing a letter to the editor does not ‘a professional writer’ make in as much as calling in to the many ‘call in’ radio programmes that abound, and being able to hold an audience spell-bound with your eloquent knowledge of squat , does not make you a much vaunted public speaker. Despite what your always-tuned-in Aunt Sissy tells you.

The stance of these one hit-wonders, these wanna-be’s and their supporters offends me greatly as I am sure it does others like you who have had to suffer at their hands. I myself have spent all my professional life qualifying for my beloved field, experientially as well as academically. There are less than ten thousand internationally Accredited Business Communicators (ABC) globally. I am very proud to report that the Caribbean has eight ABCs and they are all right here in Jamaica.

The point of my tirade (I thought you would never ask) is to highlight the importance of the process involved in constructing a communications plan and to wonder aloud how many of our practitioners know how to write one. I know for a fact that there many of us who actively use this very useful communications tool to gauge our work and there are many of us who think that it is tiresome and well…useless.

So, what is a communications plan and why should it matter whether or not it is done? Firstly, a communications plan is at the heart of strategic communication. It is, according to organizational communications guru, Lester Potter, ABC, “a written statement of what communication actions you will engage in to support the accomplishment of specific organizational goals, the time frame for carrying out the plan, the budget, and how you will measure the results. It is based on the real business issues your organization faces, and it aligns communications with business objectives around these issues.”

The reason for having a comms plan is the same reason that maps were invented: to show us the way and guide us towards a known destination. However, word to the wise, if your organization does not know where it wants to go (much less where it is, at this precise moment in the financial year) nothing short of a miracle will take you to that great nirvana. It will be as elusive as my vainglorious attempts to convince myself that I could some how qualify for ‘Dancing With the Stars’. That is a dream deferred that will dry up like a raisin in the sun. Trust me.

Developing and writing a comms plan for any organization, be it Miss Mirrie’s Sweetie Shop or XYZ Corporation, is a process. It would certainly be unwise for a practitioner to attempt to develop a plan without a deep knowledge and appreciation of the business processes and practices of the organization, its stakeholders and audiences. It will therefore take more than ‘a while’ to produce a well-thought out plan that is constructed by the main stakeholders in the organization. A communications plan is not something that is created overnight, but neither should it have the gestation period of an elephant. Plus it takes great collaboration and sharing of information to be fashioned.

A typical comms plan includes: an executive summary (always written last); the communications process; background; situation analysis; a message; stakeholders and audiences; implementation schedule; budget and lastly, monitoring and evaluation.

One last thought on the efficacy of a communications plan: the professional mistakes of attorneys end up behind bars; likewise, doctors’ blunders are evidenced in the graveyards. Where then, do the communicators’ errors end up? Ask the nearest accountant!

Yvonne Grinam-Nicholson MBA, ABC, is a Business Communications Consultant with RO Communications Jamaica, specialising in business communication, employee communications and financial publications. Contact: yvonne@rocommunications.com; Website: www.rocommunications.com and post your comments.


 Posted Comments

Ruth Chisholm's comment posted on December 29,2008 10:04:20

I love this one. Nice to know there are others who feel the same way. Keep up the good work.


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