Communication Plan

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.


1. Create your own communication action team

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.


2. Implement a communication audit

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.


3. Conduct a situation analysis – e.g. SWOT and PESTEL analysis

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:

  • Strengths of your communication efforts – What worked well and what should be built on more?
  • Weaknesses in your communications – What did not work well and what should we improve?
  • Opportunities for your communication efforts – What could we introduce to be more effective in our communication (e.g. new strategies, influencer marketing or something else)?
  • Threats in your communication efforts – What can be a threat to your communication and the way you communicate? (Lurani and Zamparini, 2018).

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:

  • P – political factors: What are the factors in politics and at policy level that could influence your communication and work in general? There are different laws, policies and decisions made everyday that could influence the way in which you communicate your issue. For example, it can happen that the government decides to cut the funding vital to your programme. This is both a possible threat and is a political decision. Based on this, you need to think about the possible ways of how to communicate this issue to your stakeholders (e.g. press releases, letters, organising online petitions).
  • E – economic factors: How can the economy influence your communication efforts? This could include an analysis of the general economic situation and funds available (will there be enough for your organisation to survive and communicate change?), and how the possible change in financial situation and current economic trends could influence your communication efforts.
  • S – social factors: How could societal change affect your communication? This could include extreme changes in the status of people, a further violation of human rights, public perceptions of the issue you are communicating or media views. All of this could be a potential challenge in your future communication, so it is good to think about what could influence the shaping of the messages and their distribution.
  • T – technological factors: How can new developments in technology influence your communication? Here you can definitely think about new possibilities in technology that could make your communication easier (e.g. maybe some new software you need to acquire to monitor social media), but it is always a good thing to think about whether you will be able to afford the new technology in order to make your job efficient and economical. Maybe you will not have enough funds to access the new software, a new mobile with a good enough camera or the necessary equipment (video cameras, photo cameras, laptops) for your activities. This will then definitely influence your communication.
  • E – environmental factors: How can environment-related issues influence your communication? Maybe you will have to adapt your communication to be more appealing to topics that are interesting to young people (e.g. ecological protests) or maybe your geographical location can influence your communication and activities (e.g. limited scope of people to participate).
  • L – legal factors: How can legal issues influence your communication? Maybe there will be new regulations that will prohibit you from uploading certain pictures, or you may be influenced by decisions on ethical regulations that may be challenging to abide by. This can also significantly influence how we communicate and what strategies we choose.

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.


4. Set clear communication goals and objectives

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:

  • Specific – the objective needs to provide as much detail as possible (e.g. “Increase social media base” is quite vague and is not specific enough, but writing “Increase social media base by 20% in the next 12 months” is more operational and gives grounds for better evaluation;
  • Measurable – the objective ultimately needs to be measured, which means that you need to provide information that will allow you the possibility to evaluate; at this stage you can already think about what measures you will take into account to evaluate (will it be a qualitative or quantitative evaluation of the objective?)
  • Achievable – your objectives need to be achievable by your organisation; this means that they need to be challenging, but at the same time realistic. You also need to think about whether you will have enough resources, money or time to implement them in a quality way?
  • Relevant – communication objectives need to be relevant in two ways: first, you need to ask whether this is relevant for your organisation and its mission and vision? And, on the other hand, relevance can be closely connected with measurement, where you need to think about how to assess whether the goal was relevant for the target groups and stakeholders you are communicating with.
  • Timely – every objective needs to be time-bound. This means that it would be good to set a time frame in which the goal will be achieved. Some goals can take shorter to achieve, while some longer. Be realistic and do not give short time spans for achieving your goals, as this will create additional stress.

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.


5. Create a crisis communication plan

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:

  • Who is responsible for managing the crisis? When thinking about this question, we would recommend that the person who manages the crisis on a project management level should not also implement crisis communication. Therefore, it is wise to have a crisis team, who should cooperate regularly and know their own roles and which channels they can use to communicate.
  • What resources do you need? 
  • Who should be part of the crisis control team and with what responsibilities?
  • What information will you give to the public (among other things, information should be fact checked, accurate, honest, timely)?
  • Who will be a spokesperson? (Patterson and Radtke, 2009)

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.


Domagoj Moric
Domagoj Morić

Facilitator and a trainer in the field of youth. He holds MA in Communication Sciences and currently is attending PhD in the same field. For the last ten years, he has been working as consultant for public relations for different NGO’s and has implemented several campaigns related to civic education and sustainable energy. He regularly works as a trainer in the field of youth and school education. Domagoj is member of the trainers’ pool of Croatian National Agency and SALTO SEE and is also working with other NA’s and other institutions such as European Parliament and Council of Europe, as well as private companies and NGO sector.