Developing a strategic communications plan for your organization will provide a clear outline for how you will achieve short and long-term goals. These plans are key to maintaining a pro-active approach to issues and will help your organization utilize resources effectively and efficiently.
The strategic communications plan pyramid outlines six questions your organization must answer before implementing media tactics:
- Assess your communications infrastructure.
- Establish your goals.
- Who is your target?
- Who is your audience?
- What is your frame?
- What is your message?
Assess Your Past Communications Efforts
Analyze 2-3 of your best and worst communications efforts in the last few years. Take a look at what did and didn’t work and why?
Assess Your Communications Infrastructure
What is your communications capacity?
- How much staff time is allocated to communications? Do you have paid communications staff? Volunteers?
- Is the staff comfortable with and knowledgeable about communications?
- What is your communications budget? How much of your advocacy budget are you allocating to communications?
- How powerful is your brand? Is it well known?
If your organization does not have a strong communications foundation you will have to strengthen it in order to achieve success.
What is your program, campaign or organizational goals?
Why are you launching communications efforts on this issue? What, specifically, do you want to win?
What is your organization’s positive vision for the future?
Who can give you what you want? (e.g. Governor, Congressperson, CEO, etc.)
- Can you directly influence this individual’s decision-making?
- If not, who can? Who do you need on your side to get what you want? (e.g. Voters in District X)
The people who can persuade the decision maker to do what you want (e.g. Voters in District X)
Know your audience through research:
- Focus groups
Will your audience consist solely of your members or include the general public?
Frame the Issue
Describe the issue in a way that resonates with the values and needs of your audience, and is also interesting to journalists, or “newsworthy.”
- What is this issue really about?
- Who is affected?
- Who are the players?
- What hooks does this frame contain?
- What pictures and images communicate this frame?
Craft and Discipline your Message
Develop your message using the following three-part framework. Each part should be no longer than 35 words.
Introduce your frame. Describe how your issue affects your audience and its broader impacts.
Speak broadly about the change you wish to see. Speak to peoples’ hearts with values-rich language and images.
Call for your audience to do something specific.
- Make sure key people in your organization buy into this message.
- Craft your message to be appealing to journalists and convincing to your target audience.
- Brainstorm soundbites that express your message in 7-12 seconds.
Select and train spokespeople
Who are the best messengers to reach your target audience?
Hint: the most powerful person in the organization is not always the best person to put on camera. Choose someone with an effective speaking style and a look that appeals to your audience.
Have spokespeople practice delivering message on camera. Review and critique the tape. Adjust the message if needed at this stage; something that works on paper may fail when you actually say it.
Begin broadcasting your message
Decide which media outlets will help move your target audience to take the action you desire. List the top media outlets that would have the most impact on your strategy, according to importance to your campaign. Next to the outlet name, list the journalist(s) covering your issue and the type of piece in which you’d like your organization featured.
How will you attract your targeted media outlets to cover your story and carry your message? Plan—along a realistic timeline—events, products, story releases, and other tactics to get your message to your target audience. What will you pitch to the above outlets/reporters? What’s the news you’re providing them with?
What are the hooks that make your news interesting to journalists?
Choose from the list below and brainstorm your own:
- Localize a National Story
- Dramatic Human Interest
- Fresh Angle on Old Story
- Calendar Hook/Holiday
- Profile of Fascinating Person
- Response to Big News Story
- Celebrity Involvement
What events and materials do you need to create to communicate with reporters?
Simply holding a press conference is not enough unless the speakers include key politicians or celebrities. Instead, create an event!
Make it visual! Use props! Even if they feel a little awkward, they will often work on camera.
Be sure to inform reporters of the visual opportunities you’re providing.
Get multiple (200+) high-resolution photos of your event. One photo of each speaker or the crowd will not be enough. You will need dozens of photos to find the perfect shot.
At any press event, be armed with Media Kits to hand to all reporters. These include:
- Media Advisories
- News Releases
- Fact Sheets
- Brief bios of spokespeople
- Organizational Brochure
- Your Business Card
Note: All of these materials should be available on your website in an Online Press Room.
Reporters will always appreciate the fresh information, compelling stories and authentic spokespeople your organization works can provide. Consider packaging and broadcasting your organization’s findings and case studies in deliverables such as:
- Top Ten Lists
There are many other means of reaching your audience than through the media. Brainstorm tactics like:
- Informational Meetings
- Door-to-door walks
- Candlelight Vigils
Track and Evaluate
Create a system to capture your media hits.
- Consider hiring a print news clipping service. Contact an audio/video clipping service prior to major TV and radio hits to ensure capture of those hits.
- Search news sites such as Nexis.com and Google News for mentions of your organization.
- Enlist staff or community volunteers to collect print hits and record TV and radio appearances and features.
- Note which journalists covered your story. If you liked the coverage, thank them tactfully for a well-balanced story. Continue to cultivate your relationship with them.
After each effort, assess what was successful and what could improve. It might help to wait a week or more after the event to begin assessment, as this will allow for perspective to develop and can result in more honest assessment.