2.2 Karen Jeffreys: Making Our Communications Strategic


Published on

  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

2.2 Karen Jeffreys: Making Our Communications Strategic

  1. 1. PLANNING Making Our Communications Strategic by Karen Jeffreys C OM I NG T O R ICA DV W I T H 12 Y E A R S OF The room was packed, overflowing withRather than community organizing experience under domestic violence advocates, allies, and sur- my belt, one would think I would have a vivors of abuse. Also present were reporters fromresponding to each better grasp of how crucial communica- all of the major media outlets in Rhode Island. All tions is to the success of our social justice three major television networks covered the eventmurder as the work, but I think my experience is a common live at noon. This press conference and all that it one—too often, public relations/media is an add- represented was the result of RICADV improvingindividual tragedy on to our organizing work and not an integral its communications planning. arena that is afforded time, money, and resources. Rather than responding to each murder asthat it was, RICADV Obviously, in my previous jobs I understood media the individual tragedy that it was, RICADV to the extent that I knew to send out press releases focused on the connection between these cases.focused on the before big events, but didn’t really comprehend By doing so, it created a context in which to how critical communications was to our work. present policy initiatives designed to preventconnection between Having public relations become my full-time job domestic violence and the homicides associated taught me that. I often think back on my former with it. RICADV brought together representa-these cases. organizing work and wonder how it would have tives from law enforcement, prosecution, proba- been different if I knew then what I know now! tion/corrections, courts, legislature, and the On March 26, 2002, the Rhode Island Coali- community to present a collective plan of action tion Against Domestic Violence (RICADV) held to address the gaps in the preventive and service a press conference to address the occurrence of systems in Rhode Island. three domestic violence murders in the previous five weeks. This number of homicides in so short History of RICADV’s Communications Planning a period was unprecedented in Rhode Island— In 1996, we set a goal: we wanted to be viewed as at least in the 20 years in which RICADV had the go-to experts on domestic violence through- been documenting the problem. out our state. We wanted to be respected as a primary source by lawmakers, victims, other K AREN JEFFREYS is the director of public relations for the nonprofits, service organizations, government, Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence the general public, and the media. In terms of the (RICADV), www.ricadv.org. Sections of this article were media, we had one overarching goal: to become drawn from the forthcoming publication on Strategic the first point of expert contact whenever a Public Relations by Charlotte Ryan and Karen Jeffreys. story was being done on domestic violence. More information on the book can be found at the In the 2002 press conference referenced RICADV Web site. above, we began to see the fruits of our labor.22 REPRINTED FROM THE NONPROFIT QUARTERLY ILLUSTRATION: IMAGES.COM
  2. 2. After seven years of building relationships with tions with constituents (see “Constituent Voice is journalists—being available to them 24/7, Critical” on page 26) and with the public. In other meet i ng w it h t hem, a nd ca ll i ng t hem on words, at the foundation of a good communica- stories—establishing systems to improve our tions strategy is the reciprocal give and take withTo move an issue media work, developing our message, preparing our various stakeholders where we listen to prob- our spokespersons, and making media and com- lems, raise grievances, ask for help, advocate forfrom being a concern munications a priority, we had become a primary solutions, and learn from gains and losses. player on our issue. At the same time, we built a Once we have established this base, we mustof the already communications program that is a model in the identify which audiences are important in a national domestic violence movement. given campaign, identify tools/tactics for reach-convinced to being a How did this happen? First, RICADV had to ing those audiences, and develop messages that make a commitment to communications— convince those audiences to support the cam-concern of a broader giving it attention, time, money, and resources— paign. A communications plan focuses an organ- as it would public policy, fundraising, legislation, ization on its key audiences, the best ways tocommunity, we need training, and other areas of our organization. reach them, and the key messages to deliver. This commitment derived from our understand- RICADV’s communications plan maps howto cultivate that ing that communications is crucial in the work the organization will work to broaden public to end domestic violence. We can pass laws, understanding of domestic violence. This meansbroader community. train police, and serve victims, but if we don’t it must know how the public currently thinks, and change social attitudes about domestic violence, it must be able to effectively pose a countervailing we will never end it. Communications done well frame of reference which resonates with people. can build social intolerance toward domestic violence—it is the context within which all our Everyone Is a Communicator, other work is pursued. Every Communication Is Important This is true for any social movement. To move A successful strategy sets realistic