Our Giant Communication Plan Template (Plus 7 other Greats)
6th October 2020
It helps to have a generic communication plan in place, before you even know what you’re going to say.
You rarely get much of a heads-up when your business is expected to respond to something unexpected. Like a global pandemic, for example.
That’s why you need to get the planning done before an event changes how you need to communicate with your customers, prospects, and team.
Organizations should ensure they have taken time to plan for unexpected events, and anticipated their impact as much as possible before they respond.
Thinking ahead puts your business in the best possible position to manage the fallout, which is often more harmful than the crisis itself.
However, if your business already knows it needs to change how it communicates to tackle a new market or respond to a crisis, then you’ll need to put a complete communication plan together asap.
A communication plan is a complete guide to how you communicate with your audience.
Now, your ‘audience’ could mean your prospects, your existing customers, your partners, the media, or the people you work with. Most businesses will have different communication styles for each of these parties.
But in all, your communication plan is a place to bring together your Objectives:
- Key messages
- Tone of voice guidelines
- Channel strategy
But most importantly, it ties these key features into a framework with a clear process for handling issues outside of your key messaging, and how the performance of these messages are reported on.
Communication plans offer as much about presenting consistent business messages from the day-to-day, as they are about preparing to tackle the unknown.
Let’s assume you’ve already got a communications strategy for every party involved with your business. What are the limits of that strategy?
- Do you have a clear process for escalating emergencies?
- Do you have a clear channel strategy for handling negative feedback?
- What is the process for gathering technical information, such as about a data leak?
- In what sequence do you engage with stakeholders to inform them of bad news?
These are tricky questions, and often lie beyond the abilities of a standard communications plan. Instead many businesses will muddle through their comms response when unexpected events occur - and who knows, they might do a good job of it.
But there’s a lot at stake. A communication plan secures your business against botching its response to an unexpected event, even if it can’t help with the event itself. A crisis is never a calm experience, but you’ll at least replace the panic with a more measured response.
In a nutshell, a communications plan template ensures that the organisation has considered who is responsible for what actions and when.
When we put together our communication plan template, we wanted to draw from the best of the other great communication plan templates out there.
So our communication plan template is kind of a hybrid. It takes your standard communication plan template - for your business’s primary messaging and approach to everyday comms - and meshes it with a crisis comms template to help you deal with the unknown.
As part of our communication plan, you’ll figure out:
- Overall objectives
- Tone of voice
- Channel strategy
Download our template below…
There are a number of communication plan templates around the web that you can choose from. However, the best for one organization is not the best for another.
Despite their differences every good communications plan has these things in common...
- Objectives: A clear understanding of the purpose of the plan and why it has been created. This should include instructions on when it should be used.
- Audience: The template should allow you to consider and plan for how you communicate with each stakeholder.
- Responsibilities: The template should show clear hierarchies to be developed, demonstrating who is responsible for what, and when.
- Actions: On the plan it should be clear to those following the plan in the future what actions need to be taken, and in what order. The level of detail may vary here according to the template, organization and the crises considered.
- Risks: A good template will prompt you to consider potential risks associated with different crises and actions, and encourage you to put together a strategy that considers likely obstacles, questions and concerns that may arise.
So, with those criteria in mind, here are the top communication plans we could find...
Based on a generic communication plan, the Hubspot communication plan is designed to help you clarify the objective of a particular response to a situation with a focus on the key messages you’ll deliver.
Hubspot provides a Word document as the template, which can be used as part of their toolkit. They focus on the different phases which apply to a situation and allow for planning for each of those phases.
The aim is to bring clarity to complex decision-making, and Hubspot does it well.
The Hubspot template is a Word document which organizations can edit and complete to create their own detailed written plan.
It starts by providing an outline of what your plan should include, as well as what the purpose of the communication plan is - the most important part of the document, in our opinion.
Hubspot then uses a table format to outline an Escalation Framework:
There are four levels of crisis, and it’s up to you to define what that means to your business. Obviously, if you only need more or fewer, add or take some away.
Then you add who is responsible in such situations and what they should do. You’ll add responsibilities and actions in a later section.
We found this template most useful in response to a crisis, or other unexpected event, because the framework Hubspot offers helps you clarify, purpose, responsibilities and actions.
However, there was less information on that preparation you need to do with your messaging and audience definitions, for example, to ensure that your overall comms plan is ready.
CoSchedule’s communications plan specifically aims to address who your audience is, the messages you’ll want to convey to them and how you will do that. It focuses more on the day-to-day than it does on responding to a crisis.
CoSchedule is in a PowerPoint format. But you can import it to Google Slides or download it as a PDF and print it before completing the slides. Whatever works best for you.
