Tell me just what a communications campaign is exactly.
April 7, 2013 6:03 AM   Subscribe

I've been asked to invent a mock communications campaign for a non-profit organization based around their primary cause. There's just one problem: I've never done that before. Like, I literally don't understand what a communications campaign is in a tangible "this is what you put on paper" way.

I'm supposed to identify messages, timeline, key audiences, plus vehicles and strategies to reach the target audiences. Finally, I'm supposed to say how I'd measure the campaign's success. The whole thing is only supposed to be a couple of pages.

Given my work background in communications and marketing, I think I have a decent grasp on the various parts I just listed above, but I still feel really intimidated. I'm worried I would approach this mock campaign in a style that won't adhere to some sort of standard format.

To clarify, I'm not asking for MeFites to tell me ideas for what I should include in the campaign. I have plenty of ideas, but I've never ever been asked to "write" a communications campaign before and I feel like I'm in over my head.

I'm looking just for examples of a communications campaign in this particular format described in the first paragraph. Are there industry websites or blogs out there I should look at? Is there a book I should borrow from the library? I'm honestly stumped about where I'm supposed to turn to get a clear picture of what my finished product is supposed to look like.

I'd greatly appreciate answers from anyone in the Hive Mind who does this sort of thing for a living.

Thanks so much in advance.
posted by pinetree to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
"communications campaign" = media campaign that also includes a social, online element.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:27 AM on April 7, 2013

I don't know if its available near you pinetree, but I found Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns, by Anne Gregory really useful when I was thinking about this sort of thing.
posted by prentiz at 6:32 AM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a partner at a communications strategy and research firm - I've worked to help customers (including not for profits) design and execute measurement communications programmes for a shade off 20 years. A few quick stream of consciousness comments, mainly focusing on the measurement part of your question.

There isn't really a standard format for this. There are some elements that people will expect to see - but you've covered them all in your original question. Essentially you're looking to answer a few elemental questions: who, why, what, when, how. You could do worse than to structure your plan in this way.

Who is your audience
How do you want to influence them
What channels can demonstrably help you reach that audience (eg newspapers, social media, events)
What messages or activities can demonstrably drive the influence that you want to have on them
How can a campaign based on those channels, messages and activities be designed, what are the logistical details, how long does it take, and how much does it cost
What is a reasonable effect (ie net influence) that you expected to be able to achieve with that campaign; how will you measure and report on them, and when

I'd be inclined to keep this really concise and punchy - you could capture this in a couple of pages. I would expect that the requirement would be for you to highlight the big picture strategy, with detailed creative and tactical plays coming later down the line.

On measurement, this can be tricky - measurement has been a controversial topic in comms / PR for a number of years (google 'AVE'). You should try to get a good grasp of your organisation's expectations (many are old fashioned and resistant to current best practice, which is to avoid some of the spurious older methods to attempt to put a proxy value on the outcome of PR effort). There is a balance between 'sound' measurement - which usually attempts to measure things like audience awareness, and is expensive and time consuming to do, and outdated / discredited measurement methods, which use proxies (like how many column inches you have generated in media coverage for your campaign). This can be a bear-trap for the unwary.

In brief though, you should keep your plan simple and focused: you as an organisation are attempting to drive a desired behaviour: eg greater awareness of an issue via advocacy, increased footprint of fundraising volunteers etc. You aim should be to capture a clear view of what these objectives are, and devise an appropriate way of measuring them - probably by a light audit of the current status if not already known (how many volunteers do you already have, what % of your target audience know about the issues you are attempting to communicate), and a measurement programme using market research or media monitoring to measure progress and eventual outcome.

If you want to do some additional research, you might find some helpful collateral via AMEC (Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications) - or web search for terms like AVE; Barcelona Principles.

Happy to kick a few ideas around with you via MeMail if you wish - though I can't promise to sink hours and hours of time in.
posted by bifter at 6:52 AM on April 7, 2013 [21 favorites]

Bifter covered most points. The only thing I would add is a quick review of the "competition," like similar local or national non-profits and their messaging.
posted by agatha_magatha at 7:47 AM on April 7, 2013

When I've seen this before (it's not part of my job, I've just happened to see a couple,) they're pretty much what bifter describes. Top section, what is our overall desired outcome? Then it kind of goes down chronologically in a table with major headings for each key event or milestone. Like: prior to event A, following A, a week prior to B, etc.

Each key event section has a little table with things like (and I'm going from fuzzy memory here,) who is audience, what is message, medium to be used, details (duration, cost, etc.) Sounds like you're going to have a column called "metric" and BRIEFLY say how you're going to tell if it's working or not.

Example: "inform employees how the sequestration affects them and what assistance is available."
is going to first involve briefing managers and stuff, because employees are going to start coming to them. So appropriate media for that might be email, there might be events like management seminars, etc. After that's done, the focus would shift to the employees at large. You'd want to blast out email, bulletin board postings, digital signage, the corporate web site/facebook, etc. You'd have "town-hall meetings" and need to appropriately publicize those.

It's just a written summary of what you plan to do, not the "why" justification.
posted by ctmf at 8:51 AM on April 7, 2013

I work in comms, I think bifter has really nailed it. One thing I would say, when you are defining your measurements for success be realistic. In my job, I find people often have totally unrealistic expectations about what comms can and should do, because they saw Kony 2012 or something, and think you can replicate that.

When you articulate what a successful campaign looks like, you are expectation-setting with your stakeholders (ie, it won't look like Kony 2012), and also setting yourself some goals that you know should be achievable.

This is one reason why, as Bifter states, metrics are often so dodgy; because marketing/comms people cherrypick whatever metrics will make their campaigns look good - and that is frequently not thorough metrics and typically things that non-comms stakeholders won't be able to differentiate between shit and shinola.

It sucks, but professionally, you don't want to be owning a failed a campaign, cause they will look at you.

More broadly, I tend to break mine down something like this:
Key Messages
then sometimes - potential roadblock/challenges (and how they can be addressed)

Tip: Do not crowd your slides with text; there is nothing worse I tell you. Keep it clean. Additionally, take a look on Slideshare et all, there are so many communication plan decks floating about on the internet you will get an idea of what works and what doesn't really quickly.

Best of luck,
posted by smoke at 2:56 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

We have these at work, and they read something like you've been given above. Most important for us are:

Key message
Target audiences
Platforms (quantified, like "7 Tweets, 5 Facebook posts w/photo, 8 magazine pitches, 15 local listings entries, street team postering) - honestly I think the quantification will be important for you, since it's really the only way we know how much energy was laid onto a particular promotional message
Metrics - for instance, I work at a cultural organization with a lot of events and we value both reach and attendance. So metrics include, "we were featured in X newspaper stories, Y number of blogs, and attendance was 879 people," etc. There are probably loads of other kinds of metrics like mentions, reblogs, prospects yielded, etc.
posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on April 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Usually different offices will have their own template for this sort of thing, but if you want a bit more background on how to develop/phrase each section, IABC has a few good articles.
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:22 AM on April 8, 2013

« Older Will A New Furnace Reduce My Heating Bill?   |   Preventative antibiotics for Lyme? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.