goals, taking an issue from being a concern of the already into account the existing environment and the convinced to being a concern of a broader com- organization’s strengths and weaknesses. It rec- munity, we need to cultivate that broader com- ognizes that external resource mobilization is as munity. Social movement organizations in civil important as internal resource mobilization. rights, women’s rights, gay liberation, and envi- What is the series of actions through which ronmental justice all learned that being effective your organization proposes to mobilize resources meant expanding their support in broader com- to achieve its goals? RICADV is lucky to be a munities, and that this meant developing rela- coalition that involves hundreds of potential tionships with those broader communities or activists. Its six member agencies provide direct publics. services to domestic violence victims and sur- vivors—each of these organizations has a board, Why Plan Communications? staff, and constituencies involved with it. We are Without planning, our work too often functions also blessed to be associated with Sisters Over- in crisis-response mode and as a result, tends to coming Abusive Relationships (SOAR), our task be scattered in its effect. When work is scat- force of survivors which involves survivors as tered, capacity never builds, nothing feels solid, spokespeople and analysts in domestic violence and staff and members become demoralized. programs and policies. It is with all of these part- Just as an organization’s strategic plan clari- ners and others in law enforcement, the judiciary, fies its program goals and distributes resources the legislature, and even in sports that RICADV to match group priorities, an accompanying as a statewide coalition advocates for changes in communications plan helps an organization plan social policies impacting domestic violence. systematic communications work. For every goal or objective in our communi- But if we see this arena as the area in which cations plan, we must ask, “With whom must we all we are doing is convincing others to see things communicate to achieve this? What publics or our way, we may be doomed. A critical compo- audiences—allies, potential supporters, etc.— nent in our understanding of how to discuss should we reach and mobilize to accomplish issues publicly is the quality of our communica- this?”24 REPRINTED FROM THE NONPROFIT QUARTERLY WWW.NONPROFITQUARTERLY.ORG • FALL 2005
  3. 3. Some organizations are fortunate to have a In short, organization staff and members are dedicated communications staff. It is important critical communicators and need to be brought to remember, however, that an organization into communications planning so that they communicates with broader publics through understand how their daily tasks build the orga-Every organization thousands of daily encounters—e-mail, faxes, nization’s communications capacity. phone calls, face-to-face conversations, meet-member and staff ings, letters, meeting minutes, and legislative How to Make a Communications Plan alerts. Every organization member and staff RICADV follows a seven-step approach to com-person is a person is a communicator, not just the official munications planning. The communications communications staff. staff leads the effort, involving other staff andcommunicator Not only is everyone a communicator, every members as needed. The first step is planning communication matters. While mass media are who needs to be at the table. Then, the planning essential ways to communicate for many cam- team takes each strategic goal and brainstorms paigns, most communications tactics are not audience, message, and tactics for reaching the mass media. In RICADV’s 18-page communica- audience. The team writes this down, prioritizes tion plan only four pages are devoted to mass the ideas, and then translates the communica- media. The rest involve communication through tions plan into a work plan that specifies who newsletters, the Web site, and our ongoing will do which task by what date. The team also work—meetings, events, trainings, and so on. decides how it will measure its progress and Constituent Voice is Critical Supporting Survivors’ Full Participation own right. While still being willing to function as spokespersons, The direct voice and analysis of those who have experienced the 112 survivors it actively involves don’t want to be simply the domestic violence has been critical to the Rhode Island Coalition human-interest story illustrating a point being made in the media. Against Domestic Violence’s legislative and communications suc- They have their own ideas about how to translate the knowledge— cesses. This participation has organized itself through Sisters Over- hard won from personal experience—into policy initiatives. coming Abusive Relationships (SOAR), an independent but linked Their own experiences with the abuse itself and then with police, organization. SOAR helps RICADV develop its policy agenda, and shelters, the legal system, child visitation issues, hospitals, and it trains and supports survivor spokespersons to testify publicly other support systems bring a practical wisdom and power to through the media or in the legislature. public education and policy work. While praising RICADV member agency services for victims in Background crisis, SOAR distinguishes itself carefully from direct services for While the movement against domestic violence was founded victims: “SOAR is about change not service; justice not charity. It’s more than 30 years ago on the principle of self-determination, it a grassroots organization for survivors. To us, that means that always runs the risk of favoring the service delivery aspect