Simply put, a strategic communications plan is a description of a company’s marketing and communications goals and activities. And it should be treated as an essential document for any company, especially a start-up. While every plan should include a few key sections (outlined below), there is no single, one-size-fits-all approach that works for every business. A communications plan for a restaurant will be much different than one for a hospital, for example. But here is a snapshot of the crucial elements that every plan should include.

An Overview

This opening section describes the nature of the business and how it plans to grow through strategic communications and marketing.

Background Research

Arguably, the single most important feature of any communications plan is the background research and analysis. After all, how can you be expected to tell your company’s story if you don’t know much about the industry in which you operate? Generally this background research will identify the current market size, segmentation, target customers, growth opportunities, risks and competitors. In addition a SWOT analysis for the company itself would be helpful here.

Establish Your Mission, and Your Messages

Now is the time to define your brand, your products, your company and your value proposition to the market.

State Your Goals

Goals should be simply what you want your communications to achieve. These are specific, measurable outcomes: a percentage of market share, annual sales, growth into certain markets, etc.

Define Your Strategy

Strategies are the initiatives that will allow you to realize your goals. These should answer the question of “how” the company plans to communicate to its customers. For example, a restaurant might devise a strategy for becoming a go-to family gathering place on Monday nights, in the hopes of meeting its overall revenue goals. Or, a backup software company might create a strategy for focusing on a certain customer niche, like publishing companies or law firms, in order to support its own expectations.

Define Your Tactics

These are the tools of the trade. Identify the channels of your communications strategy here, such as social media, blogging, digital advertising, direct response marketing, or media relations. Be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to simply list a bunch of marketing channels – describe how they will be used. Consider the strategies you’ve identified above. Do your tactics support them?

Build a Schedule and a Budget

Now that you have a set of tasks to complete, put them on a schedule. Identify who “owns” each task, and list anticipated completion dates. Keep your team accountable and abreast of approaching deadlines. Also, is your marketing and communications budget in line with the strategies you plan to implement? Talk with vendors, publishers, printers and anyone else that can give you the necessary cost information to make sure what you’re planning falls within your budget.

Keep it Alive

You’ll put a lot of work into this plan. The last thing you want is to see it relegated to a dusty corner in someone’s office. Marketing and communications strategies evolve. You might have to prioritize certain goals over others. Test and measure what’s working and update your plan accordingly.

Timing is everything. We hear this every day and it pretty much applies to every facet of life. The same can be said for luck – lucky in love, lucky at work, etc.

Timing and luck can also be perceived as key factors in building visibility with the media.  While I certainly subscribe to the notions of luck and timing, I also know that expertise, coupled with some finesse and cleverness, can also result in positive outcomes.

In our business, timing and luck are often married to each other – especially when it comes to working with the media. If you think you have a compelling story angle or perspective and you catch the right reporter, in the right mood, and with open ears, you might wind up with an interview and ultimately an article. However, without the creativity that is born from a little finesse and cleverness, the odds of grabbing a reporter’s attention might be slim.

These days, reporters are more overwhelmed than ever as newsrooms grow smaller while social media continues to explode. Most reporters sift through hundreds, if not thousands, of emails per week – and that is just the ones with captivating subject lines.  How you say something is just as important as what you say. Combine this with some luck and the right timing and you may have found a formula for media relations success.

Law firm public relations is a tricky and competitive business. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the United States has about 759,000 lawyers. When a national news story of legal importance breaks, many of them would love to be a quoted source of expertise within that story. Unfortunately, the math suggests that most will be disappointed if they simply email the Wall Street Journal, offering to contribute. So what is an enterprising, media-friendly attorney to do?

Find your niche. And no, your practice area doesn’t count. It is a starting point. For example, for every attorney that focuses on United States patent law, there are thousands with the same qualifications. By narrowing the scope of your media relations efforts, you winnow the field, qualify your story prospects and better your chances of responding in a timely and helpful fashion to specific media opportunities. Go beyond “patent law” and find areas that match your background on which to focus. The human genome. Business method patents. Semiconductors. Major litigation. Something, anything, that creates a more specific public relations agenda will do wonders for your efforts.