This is the fourth part in a series about communications plans, which are crucial tools for nonprofits and businesses. Check out part I, part II, and part III for more!
A communications plan lays out a comprehensive picture of an organization's communications goals and offers executable steps for how to achieve them. It can be created or updated annually to align with the fiscal year, or it can be developed as a companion to a 1-, 3- or even 5-year strategic plan.
In earlier posts, we offered an overview of communications plans, along with information about two crucial components of well-designed plans: clearly articulated communications objectives, and a comprehensive map of communications channels.
In this post, we're covering another important piece of a communications plan: a detailed breakdown of messaging strategy.
There are many ways to conceive of messaging strategy, but we think of it as a way to generate and manage subject matter for routine—but discrete—communications, such as blog posts, newsletters, and social media posts.
Often, these kinds of high-frequency communications are executed without a big-picture strategy in mind. That equates to a lost opportunity in reinforcing organizational vision—and it also puts the writer in the position of having to routinely scramble to source new content.
As comms managers know, that scramble can feel relentless ("What to tweet about this morning? This afternoon? Next week?" "Who's got something I can include in the newsletter this month?"). It's also super inefficient, in terms of brain space and organizational workflow. Plus, it can lead to unwanted repetition and inconsistency.
A lot of these issues can be solved with a messaging strategy. When a messaging strategy is developed as part of a communications plan, you ensure that these routine communications on-brand and aligned with important events and campaigns.
When thinking about messaging, develop general categories that can be mined for content: fundraisers, outreach, personal and organizational profiles, relevant current events or research, calls to action, quotes, thought pieces, etc. In developing those topics, think about your communications objectives: What will resonate with your target audiences? Garner stakeholder engagement? Strengthen your SEO?
As the above screen shot of the messaging section of a communications plan shows, you can then break each topic down further into subtopics that line up with what's going on in the organization.
From there, topics can be broken down even more granularly, to be scheduled on an editorial calendar*: A future event may be an occasion for multiple communications—an invitation and reminder, a thought piece from the ED exploring how the event reflects the organization's mission, an after-the-fact report of the event's success and thank you to everyone involved, links to press coverage, etc. Similarly, a volunteer recruiting push could lead to an ongoing series of new volunteer profiles and an end-of-year report celebrating volunteer-related outcomes.
Creating a messaging strategy takes a bit of up-front work. But it's ultimately an enormous time-saver that leads to more consistent, more meaningful, and more effective communications.
*If you haven't yet heard the gospel of editorial calendars—another critical tool that a communications plan sets out—now's the time to be saved!
English PhD, former arts administrator, obsessive cook, native East Coaster, mom to two rabblerousers.
English PhD, former high school teacher, obsessive organizer, native Midwesterner, mom to three troublemakers.