Communications strategy (short-term): users guide
A communications plan is an essential planning tool and should be developed at the initiation of a project. It identifies and helps achieve the communication aims of a project. The plan should be updated as a project progresses and feedback and approval should be sought from your Agency’s Communications Manager.
The following guidelines assist in the use of the Communications Plan Template, which is suitable for short-term projects, such as the launch of a publication or promotion of a series of seminars.
It is essential that all communications activities comply with the Tasmanian Government Communications Policy.
Use the following guidelines to complete the Communications Plan Template.
1. Situation analysis
Provide an overview of the project and any background information that is relevant to the communication aspects of the project. Assume the communications plan will be viewed in isolation to any other documentation, such as project plans and briefing papers. Identify any communication problems and opportunities, as this will help you decide on the objectives of the plan.
Objectives must be realistic and measurable. Each objective should flow from the problems and/or opportunities identified in the situation analysis.
To help establish your objectives, ask yourself why you need to communicate. Is it to:
- raise awareness and understanding of a planned or impending issue/initiative/change?
- change attitudes and behaviours?
- encourage use of or familiarity with government products or services?
- gain the support and buy-in of stakeholders?
- To increase awareness of the Youth Hotline among Tasmanian teenagers by 15 per cent by 31 October 2006 measurable by analysis of incoming call records.
- To secure 50 registrations for the Small Business Breakfast by 21 January 2006 measurable by analysis of RSVPs.
N.B. Objectives also play a key role in monitoring and evaluation. You can only accurately and effectively evaluate the impact of your plan if you are able to easily measure the achievement of your objectives.
3. Target audience(s)
Target audiences are the people you need to reach through your communications plan. They can be individuals or groups of people and there are usually ‘internal’ (e.g. Minister, senior management, staff) and ‘external’ audiences in government communication plans. Think about who you need to communicate with to achieve your objectives and who will be affected by the subject of your plan.
Don't overlook internal audiences - particularly your colleagues - and their need to know about your project; consider whether you should publicise your project on your agency's intranet or in staff newsletters.
- Ministerial Offices: Minister for Economic Development
- Agency Secretary: Mary Oakes
- Policy Division staff: Sue Dray, Executive Director
- Bill Barron, Policy Officer
- Small businesses
- Small-to-medium enterprises
- Industry groups
- Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
- Small Business Association
- Enterprise Centres
4. Key messages
Key messages summarise the information that you want to communicate to your target audiences. You want your audiences to understand and act upon your key messages. Make sure you have at least one key message that is aimed at each target audience.
The key messages will be used constantly and consistently throughout the implementation of the plan (through the communication methods). Key messages should be brief and in plain English so they are easily understood by your target audiences.
To develop your key messages, think about whether you want to:
- Educate audiences – make them aware of an event or law change.
- Motivate audiences – encourage them to participate or provide feedback.
- Inform and reassure audiences – tell them about action that is being taken.
- The Youth Hotline provides fast and free access to Government information and services for young Tasmanians.
- The 1800 040 060 Youth Hotline is an independent service that operates 24-hours a day and seven days a week.
- The Small Business Breakfast is a free networking opportunity that will help establish long-term relationships between businesses and government.
- The Small Business Breakfast will give small-to-medium enterprise operators a chance to discuss common challenges and share information.
5. Action plan and communication methods
This section of the plan outlines what you are actually going to do to communicate your key messages and achieve your objectives. You can choose from a variety of communication methods that are designed to convey information and interact with your target audiences.
The following communication methods should be considered, but this is by no means an exhaustive list of possibilities:
Media releases: Cost-free and relatively easy to prepare and distribute. Not always effective - relies on media filters and may not get run. Make sure it is distributed beyond the general media and sent directly to targeted outlets such as specialist publications.
Media event: Appropriate if there is a suitable news angle to the announcement. Must be carefully planned. Consider Ministerial involvement and find out if the Minister is available (also check Parliamentary sittings) and make sure your proposed date doesn’t clash with other major events. Suggest a news angle (people stories work best), appropriate venue/event, backdrops etc.
Media invites/table: If you stage an event (eg lunch, dinner), it may be appropriate to invite members of the media as your guests – rather than just to cover the event. Issue invitations personally to targeted journalists – those who have showed an interest in the subject matter or have the potential to impact on the project.
Radio advertising: Highly effective for disseminating information fast. Speech is the dominant element so it’s essential to have clear messages. Note the Master Ordering Arrangement.
Radio – talkback/discussion: Offer to provide spokespeople and/or news leads for radio talkback sessions or news items focusing on the initiatives.
Television advertising: Costly but a useful method for reaching regional areas. Note the Master Ordering Arrangement.
Television community service announcements: Contact commercial stations regarding community noticeboards and the possibility of community service announcements.
Billboards: A visual medium that is available in metropolitan and regional areas.
Shop-a-dockets: Useful in targeting particular areas of the State.
Supermarket trolley advertising: Useful in targeting particular areas of the State.
Press advertisements: Public notice and/or display advertisements can be placed in specialist publications and/or local and interstate newspapers – Note the Tasmanian Government Communications Policy advertising requirements and the Master Ordering Arrangements for print media and public notices.
Advertising features/supplements: Can be effective for specific/special campaigns but need the support of advertisers to cover costs.
Magazines: Identify magazines and newspapers that reach your target audiences (eg Prime Times and Tasmanian Senior; Tasmanian Business Reporter) and consider placing advertisements or supplying editorial.
