A communications plan, often called a communications strategy, or a strategic communications plan, is a plan to help communicate an initiative effectively and achieve the organization’s objective.
PCO guidance on writing a Strategic Communications Plan
In A Drafter’s Guide to Cabinet Documents (reference below), the Privy Council Office provides the following guidance for drafting the Strategic Communications Plan annex for a Memorandum to Cabinet (MC).
“The Strategic Communications Plan annex sets out the strategy for announcing the proposed initiative. It has a maximum length of two pages and is required for all MCs. This annex should be developed jointly by the Minister’s Office and the department or agency. The Minister’s Office supplies political analysis and strategy while departmental officials develop public service advice (e.g., background analysis).
“This annex should identify the objectives and expected results for the communications strategy. Drafters should indicate how the proposed initiative fits into the Government’s agenda. The annex should outline any significant considerations for the proposed strategy and set out how they would be managed.
“This annex should also provide an analysis of the environment in which the proposed announcement would be made, including reference to available public opinion research and analysis of the views and positions of stakeholders, provincial-territorial governments and media on the issue addressed in the MC. With regard to stakeholders, the analysis should specify which stakeholders were consulted in the development of the proposal, the method of consultation and their reactions during this process. Based on the environment analysis, the annex should describe the risks and opportunities of the communications strategy.
“Building on the public environment analysis, the annex should describe the anticipated reaction from various audiences, including stakeholders. Broad and generalized statements about the general public should be avoided in favour of describing the potential reaction of specific groups.
“The annex should also give a broad overview of the storyline and core messages for the announcement, including the links to Government priorities and the proposals’ benefits for Canadians.
“An explanation of the anticipated profile, scope and reach of the announcement (e.g., regional, national) should be provided. The annex should set out any outreach to media and stakeholders, and any events that are planned to take place in conjunction with the announcement. The annex should indicate any measures that would be taken to sustain the strategy’s message over time, including the proposed initiative’s benefits to Canadians.
“While the annex provides a broad overview of the communications approach, departments and agencies are expected to further develop detailed communications products, including the vehicles for announcing the initiative and the possible use of social media, well in advance of the proposal’s launch. Drafters should work closely with PCO Communications on development of the strategy, as well as on any further required communications approvals.” (p. 11, emphasis added)
Policy on Communications
The above guidance on drafting strategic communications plans makes it obvious that communications planning can be a highly political activity. In a Westminster government, it is therefore important to spell out the roles of pubic servants and of political staff. In the Government of Canada, this is done through the Treasury Board’s Policy on Communications and Federal Identity (reference below) which includes:
“The objectives of this policy are to ensure the following:
5.1.1 Government of Canada communications are non-partisan, effectively managed, well coordinated, clear and responsive to the diverse information needs of the public.
5.1.2 The Government of Canada considers the views and interests of the public when developing policies, programs, services and initiatives. …
“The expected results of this policy are as follows:
5.2.1 Communications within and across departments are well coordinated and integrated into all government operations.
5.2.2 Government communications products and activities are timely, accurate, clear, objective, non-partisan, cost-effective, in both official languages, and meet the diverse information needs of the public.
5.2.3 Government engages with Canadians and uses innovative methods when developing policies, programs, services and initiatives. …
“Deputy heads are responsible for the following:
6.1 Providing impartial advice and support to their minister, who is the principal spokesperson for the department, in communicating government policies, programs, priorities and decisions to the public;
6.2 Designating a senior official as head of communications to manage communications and corporate identity;
6.3 Enabling communications with the public about policies, programs, services and initiatives by ensuring that their department:
6.3.1 Provides timely, clear, objective, factual and non-partisan information;
6.3.2 Provides information in both official languages in accordance with the relevant sections of the Official Languages Act;
6.3.3 Considers the needs of official language minority communities in Canada;
6.3.4 Uses a variety of media and platforms to maximize reach, including seeking innovative ways to use technology;
6.3.5 Meets the requirements of the Standard on Web Accessibility and provides published information on request that is substantially equal for people with disabilities;
6.3.6 Considers the views and interests of the public when developing policies, programs, services and initiatives; and
6.3.7 Responds to information requests or inquiries from the public promptly without undue recourse to the Access to Information Act.
6.4 Integrating communications into their department’s emergency preparedness and crisis management planning;
6.5 Collaborating with other departments on government-wide communications activities and initiatives;
6.6 Ensuring that all their department’s communications activities support the Government of Canada’s principles of open government and its practices;
6.7 Approving annual advertising and public opinion research plans;
6.8 Approving advertising during general federal elections that is required by statute or regulation for legal purposes to inform the public of a danger to health, safety or the environment; to post an employment or staffing notice; or to undertake specific advertising that is deemed urgent; and
6.9 Championing open, transparent and collaborative communications within their departments to foster employee knowledge and awareness of departmental and government-wide priorities” (emphasis added)
Resources and how-to guides
There are many online sources of advice on creating effective communications plans and strategies. These include:
Developing a Plan for Communication, The Community Toolbox, at http://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/participation/promoting-interest/communication-plan/main, accessed 24 September 2017.
Developing a Communications Strategy, Knowhow Nonprofit, at https://knowhownonprofit.org/campaigns/communications/communications-strategy, accessed 24 September 2017.
Communications Planning, MindTools, at https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/CommunicationsPlanning.htm, accessed 24 September 2017.
Communication Planning for Organizations, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/rural/facts/03-033.htm#whatisit, accessed 24 September 2017.
Atlas topic, subject, and course
Privy Council Office (2013), A Drafter’s Guide to Cabinet Documents, at http://www.pco-bcp.gc.ca/index.asp?lang=eng&page=information&sub=publications&doc=mc/guide-eng.htm, downloaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PCO-2013-A-Drafters-Guide-To-Cabinet-Documents.pdf, 26 August 2016.
Treasury Board of Canada (2016), Policy on Communications and Federal Identity, at http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=30683, accessed 24 September 2017.
Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 24 September 2017.
Image: Johnson Strategic Communication, at http://www.johnsonstrategic.com/StrategicCounsel.html, accessed 24 September 2017.