Strategy

Tips for Messaging Strategically

Be strategic and intentional about ALL of the messaging you do.

Every single public message is an opportunity to reinforce and support your key goals or, conversely, can be a missed opportunity or even undermine your other messages.

Connect communications to your broader mission and goals.

Communications should be an integrated part of an overall effort. Choose a few key messages that support and advance your overall work rather than sending out an array of messages with no common theme.

Don’t start with a particular channel or message in mind.

Avoiding jumping to decisions (like “we need a Facebook page” or “we should tell people who feel emotionally distressed to see their doctors”) without thinking through your own mission and goals, what audiences you want to reach and why, existing programs and services and their capacity, and what messages are best disseminated through particular channels.

Be realistic about what communications (alone) can and cannot do.

Generally, messaging should be used in combination with other programs, policies, services, or resources. Learn more

Shift from “communicating for awareness” to “communicating for action.”

Simply providing information about the problem is unlikely to result in behavior change. Opinion polls show that the public is supportive of suicide prevention in the abstract, but is less clear about how to take action. Every single tweet doesn’t need to name an action, but a high percentage of your messages should incorporate specific “calls to action” that are realistic for your audience and the information they need to act.

Use research and theory to guide your choices.

Base your strategy on “background research” you conduct to help steer you in the right direction. Use this background work to
  • understand the issue of suicide and what works to prevent it
  • understand what research tells us is effective in changing behavior
  • identify and prioritize specific audiences and actions
  • determine what will motivate the audience and how best to reach them

    This doesn’t mean you have to do a year-long research project; you can use existing research and publications that relate to your audience and objectives; conduct focused literature reviews, surveys or focus groups; or simply use more informal methods like talking with your intended audience or people they know.

Choose communications channels that your audience already uses to maximize exposure to the messages.

When conducting your background research, ask your audience what they read, watch, and listen to, what technology they own/use, and what information sources they trust.

Make sure the problem you’re addressing can be solved by messaging.

+ See an Example.

Example: If a community assessment reveals that there are underutilized services that people don’t know about, it makes sense to target communications to potential service users to promote those resources. However, if the problem is ineffective care within local health systems, other efforts may be a higher priority; for example, providing training for providers and advocating for a whole-systems approach to suicide care.

Think carefully before using messages and materials developed by others.

It’s easy to become excited about existing materials, and it makes sense not to reinvent the wheel. Before adopting others’ materials, however, critically assess whether the content and delivery methods are aligned with your own goals, audience, and context. Even if the messages do fit your situation, also ask your audience to review the materials and provide feedback about whether they resonate. See the section Review Existing Materials in Making Health Communication Programs Work for more guidance.
+ See an Example.

Example: Let’s say School A has good system for referring students to community mental health services, but focus groups reveal that teachers are unclear about how the system works and their role. In response, Local Agency A develops outreach materials and a website tailored for those teachers with guidance about when and how to make referrals. Across the country, Local Agency Z sees the materials and website and loves them. However, their local assessment finds the opposite problem: School Z teachers already understand how to make referrals, but the system itself is not working smoothly. In this case, Community Z would be wasting money if they adopted Community A’s teacher education materials because their assessment revealed a different need. In fact, the problem they’ve identified is a systems problem, not a communications gap, and they should focus their resources on fixing the referral system before publicizing it further.