You have hundreds of communications jobs running through your office each year, but at the end of the day, what can you show for all your hard work?

Are you prioritizing the things that matter most?

If not, it’s time to upgrade your communications plan. Quit tracking all the jobs in your shop only to show how busy you are. Instead, write a communications plan that moves your institution forward — and proves your value.

A great communications plan inspires you to think outside your same old box and makes you even better at what you do. It also makes life easier because you focus on priorities instead of scrambling to juggle day-to-day demands. The payoff for revamping your communications plan could mean more money for your budget, more people for your team and greater job satisfaction knowing you’re doing work that truly matters.

Here’s a guide to get started — even if you’ve been putting off creating a plan for years.

The difference between a bad plan and a good plan

First, assess your plan — if you have one — to find out if it’s a good one or a bad one.

Bad plans and good ones often look pretty similar on the surface. Both can document pages and pages of activity that show just how busy the communications people are. Plans outline a long list of action items across multiple platforms — from email blasts, blog posts, social media and text campaigns, website updates and e-newsletters to printed brochures, direct mail campaigns, ads, press releases and magazine issues.

Some plans also align those activities with dates and even costs. Darn that sounds good!

But the problem with bad plans is that they don’t connect that flurry of activity (and expense) to specific goals that advance the institution. So no one knows how valuable that flurry really is.

A good plan always connects your communications activities to the goals of your institution. Because good plans do this in measurable ways, they change the emphasis from just staying busy to being effective.

If your palms are starting to sweat, don’t worry! It’s okay to start from wherever you are — bad plan, no plan, no idea. No problem.

Getting started

Ugh, all those terms

Warning: this is the part where plan-phobics may start to tune out.

Let’s talk goals. Do you really have to start there, you ask.

Yes, if you want to measure your team’s activity alongside your institution’s progress.

Good plans usually involve goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. These businesslike terms alone can make a smart, creative person cringe and immediately move on to something more interesting. And seemingly more relevant.

Ahh, but here is the rub.

Good plans are all about relevance — yours, as a communications leader, to be specific.

Defining the terms

Let’s start easy, with the clearest, simplest definitions I’ve ever found (which come from “Understanding Goals, Strategy, Objectives and Tactics in the Age of Social” at Forbes.com). And then we’ll even boot out one of the terms, so we only have to deal with three:

  • A goal is a broad primary outcome.
  • A strategy is the approach you take to achieve a goal.
  •  An objective is a measurable step you take to achieve a strategy.
  • A tactic is a tool you use in pursuing an objective associated with a strategy.

These terms are often used interchangeably, eroding the specific value each one brings to good planning. But the words themselves are not so important, just their functions, so call them whatever you like!

Key components of your plan

What’s the secret sauce for beginner planners? Combine objectives and tactics so that you only have three layers to deal with: goals, strategies and tactics.

Let’s dive deeper into the three main components you’ll need to cover in your plan:

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