“Given the safety risks and complexity inherent in public messaging campaigns on suicide prevention, project planning is crucial to the campaign’s success.”

—Chambers DA et al. (2005)

The Strategy component of the Framework for Successful Messaging refers to the upfront thinking and planning that helps messages to succeed. There is no single “best” suicide prevention message that will work for every messenger, goal, audience, and context. Thinking strategically helps you to create messages that fit your situation and use limited resources wisely.

Start with strategy.

It’s tempting to jump directly into writing messages or picking delivery channels (“we should make posters!”) For better results, start by deciding why you’re messaging, who you want to reach, and what you want the audience to do differently after hearing the message.

Strategy is a way of thinking.

No message should be disseminated to the public without deciding the “why, who, what, and how” of it. Some efforts such as campaigns are best developed using a strategic planning process. Equally important is day-to-day strategic thinking about messaging. Routinely asking yourself strategic questions (what’s my goal? who’s my audience? what do I want them to do?) will make your all of your communications more focused and effective. Without pausing to reflect, you risk merely adding to the clutter of messages without having any impact or worse, creating something that has the opposite effect of what you intended.


Strategy is important for all types of messaging. Here are some quotes from expert sources:

  • Campaigns and public information materials

    “The planning you do now will provide the foundation for your entire health communication program. It will enable your program to produce meaningful results instead of just boxes of materials.”

    —Making Health Communications Programs Work planning guide

  • Organizational communications

    “Be clear about what you want to say as an organization, and how you want to say it.”

    —Developing a Communications Strategy for Your Nonprofit, Farra Trompeter, Big Duck

  • Public speeches

    “Once you perform an audience analysis to learn how to reach your listeners, and you decide on your purpose and put together content to accomplish that purpose, you’re ready to write out an action goal of what you’re looking for from these attendees.”

    —How to Measure Success in Business Presentations and Meetings, Gary Genard, Public Speaking International blog.

  • Social media

    “Be strategic and follow demographic and user data to make choices based on audience, communications objectives and key messages.”

    —Lesson #1 in CDC’s Top Lessons Learned from Using Social Media, The Health Communicator’s Social Media Toolkit (CDC, 2011).

The quotes above are just a few examples. All types of communications planning should start with strategy development.


Communications planning guides, like Making Health Communications Programs Work, can walk you through a step-by-step planning and strategy development process like this one. See more strategy resources here.