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How to plan your Comms effectively

What is your planning process like?

A survey of over 350 senior Comms leaders revealed 38% acknowledge they don’t work to an overall communications masterplan.

Does that resonate with you?

According to global research by ICPlan and Donhead Consultants, Comms professionals who take planning seriously get better results. However, as many as four in ten professionals were found by the study not to have a clear enough plan.

Why is this important?

Communications teams that are aligned with business or organisational needs and have a master plan for supporting them “do a better job”.

Not only that, the study reveals they are “appreciated and consulted” – sounds good to me!

When it comes to thinking about Comms planning, your plan doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does have to exist.

I wanted to find out more, so I invited Dan Penton of software producers ICPlan and Liam Fitzpatrick of communications performance advisors Donhead Consultants to share their findings.

Regular readers of the All Things IC blog may remember they wrote a guest post last year appealing for Comms pros to participate. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this piece of work, I think it’s hugely valuable and welcome its publication.

You can read the whole report yourself online.

Communications Planning Report

What was the study?
The Communications Planning Report was conducted with comms leaders to understand how practitioners approach planning and whether you see any clear benefits.

It set out to research whether planning was an often overlooked tool in the communicators kit bag and, if it was neglected, why that might be the case. The authors were also intrigued to understand how communicators approached planning – what issues they included in their thinking and what themes were a low priority.

They also wanted to see if different specialisms within communications approached the challenge in special ways. For example, were internal communicators more analytical than PR generalists or were CSR leaders more or less interested in data than media managers?

I love the fact Liam and Dan decided to create this study in 2020, when the world was facing unforeseen turmoil and every communicator was tearing up their plans.

They gathered insights through a survey and via interviews and conversations with leading practitioners.

The key takeaway is that today, many communicators do not have a masterplan for what they are trying to achieve with their operations.

You may have specific timelines and tactics for individual projects, but an overall view of why they exist and how to develop is not universal.

Key findings from the research include:

  • Effective communication planners have better relationships with their leaders
  • Teams that plan get better results
  • 38% acknowledge they don’t have a clear enough communications plan
  • Those that acknowledge a lack of plan rate themselves as less successful
  • Mid-sized communications teams find it most difficult to plan.

I recommend checking out the full results as it’s packed with golden nuggets for internal communicators.

For example, here’s some advice to help you to know what to include in your planning process:

  • Where are we trying to get to?
  • Know your key audiences
  • Understand the issues that matter to your organisation
  • What is the master narrative you’re telling?

If you’re in planning mode, you’ll find the section about what communicators say they include in their plans useful.

Headings include:

  • Communications objectives
  • Messaging
  • Tactics/channels
  • Timing
  • Stakeholders
  • Strategic considerations/background
  • Business outcome or result
  • Strategic approach.

I was interested to note successful planners are more likely to integrate across disciplines and cope well with changing situations – there’s those blurred lines I’ve blogged about many times over the past 12 years.

I agree with the observation that plans are unlikely to include change control or risk analysis, that’s often missing.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: How to write an internal communication visionTypical claims

Daniel Penton of ICPlan told me: “Many communicators do not have a masterplan for what they are trying to achieve with their operations. They may have specific timelines and tactics for individual projects but an overall view of why they exist and how to develop is not universal.”

“We also found that there is a correlation between those teams that do have a clear vision of the role and the future of communications and those teams that feel they are successful. A link between teams being effective and having strong relationships with internal stakeholders was also present.”

Liam FitzPatrick, of Donhead Consultants added: “We found that the smallest and the largest teams seem to be better at planning and being aligned with each other. For the former it is probably a matter of living in a simpler world and for the latter it’s a question of necessity.

“Yet mid-sized teams seem to struggle to gather intelligence, get involved in projects at an early stage or align communications.

“Fewer than 40% of communicators in teams of between 21 and 30 practitioners said they had an overarching strategy and/or plan.”

Who participated in the research

The survey was taken by 352 respondents – around 29% of whom described themselves as either Communications Directors or as Heads of Communications.

Slightly over 72% of respondents came from Europe whilst North American’s represented 16% of the remainder of the sample.

Respondents represented a broad mix of industry sectors and organisations sizes – from the very smallest to the biggest global corporations. They also worked in teams that covered a range of disciplines from corporate comms.

Do you have a master plan

The full report on the research can be found online via the ICPlan website.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favourite parts of the report – five questions to ask to start on the road to being more “planful” and, naturally, more successful.

Five questions

  1. Do we have a master vision of communications that is aligned to business or organisational goals?
  2. Is there a clear methodology for planning communications – and does it involve our internal stakeholders?
  3. Have we got a governance process which tracks the plan, keeps messages, audiences and projects aligned, and reflects on successes and failures?
  4. Have we the skills and mindset of planners who can engage with stakeholders, cope with change and overcome inevitable barriers?
  5. Is our planning driven by data, insight, evaluation and tracking?

See why I like it? It’s important to note these questions will not always have the same answers – what works for one organisation may not be right for another. But thinking about these issues and looking for improvement is key.

Planning value chain

Want to find out more about the research? You can get in touch with Dan via or

I hope you’ve found this article helpful.

Do you need help with your Comms planning? Why not book a Power Hour with me and we can talk it through together.

Thank you for stopping by


Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 17 March 2021.

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