We Have a Plan for That 

A person's hand writes in a notebook


Minerva’s approach to communications planning with our clients

If “having a plan” was a love language, it would most certainly be one of mine. 

The Minerva team is often approached with knotty communications challenges, and we love rolling up our sleeves and getting creative. While it’s tempting to jump headfirst into the work, we like to start client engagements—new and returning—with a period of deep learning that we call “discovery.” We then bring these findings to the collective drafting table to be molded into an important and guiding document: the communications plan. 

Why plan communications? 

With the constant barrage of new digital platforms, it’s easy to feel the pressure to jump on new social platforms and online trends. But rushing into the latest craze without thinking critically about how it will bring you closer to your team’s goals—or even what those goals are in the first place—can lead to a waste of time and resources. This is where a solid plan rooted in strategy and communication-specific goals can help. 

Another planning-preventable pitfall we see in our work is a laser focus on a desired outcome. Absolutely, we all want that story in the New York Times, and we can get there eventually. But why do we want the New York Times article? And what must happen first to build good relationships and position your organization’s story in a way that it’ll be picked up by the outlet in the first place? Communications planning encourages thinking for the long run and can ensure that your efforts are ultimately fruitful instead of wheel-spinning. Sounds better than throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, right?

Getting strategic in your organization’s communications activities gives you confidence that the actions you are taking will bring you closer to your overall goals and mission.  

What goes into a communications plan? 

There is no “one right way” to create a communications plan. You’ll realize after a quick Google search that there are multiple methods, definitions, and processes in use. And these are all slightly different from the method I learned from my professors and textbooks while studying public relations at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!).

For the most part, the Minerva team uses a variation of the “GOST method,” which looks to the primary components of goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics. We also encourage our clients to think hard about target audiences. 

Here is a breakdown of each component. 

Target Audiences 

Who are you trying to reach? 

Before putting pen to paper on your goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics, sit down with your team and thing about which groups of people are most important for your organization to reach. These could be a specific subset of donors, policymakers, community groups, volunteers, members, or others within your ecosystem. Be careful about using the general public as an audience. While you may be sending messages out publicly, we challenge your team to think about who among the masses you are really trying to reach to ensure your strategies will help get you in front of those people. Not all people get their information in the same ways, nor do the same messages resonate or inspire every person to act.  


What do you want your audiences to know, think, or do? 

Communications goals should present a solid idea of what your team is trying to accomplish with your communications efforts, and they should directly further your goals and mission as an organization. One to three goals will do, and they often attempt to impact awareness, attitudes, or actions. They might sound like “Increase awareness of [organization or cause],” or “Build understanding that [topic] is influenced by systemic injustice,” or “Inspire [audience] to get involved in [activity].” Remember: people need to know you exist and feel a certain way before they take action.  


How will you know you’ve achieved your goals? 

Nestled underneath each goal should be a few measurable objectives that, if met, indicate you’ve met your goal. You may have heard of SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound); apply those principles to objectives in communications planning. A good objective would be: “Grow Instagram following by 10% by December 31,” or “Secure at least 3 positive media placements by December 31.”  


What approaches will you take? 

Now that you have goals and measurable objectives in place, it’s time to think about what approaches will get you where you want to go. Think about what tools should be in your toolbox. Digital platforms? Media relations? Collaboration with partner organizations and their communicators? A strategy could sound like: “Regularly post and engage with followers on social media platforms” or “Build relationships with relevant reporters.” You don’t need to get too specific here – actions come next. 


What specific actions will you try? 

If strategies are the tools in your toolbox, tactics are what you’ll build with those tools. Tactics might outline the kinds of posts you’ll put on social media or a community event you’re planning. Tactics under a media relations strategy might be “Create and maintain a media list of reporters covering [topic]” and “Monitor reporter coverage on [topic] and send thank you emails for good reporting relevant to our work.” Social media tactics might be “Post to Instagram twice per week” and “Respond to incoming follower engagement.”

Components of this plan can be targeted to specific audiences, and that should be indicated. You can choose to nestle specific strategies under certain goals and objectives, or you can keep them more fluid. It’s up to you! 

Here is what that basic GOST structure looks like with a single goal.

Graphic showing how Goals, Objectives, Strategies, and Tactics are laid out. Goal is at the top with two objectives underneath it. Under each objective there are two strategies, and under each strategy are three tactics.

What else should be considered? 

Once you’ve mapped out your plan, you’ll want to think about how it’ll be rolled out over time. We recommend building a one-year plan that is revisited on a quarterly or twice-yearly basis. It may also be helpful to get specific about which strategies will be rolled out and when throughout duration of the plan. 

Another consideration is the team’s capacity and what you can realistically accomplish given your current resources and team structure. At Minerva, we push ourselves to be bold and creative while recognizing that capacity and fundamentals are what makes ambitious work possible (see Minerva principle “move with real-life ambition”). We hope you give yourself the same grace when rolling out your communications plan and avoid biting off more than you can chew. 

Are you ready to get serious about your communications planning? The Minerva team would love to help. Contact us! 

About The Author

Kayla McMenamin

Kayla McMenamin

Kayla has a strong affection for storytelling and an aptitude for translating complex topics into sharp messaging. While her career began more than a decade ago in strategic communications, an insatiable interest in everything health inspired her to return to school to study disparities research and behavior theory. Learn more about Kayla.