A communications plan is more a process than a document, and it usually develops over time. Attention must be paid to, and sub-plans made for, specific audiences as a school moves toward a fully integrated, strategic outreach approach. Too often, schools look only to the past and repeat “what they did last year,” focusing on the day-to-day tactics—fodder for web and social media, routine parent communications, and so forth.
The smart thing is to start from a higher-end mindset, building the communications plan on a foundation of strategic decisions (long-range plan, business plan, campus plan). The school’s brand strategy should be inseparable from the communications plan. A communications audit can be the first step in establishing a baseline from which to develop the plan, which evolves over time.
“Deep dive” elements in the process leading to an integrated communications plan include:
- 2 or 3 key program goals and objectives
- Target audience segments
SWOT review (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
- External factors (socioeconomics/demographics, political)
- Internal factors (resources, staffing levels)
- Competitive factors (other educational or philanthropic options)
- Why was the school established?
- How does your school compare to others who provide similar services and compete for students, faculty, funding?
Brand promise and value proposition
- What a parent, child, teacher, donor, alum, neighbor can expect from your school
- The relevance of your promise to those audiences
- Why your offer is worth the price tag
- How people view your school and your communications
- Institutional mission, beliefs, values, personality, position
- Elevator speech (30-second summary describing your school to a stranger)
- Visual identity system and style guide
- Specific and measurable
- Details of target audience groups, mindsets, messages
- Executive summary of plan
- P.R., events, direct mail, email, social media, collaterals, website, media ads, e-newsletter, etc.
- Identification of individual(s) tasked with implementation and approval groups
- Meeting schedule for staff across offices
- 12-month calendar—link tactics to audiences (spreadsheet)
- Total cost for each program element (including staff time, outsourced services)
Research and Assessment
- Before—determine school’s (internal) readiness
- During—test audience reaction to creative approaches
- After—document effectiveness (ROI) of program elements as much as possible