As the fourth quarter gets underway, many corporate communications and public affairs teams are beginning the annual strategic planning process. In our work with clients, we’ve found five factors that contribute to successful plan development and implementation, while boosting credibility with business leaders.

  1. Remember the purpose of planning. Communications plans are intended to drive action in pursuit of outcomes. Make sure the actions you will take (the what) are articulated clearly and coherently, along with the intended results (the why).
  2. Use facts and data. Information should shape your process and be referenced in your plan. This may include data on business performance, competitive landscape, market valuation, audience attitudes or other factors unique to your business or situation. Business leaders like data, not for data’s sake but to be sure that plans are grounded in reality.
  3. Tie your plan to specific business objectives. Is your goal to improve awareness or reputation? Why? For what purpose? Business goals might include capturing market share, boosting your stock price, securing a needed permit, reducing the risk of adverse regulatory outcomes or launching a new product successfully to meet sales goals. Whatever they are, the business objectives driving your communications plan should be articulated clearly.
  4. Set verifiable goals. To keep implementation on track and demonstrate performance, plans should be based on verifiable goals. At the most tactical level, goals can be programmatic – did we do what we said we would do? They can be based on outputs – how many earned media impressions, how much social engagement, how many consumer or employee touchpoints? More strategically, goals can be based on outcomes – did we change perceptions, secure the permit, achieve the sales goal, get the funding? Verifiable goals also need a basis for comparison. How did our performance compare with our plan, or with our competitors, or with last year, or with industry benchmarks?
  5. Build in accountability. Your plan should make clear who on the team is accountable for what actions, outputs and outcomes, along with an implementation timeline and mileposts for reporting progress. Pairing specific initiatives in your plan with the names of team members who are responsible has a wonderful way of boosting performance and results.

Smart strategic planning, disciplined implementation and fact-based results reporting all help communications and public affairs leaders earn a seat at the table. Winning the respect and confidence of the CEO and senior leadership team should be a goal of the annual planning process, and the time to start is now.