Communication Tips for Contributions Program Funding Recipients

Strategic Communications Planning to Promote your  Contributions Program Funded Project

October 5, 2016

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s (OPC) Contribution Program funds independent, non-profit research to generate new ideas, approaches and information about privacy that, ultimately, Canadians and organizations can use to make informed decisions about protecting personal information. As such, we expect our recipients to promote their projects. From our point of view, communications planning is essential to your project’s overall success. Even if your research has been thoroughly conducted and generated valuable results, spending too little time and effort on communicating about the results will make it difficult for others to learn about and benefit from your work.

The Importance of Strategic Communications Planning

In today’s digital information age, tools for sharing information are widely accessible and relatively easy to use. At the same time, there is more information available than ever, making it all the more challenging to attract attention for your work and have your message heard.

Being strategic about how, when and where you communicate your work can make or break the success of any promotional campaign. Success requires a goal, a plan, consistent messaging and deliberate choices about where and when you will tell audiences about your project.

When done right, a strategic communications plan will not only help you raise awareness of your project, but it will also build both visibility and credibility for your organization.

This brief guide outlines how to build a communications strategy to hone your messages and select the tactics to reach your target audiences and raise awareness of your Contributions Program-funded project. For quick reference, we have also developed a poster titled Quick Tips for Successful Promotion of Your Contributions Program Project (see Annex A) that summarizes the basics covered in this guide.

Getting Started

Depending on the scope of your project, the communications plan can be very simple, only a page or two in length, or it can be more detailed. Regardless of complexity, the planning process is helped by taking the time to outline, in writing, the finer points of your efforts. There are five steps that go into developing a successful communications plan:

  • Setting a communications goal that aligns with your project’s objectives;
  • Selecting the target audiences;
  • Determining key messages, with emphasis on what is new about your project;
  • Deciding on how you will reach your audiences and outlining budgeting, timelines and special materials needed; and
  • Establishing an evaluation mechanism to measure success.

1. Establishing a goal

Communications objectives lie at the heart of any communications effort. Your goal should be focused and realistic, given your available resources for communications. Some examples of possible goals are:

  • Increasing awareness of the issue amongst the general public or organizations that process personal information;
  • Alerting the research community of your findings;
  • Increasing public visibility for your organization; and
  • Positively influencing media, customers/clients/donors, private sector organizations, and other audiences.

It is always a good idea to keep your communications goal simple and clear. This helps to frame the rest of your plan and supports evaluation work at the end. A muddled and complex framing will make evaluating success that much harder.

2. Choosing Target Audiences

It is crucial to understand who you want to reach with your communications efforts as this shapes the tactics you will choose going forward. Start by listing all the audiences that your organization might want to contact, attempt to influence, or serve. Included on your list may be:

  • General public
  • Media (National, local, specialty publications)
  • Advocacy or public interest groups
  • Government (elected officials or senior public service decision makers)
  • Businesses
  • Consumers
  • Researchers/academics
  • Policy makers
  • Employees

Be sure to identify exactly the audience you hope to reach. The more specific you are with your target the easier it will be to pick the tools to reach them.

Reaching a small, targeted audience may be as simple as directly contacting specific individuals or groups and sharing the project’s results.

However, each audience is different and each will require specialized tactics to ensure they can be reached and engaged.

Engaging media, for example, is an effective way to broadly widen the scope of your work’s reach. To do so successfully, however, means gaining an understanding of the nature of their work and the ways you can make it easier for them to connect to your message.

Keep your goal in mind when choosing your target audiences. Think of who you want and need to influence to both advance the goal of your project and your organization. Keep in mind that you only have a limited budget and time, so be selective about your audiences to avoid casting your net too wide and biting off more than you can chew.

3. Key Messages

Key messages are the fundamental points you want people to know about your project. They should:

  • Support your goal;
  • Pique interest;
  • Tell a story;
  • Focus on what’s novel or ground-breaking about your project
  • Underline your project’s benefits; and
  • Demonstrate why your audiences should care and take note or action.

Keep it simple

To communicate the findings effectively, you must explain your project and its results in a way that is understandable to individuals who may know very little about your subject matter or your research project. As such, be sure to use plain language that allows others to understand the information as quickly as possible. Use examples to make your information more relevant for the audience. If you need to use technical terms, be sure to explain them. Remember, even expert audiences appreciate plain language.

Keep it brief

You might be able to write or speak volumes about your work, but remember that it’s a big world out there with lots of new information breaking, evolving and competing for time and attention. That’s why it’s important to refine your messages to what’s really the most important.

Make your messages interesting and keep them succinct. Three to five key messages are usually sufficient. If you have too many messages, you run the risk of trying to relay too much information in a world marked by information overload and shortening attention spans.

Repetition is key

In a noisy world, audiences often need to hear messages more than once to truly remember them. While it can often feel strange to do so, it is important to repeat your message in the same way in every interaction you have during your public outreach campaign. Consistency increases your chances of making a long-term impact on your target audiences. Make sure you repeat yourself everywhere—news release, speeches, responses to questions from the media, blog posts, tweets, etc. The goal is to see these messages included in every story about this project or comments about it from partners and interested parties.

4. Tactics, Materials, Timeline and Budget

Once your goal, audiences and key messages have been established you can decide how you will try to reach the intended audience(s)—what tactics to use and material to produce, your budget and timeline.

A tactic could be anything from a blog post shared via Twitter or a mail-out of your report, to a targeted media relations campaign, holding an event, or seeking meetings with potential partners and stakeholders.

