States should develop and implement a comprehensive communications program that supports the priority policies and programs of the state. Before developing a communications plan, it is critical that the policies and programs be clearly defined and agreed upon by stakeholders.
Step One: What is our state’s policy?
(NOTE: This applies to all areas, occupant protection, speed, teens, impaired driving, distraction, etc.)
Once the policies have been clearly defined, states should look at their programs.
Step Two: Examine the programs
- Determine what programs (enforcement, prevention, rehabilitation, underage, etc.) are in place.
- Using data, determine the highest risk areas where the program will be in place. (For example, during enforcement waves, determine the highest risk geographical areas where enforcement will be highly visible. If there are high-risk areas where enforcement is not stepped up, communications in these areas should be avoided.)
Step Three: Strategic Planning
- Develop a yearlong communications plan that complements the programs.
- Develop core message strategies that support specific program activities.
- Make sure core messages support the program (i.e., use enforcement messages during HVE periods and social norming messages during non-HVE periods).
- Use messaging that coordinates with National campaigns, as appropriate.
- Consider special emphasis periods associated with high crash rates and fatalities such as July 4th, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Halloween, New Year’s, etc.
- Determine resource allocation and planning based on programs and data.
Step Four: Tactical Planning
- Based on the yearlong strategic plan, develop tactical plans for each program activity. The following questions should be answered before any plans are developed.
- Who are we talking to? (Use state data and market research to identify specific audiences—primary, secondary and tertiary.)
- What do we want them to do?
- What do we want them to think?
- What obstacles stand in our way?
- What resources are available to deliver this communication?
- Where (geography) will this communication cover?
- Determine the appropriate media vehicles. Is this a paid, earned and social media communication or is it one of these based on the resource allocation determined in Step Three?
- Finalize tactical plans and work the plan through partnerships, key media outlets, social networking, law enforcement (as appropriate), and other stakeholders.
- Creative elements should be relevant and linguistically appropriate.
- Keep ideas fresh and look for new ideas and/or hooks to keep media interest piqued.
- Never forget who your audience is. That’s whose behavior you want to change.
- Make it easy for partners and the media to help you. Provide them with easy to understand talking points and provide creative elements that they can customize (i.e., posters, social media blurbs, fill-in-the-blank releases, Op-Eds, video clips, etc.).
Step Five: Evaluation—Determining your communications success
- In addition to overall programmatic success, states should evaluation the success of their communications efforts. Some ways to do that are:
- Surveys—were there surveys taken during the effort? Did the target audiences increase during this time?
- Clips—how many news clips or videos were published?
- Impressions—how many media impressions did we have? Did our results match our buys? (Media post buys are critical. Did we get what we paid for or does the media owe us impressions on our next wave?) Don’t leave money on the table.
- How much traffic to our website?
- Was there increased activity and audience growth on our social networks?
Communications should follow the policy and the program in order to have success. Developing a yearlong plan that allocates resources for creative, media, staff effort and evaluation allows those priority programs to flourish. If something didn’t work, re-examine it and rework your plan. The public and your audiences are always changing. Make sure you evaluate every step and work your plan.