of its people directly affected by the issue—survivors—should have work over the empowerment aspect (since much of the funding the power to make decisions,” notes SOAR member Rosa De is in service delivery). This slide, when it occurs, robs the move- Castillo. ment of its impact. There is a close collaboration between SOAR and RICADV, and SOAR was founded in 1989 by a group of domestic violence sur- they support each other’s legislative agendas. The two organiza- vivors who wanted to move beyond the inner healing work of tions possess the same core values and philosophies and maintain support groups to address the root causes of domestic violence. a common organizational culture that stresses nurturing the lead- They use the firsthand knowledge and intensity of their direct ership of members and staff alike. They share the same space and experiences to educate the public and promote institutional change. many of the same back office functions, but SOAR has its own SOAR has grown from a group of individuals primarily serving niche in Rhode Island, framing much of the public discourse on the Coalition as a speakers’bureau to an organizing project in its this important issue.26 REPRINTED FROM THE NONPROFIT QUARTERLY WWW.NONPROFITQUARTERLY.ORG • FALL 2005
  4. 4. allocates resources and responsibilities for wrote a communications plan, we didn’t recog- carrying out the evaluation. nize that our own member agencies were a When written out in detail, a communica- primary audience! We took them for granted. tions plan can be lengthy. This is not a mistake; Now we’ve worked to improve communicationIn crafting its the plan simply makes visible important commu- with our member agencies, focusing on better nication work that is often taken for granted, meeting minutes and more frequent phonemessage, an such as staying in touch with member agencies. contact, for instance. If the written plan represents more work than is 4) Framing messages. The message is whatorganization realistic, review it and set priorities that fit to tell the audience. In crafting its message, an better with the labor and resources available. organization considers what the audiencesconsiders what the 1) Who needs to be at the table? Step one is to know and feel about the issue and what they determine the process for writing the communi- need to understand to take the action the organ-audiences know and cations plan. Ask yourselves, “Who needs to par- ization is proposing. Messages combine facts, ticipate in which aspects of the planning?” Each stories, and visuals to make an issue real to anfeel about the issue organization develops its own planning process, audience. Messages are created to send to audi- but any staff person or member with any respon- ences; think of a message as a conversation, notand what they need sibility for communications needs to be involved as a position paper. at some point. 5) Selecting tactics/tools for sending mes-to understand to RICADV doesn’t write its communications sages to audiences. Tactics/tools are the “how” plan in a single staff meeting or retreat. The com- of planning communication: all the ways to sendtake the action the munications staff lead the process involving a message to a priority audience. These can be other staff, interns, SOAR, and member agencies direct, such as phone calls, fliers, e-mail, face-organization is for which the plan affects their work. Thus, SOAR to-face conversations, and meetings. Or they can would be at the table if the communications staff involve mass media; this involves gaining accessproposing. Messages were planning the communications component to a media outlet that you don’t control (radio, of the strategic goals relating to SOAR. television, print, etc.). They include paid adver-combine facts, 2) Reviewing goals/objectives. Once the plan- tising such as billboard ads, bus ads, or TV/radio ning process is set, team members start by ads. There are two tricks to picking the rightstories, and visuals reviewing the organization’s strategic plan. The tools/tactics for sending a message. Organizers strategic plan proposes actions and campaigns must know which tactics/tools reach whichto make an issue real to further the organization’s goals and objec- audience. And they must know their own organi- tives. Even organizations without a formal zation’s strengths, picking tactics that they haveto an audience. strategic plan often choose an action strategy the resources to use well. A bus ad, for instance, after having considered the organization’s only works if the desired audience rides buses strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats. and if the organization has the resources to The communications plan creates the com- create an attractive bus ad and disseminate it panion plan for communicating the organiza- widely. tion’s strategy, working goal by goal. Planning 6) Creating a work plan: who does what by communication work is like any other planning: when? To ensure the communications plan is the team brainstorms and then prioritizes given implemented, RICADV translates it into a work organization resources. Some great ideas get plan. A communication work plan organizes tabled for the future. communication work into a timeline: concrete 3) Identifying audiences. The goals answer tasks that must be accomplished by specific the question, “What do we want to achieve?” persons by a specific date. Audiences are the “who” of a communications The communications staff takes the lead in plan: whom the organization needs to commu- writing up the overall communications plan, nicate w ith to meet its goals. Audiences, involving relevant staff and members in compos- however, are not just outside the organizations. ing their sections. Tasks are assigned to specific Staff, board, and member organizations are also people and a work plan and timeline are drawn critical audiences. Without mobilizing these up to note who will do what by when. Routine core supporters, an organization fails to activate check-ins (quarterly, bi-monthly, or weekly, its best communicators. For example, until we depending on the situation) help the team estab-28 REPRINTED FROM THE NONPROFIT QUARTERLY WWW.NONPROFITQUARTERLY.ORG • FALL 2005