Newspaper supplements: Identify appropriate newspaper supplements or inserts (eg The Mercury – Taste, Money, Looking Good, Inside Stories; The Examiner – Saturday Magazine, Good Food) and consider placing advertisements or supplying editorial.
Community and regional papers: Excellent means of reaching regional communities. Advertising costs are low compared to daily papers and editorial (particularly when provided with images) is often welcomed. Produce articles (good news stories) based around the initiative and its ‘success’ stories.
Internet: Allows 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access and people can browse to the depth that suits their interests. Remember the requirement to publish to the web as part of the Publication Guidelines. Consider using www.tas.gov.au in addition to your own Agency’s website.
Intranet: Include information on your agency’s intranet and other Agency intranets if appropriate.
CD-Rom/DVDs: Useful for training purposes or special marketing. CDs and DVDs can be a cost-effective alternative to print publications.
Pamphlets/brochures: Options include fact sheets, flyers and letters. Think about the publication’s shelf life when deciding on the style and cost. Factor the time required for design, printing and approvals into your timeline. Note the Publication Guidelines.
Letterbox drops: Useful in reaching specific geographical areas. Delivery can be carried out by commercial service providers (see Communications Consultants and Service Providers Register).
Posters: Low production costs and commercial service providers can access sites and organise ‘posting’ (see Communications Consultants and Service Providers Register). Useful for reaching specific geographical areas.
Postcards: Useful in building brands and encouraging people to seek more information on projects/initiatives.
Direct mail: Letters or other publications can be sent to affected audiences and pitched at their specific needs and concerns.
Staff newsletters: An effective means of internal communication. Use the Newsletter Register.
Public displays: Displays at shopping centres, malls and public events such as expos allow people to stop and talk and take away information. Consider using the Government’s Information Bus (see Promotional Resources Register) to reach regional areas.
Public forums/meetings: Public forums can be held independently or in conjunction with interest groups. Events can be open invitation or a selective audience, depending on the issue. A good means of encouraging community participation and gathering feedback.
Mailing lists: In addition to your own mailing lists, other agencies and/or stakeholders might have mailing lists that will reach your target audiences.
Community/industry organisations and notice boards: Appropriate community organisations can be supplied with information (flyers, publications, posters etc) for distribution to members or for display on notice boards. Using industry associations and community leaders to relay information often adds credibility to the message.
Face-to-face briefings/presentations: Writing to community/professional groups offering to talk about the initiative or supply information can help reach target audiences. Good for internal audiences (e.g. Steering Committee, senior management), particularly at the beginning and end of projects.
Briefing notes: Often a requirement to inform the Minister and Agency Executive team to signpost issues and note achievement of milestones.
Once you have selected the appropriate communication methods, you need to specify any deadlines and who will be responsible for implementing each action. The Communications Plan Template includes an action plan for recording this information. It should be updated regularly to ensure all involved parties are aware of deadlines and requirements.
A budget is essential and may help you revise your selection of communication methods. Work out the costs associated with each method and the source of funding. Don’t forget to factor in any costs for monitoring and evaluation. Record the costs in the action plan in the Communications Plan Template.
The Communications Strategy Budget Template may be useful in working out where expenditure might be required.
Remember that procurement for communications goods and services must comply with the requirements of the Treasurer's Instructions.
7. Monitoring and evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation will reveal whether you have achieved your plan’s objectives and therefore determine the effectiveness of your communications plan. This is important because of the requirement for:
Accountability: Government is accountable for its expenditure of public monies, and accountability is not possible unless the results of expenditures are measured and reported.
Continuous improvement: Evaluation is good management practice. Measuring, considering and improving approaches enables communications practitioners to refine their techniques and track the rapidly changing environments in which they operate.
Work out your evaluation methods at the start of the planning process, not at the end, because they might impact on your budget and also require action throughout the plan’s implementation. When using the Communications Plan Template, record your monitoring and evaluation methods and costs in the action plan.
To select the appropriate monitoring and evaluation methods, look at your objectives and the outcomes that need to be measured. Short-term plans will normally rely on in-house evaluation or draw on ongoing external evaluation services, such as media monitoring.
|Increase event attendance by 10 per cent||Number of people attending||Ticket sales, event registrations|
|Have 50 per cent of participants register online (rather than by mail)||Percentage of online registrations||
Record and report on percentage of online and mail registrations; compare to previous years' figures
|Have 30 non-government community organisations stage events||Number of non-government community organisations staging events||Analysis of event registrations figures|
|Increase free media coverage by 20 per cent||Positive and negative media coverage before, during and after event||In-house media monitoring and recording; compare to previous years' coverage|
Examples of methods of measurement/evaluation
- Attendance/registration figures
- Feedback via surveys, whether they are face-to-face at events, on paper (perhaps in conjunction with a competition) or online
- Recording requests for information – how many people call a hotline or email for more information
- Website statistics – number of visitors, pages visited, documents downloaded
- Media monitoring – positive and negative coverage in the media
- Focus groups following events – gather feedback in an open forum
- Remember to focus on the communication aspects of your project or your communications plan could end up being just another version of your project plan. Make sure your objectives are focused on the communication aspects of your project, not the project itself.
- Your objectives, target audiences and aims should all be linked to each other – double checking this can be helpful in ensuring that you’ve identified all of the relevant subjects in these sections of the plan. For example, each of your key messages should be targeted at one or more of your audiences, otherwise the message does not have a purpose/audience.
- Think about who needs to understand your communications plan. Make sure it is easily comprehended by parties that will be involved in its implementation (i.e. colleagues, communications staff) as well as observers (i.e. supervisors and those who might work on similar projects in the future)