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Module 2: Creating a Communications Action Plan (part 2)

 Hand connecting boxes and lines on a whiteboard 

If you’ve completed Part 1 of this module, congratulations! You’ve laid the foundation for a strong communications plan. Now, it’s time to put the pieces together. Knowing how to distill all of the data you’ve collected into a useable communications action plan may seem overwhelming. The process becomes easier, however, if you ask yourself two questions:

  1.  “Why?" Before you can create a communications plan, you need to know why you’re communicating in the first place. Do you want to sell a product? Educate someone? Raise awareness about a cause? Rally your supporters? Raise money? Challenge a stereotype? Having a clear idea of what you want to achieve will allow you to set your communications goals. It’s okay to have many reasons for communicating, but if you have limited communications resources, it’s often more productive to hone in on just a few at a time.
  2. “Who?” What audience are you trying to reach? Are you trying to connect with members of your organization like athletes and coaches? Fans of the game? Members of the media? People who have never heard of your sport? Most organizations will have multiple audiences. Once you identify your audience(s), list what you know about them. What do they currently believe? What do you want them to believe?

With these two “W”s in mind, it’s time to create your communications action plan. Make sure to download our Communications Action Plan Template to guide the process.

Table of contents: 

Step 1: Set your goals  

G is for Goals  

A goal is the change that you want to make, such as “Increase ticket sales for our major tournament by 30%” or “Sell out our new youth program.” In other words, a goal is where you want to end up. You’ll use objectives and tactics to help you get there.

    Communication experts often say that goals should be “SMART,” which stands for:

    • Specific: Your goal should be concrete enough that you’ll be able to both accomplish and evaluate it. For example, it’s easy to say, “I want to start running,” but it’s harder to say “I want to follow this training plan so that I can run a half marathon next June.”
    • Measurable: In order to evaluate your progress, you should be able to track your goal using metrics. A goal like “raise awareness of our sport,” cannot be evaluated, while a goal like “Increase traffic to our Facebook page by 30%” can be easily measured.
    • Achieveable: Your goal should be realistic. This is not to say that you shouldn’t reach for the stars. Your goals, however, should be largely within your control. For example, I can create an amazing sports highlight video, but making it go viral is beyond my control. With hard work, I can increase the media attention my sport receives, but I probably can’t make the athletes I work for a household name within a year if they’re currently unknown.
    • Relevant: Your goal should have a high priority within your organization. For example, if your website is badly out of date, updating it would be your number one goal. All other goals would come later.
    • Timely: Without a timeline, your goals can languish. Your goal should have a clear deadline.

    Using the data you accumulated in Part 1, come up with one to three communications goals for your organization.


    Step 2: Turn your goals into objectives

    Bulls eyeYour objectives are the actions needed achieve your goals. While many communications planners separate out ‘objectives’ from ‘strategies,’ for our purposes we’ll combine them into one. There are dozens of possible ways to achieve every goal. Using the research you did in Part 1 of this module, pick the objectives that are right for your organization. Questions that you might consider are:

    • What has worked for us in the past?
    • What challenges have we encountered?
    • What audiences are we trying to reach?
    • What are other organizations doing successfully in this area?
    • What does our research tell us is the best practice for achieving this goal?
    • What is our budget for achieving this goal?
    • How much time do we have to devote to this goal?

    The number of objectives each goal needs depends on the magnitude and complexity of the goal. For example, if your goal was to increase your tournament’s ticket sales, your objectives might look like this:

    GOAL: To increase our tournament’s ticket sales by 30%.

    OBJECTIVE #1: Create a robust social media marketing campaign to promote ticket sales.

    OBJECTIVE #2: Pitch stories about our sport to major magazines and blogs.

    OBJECTIVE #3: Turn our supporters into spokespeople for our event by giving them the communications tools to broadcast our message.

    OBJECTIVE #4: Create and distribute posters, flyers and promotional postcards.


    Step 3: Turn your objectives into tactics

    Tactics are the concrete steps you’ll take to carry out your objectives. Each tactic should tell you:

    • What action you’ll take;
    • Who is responsible for taking it;
    • How long it will take to complete the action and/or when it is due;
    • What tools or additional resources you will need;

    Here is an example of a few tactics in action:

    Objective: Pitch stories about our tournament to major newspapers, magazines and blogs.
    Tactic Who? Timeline Supporting materials/people
    Update our current media list Comms manager 2 days, ASAP Media database
    Interview athletes and coaches to discover interesting stories for our story bank. Comms manager During March camp. Team managers
    Create a storybank Comms manager By April 1st  
    Identify milestones to build press releases around (100 days to go, announcement of Canadian national team, etc) Comms manager varies Coaches, team managers, organizing committee
    Create a hometown media list for each national team athlete Comms manager ASAP  

    The number of tactics you’ll need depends on the complexity of your objective.

