Strategy

Principles of Effective Communications

The Strategy element of the Framework for Successful Messaging is based on the latest research in health communications and other fields about how to design messages that are most likely to be effective.

More successful communications efforts:
  • Are intentionally planned. Decide “why” before “how.”
  • Are tied to an overall strategy. What are your broader mission and goals, and how can communications support those aims?
  • Are connected to other programs, resources, or services. Sustained change is more likely to occur if communications are combined with other efforts, such as training, services, or policy and systems changes.
  • Set specific and realistic communications objectives. “Raise awareness” is not specific enough, and “reduce discrimination against people with mental illnesses” is unlikely to be achieved through messaging alone. Create concrete and measurable objectives that communications can accomplish, for example, “increase the number of people who tell a friend about the Lifeline number,” or “increase the number of people on your mailing list who contact legislators in support of particular suicide prevention legislation.”
  • Are tailored to a defined audience. Messages that target “everyone” or “the general public” are unlikely to be effective. Communications that address a specific group’s unique needs and beliefs are more likely to succeed. This often requires dividing a broad audience into subgroups and tailoring messages to each specific group.
  • Include a clear “call to action” in the message that is realistic and concrete, along with the information needed to act. “Help stop suicide” is vague and may be overwhelming. More specific actions might be, for example, “call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)” or “read real stories of coping at www.MakeTheConnection.net” or “sign up for our next volunteer training on May 5th online at [web address].” The action should correspond to your communications objectives and help the audience take small steps towards broader goals.
  • Are informed by audience research and are pre-tested with the audience to make sure the messages are appealing, relevant, understandable, and likely to motivate the desired action.
  • Use delivery channels that are used and trusted by the audience, fit the message content, and enable repeated exposure to messages.
  • Include a plan for monitoring and assessing whether messages are working as intended.