How to Create a 2021 Communications Plan That Shows Value

While 2020 has left many associations reeling, that doesn’t have to be the case in 2021. A good communications plan will align to your association’s strategic goals, allow for flexibility in shifting times, and build buy-in for your budgetary needs.

This year has been rough on most associations’ budgets, but communications teams are not the place to skimp. That’s because these teams can help show members value and increase revenue—and that all starts with a good communications plan, said speakers during the recent “Building Your 2021 Communications Plan” webinar.

“A lot of leadership wants to look at marketing or comms as a cost,” said Rachel Clemens, chief communications officer at Mighty Citizen. “If done correctly, it is not a cost. It is an investment in additional revenue and growth.”

That’s why it is crucial for communications teams to show their value to organizational success. “When comms supports the organization as a whole, it’s easier to get buy-in and budget,” Clemens said.

Therefore, a big part of any plan is going to be aligning communications goals with organizational ones. “In many of our organizations, we have strategic plans,” Clemens said. “We know what we are trying to do as a full organization for 2021. You want to show how the communications plan is helping reach those overarching goals for your association.”

The communications plan should be created by the comms team—even if that is a team of one—with input from leadership. “You want to share it up the chain, so they know how communications is going to reach their overarching goals,” Clemens said. “Make sure you are sharing it with them, and they see buy-in.”

The plan should have goals, strategies, and tactics. Clemens said to think of strategies as what you’re going to do and tactics as how you’re going to do it.

“You want to focus on strategy, because if you only focus on tactics and tasks without connecting them to strategy, you’re going to waste time and energy pursuing tactics that aren’t necessarily returning organizational value,” she said. “If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, how do you know what to budget for?”

In addition, the communications plan should take a deep dive into your audience so the comms team can understand who they are, what they want, and what other sources (i.e., competitors) they use to get the information they seek, said Nicole Araujo, CAE, Mighty Citizen client engagement director, who also spoke at the webinar.

Understanding your audience will allow you to create a communications plan that reaches them. “[Your communications will] be in the places they are finding their media and in the language that is speaking to them,” Araujo said. “It helps us in understanding how we create our content, when we release it, where we release it.”

Clemens noted that the communications plan will also help create common language for the association for consistency. “Create a list of your products and services,” Clemens said. “What do you offer to your audiences, and what are those things called? This is really important for getting everyone in the organization, as best you can, calling things the same things.”

For example, if advocacy is called “legislative efforts” at your organization, that should appear everywhere. “Make sure that’s what it’s called on the website and in your marketing materials,” she said.

Finally, when drafting the plan, you may have a lot of ideas, but it’s important to determine what your staff can do. “A lot of you are one-person departments,” Clemens said. “How do we prioritize, and what can we actually get done?”

So, when you put it all together, Clemens said a portion of the plan might look like this: Your goal may be to increase new member retention, and the strategies you choose might be to send all new members a welcome kit and also a monthly email highlighting one member benefit. That second tactic would capitalize on your research and understanding of your audience. “If it’s hard for you to keep track of the benefits, it’s hard for members to keep track,” Clemens said.

What steps have you taken to create your 2021 communications plan? Share in the comments.

(denizbayram/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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