Communications outreach plan (template)
A communications plan is a strategic document which defines specific work that will be done to achieve a business outcome. The process behind developing one of these things confuses many people, which is why I’ve created a communications outreach plan template.
My suggested communication framework involves the following:
AUDIENCE > GOAL > OBJECTIVE > STRATEGY > TACTIC > MEASUREMENT
A well thought out plan will provide you and your team with a more clear path to success, allows you to identify successes and failures more easily and puts you on the “same page” with leadership and other business functions.
Let’s get into it:
BONUS: Strategic communication plan PDF
Download our free communications outreach plan template:
Elements of a strategic communications plan
The key to a strategic communications plan is following a method or system to achieve a desired outcome. Following a proven framework will make your job easier and will provide you with the best chance at success.
Successful communications professionals are taught how to solve communication problems by following a process instead of winging it. This strategic approach allows them to work smarter not harder.
The following is a proven system communicators use to develop outreach plans for their clients’ businesses.
Related: How to develop a communications plan
Step #1: Define your target audience
Our communications work will be more impactful if it’s created for a specific group of people. Here’s why:
People have unique challenges, varying interests and use different communication channels. There’s absolutely no way we can provide value to such a broad audience that don’t share many things in common.
If you’re going to focus your time on an outreach strategy, the people you reach out to will depend on the audience you intend on targeting.
We’re better off targeting a small group of people who share many things in common because we stand a better chance at helping them. Also, experts suggest focusing on your audience’s decision makers.
How could you segment and audience?
You could target people based on demographic traits (age, location, gender, income, etc.), attitudes, behaviours, industry, goals, challenges.
Step #2: Goal setting
Your goal will be the big picture. The thing that you ultimately want to happen to your organization. They are generally broad and ambitious.
For an outreach plan, your goal might be “to be recognized as a reputable business in the ABC industry.” In this example your outreach campaign might involve reaching out to influencers to gain exposure for your business.
Step #3: Build your objectives
Goals and objectives seem like the same thing to many people. Let me explain why they’re not.
The big difference with objectives is that they’re measurable. They ultimately help an organization achieve its goal, but can be evaluated based on metrics that you determine. Here’s an example:
If your goal is “to be recognized as a reputable business in ABC industry,” then a coinciding objective might be “to have an effect on the awareness of our target audience, specifically to increase their number of brand impressions in industry publications.”
As you can see, the objective supports the goal. Securing media placements in relevant industry publications (the objective) demonstrates that the organization is reputable (the goal). The key is to think about how you can demonstrate the outcome of your goal.
Step #4: Create a strategy
The next step is to develop strategies for each of our objectives. The important thing to understand about strategies is that they are very much focused on the why and will help us determine the specific tactics we employ.
Based on our objective to increase impressions in industry publications, one strategy might be to work with media publications to spread information about our business and its value to our target audience. These publications will provide credibility to our organization.
This strategy elaborates on how we will accomplish the objective we stated earlier.
You’re probably noticing a pattern. The strategy is based on the objective, the objective is based on the goal. It’s all just a long and unnecessary chain of meaningless words. Why is it so complicated? Why are there so many different terms? Here’s why:
Like I mentioned before, a strategy is all about having a repeatable system for achieving an outcome. This ‘unnecessarily long’ process is important because it helps PR professionals work through problems systematically. It ensures that the proposed work has the best chance at providing results to an organization. It’s fundamental for the success of a campaign.
Step #5: Determine your tactics
Tactics are merely the actionable items a professional will actually spend time doing. A communications professional will assign specific resources towards accomplishing these tasks. For example, if the strategy is to work with media to gain publicity, the tactics might involve the following:
Creating a story idea for the media, developing a targeted media list, pitching that idea to media contacts, etc.
Step #6: Develop a measurement plan
Lastly, but importantly, thorough PR professionals will make sure to measure their communications campaigns. This helps them examine what worked and what did not, and allows them to report outcomes to their organization or to clients.
Some common evaluation metrics might include press clippings, media impressions, website traffic, leads, social media mentions or content analysis.
Effective measurement plans begin with developing smart objectives. That’s why we want our objectives to be measurable. By clearly stating what we intend on accomplishing with our objectives, we can more successfully demonstrate the value in our communications work.
Communication budget sample
Traditional PR work was heavily focused on publicity – working with media professionals to gain exposure for an organization. But public relations has grown into so much more than just publicity.
Communications is the name of the game. Organizations can engage with audiences in so many creative ways because there are so many communications tools available. Some of these tools come at a cost, others are completely free. It’s up to an organization to determine how much money should be spent on communications work.
Some suggest businesses spend an average of 10.2 per cent of an annual budget on marketing, others agree but suggest some companies may spend as much as 20 or 30 per cent.
There are lots of things you can do with a small communications budget. Some of these include social media, publicity and publishing content on your owned channels.
Organizations with room in their budget for communications have more options. A communicator has flexibility to administer advertisements, use press release distribution services or purchase research tools.
Communications tactics list
Most common outreach tactics
Email remains one of the most effective strategies for reaching people because 91% of consumers still check their inboxes every day. Email marketing is an outreach strategy all communications professionals should consider for their businesses.
Press releases are a staple in traditional PR work. They are a great way to reach out to journalists and other content publishers. They are also are important aspect of publicity campaigns for many PR professionals.
Direct mail is old school, but could still be an effective outreach strategy for your business. Certain demographics still prefer direct mail which presents an opportunity (SOURCE). The major downside is that direct mail tends to b far more expensive than modern outreach strategies.
Basic content strategies for social media. I’m referring to publishing content through an organization’s social channels, or using these channels to share other people’s work. This is a very popular, albeit competitive, strategy to use.
Creative outreach tactics
Instagram direct messages are an underused strategy that businesses can find tremendous value from. I learned about this interesting strategy from Gary Vaynerchuk. Listen to him talk about it here:
Facebook Groups could be a creative way to engage with a targeted group of people. Most businesses will focus on building a Page following and would never recognize the value in utilizing Facebook Groups.
LinkedIn messages are a great way to connect with targeted working professionals. LinkedIn is best used to connect with people you already know; however, it can be used to engage with new people who may provide opportunity to your business
Twitter search is an excellent way to discover industry influencers. To me, Twitter seems to be a popular tool for industry ‘experts’ (whether they’re actually experts or merely self-proclaimed experts) to voice opinions.
Be sure to download our communications outreach plan template: