Setting strategies and planning your communications outreach
There is a lot to consider when trying to develop a communications plan. A successful plan starts with well-defined goals, clear messages and realistic time lines. How much money can you spend? Since your outreach will depend on the media's interest level, what else is going on in the world that can help you? Hurt you?
Think about the following questions:
Q 1: What's your goal?
Just as with any grassroots or lobbying initiative, it is important to have a specific outcome in mind when thinking about communications. Do you want to protect food safety? Old growth forests? An endangered species? Clean air or water? Specifically, are you trying to pass a new law or strengthen an old one that would provide that protection?
A clearly outlined set of goals is critical to planning your communications strategy. These will provide you with a natural time-line, help define your target audience, point to the most respected spokespeople and provide you with the tools to measure the success of your campaign.
Q 2: What has to happen for you to reach your goal?
Are you trying to pass or defeat a specific piece of legislation? Do you want to motivate a particular segment of the public to act? Do you want to bring an issue to the attention of public officials? Does a particular policy-maker need to take up the cause?
Q 3: Who can make it happen?
Who are the most important government, industry, academic, scientific or other figures who can help you reach your goals? Are there other organizations working on similar issues who can help lend credibility or prestige? Groups that are a particular draw to the media and public? Find out how to select the most appropriate media to reach your audience.
Q 4: Who's for us, against us, and who doesn't care?
It is always useful to identify your allies and enemies. Get familiar with any activities they have planned that can help or hinder your progress. Think beyond the usual suspects.
Beyond say, the logging industry, who may also be against your stance on saving a particular old-growth forest? forestry employees? builders? the fire department? Looking beyond the obvious opponents will give you insight into ways to appeal to them, work with them, help to turn them around.
Finally, think about who doesn't care or know about your issue. Just like in your work on political issues, this is your chance to capture the swing vote. What about the Parent-Teacher Association? The Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons? Hiking or camping equipment manufacturers? These diverse audiences can help you with your cause if you can find the best way to appeal to them.
Q 5: Who needs to hear your voice? Whom do you want to reach?
Just as with lobbying, grassroots organizing, or marketing, it is critical to identify your target audience. Who is the single most important person and which is the most important or organization to reach on this issue? What type of media reaches them the most efficiently?
An article in the front section of the Wall Street Journal may be the best way to influence a particular industry; a report on the dangers of polyvinyl chloride (PVCs) in IV bags may prompt the manufacturers to change their ways, for example. However, if you are working to clean up a river by influencing legislation, a story in the regional paper would be more effective in reaching your target policy-maker.
As with question #4, think about non-traditional audiences that can help your cause. Is there a way to motivate the mothers of small children to demand better requirements for organic foods? Perhaps a night-time magazine segment (Nightline or Dateline), or a story in the Associated Press that appears in regional papers across the U.S. would be your best bet.
But be realistic. A story in a local news market will be a lot easier to place than one in a national outlet. Call a local columnist and ask him/her to editorialize on the issue. Talk to a feature writer about local activism. Sometimes a local story can spur national interest. Outreach to local media is often a more effective use of limited resources.
Q 6: What do you plan to say?
What you plan to say is as important as choosing how and when to say it. When you work with the media, a simple and clear set of messages that can be repeated quickly and often is absolutely critical. Work on developing messages that work for you.
Q 7: Who will deliver your message?
Once you know what to say and you have identified who needs to hear you, you need to find the right person to deliver that message. Your choice of spokesperson will really influence how effectively the media receive the message. For example, an activist may not be the best person to deliver a highly scientific or economic-reform argument. Find out more about choosing spokespeople.
Q 8: What's your time-frame?
You are almost ready to start the planning process. How much time do you have? When is the key decision point that will most influence the legislation, the election, or whatever the particular event you have identified as your goal? Map out other key decision points along the way.
Proceed to Step 3.