Something Is Fishy About ‘Raising Public Awareness’
At its very basic core, a communications plan is about getting your conservation message out to the public. But this is where many environmental communications plans are doomed to fail.
We’ve all heard the goal of ‘Raising public awareness’ pitched in staff meetings. It’s usually blurted out by someone at the meeting when the group is struggling about the focus of a plan.
“Isn’t is just about raising public awareness!?” says someone.
“Yes! That’s it!” responds the group.
“Great! We have our objective!” the group agrees.
If ‘reaching the public’ is the generic root of your plan, you risk a lack of results due to having no focus for your plan. Yes, ‘raising public awareness’ is very likely an underlying component of many of your conservation efforts. However, it’s too ambiguous for being the basis of a plan. You need to drill down to more specific objectives.
You need to change minds. Not raise awareness.
To know what success will look like, you need to develop a success statement. This statement is based on a very simple sentence: “We will know our communications plan has been a success because….. (finish the sentence).” Why do you need a success statement when you have already created objectives? It’s simple: You need a statement to measure the success of the objectives.
Here’s a scenario that develops because there is no objective-based communication plan: A small, community-based environmental group is proposing a major stream rehabilitation project to improve fish habitat. The plan is pitched to a municipal council. The obstacle: Homeowners bordering the stream have united to block the plan because they say the stream is just fine, and such a project will lower property values.
In an attempt to now sway support after the rehabilitation project has already been pitched, the environmental group asks to meet with the editorial board at a newspaper. The reason: the group needs positive press to help ‘raise public awareness’ for the proposed project that’s now being opposed by a homeowners’ coalition. What’s wrong? The environmental group is caught in reactive mode and now must scramble to try to win a conflict. If it’s lucky, the group now has a 50/50 chance. Why is the environmental group struggling? It’s because its public relations or communications plan is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach.
You must decide on concrete objectives. Some quick and easy ways to do this are:
Craft a pre-speech intro. Imagine you or your organization or business is being introduced prior to giving a speech at an event tomorrow. What would the emcee say about you or your organization? What would they say that makes your organization unique and why it’s so important? Now, take it a step further: If the same event was held six months from now, or a year later, how would you like you or your organization to be introduced? In the case of the environmental group trying to rehabilitate a stream, the emcee’s intro may have gone something like this… Our community’s major stream is no longer an eyesore of shopping carts, debris and algae. Today it’s worthy of a postcard as great blue herons have returned, trout race downstream, and turtles bask on logs…. OK, you get the idea. Lots of imagery and key words that can resonate with the public in a communication plan.
Create a new vision statement for your plan. Perhaps your communications plan objective is: Nationwide recognition as an expert source for information on empowering citizens to live more sustainably. Once you have the objective, you can plan your road map to achieve the result. The above statement contains three key words that will help you map your route to realizing your objective: the regional expert source. How do you position your organization as an expert worthy of national attention?
Building your toolbox. Your objectives may include the following tools:
- Video storytelling
- Photographic storytelling
- Pitching media interviews
- Reaching journalists specializing in environmental reporting
- Twitter, Facebook, social media
- Targeted advertising in trade and specialty magazines
- Article marketing
- Direct mail campaigns
- Media releases
- Focus groups
- Publicity stunts
- People-to-people conservations
By drilling down on how each potential approach can contribute to your objective, you’ll be able to shortlist the best of the best.
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