The Science & Art of Strategic Communications
Guest Post: Doug Hattaway
Strategic communications is all about motivating and mobilizing people to achieve goals, but making an impact is a highly complex undertaking in today’s hyper-charged media environment. It’s hard to know where to focus your energy and resources, much less create content that will rise above all the noise.
That said, there’s actually an art and a science to strategic communications that can take some of the guesswork out of your work. In this post, the first in a three-part series on how you can apply the science of psychology and the art of literature to inspire and engage people to support your cause, I discuss the first step in every effective plan: mapping out a smart strategy with clear communications objectives.
Future posts in this series will address the science–useful insights from cognitive psychology that can make your communications more powerful and the art of crafting messages that move people, using tools from literature and creative writing.
Step 1: Setting Communications Objectives
Strategic communications can be held accountable for achieving three things, all of which are measurable: raising awareness, changing attitudes and motivating people to take action.
Many communications strategies begin and end with raising awareness. But let’s be honest—raising awareness of an issue doesn’t necessarily result in improved attitudes or meaningful action. It’s only the first step on the road to impact.
To get all the way to action and mobilize people for a cause, communications must create changes in the perceptions, attitudes and motivation of the target audience. Effective messages, images and audience engagement activities will achieve five specific objectives.
To move from awareness to action, the audience must:
1) be aware of the need,
2) care about the cause,
3) understand the problem and solution (and believe change is possible),
4) feel a sense of urgency to act,
5) know what to do—and feel good about doing it.
Think of this as your Road Map to Impact. It can help you focus energy and resources where they’re needed most.
The first step in setting communications objectives is to assess the current state of your audience in each of these dimensions. Think of the cause you want to motivate people for, a specific goal you want to achieve to advance that cause, and the audience most able to help achieve it.
Ask yourself: Are the members of this audience aware of the need? Do they care about it? And so forth. You can download a Road Map to Impact here. It’s a simple checklist designed to help you begin setting these types of strategic communications objectives.
You can conduct research with audience members to help answer these questions. Or you may have a good enough handle on the audience to make a quick call.
My firm worked with a national campaign to reduce the high school dropout rate. The campaign sought to mobilize school administrators, teachers, community leaders and policymakers concerned about the dropout crisis.
This audience was aware of the need to prevent 1 out of every 4 American high school students from dropping out. They certainly cared about the cause. They understood the problem and a key part of the solution—adult engagement with at-risk kids. They believed change was possible, if more caring adults connected with struggling students.
But the campaign lacked a clear action agenda. Educators on the front lines and leaders in the community felt a sense of urgency, but needed to know about specific actions they could take that would make a real difference.
This insight suggested the need to develop a call to action with specific action items, tools and activities that would make it easy for people to get involved in the cause.
Use the Road Map to Impact to assess where you may need to focus your efforts to achieve the necessary changes in awareness, attitudes and motivation in your audience.
Doug Hattaway is president of Hattaway Communications, a strategic communications firm that adapts tools from business, politics, psychology, linguistics and other fields to help visionary leaders and organizations achieve ambitious goals.