How to Create an Annual Marketing Communications Plan

By Jay Holdnick written about 10 months ago

Through the years, I have had the pleasure of working with a multitude of both large and small organizations. Not surprisingly, marketing budgets vary accordingly with the size of the company. What I do find surprising though, no matter the size of the company, is an apparent abstinence from using a rather powerful tool called a marketing communications plan.

Large companies sometimes feel it’s a redundant process to the business/strategic plan, while mid to small sized organizations feel it’s a luxury they simply can’t afford. Few companies view the process as an absolute necessity to ensuring success. So, why is that?

Most (if not all) companies view the creation of a business plan as table stakes when it comes to running a successful business. And if you checked, I bet 99.9% of those same companies would have a business plan in place, dusty or not. According to, creating a marketing plan is just as vital to ensuring success for a business. So, why do so few companies actually get intentional about creating an annual marketing communications plan?

In my experience, the main reasons are a lack of resources (time & money) and the inability to sell management on its ROI.

I’m not going to lie, it does take a lot of time and a lot of effort to create a marketing communications plan. If you have your agency partner creating the plan for you, it’s not going to be cheap either. The results of a well thought out and executed plan are well worth the exertion though.

That’s why selling management on the benefits of a plan is probably the easiest hurdle to overcome. Simply put, the process of creating an annual marketing communications plan enables internal departments and key stakeholders to plan strategically and become aligned on setting major goals and devising a path on how to achieve those goals.

The plan itself then becomes not only a transparent, detailed map of how to meet revenue goals, but an instrument used regularly to gauge success and hold key individuals accountable to their targets. In other words, it’s a very powerful tool that should not be under-utilized.

The following is a list of tips to consider when starting your annual marketing communications plan.

Get Everyone Aligned on the Destination

This step seems rather obvious, but it is surprising how many tactics or campaigns make it to market without aligning to a broader goal. For instance, if one of the overarching goals is to grow your digital audience, does it makes sense to continue to place 50% of your marketing budget on those ads you place annually in the Yellow Pages?

Spend some time with the sales department, get together with R&D, review the new strategic plan your executive prepared. This will all add a different perspective and give you insight into departmental priorities. Then, sit with your marketing team and review the overarching company goals, outline the major challenges and opportunities and determine how an integrated marketing plan can help everyone arrive at the destination. Steps in this process can include:

  • Mapping out where you are today and where you want to be in a year, three years, or even five years. Once the destination is identified, it becomes easier to map the route.
  • Undertaking a SWOT analysis as a team - getting input from all angles to help clarify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Leaning on other departments will offer great insight.
  • Determining your primary and secondary audiences. You may have internal audiences and external audiences. Perhaps suppliers and retailers are also audiences. Don’t just assume the customer is the only audience that matters in achieving success.

Create Cascading Goals, Objectives & Tactics

Now that everyone is aligned on the destination, start to brainstorm ideas around how you can arrive there. Fight the urge to begin throwing out tactics. Begin with setting high-level goals. Avoid setting too many as this could divert focus, and it will become harder to achieve the desired results.

Once you have your goals determined, pencil in your targeted audience for each goal. Each goal may have two or three intended audiences or subsets of an audience. 

Now that your audiences are set, determine your objectives – what exactly do you want to achieve? It’s great to set measureable targets or KPI’s for each objective, but not necessary.

Finally, now you can begin to assign tactics to achieve the objectives and, ultimately, your goals. For each objective, you may have a multitude of tactics that will help you meet your goals. Tactics are meant to be granular and measurable.

When creating your tactics, consider using a start, stop, continue approach. Review the tactics you are currently executing to analyze your successes and failures. Then, determine what you need to stop because it didn’t perform or no longer aligns with an objective. Determine what tactics should continue because they performed well and are still relevant, and also identify any new tactics that will help achieve success.

Allocate Your Budget Based on Priorities

We all have budgets that we need to adhere to, so placing priorities on your goals is paramount. By doing so, you ultimately determine how much of the budget should be allocated to each of your high level goals.

If this doesn’t happen organically, then intentionally allocate a specific percentage of your budget to each of the goals or even break it down to the objectives.

Map Out Timelines, Budget & Resources

This is a vitally important step. It helps get everyone on the same page and literally becomes the road map to success. It allows marketing to share their map with other departments and clearly illustrates the overarching goals, objectives and tactics. This tool gives a line-by-line breakdown of each tactic, when that tactic is in market, the resource responsible for the tactic and how much of the overall budget is allocated to that specific item. It essentially supplies a high level snapshot of your entire year of marketing in one single chart. 

Download your Template Here

Implement & Measure the Success

Once the overall plan is in place, it’s time to execute. And, after you’ve started to implement your tactics, be sure to measure the success of your efforts. Digest and then share the results. Share early and share often; your team and your senior leaders want to know if their strategies are paying off.

Read & React

Even the best-laid plans get blown up occasionally. So, don’t handle your communications plan like a final, untouchable work of art. Treat it like a map — sometimes you’ll need to divert your route due to road blocks or washouts. If a tactic is not working but another is, adjust on the fly and pull budget from the struggling tactic to boost a more successful endeavor.

A well thought out process and marketing communications plan can accomplish a lot, but at its core it creates alignment around vision, clearly prioritizes and establishes goals and subsequently maps out the path crucial to obtaining success. That in itself makes it one of the more important marketing tactics that you’ll (hopefully) be undertaking this year.