Best Practices for Developing a Strategic External Relations Plan
A strategic external relations plan is a document that outlines how your organization will communicate and engage with its stakeholders, partners, customers, media, and the public. It helps you to align your goals, messages, and actions with your vision and mission, and to build trust and credibility with your audiences.
A strategic external relations plan can help you to:
- Identify your key stakeholders and their needs, expectations, and interests
- Define your objectives and desired outcomes for each stakeholder group
- Develop clear and consistent messages that convey your value proposition and differentiation
- Select the most effective channels and tools to reach and influence your stakeholders
- Establish a timeline, budget, and responsibilities for implementing your plan
- Monitor, evaluate, and adjust your plan based on feedback and results
Here are some best practices for developing a strategic external relations plan:
1. Conduct a situational analysis. Before you start planning, you need to understand the current state of your external environment, including the opportunities, challenges, threats, and trends that affect your organization. You also need to assess your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) as well as your competitors’ performance and positioning. A situational analysis will help you to identify the gaps and issues that need to be addressed by your plan.
2. Define your target audiences. Your target audiences are the groups of people who have a stake in your organization or who can influence its success. You need to segment your audiences based on their characteristics, such as demographics, psychographics, behaviours, attitudes, and preferences. You also need to prioritize your audiences based on their importance and influence. For each audience segment, you need to create a persona that describes their profile, needs, expectations, pain points, motivations, and goals.
To prioritize your audiences, you can use a matrix that plots them according to two criteria: the level of interest they have in your organization and the level of power they have over your organization.
The level of interest refers to how much they care about your vision, mission, goals, and activities. The level of power refers to how much it can affect your success, resources, and reputation. You can use a scale of low, medium, or high to rate each audience segment on these two criteria.
Based on the matrix, you can classify your audiences into four categories:
- High interest, high power: These are your key stakeholders, who are essential for your success. You should focus most of your efforts on building strong relationships with them and providing them with regular, detailed, and personalized communication. Examples of key stakeholders are major donors, partners, or board members.
- High interest, low power: These are your supporters, who are enthusiastic about your cause but have limited influence. You should aim to maintain their interest and loyalty and encourage them to spread the word about your organization. Examples of supporters are volunteers, members, or advocates.
- Low interest, high power: These are your influencers, who have the potential to impact your organization but are not very engaged with it. You should try to increase their awareness and understanding of your value proposition and differentiation and persuade them to support or endorse you. Examples of influencers are media outlets, policymakers, or opinion leaders.
- Low interest, low power: These are your bystanders, who are not very interested or influential. You should monitor their perceptions and opinions of your organization and provide them with general information and updates. Examples of bystanders are the general public, potential customers, or competitors.
By prioritizing your audiences, you can allocate your resources and efforts more effectively, and tailor your communication strategies to each audience segment.
3. Set SMART objectives. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Your objectives are the statements that describe what you want to achieve with your plan. They should be aligned with your organizational goals and vision. For each objective, you should specify the indicators and metrics that will measure its success, such as reach, awareness, engagement, satisfaction, loyalty, conversion, retention, or advocacy.
4. Craft compelling messages. Your messages are the key points that you want to communicate to your audiences. They should be clear, concise, consistent, and credible. They should also be tailored to each audience segment and channel. Your messages should convey your value proposition and differentiation, as well as address the needs, expectations, pain points, motivations, and goals of your audiences. You should also include a call to action that prompts your audiences to take a desired action or response.
5. Choose the right channels and tools. Your channels are the platforms and mediums that you use to deliver your messages to your audiences. They can be divided into three categories: owned (such as your website, blog, newsletter, or social media), earned (such as media coverage or word-of-mouth), or paid (such as advertising or sponsorships). Your tools are the specific formats and methods that you use to create and distribute your content on each channel. They can include text (such as articles or press releases), visuals (such as images or videos), audio (such as podcasts or interviews), or interactive (such as webinars or surveys). You should select the channels and tools that best suit your objectives, audiences, messages, and budget.
6. Implement and evaluate your plan. Once you have developed your plan, you need to execute it according to your timeline, budget, and responsibilities. You also need to monitor and measure your progress and results using the indicators and metrics that you defined for each objective. You should collect and analyze both quantitative (such as numbers or statistics) and qualitative (such as feedback or testimonials) data to evaluate your performance and impact. You should also compare your results with your benchmarks and competitors to assess your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Based on your evaluation, you should adjust and improve your plan as needed.
A strategic external relations plan is a valuable tool for any organization that wants to communicate effectively with its external stakeholders and achieve its goals. By following these best practices, you can develop a plan that is realistic, relevant, and results-oriented.