Which Components in a Communication Plan and Why?

A Communication Plan consists of the following Components (read the rest of this article to find out Why):

Read below:

  • Why a Communication Plan?
  • What is Communication?
    • Send first, Learn later
    • Business Communication on 4 Levels
  • What is a Communication Plan?
    • Communication Plan: usually a Campaign Plan
    • Lasswell’s components
    • Communication Strategy vs. Communication Plan
  • The Components of a Communication Plan

Why a Communication Plan?

Companies need Marketing for making money, but they also need Communication in order to establish and maintain emotional relationships with audiences. Communication happens anyway. People think and talk about the company and its brands and products, wether the company wants it or not. A Communication Plan can structure this process and can help to get a better grip on what people think and do.

Before we make a Communication Plan, we have to know where we make it for. What can we and what can we not expect from it? What is Communication?

What is Communication?

Communication: an action of sending a message.

Often, communication is seen as an action of sending a message. But it is more! It is sharing intangible things such as information, emotions, knowledge, experiences, etc. Indeed sharing can be one-way from sender to receiver, but sharing can also be a two-way process. Then it is a dialogue, interaction in which both parties can learn from each-other. Communication can even be a process in which people develop a common experience and form a group, group-formation: commun-ication.

Communication: a two-way process of sharing information, learning from each-other.

Send first, Learn later

A process of learning from each-other takes more time and is more complicated than an action of sending a message. This learning-process can at least be divided into two actions of sending: the ‘sender’ sends and the ‘receiver’ sends back. Therefore it can be at least twice as complicated than only sending.

Ideally the company should facilitate sending and receiving in order to learn from its audiences. Sharing happens on social media-platforms and in online communities. Still it is difficult for companies to really learn from this because the information has to be applied on a higher level in the hierarchy of the organisation.

In practice, sharing information mainly means sending information. After this process is successful, companies may be convinced that communication can also be used to learn from its audiences.

Business Communication on 4 Levels

With Business Communication a Company can try to control the information, emotions, knowledge, experiences, etc. it shares intentionally and unintentionally about the Company, its Brands and its Products. (Usually this is mainly about sending a message, not about learning.)

The Company sends messages on 4 Levels. The messages sent influence the way the other messages are interpreted by the audience. For example a car-company may say in its mission statement that it wants to provide mobility for everyone, all of its Brands are upmarket, its Campaigns are more about life-style than about transportation and the website is optimised for conversion. In this example different messages are sent on different levels and the receiver can draw his own conclusion: this company wants to get my money any way it can. This is not the message that helps to establish a positive emotional relationship.

Organisational LevelStrategic Communication LevelTactical Communication LevelOperational Communication Level
What message does the Company send?What message does the Brand send?What message does the Campaign send?What message does a Means of Communication send?
Very long termLong termShort termVery short term
Infinite periodUnlimited periodLimited periodHere and now
Business Communication on 4 Levels.

What is a Communication Plan?

Which Components should we put in a Communication Plan? This depends on what you understand by a Communication Plan. As explained above, communication can be about sending, dialogue, group-formation and it can be practiced on 4 Levels. Then, Communication could mean 12 things and there could be 12 kinds of Communication Plans.

Communication Plan: usually a Campaign Plan

In practice when you are asked to make a Communication Plan you are usually expected to make a plan for sending a message via communication channels. This is communication on the Tactical Communication Level (see figure above). A Communication Plan then is a Campaign Plan. This is a Project Plan to get things done within a limited period of time.

Lasswell’s components

If we reduce a Communication Plan to a Campaign Plan then it is a plan to get things done within a limited period of time. These ‘things to get done’ can be the production of means of communication, such as a website, webpage, advertisement, brochure etc. In that case it is easy to calculate what communication costs, but not what it yields. Therefore it is better to define what Communication-effects the Campaign should have.

In short, the Communication-effects that a Campaign can produce are change in what the receiver knows, feels or does in relation to the subject of the Campaign (e.g. Company, Brand or Product).

Which Components should we put in a Communication Plan? The components of Lasswell’s verbal communication model fit perfectly with this view of a communication plan.

Lasswell’s verbal Communication Model: Who Says What in Which Channel to Whom with what Effect?

Lasswell’s Verbal Communication model. Source: http://communicationtheory.org/lasswells-model/
Lasswell’s Verbal Communication model, visualised by H.Smals

Actually, you can only answer this question after the communication campaign has ended. Only then do you know what the effect is. But you set up the campaign to achieve a desired effect. This desired effect is the goal of your campaign.

Communication Strategy vs. Communication Plan

Often, a Communication Plan is called a Communication Strategy. But there is a difference between these two. The strategy is a creative solution, it is an answer to the question: How are we going to change what the receiver knows, feels and does?

The Communication Strategy therefore answers the question in Lasswell’s verbal Communication Model.

The Communication Strategy is a creative solution, but the Communication Plan is a rational interpretation thereof. The Communication Plan consequently consists of the components from Lasswell’s Communication Model plus a Budget and Implementation (e.g. Who does what, when, which resources are needed).

The Components of a Communication Plan

Consequently a Communication Plan consists of the following Components:

  • Sender (‘Who’)
  • Message (‘Says What’)
  • Communication Mix (‘In Which Channel’)
  • Receiver/ Target group (‘To Whom’)
  • Goal (‘With what Effect’)
  • Budget
  • Implementation

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