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Resonate with Policymakers and the Public

Public health is an increasingly complex field and local public health communications should be an integral part of local public health advocacy. To maximize chances of achieving success for any local public health endeavor, local health department communications should be part of every strategic planning, development, management, implementation, and evaluation effort. To ensure that your communications effort resonates with policymakers and the public, you've got to keep it dynamic, memorable, and local.

For years, experts have strongly advised shoring up communications in local health departments and other areas of public health. Consider this recommendation of a prestigious Institute of Medicine committee:

“All partners within the public health system should place special emphasis on communication as a critical core competency of public health practice.  Government public health agencies at all levels should use existing and emerging tools (including information technologies) for effective management of public health information and for internal and external communication.  To be effective, such communication must be culturally appropriate and suitable to the literacy levels of the individuals in the communities they serve."

—Institute of Medicine, The Future of the Public’s Health in the 21st Century (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2002), Recommendation # 6.
Keep it Dynamic
To ensure success, local health departments should take advantage of a wide range of sometimes overlapping activities, to accomplish its communications goals including public and media relations, strategic communications planning, market research, branding, advertising, social marketing, crisis and emergency risk communications, telephone and electronic conferencing, network development and support, and community engagement.
Tip: Keep It Local

Local stories, local people, and local data will be most interesting to media and consumers and most persuasive to policy-makers.

Make it Memorable
The tobacco control campaigns in the 1990s and early 2000s were highly effective public health communications. These campaigns used an array of communications interventions—creative advertising, media relations, report dissemination, youth outreach, and partnerships with business, labor, health care providers, and consumer associations—to help achieve stricter regulations on marketing of tobacco products, increases in state excise taxes on tobacco products, clean indoor air ordinances, state funding of tobacco control programs, and overall reductions in tobacco use.

Other examples of successful public health communications/public education campaigns include:

  • Advertisements to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) promoted placing babies to sleep on their backs
  • Auto safety campaigns focused on seat belt use and drunk driving
  • Local crisis alerts advised of temporarily unsafe sources of drinking water
  • Lead paint and asbestos information campaigns
  • Post-Hurricane Katrina education of opinion leaders about LHDs’ energetic responses to the disaster
  • Lyme disease awareness campaigns
Tip: Put a Face on it

Talk about the people in your community who are affected, NOT the programs, initiatives, or objectives. Tell stories to illustrate what you seek to achieve.