Writing a plan: Good programs are sparsely written, in plain language. Use an outline format with bulleted lists where appropriate. Add narrative comments to explain ideas, as required. Plans presented to clients are also termed proposals.
(Optional) EXECUTIVE SUMMARY / OVERVIEW
If lengthy, the program can begin with a brief synopsis outlining the problem(s) and opportunity(ies). Executive summaries should be no more than one or two pages, and should concentrate on only the most salient points and recommendations. Clearly state if an approval of the plan is being requested.
I. SITUATION ANALYSIS / INTRODUCTION
The introduction should capture the attention of the reader, outline the problem or opportunity, comment on its implications, and identify possible consequences if no action is taken.
II. GOALS AND OBJECTIVES
Clearly set forth the outcomes to be attained. This section should draw upon the organization's mission statement and state organizational goals (the desired outcomes for the organization) and specific communication objectives (changes in behaviors necessary to achieve the desired organizational outcomes).
Examples (goals): To increase sales by $1 million by year-end. To increase market share from 22% to 28% by 2004.
Examples (objectives): To generate 20,000 hits on the web site during December. To increase the candidate' positive (attitude) ratings in the polls from 45% to 55% by 10 days before the election.
III. (Optional) ACTION STRATEGIES / POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
In some cases, managers might propose changes in the organization's policies or practices as necessary prerequisites for an effective communications effort. Sometimes these recommendations can be are better outlined orally or in a separate document because of their sensitive or confidential nature.
IV. COMMUNICATION STRATEGY
An overview of communications activities that will be implemented to achieve stated goals and objectives should be outlined here. The strategy section should address "how" you will achieve your desired goals and objectives -- and should do so in a way that excites the client and makes the logic of the recommendation clear. This is where your creativity in problem-solving and programming will be demonstrated. Clients should be able to approve the plan in concept upon review the communication strategy.
The communication strategy answers the question: What will you say to whom through what media? Regardless of how recommendations are presented or ordered, a plan must address the audiences to be reached, media to be used to reach them, and the key messages to be communicated.
Audiences. List key market segments, publics, stakeholder groups or other audiences to be reached, consistent with the objectives. Prioritize groups in importance, and categorize groups that can be addressed using similar communications activities. For example: internal v. external, primary v. secondary, management v. rank-and-file employees, active v. inactive publics, etc. Don't overlook less obvious groups, including intermediary groups (influentials) who can help communicate your message.
Media and Events. The discussion should outline the channels (media types) or vehicles (specific media properties) to be used to reach key audiences. One approach to media strategy is to think about five principal media groups : public media (differentiate between publicity v. advertising v. entertainment fare), interactive media, controlled media, events, and one-on-one communications.
Messages. A key message or theme is the main idea to be communicated. Example: A new food product is nutritious (versus low cost or convenient--two possible alternative themes). A good key message or theme should be clear, direct, relevant, timely, memorable and honest. Themes also can be creative, dramatic or newsworthy. But most of all, they should be consistent with the objective. The individual communications produced in a campaign are executions of the theme, which can vary in terms of specific phrasing and presentation but still communicate the same core idea(s).
Marketers of new products and services often focus messages around how a product or service is different from others in a category (reflecting how it is positioned), the key benefits provided, and features that support differentiation or benefits claims. Importantly, an advertising slogan is merely a continuity device that supports the key message or theme. The "take-away" thoughts of audiences should be the same, whether the slogan is used or not.
Messages in public relations and political communication often involve the newsworthiness of an organization, product, service, candidate or cause or what the message sponsor is doing to build/maintain/preserve a relationship with the audience.
This section contains the details of the plan, and might be of less interest to some clients. However, it provides the program/campaign manager with a roadmap for implementation and internal control.
The primary tactical issues relate to tasks, calendar and staffing.
Tasks. Most programs contain a detailed listing of the activities or projects expected to be completed. This tasks list defines the scope of the effort.
Calendar. Schedule is a critical issue in many programs because there is an ideal time to reach target audiences. Many timetables start with the desired time for exposure, then work backward to determine deadlines for the production, approval and distribution of materials or messages.
Staffing. Effective execution of a plan requires assigning duties to particular individuals or outside organizations. The details might or might not be presented to a client, depending on the circumstances. However, the staffing plan is critical to effective internal program control.
The format of the tactics section can vary. Some tactics can be organized by category, while others are best understood by clients and staff in a timeline. Many plans combine the calendar, tasks and staffing plan in a single document.
Good proposals address how results will be assessed. The specific techniques are defined by the objectives outlined in the plan. For example, if changing attitudes is an objective, attitude change should be assessed in some way. Three broad types of measures are typically used:
Quality measures include rudimentary, qualitative reviews of production or completed projects, opportunities for improvement, and assessments of overall quality. These are often conducted for the internal use by the communications department and can be incorporated in future plans for similar activities.
Output measures quantify the number of communications distributed, coverage obtained (based on circulation or number of exposures) and impressions created (number of people who actually saw message). Output measures generally are derived from audience data available from public media and research services (such as ratings services or clipping or broadcast monitoring services).
Impact measures use surveys to determine changes in awareness (knowledge), attitudes (opinions) or respondent's reports of past or anticipated/intended actions (behaviors). Results can also be measured in the aggregate by analyzing audience group behaviors (such as buying, investing, giving, working, and voting patterns based on organizational records or other sources). Ideally these behaviors can be traced directly to the program/campaign.
Obtaining budget approval is one of the primary reasons why a formal written proposal is prepared. As such, budgets are often set out in a separate section. Formats vary based, but ultimately are recast to conform with charts of accounted used by accountants.
Consultants and agencies generally seek approval of their total spending plans, including compensation (fees) and reimbursement for direct (out-of- pocket) expenses.
Programs conducted by in-house staffs generally focus only on out-of-pocket expenses. However, a frequent question is whether costs are to paid from existing budgets or net new allocations.
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Updated October 2003