The first step in developing a communication strategy is to determine the goals and objectives. The strategy goals should define a vision for what is to be reached in the future. The objectives should be specific and short-term outcomes, related to the main issue of concern, and be achievable by communication efforts.
A strategy goal of “more awareness” is not an effective goal. It is important to understand the underlying reason why more awareness is needed. Is more awareness needed to attract more funding for a program, encourage more visitors to come to an MPA or to reduce conflicts within a community? Goals and objectives that clearly specify the desired outcomes will result in a more effective communication strategy.
Goals and objectives depend on the assessment of the main issue of concern. For example, if a community doesn’t understand the benefits of a management action, then an education effort could be useful. If businesses are not complying with fishing regulations and are buying undersized fish, then it might be appropriate to implement a targeted project that identifies champions who can advocate for behavior change to encourage compliance.
The following questions can help determine the main issue of concern (i.e., strategy goals):
- What is the problem that the communication strategy is trying to solve?
- What are the most common or serious consequences of the problem? Why is there a need for solutions to this problem?
- Is it getting worse?
- Who are the people most affected by the problem? Describe them (e.g. young, old, from a certain area).
- Are specific groups or individuals causing the problem?
Goals and objectives should be explained in three bullet points or fewer.
The following questions can help determine strategy objectives:
- How can the problem be measured?
- What are all the possible ways to address the problem?
- What are the most cost-effective ways to prevent the problem?
Once the main issue of concern, goals, and objectives are determined, it is important to find out as much as possible about the specific problem that the communication strategy will address. This should include the situation or context in which the problem occurs and the audiences that are targeted. Some good questions to help assess the context of the problem include:
- Who are potential experts that should be contacted to get more information on the problem?
- What trends or other factors might affect the situation or circumstances in which the communications will take place?
- Which groups, community leaders, or other individuals might support or oppose the project or campaign?
- Are there any policies or laws that might affect the communication strategy?
- Are there any other projects or communication efforts addressing the same issue?
- What external opportunities could the communication efforts take advantage of?
After the goals of a communication strategy have been determined, it is important to understand how researching the audience, and pretesting both messages and methods, contribute to successful communication efforts. See the following pages for details on research methods and identifying the target audience.