After who, what and how: testing, then tactics

In my previous post, 3 simple questions for communicators, I discussed the who, what and how questions to ask before embarking on any sort of communication campaign. To recap, the questions are:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. What do you want to tell them?
  3. How do you want them to react?

There’s more to it than that, of course. If you haven’t read the earlier post, the following won’t make as much sense to you. So, please, go back and read it now.


Finished? OK. Now that those questions have been answered, it’s on to the next step:

1. Test your assumptions. You’ve figured out your audiences, your message and your desired result. Now it’s time for a reality check. Will your messages yield the desired results? Find some people from the audience and ask them. This doesn’t have to be a thorough or time-consuming process. You probably don’t have time to conduct a survey or focus group, anyway. Instead, go for coffee with an audience member or two, tell them what you’re trying to accomplish, and see what kind of feedback you get. Then adjust your messages accordingly.

Before you end the conversation, don’t forget to ask your audience members about…

2. Preferred media. What’s the best way to get your message to the audience? Would your audience be more likely to receive your message if it were printed on a postcard? Or would an email work better? Should you host an open forum to share your message, or will a simple news release work? Besides asking your audience, you can also rely on market research that’s readily available online. For example, we know from Noel-Levitz’s E-Expectations research (PDF) that 70 percent of college-bound high school seniors prefer to go online to complete an application but that when it comes to receiving a notice of acceptance into college, an equal percentage prefer to receive that message via snail mail.

3. Tactics — finally. OK. Now we’re ready to talk about the tactics. Here’s where you figure out how to get the message into the right vessel — the right medium — for shipping it to your audience. No need to get into depth here. You’ve done the hardest part, and if you’re reading this you’re already a seasoned communicator, so you know all about tactics.

But as you develop your tactics, be sure to build in some sort of measurement ability so you can evaluate the process later.

4. Evaluate and measure. How will you know whether your communication campaign was a success? You have to evaluate it. This in itself could be the subject of an entire series of blog posts, so I won’t get into this too heavily. But measurement takes many forms, some of which are more valid than others. If you’re trying to raise money, increase attendance, increase the admit rate for your school, etc., then it’s pretty easy to measure the numbers. But if you’re trying to measure awareness or some other nebulous concept, then it’s going to be tougher. You may have to conduct surveys or talk to your audiences afterward. If you want some insight on measurement, I highly recommend you subscribe to K.D. Paine’s PR Measurement Blog. K.D. is a leader in the business of measurement and analytics. I’d also recommend you take an extra step and buy K.D.’s terrific book, Measuring Public Relationships: The Data-Driven Communicator’s Guide to Success. It’s worth the investment.

Disclaimer: I don’t always follow my own advice. Sometimes I get caught up in the immediate, urgent screeches of “We need to do something! Now!” and forget that there’s a better, more effective way to do things.

If nothing else, writing these two blog posts has served as a reminder. I hope this and the previous blog post will help you in your future communications planning.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

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