  5. 5. lish accountability and adjust the plan if circum- At the Heart of it Allstances change. Communications strategy does not stand alone; 7) Establishing measures of progress. Evalu- it builds from an organization’s mission andation helps organizers know whether their organ- overall strategy. If a group lacks a clear strategy,ization has been successful in reaching its the media spotlight will highlight precisely that Organizations simplydesired audiences with its desired message. lack of direction.Whenever possible, a communications plan At the heart of it all, social change work don’t have theshould include specific measures by which to involves communication, and mass media is theevaluate the communication work’s impact. Eval- central communication system—the big tent—of luxury of notuation measures could include increases in calls our times. Organizations simply don’t have theto a hotline, increases in numbers of calls to luxury of not communicating. In order to achieve communicating.service centers, or increases or positive changes the mission of our social justice organizations, wein media coverage, etc. Media monitoring helps must win the hearts and minds of a bigger commu-track the impact of communications campaigns. nity than is in our database. And to do that, we have to devote more time, money, and resourcesThe Communications Spotlight to our communications. It won’t happen overnight,Communications links an organization to the but keeping in mind “start small, build big,” therepublics/audiences relevant to its mission. In effect, is no better time than now to begin the journey.communications turns a spotlight on an organiza-tion’s work; it shows broader communities what Copyright 2005. All rights reserved by Third Sector New England,the organization is doing. Communications draws Boston, MA. (Volume 12, Issue 3). The Nonprofit Quarterly featuresattention to the organization’s good work, widen- innovative thinking and management practices in the nonprofiting its support base. Successful communications sector. For reprint permission or subscription information pleaseresults from planning in communicating vision go to www.nonprofitquarterly.org/subscriptions.and goals to the predetermined audiences.FALL 2005 • WWW.NONPROFITQUARTERLY.ORG REPRINTED FROM THE NONPROFIT QUARTERLY 29
  6. 6. Chronology of a Media Campaign When we began our communications work in 1996, one of our its communication systems, train its spokespersons, and deepen main goals was for the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic its relations with police, reporters, etc. Violence to become recognized as the experts on the issue of When another cluster of murders occurred three years later domestic violence in our state, widely respected by lawmakers, (August 1–September 19, 1999), RICADV was in a better situation victims, other nonprofits, service organizations, government, the to influence news coverage. Quoting RICADV and other advocates, general public, and the media. reporters identified these cases as domestic violence. At this point, By 2002, RICADV had made progress on this goal, and could RICADV could urge the public to treat domestic violence as “every- unite diverse constituencies—domestic violence victims and sur- body’s business,”but we could not yet catalyze a public conversa- vivors; domestic violence advocates and service providers; court tion about how to change existing systems to keep victims safe officials; legislators; criminal justice professionals; regular citi- and hold batterers accountable. We could use the murders to zens—around common policy initiatives. (This success is illus- educate, but not to create new policies. trated through the case highlighted on page 22.) A third cluster of murders occurred two and a half years later In a five-week period in early 2002 (February 13–March 17), (February 12–March 20, 2002). Now RICADV was positioned to three domestic violence murders shook Rhode Island, one use the tragedies more effectively to create policy changes. Not brazenly committed in police presence. RICADV responded imme- only did RICADV help reporters flag domestic violence in each case, diately to each of the murders, urging Rhode Islanders to redou- but RICADV also leveraged the coverage to jumpstart a successful ble their efforts to keep victims safe and hold batterers campaign to reform support systems for domestic violence accountable. One week after the third murder, RICADV and Sisters victims. Called the Seven-Point Plan, the policy campaign was led Overcoming Abusive Relationships (SOAR)—joined by other by advocates and survivors with strong support from police, com- advocates, law enforcement, and court and legislative allies— munity groups, legislators, and court officials. With the passage announced their Seven-Point Plan for addressing loopholes in the of the Seven-Point Plan, RICADV had moved from invisibility to the state’s existing support systems. ability to voice issues to the ability to make policy. The Seven-Point Twice in RICADV history, a cluster of three murder cases Plan campaign illustrates using media outreach to build support occurred in a few weeks. In 1996, when RICADV first began track- for policy