“Measure twice and cut once,” home maintenance experts advise.
Better ideas and more effective strategies and tactics will emerge from a carefully planned approach. There are many reasons to develop a communications plan. For example, you might wish to:
- Link communications resources and efforts to the strategy of the department, program, or project
- Use scarce communications resources wisely and cost-effectively
- Prepare for diverse eventualities, from unforeseen opportunities to a potential crisis or emergency
- Avoid pitfalls and unintended consequences that can result from inadequate planning
- Highlight a department, program, or project’s key communications component, such as:
- keeping the population informed during a public health emergency
- obtaining public cooperation with disease control or surveillance efforts
- persuading more residents to adopt healthy behaviors (eat healthy, quit smoking, get immunized, avoid pollutants)
- improving partnerships with health care professionals or other key groups (restaurants, public safety departments, real estate developers, town officials, health insurers, neighboring LHDs)
- building useful ongoing links with news media and other information sources (religious leaders, ethnic voices, nonprofit organizations)
- Keep the message compelling and consistent, while also tailoring it for different audiences
- Strengthen relationships within a coalition
- Facilitate a change in policy, direction, name, organizational structure, fee structure, or brand, by helping affected individuals learn about and adjust to the new approach
Statement of Purpose
To plan a public health communications program, start with what sounds easy—a statement of why
you want a plan. This is often more difficult than one anticipates because team members may have very different ideas or even goals. Yet, developing a communications plan is usually the work of a small team, coordinated by a communications officer who will execute most parts of the plan.
The first and most important decision the team will make is the reason for developing a communications plan in the first place. This reason is known as a statement of purpose. A statement of purpose can be short or long, but it must be clear.
Some brief, effective, sample statements are:
- “The Department will develop a strategic communications plan within the next two months in order to assure consistency, coordination, clarity, cost-effectiveness, and comprehensiveness in the use of all communications resources.”
- “In order to grow in numbers and capacity, our volunteer medical reserve corps program depends on effective communications with four groups: organizations that are potential sources of recruits, individual recruits, current members, and our professional staff. This will require an organized communications effort.”
- “This innovative inter-agency childhood obesity project must attain widespread support in the community in order to meet its goals: that all schools become junk-food-free, and that 85 percent of children ages 6–17 get at least one hour of exercise five days per week throughout the project area. We will build the necessary community support by using public relations, media relations, branding, outreach, and other activities as appropriate.”
Once decision-makers reach agreement on the reason for developing a communications plan, it’s time to create the communications plan. The work plan should address these seven essential plan elements
- Define the core concept
- Create an overarching strategy linked to a brand or market position
- Prepare messages or talking points
- Develop communications products
- Plan for crisis and emergency risk communications
- Evaluate your communications initiative
- Improve the overall quality of your communications initiative
Use the material in each of these sections as a guide to help you prioritize and ensure that all key steps are taken.