Six Steps to Improving Corporate Performance with a Communication Plan

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1 TALK POINTS COMMUNICATION Six Steps to Improving Corporate Performance with a Communication Plan How to develop a clear identity and communicate with your internal and external customers A Higher Level Learning Company WWW. T A L K P O I N T S C O M M U N I C A T I O N. C O M C O P Y R I G H T A L L R I G H T S R E S E R V E D W O R L D W I D E

2 Table of Contents I. Introduction II. Step I: Understand Your Challenges III. Step II: Conduct a Communication Audit IV. Step III: Package Yourself V. Step IV: Map Your Audiences VI: Step V: Plan For Improvement VII: Step VI: Execute the Plan VIII: Conclusion About the author: Six Steps to Improving Corporate Performance with a Communication Plan was developed by Paula Biskup, a seasoned communication professional. She draws on over two decades of experience helping companies use communication strategically and has worked with companies ranging from Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Budco, Disney, Ford, Health Alliance Plan, Helm and Little Caesars. Her expertise is to apply communication to help companies enhance productivity, improve performance and increase satisfaction, as well as to increase exposure, build reputation and increase sales. Her goal is to help companies grow and prosper so they can support their employees and communities. Page 2

3 Introduction Companies need to communicate with a number of stakeholder groups on an ongoing basis. These include customers, prospects, staff members and the media and they re all instrumental in helping a company succeed. One of the most important things a company can do for itself is to make sure its messages are clear and coherent by focusing on the communications it sends to its audiences. Communications intended for internal staff members can shape a workplace and align employees with organizational goals. Communications directed toward external audiences can help the marketplace form a clear picture of a company s business. A strategic communication plan ensures this clarity. Not only does it take a methodical approach to defining an organization s messages, but it maps out a strategy for distributing important company information. This way, internal and external audiences can focus on what s truly important and this results in greater productivity and performance because of audiences that are more supportive. The following pages provide the steps for developing such a plan. These steps apply to organizations in the public, private and nonprofit sectors; they also apply to individual products and services. A communication plan, as most professional communicators will attest, often winds up on the back burner. But, these same communicators also know that only those who take the time to develop one achieve long-term success. Congratulations on getting started! Page 3

4 STEP I: Understand Your Challenges The first step in the process of developing a strategic communication plan is to understand your organization s current situation, its challenges and objectives for the future. After all, the overall purpose of your plan is to help your organization move forward from Point A to Point B with the support of communication, and you need a thorough understanding of where you are now and where you need to go in order to accomplish this. Your senior management team is a good place to start. Ask the following key questions: What are key corporate concerns? Is the organization s growth stagnant? What does management hope to accomplish short and long term? How is a lack of communication preventing this from happening? How is communication causing this to happen? How might communication help your organization achieve its goals? Who is considered the best in your industry and worthy of benchmarking? Write down your findings. You must be perfectly clear and honest about your direction, strengths and weaknesses in order to set a foundation, build upon it, and achieve your desired results. Page 4

5 STEP II: Conduct a Communication Audit The next step in the process is to conduct research, or a Communication Audit. Without this step, your plan will be based on personal experience and history and it may or may not reflect the marketplace, your customers needs or your intended goal. The objective of the Communication Audit is to learn about your existing communications, the audiences you reach, the communication channels you utilize, and the content of the messages you send. You want to learn what s effective and what needs to be changed, as well as the messages that set you apart from the competition. First, you need to determine the sources of your data. Potential sources include departments and divisions, individual staff members, external customers, and suppliers. Methods of obtaining input include personal interviews, focus groups, surveys and in-depth analysis of specific incidents. Consider the following questions as you re planning your audit: 1. Do your customers and staff members clearly understand your organization and the messages you re trying to convey? 2. What is your image within your company and also in the marketplace? 3. What channels do you use to communicate your offerings and advantages? 4. Are you reaching your audiences using current tactics? 5. What are your audiences not hearing? 6. Are your communications creating confusion? Following each interaction you have during your audit process, write a recap. This way, it will be easier to review interviews, identify themes and draw conclusions. Supplement the information you gather with feedback about competitors and you ll end up with some great data to shed light on your current situation and potential strategies. Companies often conduct communication audits annually just to make sure their communications are effective. Other times, audits may be prompted by corporate concerns such as stalled performance or a lack of productivity. Whatever the case, research is critical and a necessary place to start. Page 5

6 STEP III: Package Yourself With the input from your communication audit, you can now package your organization. This step requires that you create the tools you ll need to manage your message with clarity and consistency. By documenting your messages and using them across your communications, your internal and external audiences will have a better chance of hearing what you have to say: Brand Inventory It s important to take the time to think critically about your organization who you are, what you do, what makes you unique, and how you fit into the marketplace. Commit this to paper this is your Brand Inventory. Use these words to ensure consistent messaging in all your communications. Key Messages Your Key Messages emerge from your Brand Inventory. These are succinct statements that provide a snapshot of your organization, highlighting its most important features. These messages are what you want your internal and external customers to hear. Identity and Image Statements Create both of these. Your Identity is the message you want to communicate to your audiences. Your Image is the perception that others have of your organization. All organizations acquire an Image, whether accurate or not. The objective is to make sure your Image matches your expressed Identity. Elevator Pitch Its name says it all. An Elevator Pitch is a verbal descriptor of your company and must be concise enough to be recited in the time it takes to travel up or down an elevator. Share it with colleagues, especially those who interact with external audiences. Strategic Imperatives Strategic Imperatives are your Vision, Mission and Values. These are your overarching goals and provide a focal point for your organization. Make sure your team members understand them and work to achieve them. Remember, if you don t take the time to package yourself, someone else will. As an organization that wants to build a professional image and positive reputation, it s wise to proactively and strategically lay claim to who you are, what you do, and your distinct differences. Page 6

