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How is your comms planning shaping up for the year ahead? This new post may spark some fresh ideas for you…

by Darren Caveney

I’m not a big fan of predictions. 2020 showed us that that can be a mug’s game. So I’m not predicting a thing for 2021. Planning, on the other hand, is something we can take more control of. So, now really is the time to think about the tactics behind creating a new comms plan to give you your best chance of success in this unpredictable year ahead.

Here are 5 smart objectives which every team could undertake and try…

1. Make mental health and wellbeing your number one priority

It’s an obvious thing to say. We all know this is huge (and likely growing) issue in our industry. But putting definitive plans into practice is another matter.

At the back end of 2020 I created a Safeguarding checklist for comms teams. I believe that is a really good approach for any team to take on.

But we need to think bigger and better, wider and deeper too. By which I mean the comms team collaborating with other teams – think HR, for one – to lobby your leadership team to make this the number one corporate priority for your entire organisation. Literally, what could be more important?

Then, instead of trying to live up to good practice as a team in isolation, if the whole business is signed up it really does have a chance of taking root. It may not be simple for some but it has to be worth a try.

2. Time to audit your own work

If you haven’t already done so now would be a very useful time to audit your performance. OK, it was a wretched year and all bets are probably off due to Covid but it’s worth assessing what of your original 2020 comms objectives you did/didn’t achieve.

There are many ways to audit your own work – everything from asking your colleagues, teams and customers for feedback, through to number-crunching your performance analytics.

It can be light touch or really in-depth. You’ll know best what is going to be most realistic vs most useful to you and the team.

I created this simple 5 I’s model for self-audits. It might be a useful start point to get you into the groove.

3. Check that your top 5 corporate priorities match those of your leadership team’s

Now your corporate plan may be in a good place and still fit for purpose, or it could have been ravaged and confused by Covid. Either way, it’s an excellent time to check in to see what the expectation of your leadership team are in relation to organisational priorities. Priorities change, and they can be plentiful for many an organisation. But assumptions can be dangerous all-round.

I’ve shared the story many times about a comms review I undertook for a large council. As a part of the intelligence gathering and strategy-shaping I asked the cabinet to individually share with me their top 5-6 council priorities. At the end of the process I totted them all up we ended up with a list of 28! That’s not a criticism, by the way, it’s just a reflection on how many important services a council delivers but for sure it’s not a realistic ask of the comms team to prioritise and deliver against them all.

So, run a session internally with a broad range of key colleagues and ask the question: Where do you want us to focus our communications resource in 2021?

4. Refresh your comms strategy

Now is the perfect time  – OK, best time – to do this. Whether you want it to kick in from January or from the start of the new financial year this is an important time and one which really could dictate how your comms year pads out.

Once you have audited your effectiveness, and checked in with your leadership team on their top priorities, it’s time to shape or refresh your communications strategy.

Ideally you would do this together as a team. Face-to-face. But we still don’t have that luxury but you could absolutely do it via Zoo, Teams or Google Meet.

You could chunk it up into sections save being on a video call all day, and you could split some of the tasks across the team by breaking off into smaller teams or individuals to work on specific sections of your plan. But whatever you do don’t leave it to one person to write up your new strategy.

What if you’re a team of one or two? Well you could ask colleagues from other departments for some input. Comms don’t necessarily have the exclusive rights on all of the good ideas and external insight can be helpful.

You could ask comms pros from other organisations to sit in on a session or two too. You could then return the favour when it’s their turn as type of buddying arrangement. Failing that ask someone external who has created strategies for organisations and understands the pressures and expectations on you. I’ve done this for teams and it’s always an enjoyable, fun and useful process.

Once you have a draft, test it with a few trusted sources.

Refine and polish and then, once you’re happy with it, get it on the agenda to present to your senior leadership team. Their feedback – and very importantly, green light to proceed – is key to its internal buy-in and resultant impact.

What are the best approaches, methods and templates?

Well you could go old skool and use ROSIE, or you could go full OASIS. Or could you could try my popular essential comms planning guide, together with its free planning worksheets – It’s been downloaded over 5k times now and it’s still by go to comms planning tool.

5. Review your skills matrix

When was the last time you or your team looked at your skillset?  Staff changes, the impacts of 2020 and new priorities for 2021 probably mean that it’s time to check in on where your team is strong, and where the gaps are and so could use some development.

In terms of strengths make sure they are being applied across the new campaigns you’ll develop and deliver to support your newly agreed priorities.

And we all have gaps in our own skillset and development. It’s totally natural and absolutely not a weakness. But it’s smart to identify what they are and seek out opportunities to address them wherever possible and practical.

Your organisation may have a process or a template for all of this. I shared my own Comms team skills matrix with comms2point0 eMag subscribers last year (what do you mean you’re not subscribed? You can sign up below) Drop me a note if you would like a copy of my skills matrix.


Nail those 5 practical steps and 2021 could be a year of achievement and progress despite the challenges it will inevitably throw at us all.

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of specialist consultancy Creative Communicators Ltd

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Image via Tullio Saba

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

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