January makes us think seriously about what we’ll do in the next 12 months. Developing an annual communications calendar clarifies your plan of action and sets you up for productivity.
Crafting a communications calendar is simpler than creating a strategic communications plan. With a calendar, you have a finite amount of time, a set of tactics to implement and events on your organization’s general calendar to work around.
Together, your strategic plan and your annual calendar give structure and power to your communications program.
Preview the Challenges
Before slotting anything in, preview variables that will effect calendar decisions.
- What criteria will be used to measure communications success?
- Are your messages, target audiences and activities changing this year? If so, allot time to prepare for the changes.
- How will the availability of money at different times of year affect the timing of activities?
- What has previous experience taught you about the time and personpower needed to complete various projects? Should you budget time differently than in the past? When will help from other departments, interns or contractors be possible?
Fill in the Blanks
Next, start filling in the calendar. Begin with fixed commitments. At a nonprofit where I worked, these included board meetings, funder meetings, educational events, a lobbying day and an awareness month. We pegged communications tasks and timetables to these events.
Then add to the calendar weekly, monthly or other periodic communications projects. At the organization I mentioned this included a quarterly print newsletter, bi-weekly e-news, and periodic email alerts to grassroots supporters involved in media and policy outreach.
With all of these fixed items scheduled, you can see what time remains open and apportion it to other activities in your strategic plan. Differentiate between evergreen needs and those tied to certain times of year as you make choices.
As you go along, check your work against your strategic plan. Have you allocated time to act on each strategy mentioned? Are there ways you can meet multiple goals in one stroke?
Think of your complete calendar as a first draft. Set it aside for a day. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, you may notice gaps or think of better ideas.
Ask for feedback on your revised plan from the communications team that will carry it out and perhaps from other teams involved.
A communications calendar, like a strategic plan, is a forecast of what will happen. Because it can’t anticipate every possible occurrence, revisit your calendar with your team every two or three months. This way you’ll be best prepared to benchmark progress and accommodate changing circumstances.
In January, taking a panoramic view of the year can be daunting. Yet when you systematically plan a 12-month communications calendar that implements your strategic plan, you can enter the new year confident of where you’re headed, how you’ll get there and when.