The Communications Plan Plan

Karen Korr
San Diego County Bar Association

In 2014, Richard Dreyfuss spoke at our Law Week luncheon.  Yes, that Richard Dreyfuss. Quoting Matt Hooper, the Dreyfuss character in the movie Jaws, our President ended his introduction of the actor by saying "we're gonna need a bigger boat."

That same year, as the SDCBA started to dive into our 5 year strategic framework, I knew that a killer whale of a project, our Association's comprehensive Communications Plan, was heading my way (see what I did there).  All I could think  at the time was "we're gonna need a bigger communications department."

While it seems like a daunting task, creating a communications plan actually is not as harried as you might imagine.  In my previous life as a public relations consultant, I created large and small scale, broadbased and targeted plans integrated multi-dimensional plans for clients all the time.  So, looking at the SDCBA as if it was my client, I created our plan as a roadmap - knowing that while we might change directions along the way - our plan was only intended to guide our efforts and provide us with a mechanism for showing others (i.e. our board and related committees) where we intended to go and how far away we were from each goal. 

The basic principles of any Bar project apply to creating a Communications Plan - your key stakeholders need to be heard.  Whether it is at a board retreat, a chair orientation, a formal survey, informal conversations, or the combination of all of the above, its important to talk to the audience or audiences your plan will serve, and get their input from the onset. 

Once you've done your research, your plan can follow a pretty traditional trajectory.  While methodologies vary, this is the system that I've used time and time again:

Prepare a Situation Analysis
This piece of the plan serves as an introduction, and gives the "lay of the land."  It should demonstrate where your communications strengths are, and also identify weaknesses and a broad overview of what you hope the plan will accomplish. 

State Your Objectives 
What is it that your plan is going to accomplish?  Are you looking to heighten your Association's visibility, or promote a particular program?  Whatever you intend to do should be clearly defined and articulated, so that your internal team and volunteer leadership are on the same page.

Define Your Target Audiences
While the audience for a Bar Association communications plan may seem obvious - our members - there may be other people or groups you are trying to reach through your messaging.  Perhaps your audience also includes the media (or the media as a conduit to the public), influential bloggers on a specific area of law,  elected officials and community leaders in your community, potential new members, other law related organizations in your area or simply anyone who lives in your geographic area.

Create Key Messages for Each Audience
Your key messages will ensure that everyone involved in the plan's execution is "singing from the same sheet" - regardless of the tactic or method of communicating.  Each audience is different, and therefore your messages should be tailored to each group you are trying to reach. 

List Your Strategies
List all strategies you intend to employ to meet your objectives.  For me, this was a combination of tactics and strategies we already employed in our day-to-day communications, and a few new initiatives designed to deliver our key messages in new ways to our target audiences.  In the strategy section of your plan, you may want to share any creative that you intend to use - new logos, ads, slogans, etc.- in order to give an even clearer direction for your leaders and decision-makers.

Create a Detailed Estimated Budget
This is where you get to ask for a bigger staff (ok, maybe not.)  Your budget obviously assignes a price estimate to each of your strategies.  I recommend developing two budgets - one that is the "dream budget" where you could have any dollar amount necessary to make your visions a reality, and one that is more practical and in-line with what your Association is likely to spend to execute the plan.  As the plan is reviewed by stakeholder groups and refined, some of the "dream" items may be incorporated in leiu of some of the smaller and perhaps less effective strategies.

Develop a Timeline
When are you going to do what?  Write it down. Remember this is just a framework for your plan and can change as needed.

As most of us NABE Comm members know, there's no better resource than our friendly section colleagues.  Before developing our plan, I reviewed many others - both from NABE peers and also from other business associations. When you present your final plan to your leadership, they may be interested in knowing what other associations are doing, particularly with respect to timeline and budget. While our plan is very specific to San Diego, as with anything Bar-related, there are concepts and messages that are clearly transferrable, and I would bet that most Bars would be able to say the same of their plans.  With high impact bar projects, I've found that sometimes its most important to just the get the draft done, then review, get input and other suggestions, re-evaluate, and rewrite as needed rather than working to create a perfect product from the onset. One of the keys is not to get too caught up in the details - you likely  have bigger fish to fry. :)