Laura Petrolino

Context is Key for a Successful Communications Plan

By: Laura Petrolino | January 7, 2019 | 
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Context is Key for a Successful Communications PlanI have a horrible absentminded streak when it comes to certain daily activities.

I believe it’s because I’m simply way too busy thinking higher, world-changing thoughts.

I honestly don’t remember a time in my life I wasn’t this way. As a result, I’ve developed a variety of life hacks in order to operate as a normal, functioning human being. Not to mention one who doesn’t spend 70 percent of her days just searching for her car keys (only to find them in her hands…or refrigerator).

Most of these include adding context to things like where I parked my car or where I left my keys, so I can follow a full story to find my way back home. The context vs. the individual event is crucial for making the story come together successfully.

The same holds true for your communications plan.

Context is Crucial for Communications Plan Success

context /kantekst/ noun — the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

It is impossible to have an effective communications plan without context…and certainly impossible to grow an organization without it.

You can create the BEST, most creative, and innovative plan in the world, but if it doesn’t fit into the current context of your organization it will fall short.

Take two of your favorite books. Remove your favorite character from one and place him or her in the story and environment of the other. It doesn’t work. The story isn’t as compelling. Context is key to pull everything together. It IS the story.

A Successful Communications Plan Considers the Big Picture

When putting together a successful communications plan for the year ahead, context needs to be considered within at least five major categories.

  • Goals
  • Environment
  • Team
  • Technology and resources
  • Budget

Goals Need Context. Context Needs Goals

When you set your goals, it is important to look at them from short- and long-term perspectives.

While your 2019 communications plan might focus on where you want to be at the end of the year, that yearly goal needs to be built within the context of your five and ten-year goals.

It is more common than one might think to see organizations build short-term goals that are not compatible with their long-term goals.  

Questions you should ask yourself include:

  • What does success look like in five years? Ten years?
  • What do the possible paths to that future goal look like?
  • What steps do we need to take this year to move down that path effectively?

Don’t Let Environmental Forces Blow Your Communications Plan Away

The environment you operate in effects the way your business runs, how you communicate internally and externally, and whether your company succeeds or fails.

Therefore, you must consider it when putting together your communications plan.

As a business leader, it’s your responsibility to understand what is going on in the world around you—economically, politically, socially, and culturally.

As well as the environment in your specific industry.

To understand the context of environmental forces you must analyze what’s happening around you, look at trends, and prepare for the road ahead.

Questions you should ask yourself include:

  • What does the economy look like this year? What is the economic forecast for the next several years?
  • How will governmental activities affect our business (elections, laws, healthcare, national and global conflict)?
  • Do we need to re-examine the timing of initiatives or innovations to maximize environmental opportunities?
  • Do we need to change our messaging to adjust to the current climate?
  • How will environmental factors affect our employees and/or HR needs?
  • What’s the outlook for our industry? 
  • Is there the potential for policy changes that might affect our industry or our particular role in it?
  • How can we be proactive in lessening environmental disruptions?

Does Your Team Fit Your Plan?

(And does your plan fit your team?)

This means taking a hard look at your strengths and weaknesses, as well as that of the rest of your team, and creating a communications plan which accounts for both.

Afterall a communications plan is only as good as the team available to push it forward.

This means you can:

  1. Build a plan around the team you have and their capabilities and/or potential. 
  2. Build into your plan the hiring of the right team to execute the plan you want.
  3. Or, you can land somewhere in between, which is the reality for most organizations.

The best way to do this is the figure out where you have holes in your current team and then determine how to best accommodate them based on budget, time, organizational structure. and management capability.

I recommend Built To Sell to help frame how you think about your current (and future) team.

Questions you should ask yourself include:

  • Where do we have gaps in our skill sets and strengths?
  • How should we adjust our strategy to accommodate these gaps?
  • Do we need to realign roles in order to best maximize each team member?
  • Will our organizational structure support our plan?
  • How about our culture and internal communications?

Technology and Resource Limitations

You must build your communications plan in terms of your current resources.

Do a resource audit prior to finalizing your plan and if you don’t have your ideal technology or resource solution, get creative.

With the DIY of the digital world, in most cases, you can find a poor man’s version of your ideal solution. But plan this upfront, along with any necessary upgrades. Make all of those part of your plan so you don’t have surprises.

Show Me The Money

The same holds true for the overall budget.

The budget should be one of the first things you determine before you sit down to build your communications plan.

Set a realistic budget and then clearly understand how and where you will allocate.

Lay out the numbers and see what will and will not fit.

And, just like with your technology needs, don’t be discouraged.

See a limited budget as a blessing, not a curse. It forces you to be more creative and efficient with your time and resources. Which is good for every organization.

Likewise, if you have a huge budget, act like you don’t.

Force yourself to maximize opportunity on a smaller budgetary scale and then devote extra to the areas which prove to be effective.

Evaluate Your Communications Plan Intelligently

The answers to these questions, and the associated deep dive they will require, force you to effectively evaluate the plan you put in place.

Context gives you a communications plan that doesn’t just look good on paper, but that works successfully in practical application.

About Laura Petrolino


Laura Petrolino is the chief client officer at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She also is a weekly contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.