Developing a communications plan is essential to clarify priorities, target audiences, identify resources and make day-to-day assignments. Your communications plan should be clearly written, easy-to-read, updated regularly, and supported by staff and board members.
Laying the Groundwork
- Create Goals . Make them specific and measurable. If you want to attract new members, say how many. Other goals might be: to change attitudes on your issues or increase support for certain policies. Make sure your communications goals reinforce your group’s core vision and values, as expressed in the mission statement.
- Identify Target Audiences. Whom do you need to reach in order to achieve your goals: Journalists? Elected officials? Identify ways to reach each group. What do they read, watch on TV or listen to on the radio? Get audience data from media outlets, including marketing information for advertisers. Develop a profile for each group, along with media activities aimed at them.
- Research Media and Public Opinion. Conduct a media analysis of your group and its issues. Which outlets cover your issues? Are the stories positive, negative or neutral? What public opinion polls have been done on relevant topics? Is there a misperception or lack of awareness? An opportunity for action? Determine what areas need attention.
- Develop a Message. Create a short phrase that you want reporters to use every time they describe your issue and use it each time you talk with them (for example, “International family planning saves women’s lives by…”). Develop three or four short “message points” for spokespeople to use when talking to the press. Include basic facts about your issues/group and draw from public opinion data any messages that resonate with your target audiences. Review the message points before media appearances or interviews. No matter what questions are asked, all answers should include the key points.
- Produce Background Materials. Your group’s media “tool box” should include the following: a well-designed logo and stationery; a one-page fact sheet describing your group; a more detailed brochure; short bios of spokespeople; relevant news clippings, studies or reports. Your group should also have a well-designed, easy-to-use Web site. Your materials should be neither too slick, nor too amateurish. Strive for respectability and good taste.
- Itemize Resources. Determine what resources you’ll need to carry out your communications plan, including press lists. Be specific in terms of staff, budget, equipment, consultants and volunteers. Develop a realistic budget that includes staff time, as well as outside services (graphic design, Web management, media training, etc.).
Developing a Plan
- Devise a Strategy for Positive Media Coverage. Develop a calendar of media events to highlight your group’s projects, such as the release of a report, timed with ready-made news hooks like International Women’s Day. Include info. on which reporters you will target. Cultivate relationships with members of the press, suggesting ideas for feature stories, “expert” responses to breaking news or guests for their shows. Write and submit opinion columns to newspapers and magazines. Be on the look-out for creative opportunities to link your group to cultural events, such as TV shows (an episode might cover your issue) and movies.
- Attract Editorial Endorsements and Columnist Support. Set up meetings with editorial boards of local papers to encourage them to take a stand on your issues. Send columnists ideas for op-ed pieces. Encourage local newspapers and TV stations to endorse walkathons and other events that bring publicity and funding to your issue.
- Build Media Skills of Staff and Spokespeople. Provide media training for your spokespeople. Make sure they practice before a video camera, honing their message and image into a persuasive, articulate presentation. Provide media-readiness and message training for staff and board members so that they can be strong advocates for your group. Develop profiles of individuals willing to share their stories with the press ” have guidelines to protect their privacy and make sure they have media training beforehand.
- Develop a Crisis Control Plan. Be prepared for a sudden media backlash or controversy, no matter how moderate your group and issues are. Put in place a crisis coordination team and create a plan to respond quickly to the press. Institute damage control procedures for your constituents. These precautionary steps will let you get control of events before they control you.
- Include Evaluation Methods. Make sure your communications plan includes mechanisms to evaluate your media activities and goals. Evaluation methods might include: tracking shifts in public opinion or government policies; measuring increases in membership, funding or visibility; or improved institutional capacity.