Communication Planning: Essentials

For purposes of this resource, research and analysis are assumed complete.

This document discusses the essential components of a communication plan. At the end of this document, there is a simple template that can be used to begin your planning effort.




To begin your district’s communication planning, formulate key messages. Key messages answer the questions: “What do I want the audience to know?” and  “What do I want the audience to do with the message?”  Also, consider, “What do I want people to repeat after the message is delivered?”

Strive to keep your messages short and clearly stated.

 “Our taxes are below the state average and our test scores are well above the average.”

Include no more than four key messages – and three would be better – for one communication plan. Once you know the answers to those questions then write down your key messages!

For your key messages to be effective, they must also address what is important to your target audience.  Key messages should be direct, simply stated and contain one main idea. Edit them, simplify them, and steer clear from education jargon. Once you are satisfied, the key messages will be woven into the content of all your communication efforts.


  • “Our taxes are below the state average and our test scores are well above the average.”
  • “Our School District’s improvement focus is math success for all students.”
  • “Safety is our number one priority; all students deserve schools with safe entrances.”



What needs to be done, in general terms? Do you want to convince your audience that you are doing everything possible to improve student achievement, yet it looks hopeless? Of course not! Your objectives may be that teachers to accept the facts as they are today and to join with you in your constant efforts to improve.


  • Teachers will be able to explain AYP to others.
  • Teachers will know the current state of scores in our district and school building, by subgroup area.
  • Parents will understand the basic elements of NCLB; the current state of our district (school); the school’s most important activities that address student needs; and what we are doing to improve.

When writing strategies, answer the question, “What needs to be accomplished with your communication?” Again, write down your objectives to keep your focus on effective communication. If you know what message you are trying to deliver and why, it makes communicating it much easier.


Tactics are the to do list of your plan. Here you plan all your communication activities.

Research will help you understand the tactics that will be most effective.

Plan your newsletters, think about presentation opportunities at PTA’s, generate press releases about your newest reading programs. Very importantly, include two-way communication opportunities. Focus your tactics on involvement and relationship building – face-to-face communication tactics are critical.

What are the communication activities that you will engage in this year, and what will be the key messages you deliver via those communication outlets?  Be specific in your tactics: Include date, content,  target audience, who is responsible, is it completed?


Research and Analysis:

List relevant data and key findings based on research analysis.

Key Messages:




Strategy:What do you want to accomplish with your communication?


  • How will we do it?
  • Date? Content? Target Audience? Who? Completed?


  • How will we do it?
  • Date? Content? Target Audience? Who? Completed?


  • How will we do it?
  • Date? Content? Target Audience? Who? Completed?

Communication Planning ?  Step 3 – Evaluation

After you’ve done your initial research to assess their key priorities and attitudes, know where they live and their economic status, and how they best receive information, you plan your communication activities. However, you won’t know how well your plan is working unless you complete the final step – evaluation.

The end goal for communications is relationship building and building understanding between two or more parties: in this case, your school district and your key audiences.

How do you know if you’ve achieved these results? Here are a few suggestions:

Build checkpoints into your plan. If you can, distribute simple feedback surveys for completion by the audience after public presentations and ask key questions. Evaluate the answers to see if you key messages were understood.

  • Build formal surveys into your annual communication plan, and during those surveys ask questions about your key messages. Ask again about where they receive information. Is the way you communicate with them among the top three ways your audience receives information? If yes, keep moving. If no, rethink your plan.
  • Use Internet surveys to target audiences.  Don’t overwhelm your target audience with these types of surveys, but do it intermittently to create checkpoints for your plan.
  • Evaluate information that appears in non-district sources. An easy example of this is when you are in the midst of a referendum campaign. Are the news articles accurate or is misinformation appearing? The effectiveness of your communication activities can be measured by the amount of misinformation in news copy.
  • Sometimes called media matrixes, you can also track all news articles to assess the type of media coverage your school is getting, and whether it is positive, negative, or neutral.
  • Hold listening sessions and invite in parents, staff, and other citizens. After introductions, ask them what’s on their mind. Listen carefully and ask a recorder to take notes. This information will greatly inform you of those groups’ interests in your schools. Unlike focus groups, listening sessions often draw people who have self-selected themselves to be there and may have a higher awareness of school issues. None-the-less, when combined with other sources of information, listening sessions help to inform your communication work.
  • Focus groups can also be used to identify key issues. Like all surveys and research focus groups have their pros and cons. An outside consultant can usually best advise when to use focus groups as a research tool.

There are several options to select from as you evaluate your efforts, and your evaluation will range from very formal to informal. The important point about evaluation is that it must lead you to valid results so that you can use the data to inform further effective communication planning.

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG