It’s always recommended to develop your flight plan before you take off. Similarly, drafting a communications plan will help you chart the course to a successful communications campaign. Below is a standard set of sections you can consider following each time you want to begin an outreach campaign, no matter how small. Even a brief, one- or two-pager can be helpful. Consider developing it with a small or large group of colleagues, depending on the scope and breadth of the project. The kind of staff or volunteers you involve may include those from development, programming and library services as they can help you to consider all of your strengths as you move forward to gain the kind of attention you want.
What do you want to achieve? Your goals and objectives
Why do you want to do media or advocacy outreach? You only need two or three goals for a simple campaign and to keep your focus on what you are looking for.
Your goals may be specific:
- Making current and potential library users aware of the services offered @ your library®;
- Letting the public know about a specific upcoming event, report release, or activity; and
- Informing the public and other stakeholders about a referendum for library support.
Or, they may be quite broad:
- Increasing your base of potential donors; and
- Increasing public awareness and support for your library.
Or, they may be a combination of the two.
Who are you trying to reach? Your target audience
When planning media outreach, your first impulse is to focus on the story. Resist the urge. Instead, look at the goals you have just set forth and consider which audiences you will need to help you attain your goals. Remember that “the public” represents many groups of people who read, watch and listen to a variety of sources.
Here are some of the possible “publics” you may include on your list:
- Your library leadership—board members, staff, volunteers;
- Past, current and potential contributors;
- Decision makers and opinion leaders in your city, state and in Washington, D.C.;
- Potential library members and leaders;
- Your colleagues in other local and statewide associations;
- Your counterparts in other states;
- Local and regional business leaders;
- Potential library users;
- Seniors, teens, parents of young children;
- Community groups;
- Personal contacts;
- Your neighbors; and
- Ethnic communities.
What should you say? Your key messages
Regardless of your goals and audiences, it’s important to shape messages that are simple and consistent. Generally, you will have three or four key messages for your library. For specific campaigns, you may consider adapting one or more of your key messages to fit the new campaign. Either way, your message should always be applicable to your library’s primary mission (for example, libraries are community centers, libraries are centers of lifelong learning.)
Once you’ve shaped your key message(s), you can develop talking points that support these messages.
Once you have drafted and approved messages, it is essential that you create a message manual or notebook where all of your key messages and campaign messages live on a permanent basis for easy access. You should update this as needed and have several copies available for any media interview situation. It can be divided into general messages and talking points – and sections delineated for campaigns and programs. One copy should be kept with your communications’ staff, one with your executive director and one, possibly, with development or program staff.
Here are a few message-crafting pointers:
- Develop messages that are extremely understandable so they can be used to reach all or most of the audiences identified.
- Be proud of your messages. This is especially important for libraries because your constituencies – library, Friends, donors, and politicians – need to get your messages so they can easily convey your key messages in one or two sentences or talking points. These constituencies can be your best advocates!
- Your message(s)—boiled down to a tagline—might represent a core value of your library (“Libraries are centers of democracy.” or “Our library meets the need of our children”) or be a call to action (“Get involved—get a library card!”). We also recommend you incorporate The Campaign for America’s Libraries messages that include the phrase “@ your library.”
The Campaign for America’s Libraries
Following are the three main Campaign for America’s Libraries messages (and talking points):
- Libraries are changing and dynamic places. Today’s libraries go beyond books. While still offering traditional print resources, libraries have e-books, free computers, Internet access, free wi-fi and more. Plus, libraries offer trained professional service from librarians.
- Libraries are places of opportunity. Libraries are places for education and self-help. And because they offer free and open access to all, they bring opportunity to all.
- Libraries change lives. Libraries have more than information. They have the power to transform lives.
- Libraries change communities. Libraries support community and civic engagement. As non-commercial institutions that welcome everyone equally, libraries offer a unique place to stay in touch, engage with others and find a place to contribute.
TESTING MESSAGES: You, the library staff member reading this guide and/or some of your colleagues, may not be your target audience, nor may you “get” your messages depending on your activity or project. For example, your reference librarian’s forte may not be reaching potential library users, but he or she may know exactly how to communicate with your daily visitors. If new users are your target audience, you’ll have to test your messages with people who represent that audience. This does not always mean running formal focus groups, as this can be an expensive undertaking. Consider testing messages on your child’s group of friends or their parents or people who attend your gym or religious group, or ask one of your relatives to test your messages with people they know.