Communications - Getting your message across

Knowing what you are trying to achieve is essential to any communications plan, Ben Hurley maintains.

Image: © Daniel Kaesler/alamy
Image: © Daniel Kaesler/alamy

Whether you are a sole garden designer or large-scale grower, you may be proactively publicising your business through media stories, adverts, blogs, leaflets, events, networking and all the other ways we try to talk to people. Some of you are paying someone else to do it, but most of you will be doing bits of publicity and communications yourselves when you have an idea, urge or a moment of spare time.

But are you working to a plan? Can you say that for every bit of publicity you invest in you know what you are trying to achieve, to whom you need to talk to achieve it, what you are going to say to convince them to do what you would like and how you are going to make sure they hear it? And can you say how this contributes towards your overall business plan?

Companies waste small fortunes in time and money by trying to publicise themselves through fits and spurts of effort without sitting down and answering these basic questions. These same starter questions apply as much to a sole trader trying to grow their profile in their local area as they do to a local authority publicising their parks or a company taking on a PR and marketing agency.

You would not order plants before having at least a basic plan of a garden, employ staff without a business plan or choose machinery before a crop. If you are going to invest in communications, you will get the best value and return on your time, money and effort by ensuring that a chunk is invested upfront in developing a proper plan or strategy.

It can feel painful to talk about rather than actually doing what it is you think needs doing. You may have a healthy suspicion of consultants keen to charge for planning time, but in communications it pays to be suspicious of the opposite. An expert who agrees to implement your idea without asking these basic questions and suggesting even a basic strategy is not an expert.

There are hundreds of consultants and agencies that would be more than happy to help you develop a communications strategy. An outsider's view and specialism in the craft of communications offer great value, but armed with a pen and paper you can build your own publicity plan by asking yourself the basic starter questions and refining your answers: What do we want to achieve? Who do we need to talk to? What are we going to say to them and how are going to reach them?

The answers in your strategy form the foundation of all of your communications, whether it is a chat with a client, interview with a journalist or letter box leaflet. Your plan can also help you quickly discard efforts that may waste your time or money - from offers on branded pens to attending conferences.

Your plan will also help you to manage reactive or unplanned communications, such as ad hoc media and other requests. You can check the opportunity you are being offered against your objectives to decide whether it is going to help or hinder your progress towards them. If you do take up the opportunity, use the same messages that you have developed for your proactive plan.

Once you have answered all of the starter questions, then you can piece them together into a clear and coherent communications strategy, which could include the following elements:

Objectives

Three or four points (maximum) on what you are trying to achieve through this communications strategy and how it contributes to the overall business plan - for example, build awareness of the product among garden centre owners to increase sales by 15 per cent in the coming year.

Messages

The core messages that you want to share about the company, product, etc. They can be cherry-picked for different audiences, but one or more of them should form the basis of all your communications.

Audiences

Who it is you are trying to talk to.

Channels

The ways you have to reach your audiences - usually more than you would think - such as websites, blogs, Twitter, networking, vans, hoardings, etc.

Activities and calendar

All your planned and potential activity with communications elements that you plot onto a calendar so you - and the team if you have one - know what is happening when and can plan for it.

Measuring success

A realistic assessment of what the communications strategy could achieve and when you plan to review it.

Resources

While you may be brimming with ideas, it would be disheartening to come up with a detailed strategy for which you have neither the staff nor funding for external support to deliver. Communication strategies that fail to explicitly state who is going to do what and when quickly gather dust. Also, you may decide to shift resources or invest in new tools and training.

It is an increasingly noisy world and those with a clear plan of who they want to talk to, why, how and when are more likely to be seen and heard by the right people. They are also more likely to get the "lucky" breaks such as requests for media interviews and invites to speak at events.

As Louis Pasteur better put it: "Chance favours the prepared mind." Investing in planning and preparing to communicate - or talking the talk before walking the walk - will be time and money well spent.

Ben Hurley, Complete Campaigns & Communications


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