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Center Ideas: Build a Communications Plan for Any Situation

The Region 5 Comprehensive Center offers this blog as the third in a three-part series on communications services and support for state and local education agencies.


 

When significant changes are coming, be ready to communicate with a plan that reaches all audiences.

Since communications can be complex and challenging, it’s critical for state agencies and local school districts to make plans and update them at least annually. Designing a comprehensive, strategic communications plan prepares you to respond swiftly in any situation.

 

Here are things to consider when developing a communications plan:

Communications planning is critical to effectively share public information, ensure transparency, and maintain trust.

Whether your organization has a large team or a single person, communications must be timely and accurate. The communications leader needs direct access to the superintendent and key decisionmakers and should be included in cabinet-level meetings to understand discussions, receive unfiltered information, provide input on how stakeholders may react to decisions, and prepare to respond to a crisis.

 


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    Build a Plan 

    A comprehensive, strategic communications plan includes both internal and external communications. The plan should define:  

    • Goals
    • Objectives
    • The audiences you need to reach
    • Core messages
    • Strategies and tactics to implement 

    Here’s a good checklist from the Region 5 Comprehensive Center.

    As mentioned earlier in this blog series, communications planning begins with researching current conditions. A communications audit is a nonpunitive review of current practices, tools, and tactics that provides a foundation of information for an overall plan and to update an existing plan. 

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    Incorporate Internal Communications

    After completing your research, focus on internal communications as the next step. Employees want to hear about changes from their leaders before they are surprised on social media and by the news media.

    Internal communications are easily overlooked but can provide superintendents and communications teams with the information and feedback needed to fill any gaps in employee awareness of priorities, clear up misunderstandings, and build trust through transparency. The two-way nature of effective internal communications also establishes an information-gathering system between and across offices to plan proactive communications strategically.

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    Get Feedback

    While a communications chief can draft a plan, they cannot construct a comprehensive strategy in a vacuum. Your organization’s leadership team should review the plan for their understanding and provide input. 

    When implementing your plan, use focus groups, surveys, social media, and other engagement activities to gain stakeholder feedback and understand public perceptions of policies, programs, and various issues. Listening and engagement should also be ongoing activities to gather information and ideas for storytelling. Timely, relatable stories give context to data and facts and make your plans more memorable.

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    Have a Crisis Strategy in Place

    Finally, incorporate internal and external tactics into a separate crisis communications plan. In a crisis, be first to inform all audiences and update them frequently with consistent messaging, verified facts, and as many details as can be made public to establish yourself as the most credible source of information. The communications chief should coordinate with their counterparts in law enforcement and emergency responders and schedule regular exercises to test and continuously improve their response.

    The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Supportive Schools administers the Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) technical assistance center to help state and local education agencies and their community partners manage safety, security, and their emergency response. REMS offers guidance, topic-specific resources, grant funding, tools, and training to prepare and respond to emergencies.


 

For more communications resources and support, contact the Region 5 Comprehensive Center