Mastering a Communication Plan To Get a Client’s OK

Wading into the business side of graphic design means finding a way to communicate effectively with clients.  When approaching a client with a design direction, a few homework items must be completed before you can determine how to persuasively deliver your message. Start off by rigorously researching the client to gauge their goals, intentions, bottom line and audience. With this information, formulate a communication strategy for them specifically. Neglecting to have a strategy in place may lead to you yielding control of the conversation, creating a subpar design and/or losing the client.

We’ve excerpted chapter one from the book Show Me, Don’t Tell Me to help designers think about developing and deploying their communication strategy. Authored by David Holston, this book details various communication challenges, provide examples on how to effectively communicate and includes helpful exercises.

T3928_1_1Holston has a well-rounded communications career in a diverse array of fields. He’s been in advertising, public affairs, communication planning and design management. He’s a regular contributor to both HOW and Print magazines. Prior to this book, he wrote The Strategic Designer: Tools and Techniques for Managing the Design Process and Design for Online Engagement: SEO, Content and Design Optimization for Editors and Designers.

See Chapter One from his latest book, Show Me, Don’t Tell Meto get an idea of how to formalize a communication strategy.

Chapter One:

Three Important Questions: How Ready is the Client to Move Forward?


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Budget, schedule and goals represent the starting point for any project. Each one is a critical puzzle piece, interlocking with the others. These questions are asked at the outset of the project and provide the communicator and the client with a chance to think about the project on a very broad level before moving forward. These questions are asked informally, usually during the initial contact from the client. It is the communicator’s responsibility to collect this information before beginning the project.

Communication Planning Hierarchy: What Type of Communication Plan Do You Need?

Communication Alignment

Communication planning is a trickle-down exercise, starting with the organization’s strategic plan, which is translated into a strategic communication plan. The plan is then broken down into subsequent plans that become increasingly specific about resources, activities, deliverables and outcomes.


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Communication planning is a critical part of the overall management of the organization. Messages need to be aligned and synchronized, which is often a difficult task to manage across departments and offices. Communication integration helps internal audiences create a consistent understanding of what the brand stands for and how they should behave. From a reputational perspective, integrating communications is a foundational branding activity that requires the organization to collaborate and coordinate. This is a challenge in most organizations, where the various units are competing for resources and attention from the C-suite. Unfortunately, this silo mentality is understandable when there is no clear direction provided and business units are left to focus on their own individual goals as opposed to the overarching goals of the organization.

Communication planning helps with this by describing how the top-level brand strategy relates to the operational units and then down to the actual working units. By communicating in an integrated way, brands ultimately communicate more effectively and efficiently, as they do not use up company resources to send out nonstrategic or competing messages.

The Communication Plan: What Do You Need to Know Before You Begin?

The communication plan is a document that acts as a guide for the direction of the project. The plan outlines information about the client firm, its audience, business strategy, competition, objectives and the scope of the project. It works as both a project management tool and a communication directive. Possibly the most important function of the plan is that it aligns all of the stakeholders involved in the project, thereby minimizing the chances of going down dead ends. The communication team, in cooperation with the client, creates the communication plan. By working together on the plan, the clients and the communicator have an early opportunity to work out issues and clarify misunderstandings regarding direction.


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The communication plan answers key strategic questions the communicator needs to know in order to do meaningful work:

  • What is the objective of the client?
  • Who is its target audience?
  • Who is its competition?
  • How does the client perceive itself?
  • What are the audience’s perceptions of the client?
  • What are the design parameters that define the client?
  • How will project success be measured?

In addition to answering these important questions, the plan outlines schedules, budgets and the processes involved in the project.

Show Me, Don’t Tell Me is available in MyDesignShop. With the help of this book, utilize 75 exercises to help solve strategic communication problems you may encounter.