Planning communication brings several benefits, such as more support from sponsors or local activities, better reputation, more trust and recognition of your work, and can also help in attracting participants to activities. However, for some organisations this can be quite a challenging task, as it is hard to kick off the process. Here, you can find several simple steps that will help you in planning and strategising your communication.
The first step in planning and strategising your communication is to have a group of people who will help you in researching and implementing your communication: a good way to do this is to implement what Patterson and Radtke (2009) have outlined as a Communication Action Team (CAT). The CAT should oversee the research and communicate with consultants, if necessary, in order to create the best possible plan. Consultants can be communication consultants, who can help you in the definition of trends, or researchers if you need to carry out research to see what your weak points in communication are. The CAT is also responsible for implementing the plan; therefore, it needs to meet regularly, as is deemed necessary. Usually, it would be good to meet once every week (or once every two weeks) to evaluate the effects and impact of communication and to think about the next steps and further communication actions, based on the plan. The CAT can be a body composed of different people within your NGO (communication person, director, employee or even volunteers). The more diverse the team is, the more opinions and angles of the issue you will receive. So, determine who your team is and how often you will meet. More information about communication action teams can be found here.
According to Patterson and Radtke (2009), the first task of the CAT team should be the implementation of a communication audit of the organisation. This means mapping and evaluating your communication efforts. The communication audit helps you to see if you have reached your communication objectives, whether the messages reached their target groups, what team members think about the internal communication and what strategies and messages worked the best overall. A communication audit can be performed for communication within a certain time frame, meaning that your CAT should decide what time it will be audited (whether every 12 months, 24 months or more). The results will give you an overview of what needs to be improved, what ought to be discarded and what should be definitely kept as good practice (Zeldin, 2020). More information about the communication audit can be found here.
In your work, you may have implemented some kind of SWOT and PESTEL analysis. This will help you to oversee the current and future situation regarding your communication efforts.
Even though SWOT analysis is widely used, it can provide you with a large amount of data to plan your communication efficiently and strategically. SWOT analysis consists of detecting the following:
On the other hand, it is beneficial to analyse what is not widely utilised and is associated with detecting future factors that could influence your communication efforts. This analysis is called PESTEL and it is closely connected with SWOT analysis. SWOT analysis is implemented to detect internal and external factors, whereas PESTEL analysis is solely focused on potential external factors that could influence your decision making, communication and the actions you implement. According to UNICEF (2015), PESTEL analysis looks to detect the following:
It is always recommended that you use both types of situational analysis to acquire a thorough overview of the internal and external factors that could influence your potential communication. More information on SWOT and PESTEL analysis can be found in this document produced by UNICEF.
Once you have conducted your situation analysis, it is then good to think about what your communication goals and objectives would be.
Communication goals are targets that you want to achieve within a certain period of time. They are broad and give some kind of direction (e.g. increasing the visibility of the organisation, increasing the reputation management of the organisation, cultivating better relationships with our target groups).
On the other hand, you should set communication objectives that are specific and are evaluated when you finish with your communication efforts. According to Doran (1981), who coined the term SMART, every communication objective should follow the SMART formula, which says that every objective should be:
It is worth mentioning that you need to pay close attention to the objectives and goals of your organisation (mission and vision) and to plan your goals accordingly.
A crisis can happen at any time in your organisation. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines crisis as “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending”. In the communication world, crisis means that you need to communicate honestly and openly to everyone affected. There are many situations you could encounter in your work. For example, in the COVID-19 pandemic, young people can be stuck abroad and unable to return home because of flight cancelations. This situation also includes parents who may be worried about the health and safety of their children, but also includes young people who may be anxious because of the situation. This means that you will need to communicate quickly and honestly and provide the information you have in the moment. Your task will be to calm the situation and try to resolve it in the best possible way. On the other hand, you could have an accident happen during a youth exchange event you are organising. Communication here is also crucial, as it can help you get your message across and ease the emotions of everyone involved. There are also some other cases which could occur for your organisation. Crisis can also appear if your project tackles culturally or politically sensitive topics and another organisation attacks your project or organisation, trying to create distrust and even maybe stop some activities.
Based on all of these possible crisis situations described, it is always a good idea to have a crisis communication plan, which is a set of guidelines used to prepare a business for an emergency or unexpected event (Hubspot, 2020). If a crisis happens, it is important to implement some kind of a plan or risk assessment. Perhaps you will communicate with politicians about hot potato issues or organise a large protest to support your cause – in either case, it is good to consider potential risks.
When you think about a potential crisis, you should answer these essential questions:
Bear in mind that communication needs to be clear, relevant and honest from the beginning. Also, a crisis usually lasts for some time, so it will not be resolved with a single press conference or press release. Be prepared to have more press events and intense media relations.
Sometimes, it might also happen that you misjudge a situation as a crisis. For example, you might have a huge conflict happening within your organisation, and sometimes people perceive this as a crisis situation when it’s not. So, it’s always a good idea to think about analysing and evaluating risks. You can read about analysing and evaluating risks in this article from Business Queensland.