Drafting a strategic communications plan is hard enough, but keeping it relevant can be more difficult. One piece of advice: Don’t ever put it on a shelf.
Putting the words “strategic” and “communications” together can strike fear in the hearts of many association executives. At best, your strategic communications plan can be a roadmap not just for the communications department, but for the entire association. At worst, you will have spent hours creating a document doomed to sit on a shelf collecting dust.
Your plan needs to identify your association’s competitive edge and outline how you can capitalize and protect it.
The good news is that by laying the right groundwork, you too can draft a dynamic, well-conceived plan that won’t become a dust collector.
An effective strategic communications plan is a living document. Before you start, do your homework: define your target audience, create mission-driven messages, and perform an environmental scan. And if resources permit, conduct research to learn more about your audience and benchmark your efforts.
Then draft your plan. You need to include the following: your objective—overarching goal; strategies—the activity categories that help you reach your objective; tactics—activities that help you tell your story; distribution channels—how you deliver the message; evaluation; and a budget and timeline.
Once your plan is drafted, the real challenge begins: How do you make the plan relevant and keep it alive? Here are some tips:
Follow the yellow brick road. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, your yellow brick road is your plan. It sets the direction on where to go and how to get there. For example, your messages are developed by the communications team but woven through all the association’s products and services.
Buy-in from the C-suite. For you to be successful, you need buy-in and support from association staff and leaders. Learn what your executive director and board chair care about, and include activities that address the heart of their issues. If your ED cares about increasing conference exhibitors, then create tactics designed to do exactly that.
Dust it off. Here’s something to consider: do not put the plan on a shelf. Keep it on your desk where it’s visible daily. Pull it out and read it, refresh your memory about what’s in it, and use the content.
Embrace the five-letter dirty word. “Money” is often a dirty word in associations. But more revenue allows us to not only provide improved services and products to our members but also to tell our story. A plan allows us to make better decisions, which leads to good business practices and greater revenue so we can do more for our constituents.
Retain your competitive edge. As association leaders, we may be lulled into a false sense of security by believing we have no competition. But we do. Especially now, as we make free content available on websites and other social media networks. Your plan needs to identify your association’s competitive edge and outline how you can capitalize and protect that edge.
Just say no. As a former association executive, I know how challenging it is to say, “No.” Your plan will allow you to say no diplomatically: “That’s a terrific suggestion, but it’s not part of our current plan. Maybe we can consider it for the future.”
As a living document, your strategic communications plan needs to be refreshed regularly. Read it and share it with your colleagues and leaders. Refer to it in meetings, conversations, and emails with members, leaders, donors, and sponsors. It’s up to you to keep your plan alive.
Join myself, Lakisha Woods, CAE, of the National Association of Homebuilders, and Greg Roth, of the National Association of Realtors, for a session on “Light My Fire: Igniting the Creative Flame in Your Association,” at ASAE’s 2015 Marketing, Membership, and Communications Conference, June 1-2, in Washington, DC.