What Is a Communications Plan?

Posted on Sep 8, 2016 in Blog, Fundamentals

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:

Business objectives

  • 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

 Brand essence

  • Institutional mission, beliefs, values, personality, position
  • Elevator speech (30-second summary describing your school to a stranger)
  • Visual identity system and style guide

 Communications objectives

  • Specific and measurable

 Messaging matrix

  • Details of target audience groups, mindsets, messages

Tactical overview

  • Executive summary of plan

 Program elements/tactics

  • 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)

 Budget summary

  • 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

Many communications plans begin with a communications audit. Interested in working with Cheney & Company? Contact us.