Producing a Communications Strategy
Getting the message out about your group or organisation – its aims,
activities and attitudes – is crucial in ensuring the public know what
your group does, what it believes in and what it is working towards.
Integral in getting those messages "out there" is a reliable communications strategy.
For some groups, the idea of producing a communications strategy can sound a bit daunting. In fact, compiling a communications strategy your group or organisation can use time and again is as simple as following a few steps and answering a few questions.
Listed below is a series of steps your group should work through in producing a communications strategy. Your group can return to these steps time and again when it has something to communicate.
Eventually, using these steps should become second nature, with your group or organisation growing more comfortable doing so each time.
Six steps towards a winning communications strategy
Know what you are communicating.
The first step towards an effective communications strategy is for your group to know what it is communicating.
The "what" could be as straightforward as a sporting club wanting to attract new players in the off-season, or as complex as your organisation's criticisms of proposed new tax legislation.
It could also be a simple round-up of your group's activities during the past month to keep your members, supporters or donors up-to-date.
Whatever the reason may be, your group needs to be able focus quickly and clearly on it so it can then develop effective ways of communicating it.
Know the message you want to communicate.
When you group knows what it is communicating, it then has to look at the message it wishes to use to communicate that information.
A good idea is to sit down with a pen and paper and write a short statement about what you want to achieve through your communications.
Returning to the example above of organisation criticising proposed new tax legislation, it is not enough to say your objective is to simply be critical of the proposed legislation.
Your group needs to spell out its message in more detail:
- What does your group do?
- How will the legislation affect your activities and the people you work with?
- Are there any alternatives your group feels the government should explore?
- What are you going to do about it (for example, meet with the government, send in a submission, etc) and is there any action you want the public to take?
This step can help your group's message remain consistent and see it stick to the key themes it is trying to get across.
It could be a good idea to start developing short sound bites or "quotable quotes" to increase how effectively you get your message out; especially through the media.
For more information, refer to the help sheets Why Sound Bites are Important and Creating a Tasty Sound Bite at the Media & Marketing Centre.
Work out the audience for your message.
Who are you communicating with?
It's no use having something to say if you are talking to the wrong people, so your group needs to be clear on the target audience for its message. Are they small niche audiences or larger groups of people?
And of course there can be more than one target audience for your message – for example, that organisation criticising the proposed new tax legislation could be aiming its message at a number of different groups of people:
- Its own members, supporters, donors and volunteers.
- Other similar organisations or bodies.
- Those groups in society it works with each day.
- The politicians considering the tax changes.
- The wider public in order to increase pressure on the government
not to make the changes.
Work out the best method to communicate to target audience/s.
Once you know your message and the people you want to hear it, your group has to choose the right way to convey that message to your target audience/s.
There are many ways of communicating your message - from flyers, banners, stalls and newsletters, to local and metropolitan media (radio, newspapers and TV), letters to politicians or the media, and even the Internet and email.
What your group needs to do is use the right communications channel to reach the desired target audience.
Using the tax legislation example again, there are a number of communication channels the organisation in question could use to get its message to its target audiences:
- Through their monthly printed or electronic newsletter to members, supporters, donors and volunteers.
- Through a statement or media release on the organisation's website - or printed and pinned on noticeboards for those groups it works with.
- By speaking to the local, state or national media about the issue and the organisation's stance on it, the message will go out to the wider public. (Established relationships with journalists will be a help here).
- By writing letters to relevant politicians or decision-makers (as well as urging supporters to do the same) and releasing a copy of that letter to the media, the message will be conveyed to those considering tax legislation changes.
- Other options could include a letterbox drop of flyers urging
people to take action or information pamphlets at the organisation's
office or by taking a stall at a public event.
You can focus your communications on one specific channel if it is a niche group you are trying to reach (for example, does your target audience read certain magazines or listen to certain radio stations?), or direct it at a wider set of channels if it has across-the-board interest.
Keep track of your strategy.
As your organisation endeavours to get its message across to its target audience, it needs to make sure it keeps track of the progress of its communications. For example:
- Which media outlets gave certain interviews or media releases a run?
- How much awareness did the letterbox drop, or your stall raise?
And if your organisation has set a budget for your communications strategy, it also needs to keep track of how much it is costing.
A good idea might be to draw up a checklist of your communications strategy's aims, and then note their progress at regular intervals; finally ticking them off as they are completed on time or on budget.
Review your strategy.
It is important that your group also reviews its strategy to make sure it remains in "good working order". These reviews can take place periodically – maybe once every year – or after a big event that your group used the strategy to promote.
Your group could build some simple evaluation measures into its communications strategy – for example, levels of media coverage; feedback from those targeted by your communications strategy and number of responses gained . This evaluation will help you assess how successful you have been in meeting your objectives.
When reviewing your strategy also look at what your group learned and possibly what could be improved next time.
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