January 22, 2013

Craft an Effective Communications Strategy for Your Preservation Project

Although all campaigns have different objectives, the overarching goal of any media campaign should be to successfully change the behavior of a targeted group. To achieve this, issues must be properly presented to the target audience.

A campaign to save a place can benefit greatly from well-run media outreach, providing an organization with one of its best opportunities to reach its intended audience. Publicly presenting an issue through the media can also help attract the attention of policy and other decision makers who may ultimately decide the outcome of your project.

But where do you start? And where should you end up? Here are 10 steps to building an effective communications strategy that can help take your preservation project over the finish line.

1. Ask preliminary questions. Before launching your campaign, decide if the issue will benefit from receiving media attention. After all, not all issues need media exposure, and not every organization is prepared for it. Take a minute to consider what best fits your project’s and/or organization’s goals.

2. Identify your target audience. Who are you trying to reach? What kinds of approaches will help you effectively connect with this group? The better you understand your target audience, the higher your chances for reaching and influencing them.

Communications strategy. Credit: The Reboot, Flickr

3. Set an action-oriented goal. First, decide what you want to achieve with your project. Then, consider what you want people to do with the information you’re giving them. Once you set these parameters, you can select appropriate, concrete actions for your audience, such as signing a petition or contacting their mayor.

4. Develop a message. Your message should be as clear as possible and contain no more than three or four key points. Above all, it must resonate with your target audience. What will compel them to take action and support your cause?

5. Take into account campaign objectives. Keeping your objectives in mind will help ensure your messaging stays in sync with the campaign. For example, if you are working to save a historic site threatened with demolition, focus on the benefits of protecting the site, explain the site’s value to the community, and share potential reuse plans.

6. Determine which types of communication will be most effective. Tactics should depend on the campaign's goals and audience, and can include: press releases, social media, media advisory, op-ed, editorial, letter to the editor, press conference, blog post, etc.

Save Prentice rally. Credit: National Trust for Historic Preservation

7. Appoint a spokesperson. It is important to choose one person to serve as the primary media contact. Having a single individual that reporters can turn to simplifies the reporter’s job and helps your organization stay on message.

8. Pitch stories to reporters. When pitching a story to a reporter, begin by establishing a relationship. Call the reporter, introduce yourself, and ask for their preferred method of communication. Remember to always ask if they are on a deadline or have time to talk.

9. Be savvy in your conversations with reporters. When speaking to reporters, err on the side of caution and always assume that everything is “on the record.” Convey your message and talking points clearly and directly, and avoid sounding overly scripted. Make sure all your information is accurate and informative.

10. Measure results. After your media campaign, evaluate results based on the goals you set. Did the message reach its intended audience? Was the audience sufficiently inspired to take action? Did the money invested in the campaign provide the return on investment the organization expected? Conduct a thorough “post mortem” (discussion following the event) to ensure your next campaign is even more successful.

Julia Rocchi is the director of digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.


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