We need to talk about planning

If I asked you how you feel about Comms planning, what would you say? Do you find it easy or difficult? What techniques do you use?

Over the past few weeks, readers of my Water Cooler email newsletter have been testing a new Comms plan on a page for me. It forms part of an upcoming How to be an internal communicator Online Masterclass I’m writing. I’ve been fascinated by the responses and have revised it based on your feedback, thank you.

Add your name to my wait list to find out news about my Online Masterclasses first. I shared an exclusive video revealing the first course topics earlier this week and can’t wait to launch them soon.

Today I have a guest post for you by author and consultant Liam FitzPatrick, partnering with ICPlan. He’s here to announce a new study into how communicators plan (or not). It’s time we took a long hard look at ourselves he says.

They’re launching a survey today, see below for more info. You can take the anonymous survey here to contribute to their work and I encourage you to do so.

I’ll hand you over to Liam…

We need to talk about planning

For years I’ve been preaching about communications planning. Without clarity about the results we want to deliver and an idea of how we’ll get them, I’ve written, lectured, advised and taught, that we just a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs.

And I have mostly been preaching to the choir.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagreed with the notion that we’re into delivering outcomes rather than outputs. Few practitioners would advocate just getting out and doing ‘stuff’, in any old order, in any old way. Most comms people I meet seem to actually love a plan.

But study after study seems to suggest that we’re unsure how good we are at planning or feel that we’re missing a trick. Shock headlines about the failure of comms professionals to actually deliver business results often talk about a gap between what the business strategy needs and what comms delivers.

In many recent studies, comms people have said that they think planning is important but somehow it just doesn’t work for them. If we’re being honest, we all recognise the truth that planning doesn’t always happen as we know it should. But why or how that is, is unclear.

I think it’s time we understood the issues a little better.

A million reasons why

Conversations with communicators who manage external and internal communications suggest a number of possible reasons why we don’t live up to our own rhetoric. Sometimes there isn’t time, maybe senior stakeholders won’t engage with us or perhaps the team can’t agree on what a plan looks like. I also know professionals (and I plead guilty to occasionally being one of them) who make plans so perfect and elaborate that they collapse as soon as they are unveiled. Often, great plans are too inflexible to cope with the reality of life or were never integrated across the whole communications mix.

There must be a million reasons why, after decades of communicators calling for a more strategic and better planned approach, we’re still not getting it right. It would be fantastic if we knew what the barriers are and had some ideas about how to overcome them.

I’ve been working with Dan and Madeline Penton at ICPlan to understand the issues that affect how we develop and implement our strategies. We’ve developed a survey which we’re launching today and we’d love communicators of every type to invest a few minutes in telling us what influences their approach to planning.

You can take the anonymous survey here.

It will take around ten minutes to complete and after some demographic questions, asks about how communications are planned in your organisation as a whole, how you approach planning for individual projects and what helps or hinders implementation in your world. Along the way there are questions about who is involved in developing your plans and how plans are signed off.

The aim of the exercise is to build up a picture of how people approach planning and where there are common challenges.

Importantly we’re hoping that people from across the range of communications disciplines are involved in the research. It will be interesting to know if IC people approach strategy in the same was as colleagues in media relations or public affairs for example. And we’ll also get a picture of how integrated plans are – are IC and external teams applying similar tools and working to deliver consistent messages?

By taking part in the study, practitioners will provide a foundation which can be used for training newcomers to the profession and for sharing good practice. The project is open to communicators around the world, so we’ll also learn from how people in different geographies tackle similar problems.

Our aim is to complete the field work and analysis over July and August and report the results in September. Respondents who want to receive a copy of the research report can leave their email address at the end of the questionnaire.

We’re also donating $1 to charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors without Borders Coronavirus Crisis Appeal for every complete answer (up to a maximum of $1,000). However, giving a few minutes now could make a real difference to how we work as a profession.

The study is anonymous. We are promising that results won’t be presented in any way that allows individuals or organisations to be identified.

Post author: Liam FitzPatrick.

Liam FitzPatrick is the co-author of Successful Employee Communications and works with organisations who want to improve their communications operations. ICPlan offers software platform and consultancy support to help communications teams create and monitor integrated plans.

Thank you Liam, do check out the survey and share your views. If you want to know more about Successful Employee Communications book, see this blog post: How to make internal communications add up.

Will I see you online tonight?

Every Wednesday evening I’m live on LinkedIn and Twitter alongside my friend Chuck Gose, thanks to SocialChorus. We’d love you to join us at 8pm BST, 3pm EST, for our fourth episode tonight. Sign up here for free. You can also catch up on any you’ve missed by watching the replays.

Thank you for stopping by,


First published on the All Things IC blog 3 June 2020.

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