Tactics

The examples of possible tactics include:

  • Posting information about your project on your website. When possible, ensure the report is online and available in accessible and multiple formats to accommodate viewing on desk/laptops, tablets and handheld devices;
  • Engaging in social media by promoting your work via your and/or your organization’s Twitter or Facebook accounts;
  • Reach out to key journalists, if possible, who report on matters related to the subject of your work to advise them of your project or perhaps even hold a media event and then let them know you would be available for an interview or to answer questions they may have;
  • If your project is complex or if you are releasing a large report, it may be useful to provide an embargoed copy to selected media outlets to allow them to understand what is important about the issue and your research;
  • Preparing and sharing a news release that presents your key messages and project findings in a way that interests reporters and entices them to provide coverage;
  • Giving speeches and/or exhibiting at key venues—ideally, at events or conferences hosted or attended by target audience members and/or dealing with the subject of your research or related matters;
  • Working with and through partners/intermediaries to help them promote your work to their networks through their communications channels (for example, by providing articles that they can put in their newsletters or blogs); and
  • Direct mailing or emailing to key individuals (although keep in mind, printing and distribution can be costly).

Timeline

Establishing a timeline for your communications strategy is also important, because when you plan to communicate is as important as what you plan to communicate. For example, the pre-Holiday Season period is always a good time to talk about consumer issues, because of the retail sales focus for many news stories. Similarly, Septembers is an ideal time for communicating privacy education materials, as this corresponds to the beginning of the school year.

Try to avoid peak media times when large events or announcements (especially those related to the subject of your work) are being held that could eclipse or distract from your news. Your timeline should also account for the time needed to produce materials and all internal steps and approvals you will require before releasing your information publicly.

Budget

Budgeting is important for all communications projects. Depending on the strategy, there will be resource implications, both in terms of cost and effort associated with producing materials and carrying out tactics.

Establishing a budget will help you understand the full range of requirements for announcing your project and underlines to others in your organization that communications is an important activity that takes resources and the commitment of staff time.

5. Evaluation

Generally, in communications it is useful to understand how success will be measured. This will help show you and your organization how effective your strategy was at reaching your goals and serve as a baseline to improve upon for future efforts. You may wish your evaluation to take the form of:

  • Media tracking and analysis (see how many outlets covered your report, how it was conveyed and whether or not the key messages gained inclusion)
  • Social media engagement analysis (seeing how many “likes”, retweets and postings about your work are generated and how many accounts they ultimately reached)
  • Web analysis (measuring the impact of your announcement and other communication tactics by seeing how they impact visits to your organization’s website and the specific page on which your work is posted)

You can report on your evaluation results internally by providing reports for presentation at staff meetings, periodic briefings for your senior management or academic institution, and perhaps even a year-end summary for the annual report.

Be sure to share the results of your communications efforts with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner as well. We are always keen to learn about the how the outcomes of research we fund have been communicated and received by others.

In addition to demonstrating the value of your communications efforts, taking time to evaluate gives you a better sense of what worked, what didn’t, what to replicate and what to improve upon for your next effort.

A final note on communication

As you promote your project, you will have opportunities to acknowledge the contribution of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. We are proud of the work we fund through our Contributions Program, and we expect our recipients to make a concerted effort to communicate the results of their projects. As your contribution agreement states, we expect you to acknowledge the contribution in all public activities relating to the project, including announcements, interviews, press releases, ceremonies, advertising and promotional activities, speeches, lectures, and publicity.

However, it is important that any acknowledgment or promotion clearly reflect the independent nature of your work and specify that the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. When acknowledging the OPC’s financial contribution, we ask that you use the language below:

  • For a publication: “This project has been funded by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC); the views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the OPC”;

OR

  • For a public event: “This event has been funded by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC); the views expressed at this event are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of the OPC”.

Finally, please do not use the Office’s crest or logo in any materials generated for the project, in order to maintain the independence of your project, and consult your contribution agreement for additional instructions on how to acknowledge our financial contribution.

Annex A – Tip Sheet

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contribution Program funds independent, non-profit research to generate new ideas, approaches and information about privacy. We encourage all our recipients to share the results of their projects widely, so that others can benefit from them.

The following tip sheet was developed to provide our funding recipients with some quick tips for promoting their projects. Funding recipients looking for more detailed communications advice about project promotion should review our guide Strategic Communications Planning to Promote Your Contributions Project.

Quick Tips for Successful Promotion of Your Contributions Program Project

Being strategic about how, when and where you communicate your work can make or break the success of any promotional campaign.

Success requires a goal, a plan, consistent messaging and deliberate choices about where and when you will tell audiences about your work. When done right, a strategic communications plan will not only help you raise awareness of your project, but it will also build both visibility and credibility for your organization.

Here are some quick tips that will help you successfully promote your project:

  1. Write down your communications plan in simple terms, starting with a clear goal.
  2. Deliberately choose and target key audiences.
  3. Outline key messages that are interesting, specific, brief and use plain language. Then, repeat your messages in every interaction during the campaign.
  4. Plan the actions you will take to get the word out. Plan when you will take these actions and what it will take to get the job done.
  5. Monitor outcomes and evaluate your efforts so you can be even more successful next time!

It is important that any promotion clearly reflects the independent nature of your work and specifies that the views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Please consult your contribution agreement for recommended wording for acknowledging or discussing the contribution.

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