7 STEP IV: Map Your Audiences As you consider your organization s challenges and objectives, it s important to identify your stakeholder audiences and determine how you ll connect with them. Generally these audiences include customers, prospects, staff members, suppliers, the community and the media. List everyone you interact with and determine how they potentially can impact your organization. Prioritize your audiences and take inventory of current communications distributed by your organization. Remember, too, that your audiences aren t necessarily interested in the same information and you ll need to tailor your messages, emphasizing different points with each. Think about the following: Goals: What do you want to accomplish with your audiences? Determine what they can help you achieve and what type of communication will support this. Most likely you will need to partner with other areas in your company to determine this, e.g., your Sales staff can provide customer insights; your HR staff can provide information about employee interests and concerns. Tactics: What is your strategy? Determine how you ll reach your audiences and with what messages. Will you use marketing materials? Will you communicate through your Web site? Are special networking functions or formal training classes most appropriate? What about press releases and communications? What communications do you currently have in place that can incorporate your messages? Tools: What will your communications look like? Determine the specific tools you ll need and how you ll produce them. Remember to identify existing communications the purpose isn t necessarily to create something new but to maximize the effectiveness of what is currently in place. Timing: How often will your communications be distributed? Determine your process for delivery of your messages. Try to anticipate when your audiences will be most receptive to what you have to say. Also consider information that s required at particular points in time. The audiences and plans you identify will be the heart of Step VI: Execute the Plan. Remember to always think about your available corporate resources and what level of activity is realistic. It might be best to roll out your strategy in phases to avoid launching a communication process you re unable to sustain. Page 7

8 STEP V: Measurement & Improvement This step is critical! Don t just create communications because that s the purpose of your department. Make sure the communications you produce make an impact and contribute to department and corporate goals. Determine metrics to accomplish the following: 1.) Measure the effectiveness of your strategy, and 2.) Identify areas for improvement. Assign baseline measurements (based on industry benchmark data or historical performance, for example) and compare this with actual performance. You ll need two types of metrics: Process Metrics Process metrics tell you about the system you developed and whether you re successfully executing your strategy according to schedule. For example, if you planned a quarterly newsletter or monthly press releases, are you meeting your objective? Results Metrics Results metrics indicate whether you re accomplishing your overall goals, which need to relate to Step I and your organization s rationale for investing in a communication plan. For example, if one of your goals is to increase customer satisfaction, are you making an impact? Without both metric types you re only getting half the story. Many organizations maintain Process Metrics but fail to track Results. Results are the real story and demonstrate a Return On Investment (ROI), which is typically a key consideration of management. Page 8

9 STEP VI: Execute the Plan Execution is the most important part of the six-step process and is often where organizations fail. Implementing your communication plan consistently and predictably is critical and, your ability to do so is a reflection on your organization and its professionalism. To move the execution process along, you will want to put the information you ve gathered into an actionable format using a project management tool or a similar tracking mechanism. Begin with the key audiences you identified in Step IV. Determine the activity that needs to take place throughout the year by stakeholder group, record your tactics, assign responsibilities, and project task completion dates. Most importantly, conduct regular status meetings, measure progress, and identify trouble spots along the way. It s often said that plans are important, but success really depends on the ability to get things done! Page 9

10 Conclusion With this six-step plan, you re now ready to move forward and implement your communication plan at your own pace, based on your resources and requirements. For example, if your primary communication concern or challenge is with your customers and your staff members, this is where you ll want to start. Maybe you re not ready to focus on the media or the community. That s OK too. The important thing is to take a step forward and to begin gaining mind and market share. You ve probably heard the adage, Work Smarter Not Harder. Developing a communication plan is something you can do right now, to create a true long-term advantage for your company. Here are several ways to proceed: 1.) Follow the plan outlined in the Six Steps to Improving Corporate Performance with a Communication Plan. It works and it really makes a difference. 2.) Request a workbook of templates to help you develop the key communication elements of a communication plan, including a comprehensive Strategic Communication Plan document, which you can update annually. Visit the Products section at to order a copy for immediate download for only $139. The following templates are included: Brand Inventory Key Messages Elevator Pitch Question & Answer Document Audience Matrix Strategic Communication Plan Required Actions Plan 3.) Contact Help is available whether you need assistance educating your organization on the importance of communication, coaching internal staff members on how to proceed, developing your approach and timeline, or even building your complete plan. Thank you for allowing me to share my expertise with you and congratulations again on getting started on this important journey! Paula Biskup Talk Points Communication Page 10