    Create a list of tactics for each of your objectives.


    Step 4: Evaluate your plan

    Man sitting in office chair thinkingIf you’ve followed the first three steps, you should have the basic outlines of a communications action plan. Now, it’s time to refine it. Read through your plan and ask yourself:

    Is this feasible given my time and budget? Have I left myself some wiggle room? When I started creating communications action plans, I would inevitably get excited by all the many great ideas I wanted to bring to life over the next year. I’d wildly underestimate the time that every project would take, promise the sun, the moon and the stars, and end up having to explain to the powers-that-be at the end of the year why, though I accomplished a great deal, I was unable to make every athlete I work with a household name and totally redesign the website on a budget of $250, triple the number of participants recruited through social media. send out an endless array of e-blasts and press releases and, oh yeah, also keep up with all of the daily meetings and emails.

    In the era of social media, responsiveness is a key to any good communications strategy. Maybe a viral meme like the Ice Bucket Challenge will sweep the Internet and you’ll want to create your own version. Maybe you’ll run into an unexpected stumbling block and end up needing more time. By building a buffer into your communications action plan, you’ll have room to take advantage of opportunities or great ideas without having to sacrifice another aspect of your plan.

    Do I need to fill in any gaps? Does your plan flow naturally from your goals to your objectives to your tactics? If not, identify potential stumbling blocks. For example, perhaps you’ve promised to create a poster, but you don’t have the budget for a graphic designer. Identify how you’ll fill the gap, or adjust your plan.

    When and how will I evaluate my progress? It’s hard to grow if you never sit back and evaluate your progress. In fact, some experts believe that 10% of a budget should be devoted to evaluating the project’s success.

    Ask yourself:

    • When will I evaluate my communications goals? Quarterly? Twice a year?
    • Who will help me evaluate my goals?
    • Who will help me adjust my strategy if needed?
    • What methods will I use to evaluate my goals? (Analytics, surveys, other metrics, etc).
    • What baseline metrics will I use to evaluate my progress? (See Part 1 for more information on creating a baseline).
    • How will I present my findings?

    Step 5: Create a timeline

    One month of a calendar

    It’s easy to create a communications action plan, then stick it on a shelf and not refer to it until it’s time to write next year’s communications action plan. Instead, turn your plan into a timeline or calendar by sorting each tactic chronologically. It may be helpful to display your timeline on your office wall. Sorting your data into this format will also help you anticipate potential busy periods so that you can either adjust your plan and spread out your workload or, if this is not possible, recruit assistance to help you complete your work.



    Step 6: Craft your key messages


    Every organization should have three to five key messages to guide its communications efforts. Many communications experts like to craft their key messages before they write their action plan, but others believe that you won’t be able to fully hone your key messages without creating the plan first. 

    Each key message should be a concise, well-crafted statement of no more than 15 to 20 words that describes what you want your audience to know about your organization. Think of key messages as the “bumper sticker messages” of your organization. Some organizations also like to craft an “elevator pitch” that distills all of their communication efforts down to 27 words, 3 points and 9 seconds.

    When writing your key messages, pay attention not only to the content, but also to the language you use, the mood, the tone and the level of detail and formality. You will likely have to edit your key messages several times.

    Here are some examples of key messages:

    • Wheelchair rugby changes lives by building strength, confidence and independence.
    • Wheelchair rugby is an exciting, hard-hitting sport that it was originally called Murderball when it was invented.
    • Motocross is the fastest sport on two wheels.
    • Everyone is welcome in softball.

    You will note that many of these key messages are intended for different audiences. The first key message, for example, is aimed at recruiting wheelchair rugby athletes. The second is geared towards the media.

    List three to five key messages for your organization.


    Step 7: Now it’s time to get to work!


    A hand doing a thumbs upIf you’ve reached this step, your communications action plan is complete and now the fun part begins: putting your plan into action! Over the next year, we’ll help you create innovative content, maximize your resources and engage the media and other partners. If you’ve looking for advice on social media best practices, make sure to check out the viaSport Social Media Toolkit.

    If you have questions or comments about this module, get in the conversation by tweeting at @arley_mcneney or @ViaSportBC or emailing



    Click here to download this toolkit as a PDF

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    Sources for Part 1 & 2:$file/R74_Evaluation_Guidelines.doc


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