It’s bright and shiny, but does it do the job? Communications / Employee communications / Employee engagement / Gold Quill / Leadership communications / Member post

IABC member and Director of Communications for the IABC APAC board Jonathan Champ shares his thoughts on the IABC Gold Quills and the essential components for a communication plan


S omething has been bothering me. It is something I noticed reviewing communication awards from around the globe as co-chair of the Asia Pacific IABC Gold Quill evaluation panels in 2015 and 2016* and as an award evaluator multiple times over the past decade.

What stands out in the review process amongst the unsuccessful entries is the number of times a great tactic fails to address the right problem for the right audience.

Competition for attention

In the scramble to produce interesting content and to ‘cut through’ the noise, organisations are constantly searching for more ways to create colourful tactics, to have brands that shine, and to amplify their message.

The ‘creativity’ side of communication is booming. But with such a fierce battle for audience attention, even the most carefully crafted message or clever visual can fail to connect.

The result is that scarce, hard-won resources are spent on communication that looks or sounds great, but that doesn’t achieve the outcomes required.

One of the many strengths of the Gold Quill process (and a point of difference between GQ and some other award programs) is that it evaluates the end to end communication process: not only the tactics produced, but also the degree they are suited to the situation; and it requires that results can be demonstrated.

Essential components for a communication plan that delivers results

Communication plans can take many forms, but having reviewed hundreds, those that stand out always:

  • Identify the right problem before thinking about tactics.
  • Demonstrate deep understanding of stakeholders and audiences based on research.
  • Set goals and objectives that are SMART.
  • Ensure outcome measures are clear and don’t overly rely on measuring outputs.
  • Create solutions – combinations of tactics and execution – that take into account the context, the need and the audience.
  • Deliver in partnership with the owner of the business need.
  • Measure as they go.

The danger with “Here’s one that we prepared earlier”

As a communication advisor, I’m often asked for a template or example of a communication plan or tactic that can be re-used in a new environment. While models, canvases and templates are helpful, the value they provide is in the adaptation to the current situation and context.

When I developed the shorter COMMS Plan, the focus was on a process for communication planning that helped communicators consider the specifics of the current situation – regardless of the type of organisation. The first step in the process is CONTEXT for a reason.

One of the exciting developments in communication planning is an increased use of design thinking. Using a clear process to ensure communication meets the need can lead to better tactics, often created in consultation or partnership with the intended audiences.

The basics of good communication remain universal: right message, right audience, right method.

That doesn’t mean shouting louder, it means working smarter.

By considering context, outcomes, messages, methods and support before jumping in to solutions and cool tactics, communication can have the substance to support the shine.

*Celebrating excellence

The Gold Quill Awards are IABC’s premier awards program recognizing and fostering excellence in the field of business communication.

For examples of organisations and communicators who have achieved excellence, who have found the balance between strategy and creativity, I recommend familiarising yourself with the winners of Gold Quills. They have this equation right.

Entries from across Asia Pacific performed extremely well in the 2016 IABC Gold Quills, picking up 21 awards of merit and excellence. In addition, the top two Special Awards recognising outstanding approaches to business issues and the use of research have been won by Australian communicators from Cabrini Health and ANZ (Australia)**.

Congratulations to those communicators celebrating their achievements through the 2016 Gold Quill program.

Enjoy the Gold Quill Gala at IABC World Conference, it is a celebration of the best work globally in communication.

Australian Gold Quill winners are celebrating early at the (sold-out) IABC Victoria Gala on 19 May.

Your thoughts?

  • Is it time pressure that creates an over-reliance on approaches that have worked before, even when an environment is totally different?
  • What tips do you have for avoiding reusing old tactics?

Continue the conversation in the comments.


**Note, these top awards were decided by an international panel of IABC reviewers, not by the Asia Pacific Panels.

Find out more about how the shorter COMMS Plan focusses on outcomes and audiences at

You can find Jonathan on Linkedin here and Twitter here