A well-designed communications strategy is critically important to the success of any municipality outreach activity. Gaining public support for local government programs can be quite difficult; in fact, many great plans have been stalled or dismantled as a result of insufficient strategic planning for community events or the selection of communications channels for the securing of public buy-in was not as effective as hoped. In this blog, we’ll highlight some ways that a local government agency or municipality can approach the communications process for proposed initiative as well as offer some best practices that can (almost certainly will) guarantee public support throughout the duration of a project.
Understand Your Audience
Any communications strategy hinges on understanding your community and its key stakeholders. The first step of an effective community relations campaign is polling or surveying local residents to determine the public concerns regarding a proposed project that may impact the community negatively (noise, traffic, redirects, loss of access) prior to beginning. The public wants to be heard and know that potential issues will be addressed in an effective manner. Having the public and/or local agencies’ support a proposed project or initiative will mitigate future problems and, ideally, prevent unnecessary “hang ups” in the project delivery.
Another key benefit of proper surveying in the planning phase is discovering what communications channels your community uses most frequently (for example traditional forms of media like newspapers or television, radio, word of mouth, or websites, social media, digital signage, mobile notifications, etc.) Since campaigns can easily be misaligned and typically have finite funds to work with, it is important to gather as much feedback as possible during the planning stage.
Once you have gathered all of the important community information related to your planned project, it is time to create a communications strategy that will educate, inform, engage, and mobilize your target audience.
Be sure to design your communications strategy to align with the specific community preferences that you uncovered in your poll or survey responses. How do the community at large and its unique neighborhoods consume information? What are the community concerns? How often should communications occur, and on which channels?
This is the time to structure the overall strategic plan and define how you will maintain your communications campaign. Once outlined, you’ll be able to clearly estimate the frequency of all communications over the course of the project. (Pro-tip: be sure to anticipate project changes and unforeseen circumstances, and have a plan in place to quickly respond to emergencies.)
It All Comes Down to Content
It is absolutely critical in today’s day and age to have a dedicated project website, so begin by creating a micro site or portal that is easy to navigate and understand by anyone who visits. This site will be the hub of all project related communications efforts, so the site should be updated with essential information on a regular basis.
Next, you’ll want to design and create informational materials such as newsletters, brochures, fact sheets, and advertisements (depending on the project) that can communicate planned procedures, key updates, etc. to the community. Many things will need to be communicated over the course of a project (including upcoming events, sustainability initiatives, key updates, celebrations of successes, etc.), so content should be designed in a way that clearly keeps residents abreast of planning efforts. Be sure to leave out technical jargon, and communicate points in linear, clearly-defined points.
Another crucial element to keeping the public aware of your activities is regular communication with the media. Getting news coverage will help you reach a larger audience; however these days fewer and fewer local agencies have the personnel to issue regular press releases and media alerts. Consider hiring an agency like ours to provide comprehensive professional PR support for the creation and distribution of press materials and media relations.
What We Recommend
While every initiative is different, we always like to implement a dynamic communications strategy for our municipal or government projects. Below are typical channels that we design and utilize when conducting public outreach for government initiatives:
- Well-design, frequently updated municipal website
- Social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
- Weekly email updates and mailing lists
- Press releases in local, regional, and community publications and websites
- Spots on local television or radio stations (where necessary)
- Diverse, in-language community outreach of all community populations
Should you be planning a project that involves your community and need assistance in designing or implanting a communications strategy, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information.