Communications Strategy or Communications Plan – What’s the Difference?

Communicators are often asked to develop or work with many different types of strategies and plans – and there’s often a lot of confusion swirling around what one has or does, over the other. That’s a real problem, as it can set up a disconnect between expectations and deliverables, right out of the gate.

Here’s a quick guide to help demystify the differences in key strategic communications planning deliverables:

Communications Strategy

A comprehensive, detailed strategic planning document designed to guide the communications of an organization or of a significant initiative or issue. A Communications Strategy typically includes an in-depth Strategic Considerations section providing sound analysis of the internal and/or external environment. . It is designed to direct an organization’s high level communications, and often has a three-year time horizon, with a more detailed implementation plan for year one.

Communications Plan

A more focused, brief plan that guides the communications for a particular project, event or initiative.  A Communications Plan follows the basic structure of a full Communications Strategy but presents less analytical detail, and generally includes more specific information on implementation planning, such as a workplan.  In some cases, a Marcom Plan is developed to help direct both marketing and communications activities in an integrated fashion.

Both the Communications Strategy and the Communications Plan can be for internal or external communications.  In the case where the document provides integrated direction to both internal and external comms, we would typically use the terms “Corporate Communications Strategy” or “Corporate Communications Plan”.

Another variation to the above is a Stakeholder Communications Strategy or Plan, which includes a more detailed focus on an organization’s stakeholder groups and how they relate among and between each other.

For more resources on communications planning, check out the Results Map workshops, Handbook and online database of downloadable tools and templates.