Strategic Communications Planning

A Presentation to IABC Ottawa


Peter O'Malley

© Copyright O'Malley Communications Inc.


(This presentation describes a methodology for communications planning for use by an internal or external consultant.)

I: Key Questions

1. What is Strategic Communications

Strategic communications means using corporate or institutional communications to create, strengthen or preserve, among key audiences, opinion favourable to the attainment of institutional/corporate goals.

Generally, the goal is to:

  • Promote "bottom line" favourable public policy outcome
  • Reduce cost of doing business
  • Support marketing/operational effectiveness

2. What is the Purpose of Strategic Communications Planning?

To define strategic, actionable goals, and an implementation approach and plan, to guide communicators and others in designing, preparing and executing strategic communications.

  • Can be a "master" plan
  • Can be an event specific or announcement-specific plan
  • "Actionable" is the key planning concept
    • The plan has support of decision-makers, key implementers
    • The plan can be implemented given the resources, and culture of the organization

3. What are the Products of Communications Planning?

Communications planning results in planning documents, which can vary is scope, and include any and all of the following elements:

  • A Planning Framework: Goals set, target audiences, strategic results identified
  • A Communications Strategy: Substantive and operational priorities and approaches defined
  • A Program Plan: Programs, program management, and program resources set to implement the strategy
  • Components Plans: Implementation plans for identified programs

4. What Are the Key Features of An Effective Planning Process

  • Should embody an iterative, orderly decision-making process
  • Should include consultation with decision-makers and key implementers
  • Must reflect the corporate/institutional culture, including:
    • The communications culture of the organization
      • Relative importance of communications in the organization
      • Communications history and style of the organization
    • The planning culture of the organization:
      • no planning, or sterile planning processes
      • what are the existing planning and approval processes?
      • what are the decision-making media, tools preferred by decision-makers?

5. What is the Role of the Communications Planner?

The communicators planner is an "expert interlocutor" who:

  • researches, analyses,and structures a conversation or a dialogue on the subject matter
  • adds value to the discussion as a participant
  • develops the consensus output -- the plan

II: Steps in developing a
strategic communications plan

Step 1. Define the planning project methodology

What is the scope?

  • Master Plan?
  • Event, issue, or program plan?

What is the decision-making process

  • Who?
  • When?
  • How?


  • Define planning approach and process
  • Define required planning product(s) or output

Step 2. Desk-top review stage

Review all relevant strategic documents

  • Corporate strategy, business plans, program plans
  • Public opinion materials
  • Media clippings, analyses
  • Key communications products

This review is used by the planner

  • to inform understanding of planning and communications culture
  • to situate strategic advice
  • to develop interview plan

Step 3. Interview phase

Identify Planning Participants

  • All decision-makers
    • Anyone who will be "at the table" to approve strategic planning proposition
  • All key Implementers
    • Parties who will be called on to implement the strategy

Conduct the interviews

  • Can be structured or unstructured
  • Can be conducted in person, or by phone
  • Should be set up in advance, be brief
  • Avoid group consultations, if possible
  • Used to identify concerns, priorities, issues, consensus
  • Results used to test propositions, develop "key findings" presentation

Step 4. Presentation Phase

Made to key decision-makers

  • No advance paper
  • Should pre-brief project authority on content
  • Covers consensus points re: setting, priorities, approaches,
  • Presents issues, options, with assessments, and recommendations

Outcome of presentation

  • Planner must accept and accommodate consensus views in drafting output
  • Another round of reviews, interviews may be required
  • Dispute resolution may be required

Step 5. Drafting Stage

Draft The Strategy

  • Goes as far as possible in defining consensus strategy and possible program components
  • Uses consensus language
  • Many templates available
  • May take another round to produce strategy and plan for approval

Produce Approval Document

  • Goes from Framework to Program plan (s)
  • Must work as stand-alone document
  • Must work as a "record of decision"
    • n.b.-- a Powerpoint Presentation is not a planning document!

Summary: The 5 Steps

  1. Define the planning project
  2. Undertake desk-top review
  3. Identify planning participants, conduct interviews
  4. Conduct "findings" and "options" presentation (s)
  5. Draft the Plan for approval

III: The Communications Planners "Skill Set"

A good communications planner needs to have...

  • Practical expertise
    • to understand the setting
    • to select the right communications tools and vehicles
    • to forecast outcomes/results of programs
  • Strategic/conceptual thinking ability:
    • to stand outside, look in
    • to know how things fit
  • "Power" writing skills
  • Process skills:
    • interviewing
    • presentation
    • facilitation
    • dispute resolution

For further information: email Peter O'Malley

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