Communication Planning: An Integrated Approach


Sherry Devereaux Ferguson

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  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Part I: Strategic Planning Cultures

    Part II: Integrated Planning Processes

    Part III: Communication Theories: The Foundation for Planning

    Part IV: Strategic Approaches

  • Sage Series in Public Relations


    Robert L. Heath and Gabriel M. Vasquez

    Embracing ideas as old as the rhetorical heritage of Western Civilization and as new as theoretical models that draw on social science, the Sage Series in Public Relations comprises the work of academics and professional practitioners. Combining theory and practice, authors seek to redefine the field through thoughtful examinations of the breadth and depth of public relations. Books in the series may offer emphasis on theory, research foundations, or practice, but all focus on advancing public relations excellence. The series publishes work devoted to the principle that public relations adds economic, sociopolitical, and cultural value to society, particularly those based on democratic ideals.

    Books in this series:

    Communication Planning: An Integrated Approach

    Sherry Devereaux Ferguson

    Ongoing Crisis Communication: Planning, Managing, and Responding

    W. Timothy Coombs


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    To Stewart

    Pilot, engineer, artist professor, husband, father, friend … Pour les bons temps


    The goal of Communication Planning: An Integrated Approach is to expose students, practitioners, and consultants to the role of integrated communication planning in modern organizations. The book brings together several converging trends. First, the book recognizes the importance of integrating communication with business planning. Second, the book acknowledges the current trend toward a cross-functional approach to planning, which integrates public relations, marketing communications, and advertising strategies (integrated marketing communications [IMC]). Third, the book stresses the importance of establishing strategic planning cultures in organizations. Finally, the book acknowledges a trend toward integration of roles traditionally labeled as “organizational communication” and “public relations” A systems view demands that these two roles come together in the planning process.

    The book is divided into four parts: strategic planning cultures, integrated planning processes, communication theories, and strategic approaches. Part I discusses the measures necessary to establish strategic planning cultures in organizations and the role of communication in these planning cultures. It also includes an analysis of the relationship between corporate, business, and communication planning. High levels of cooperation between communication and corporate planners ensure that communication plans reflect the priorities of the larger organization. Part II explores integrated planning processes and explains how to write the following kinds of communication plans:

    • Multiyear (or annual) plans that suggest broad communication strategies for public relations, marketing communications, and advertising
    • Multiyear (or annual) operational plans that explain how these strategies will be implemented
    • Work plans that assign areas of responsibility, set milestones and performance indicators, suggest evaluation tools, and allocate budgets
    • Support plans for information campaigns, advertising and marketing communications campaigns, issues management, and other action plans
    • Plans for managing crisis communications

    Part III examines the theoretical foundations for communication planning. Topics include the psychology of audiences, theories of media use and influence, source credibility, learning and persuasion theories relevant to message design, and considerations in choosing the channel of communication. These discussions integrate literature relevant to the design and execution of public relations, marketing communications, advertising, and employee communication activities and campaigns. Part IV examines strategic approaches to planning for issues management and the trend toward partnerships and sharing of resources, evidenced in relations within and between organizations.

    This book offers value to the student of public relations, marketing communications, advertising, and organizational communication. The nature of the communicator's job has shifted dramatically in the past decade from a service-oriented to a management-oriented and strategic function. Communicators still perform services such as preparing speeches, advertising copy, press releases, and articles for corporate magazines and employee newsletters. An increasing number of communication managers, however, sit on executive committees and offer advice to chief executive officers and vice presidents. Others fill strategic roles that involve tracking issues in the media, consulting with stakeholders (inside and outside the organization), and evaluating their success against performance indicators. Those involved in planning processes often work together to ensure that their efforts are integrated—that they make maximum use of the organization's resources. In this book, I attempt to provide fresh, up-to-date perspectives on the changing role of the communicator in end-of-the-century organizations.

    No other book on the market takes such a comprehensive approach to planning. A typical public relations text devotes one short chapter at best (a couple of pages at worst) to planning systems and processes, and most authors use the term planning to mean planning for a public relations, marketing communications, political, or health information campaign. This form of planning is only one type of planning exercise. Such discussions do not identify the range of plans that an organization can produce or talk about the relationship among the different layers of planning. This is the only book on the market that provides well-developed samples of strategic, operational, and work plans that can serve as models for communication planners.