It’s a simple case of completing PowerPoint slides:
Each slide prompts you to include relevant information about your audience, the channels. Here’s what’s involved:
- Unique Selling Proposition
- Brand Statement
- Communications Objectives
- Key Messages
- Messaging Matrix
- Goals and Metrics
The plan is simple and easy to use, but lacks the detail that Hubspot includes in their comms response template. We’d recommend you use this plan if you’re putting together your first comms template at a smaller organisation with a flat structure.
The plan finishes by encouraging you to consider how you will identify and measure success in the plan’s delivery. We’re glad they included this often-overlooked element.
The Manchester University template is a PDF document which you can use to shape your own communication plan by following its instructions.
Download the PDF and work your way through their guide, creating your own written document.
The PDF is a detailed guide which takes you step-by-step through what you should include in your plan.
OK, it’s not the nicest to look at, but it covers all the important elements of a communication plan, including objectives, actions and responsibilities.
The advice is well detailed and prompts you to consider different parts of the plan, such as key messages, channels and specific timescales.
Plus, there are loads of examples. So if you’re struggling with the blank page that Hubpsot and CoSchedule want you to work with, this communications plan could be for you.
However, the guide seems very much geared towards old school marketers and misses important channels like social media, which you’ll have to add in yourself!
Thrive is another Word-based document which allows you to follow the guidelines and make edits as you go.
Again, not specifically designed for crises, you’ll need to adapt this one to a crisis situation. Follow the guide, consider the explanations, and write your plan as you go.
Though it’s not the most beautiful communication plan we’ve seen, it hits most of our criteria. There are objectives, audiences, messages and reporting.
The guide starts by explaining the process to you:
From here, it takes a worksheet format. Wherever there is a pink box, you need to enter information relevant to your organization and specific plan.
Because it’s a general communications plan, you will need to give more thought to hierarchies, lines of responsibility and sequences to how you respond.
The Health Foundation’s template is a Word format guide, like the Thrive example above. It will help you consider the different elements involved in a communications plan and provide you with ready-made sections for you to fill in.
The guidance in this template is considerably briefer than some of the other examples we’ve given. However, The Health Foundation have included a comprehensive editable table which you can use to create a communications plan across three distinct stages.
The document starts by giving you pointers on what you need to consider when writing a communications plan. Remember that this isn’t specifically designed for a crisis situation, so you’ll need to build it out further to be relevant to scenarios like this.
The template uses a question-based format to prompt you to think about the plan:
It then moves onto the plan template itself, which is relatively simple.
You just need to give your thought to five key criteria: who are the audience, what is the activity, what are the messages, what channels will you use to communicate the message and what are the timings around sending the communications.
The plan helpfully shapes your responses around three core phases: the launch phase, the sustain phase and the spread phase.
- In the launch phase you’ll introduce your project to key audience and raise awareness of its objectives
- In the sustain phase you make change or maintain behaviour change among the audiences in your project
- In the spread phase you’ll spread your message outside of your initial audience groups
Though these phases are useful, unsurprisingly, The Health Foundation focuses on healthcare-specific communications projects, and I think that shows in this phased approach, which is more detailed than most businesses would need.
The Upleaf communication plan is geared more as a template than a guide, and it focuses specifically on non-profit organizations.
How does it work?
Go through the prompts in the template below, using the information Upleaf gives in this article to help you complete it.
What the plan looks like
We’re impressed with the strategy overview page from Upleaf because it really interrogates the purpose of the communication plan, and defines what the expected outcome of the plan is.
You’ll include more details about each of these sections within the template. As you go through the different sectors of your audience, it’s worth investigating the different channels you can use to reach each of these audience types.
In many ways, the Upleaf communications plan template has more in common with a straightforward content marketing plan. It includes key dates and content pieces, encouraging you to consider what topics you should create content for.
What is it?
Project Manager also provides a Word document for creating your communications plan. Like with Upleaf, it is worth combining reading their article about the template while you complete the document.
How does it work?
Follow the article above and fill out the gaps in your Word document with info that’s specific to how you want your business to approach its communications.
Unlike any of the other communications plan templates, this one starts by ensuring there is clear traceability of the document’s development. We wouldn’t use this feature, but it’s pretty handy if your organization requires you to keep an immaculate paper trail.
It is a very comprehensive guide and template, explaining what you need to do in order to complete each section.
Additionally, it allows you to name hierarchies and responsibilities, clearly within the plan:
Finally, there’s some really handy information on how to evaluate the success of your communications plan. This is often missing from communication plan templates, so we’re glad to see some in-depth guidance there.
Your communication plan decides how consistent your business’s interactions with different parties are, and how effective your business’s response to a crisis will be.
It might sound strange to hear that the success of these engagements are pre-determined by your ability to put together a comprehensive plan for your communications.
Surely the success of your comms has more to do with the quality of the press release you put out, or the Tweet you’re about to schedule?
But no, when it comes to how your business communicates, who you’re communicating to - and why - consistency is everything.
Your communication plan is the glue that holds together your messaging across different channels, and gives your business the focus it needs to respond decisively to the unexpected.
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