changes. ing media coverage, three murders occurred in five weeks (April 15–May 20, 1996). News coverage followed the lead of local Analyzing the Success police, who did not refer to the murders as “domestic violence.” The Coalition used the public attention sparked by three murders “Man shoots wife, then himself, police say,”read the Providence in five weeks to call for a review of the justice system to ensure Journal headline in the first case. that abusers are held accountable and victims be protected. “3 die in murder-suicide; Boy, 2, among victims,”read the Prov- RICADV’s meteoric success in passing the Seven-Point Plan should idence Journal headline for the second case. not be seen as a chance occurrence, however. Over seven years, “Murder-suicide claims 4 lives in Providence,” read the Provi- RICADV had worked to create a communications infrastructure— dence Journal headline for the third case. systems for developing relations with key publics. The result was In 1996, RICADV’s perspective that domestic violence is a social that RICADV could promptly mobilize not only the domestic vio- problem—everyone’s business—was invisible. From this start- lence advocacy community and survivors, but also key institu- ing point of invisibility, RICADV began to plan its priorities, build tional actors—the courts, police, and legislature. Joining with the30 REPRINTED FROM THE NONPROFIT QUARTERLY WWW.NONPROFITQUARTERLY.ORG • FALL 2005
  7. 7. family and friends of the immediate victims, especially the Friends above. The 2002 Seven-Point Plan (Year Seven) demonstrated all of Barbara Lombardi, RICADV catalyzed the public will and pres- the building blocks of RICADV’s communications infrastructure sure for institutional change. working in synchrony. The Seven-Point Plan was passed because RICADV had created a communications infrastructure—ongoing relation- Setting the Plan in Motion ships and ways to communicate with all publics who shared an During the first three years, RICADV focused on setting up the basic interest in domestic violence. The same could be said of RICADV’s systems. In the next three years, RICADV consolidated these communications infrastructure—routines and systems that systems and shared them with SOAR and other coalition members. combine to allow RICADV to communicate quickly and consis- With basic systems in place, outreach to wider and wider commu- tently with the publics named above. By 2002, when the tragic nities became possible as SOAR and member agencies increasingly trio of murders occurred, RICADV’s communications systems participated in communications. were working together to provide a seamless collaborative RICADV no longer received coverage only for its planned response to each of the three murders and then, to facilitate events; its media protocol spells out for all staff how to respond to turning the tragedies into an opportunity for policy change. unexpected crises, and RICADV proactively called media and police After each murder, RICADV staff and relevant member agencies when a murder occurred. This had become easier because RICADV had caucused to focus their messages. The messages were trans- staff, as they went about their various responsibilities, had culti- mitted quickly and efficiently, thanks to RICADV’s up-to-date vated ongoing relationships with reporters, courts, legislators, and media database. There was no confusion about what should be police departments. done by a member agency versus central staff because there was In contrast to its limited communication resources in 1996, media policy in place that negotiated divisions of labor in RICADV had by 2002 used its building blocks to establish a strong advance. The coalition prepared its spokespersons carefully and communications infrastructure from which to further the mission called back reporters to make sure they would attend the press of ending domestic violence. RICADV’s core values and philosophy conference, recording the press reaction in its press logs. “Of were thoroughly established in cultural agreements—rules for course we’re coming,”said one reporter when called back. “This decision-making and conflict resolutions. Communication work is a must-be-at press conference.”At the press conference itself, had been distilled into a set of systems for monitoring media, police, corrections officers, politicians, and RICADV spoke at developing messages, maintaining press lists, and tracking results. length, but the lengthiest coverage the next day was given to In short, RICADV had, by this point, established its organizing SOAR member Rosa De Castillo, who described her own harrow- approach and integrated it into routine systems. RICADV could ing escape from an abuser. Again, this built on RICADV’s ground- respond quickly to unexpected events, and could support its work to support an independent organization that gives voice to members if events occurred in their localities. Other institutions survivors. Finally, RICADV’s media clipping files ensured that the such as the police, courts, and attorney general’s office saw RICADV coalition could review news coverage to update its media data- as a helpful ally. Reporters saw RICADV as a strong and reliable base and to reflect on how to improve. source of information, a capable, articulate voice for ending RICADV started small but built big, establishing its communi- domestic violence. RICADV’s building blocks had created a solid cations systems one step at a time. It took seven years for Rhode infrastructure from which to further its mission of ending domes- Island to put in place the communication infrastructure described tic violence.FALL 2005 • WWW.NONPROFITQUARTERLY.ORG REPRINTED FROM THE NONPROFIT QUARTERLY 31