    Few authors stress the importance of information-based planning—that is, using opinion, attitudinal, and behavioral research as a foundation for communication strategies. None explain how to establish performance indicators that can tell the communication group when they have achieved success in their endeavors. In the same way, few books identify the strategic role played by communicators or talk about the necessity to integrate communication planning with business and corporate planning. Most authors fail to situate communication planning as a critical organizational communication function. This book is an attempt to correct these deficiencies.

    A recent trend toward talking about the importance of integrating promotional, marketing communications, and advertising activities within the organization promises to close some of these gaps. Much of the current literature resides in the field of marketing, however, and the insights of communication researchers do not always appear in this literature. In this book, I try to integrate the perspectives of the three fields of study by examining communication planning as a generic organizational function. The more we apply systems theory to organizations, the more difficult it becomes to argue for territoriality, especially among communication-related functions. For this reason, I titled the book Communication Planning: An Integrated Approach.

    In conclusion, Communication Planning: An Integrated Approach makes eight important contributions. First, the book acknowledges the current trend toward integrating the activities of public relations, marketing communications, and advertising in planning—that is, an IMC approach. Second, it establishes all these activities within the larger organizational context. That is, the book establishes a framework for communication planning, defining the relationships between the different kinds of plans and between communication and business planning. Third, the book argues that communication planning is a fundamental organizational function, which includes planning for internal and external audiences. If planning is a management function, it is also an organizational communication function. Fourth, the book defines the component parts of each type of communication plan that can be produced by the organization. It explains how to write an annual or multiyear plan that fits with the corporate or business plan, how to write an annual or multiyear plan that operationalizes the ideas in the strategic plan, how to write a yearly work plan and support plans for communication activities and campaigns, and how to write a contingency plan for crisis communications. Fifth, the book contributes to the development of a grammar for discussing planning products and processes. There is currently no common terminology for describing communication planning processes. Sixth, the book draws on many theories (audience psychology, theories of media use and influence, source credibility, and learning and persuasion) in discussing the design of communication strategies. Seventh, the book recognizes the importance of researching the opinion, attitudinal, and behavioral environment to develop information-based strategies. Finally, the book discusses the necessity to develop performance indicators to be applied in judging the effectiveness of communication strategies. Some performance indicators relate to outcomes and others to outputs, impacts, processes, and ethics. The communication plans include examples of performance indicators.

    I draw on a large experiential bank built on more than a decade of teaching communication planning to managers and executives who work in the fields of public affairs, marketing communications, and advertising. Market tested with government and business executives, this material has undergone extensive revisions over a period of years. The earlier incarnation of these ideas appeared in the book Mastering the Public Opinion Challenge, which received the 1994 National Communication Association PRIDE award for innovativeness of approach.

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    Author Index

    About the Author

    Sherry Devereaux Ferguson is Professor and Chair of the Communication Department at the University of Ottawa, Canada. She received a PhD from Indiana University and a master's degree from the University of Houston. She received the NCA PRIDE (Public Relations Innovation, Development, and Educational) award for her book on strategic planning for issues management—Mastering the Public Opinion Challenge (Irwin, 1994). Previous books include Organizational Communication (Transaction Publishers, 1988) and Intercom: Readings in Organizational Communication (Hayden, 1980). Recently, she has written articles that appeared in the Communication Yearbook (1998), U.S. Image Around the World (1998), and the Canadian Communication Journal (1998). She has acted as consultant to many federal government departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice, the Privy Council Office, Health Canada, Secretary of State, Communications Canada, the Canadian Space Agency, the National Research Council, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Bureau of Management Consultants, Indian and Northern Affairs, and Transport Canada. Other consulting assignments include work for Petro Canada, the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops, Canadian Satellite Communications, Inc., the Addiction Research Foundation, and the Center for Health Promotion at the University of Toronto. She was an invited faculty member at the annual Management Institute, Canadian Council for Public Affairs Advancement, 1997, and priority speaker at sessions sponsored by the International Quality Control and Productivity Center of Chicago, 1998. She was also speaker at International Communications Management conferences in Toronto and Calgary (1999). She has trained managers and executives in issues management and strategic planning techniques for more than a decade. Recently, she acted as a member of a high-level advisory panel charged with defining curriculum needs for federal government communication officers, and she was a member of the 1998 National Communication Association (United States) task force on public relations curricula.

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