Guide to Global Communications Planning: Issues to Manage and Best Practice Tips for Success

Artist Marie Gourault

Global businesses, who often struggle to maintain control over how the brand is presented in local markets, stand the most to gain from what a comms planner has to offer: guidance that helps teams to develop more integrated, effective and efficient campaigns.

At a national or regional level, comms planners are most successful at achieving these goals when they are able to work in the trenches, alongside the cross-functional team, having a direct and tangible impact on the creative idea. This allows them to have a thorough understanding of the business, category and consumer contexts, and it allows them to educate people about comms planning while proving the value that it adds.

Global communications planning poses unique challenges that need to be managed, including:

  • Comms planning is a new discipline that hasn’t been fully integrated into the organization, many people don’t understand it
  • Global comms planners work with the global client team, and tend to have a low levels of visibility, access and partnership with regional markets
  • Regional teams don’t believe that the global comms plan will be valuable for their particular market
  • The global comms plan is done, but then put aside and regional markets don’t connect their local strategy to global

TIPS for successful global communications planning:

  1. EDUCATE EARLY AND OFTEN: First and foremost, agency and brand teams (both global and regional) need to be properly educated about what comms planning is, why it’s valuable and how it will be integrated into the annual planning process. Very important is that during this educational phase, everyone aligns on the same comms planning vocabulary definitions — what exactly do we mean when we say ‘communications objective’ for example, and how is that different from a ‘communications task?’ This preliminary step should be done across all stakeholders well in advance of even beginning the annual comms planning process so that everyone is aligned and knows what to expect.
  2. UNDERSTAND REGIONAL MARKET CONTEXTS: A global comms planner should start building their plan from the ground up so that it’s based in practical realities and not idealistic theories — gathering local-market intel should be a first step. Understand what the priority markets are around the world and establish a key point of contact who can be a go-to partner throughout the comms planning process. Have each market provide you with any documentation they believe should influence your planning and also have them fill out a single-page worksheet providing simple answers to comms plan building blocks: business challenge, product priorities, marketing objective, target demographics & core insights, barriers to success and marketing opportunities. With these answers the comms planner can understand commonalities across markets and differences between them.
  3. FIND SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MARKETS: Regional markets are often all too aware of their differences, but lack understanding of what they actually have in common with each other. Revealing common challenges, objectives and needs between markets is where the global comms planner can begin to add real value — because it’s these similarities that lead to marketing efficiencies and integrated global campaigns.
  4. BUILD A PLAN THAT MAINTAINS BROAD RELEVANCE BUT ALSO INCLUDES MARKET SPECIFICITY: Ultimately, the global comms planner is delivering one plan for global distribution, not individual plans for each market. Therefore, the plan should primarily address the commonalities that were discovered to exist across markets and speak in general enough terms that it can be understood and applied regardless of which country the reader is working within. To be most valuable though, a global comms plan should be highly actionable, and therefore it needs to have some direct references to specific regions. Consider incorporating regional market specificity within the planning document, using annotations if needed. Or, for more extensive regional-market direction include some form of appendix or addendum. How, and to what extent, local-market specificity is integrated will depend on the number of markets that need to be addressed and how great the differences between them are when it comes to their comms plan building blocks.
  5. THINK OF THE ULTIMATE DELIVERABLE LIKE A TOOL KIT: The role of the global comms plan is to strategically influence what markets execute at a local level. To do this, regions need to understand how to use it as an input in building their own plans — so, within the document, tell them how, and be specific. Tell people what pages are meant to be pinned on the wall for repeated reference. Demonstrate what components should directly impact the creative brief and a media plan. Use examples, and even provide worksheets and templates.