SAMHSA Highlights Strategic Communications Framework
SAMHSA discussed its strategic communications framework at the August meeting of the Third Annual National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media (see Conference Enhances Health Communication).
Created with input from SAMHSA’s many stakeholders—both internal and external to the Agency—the framework was formed to align all SAMHSA efforts with the common goal of building resilience and facilitating recovery for people with or at risk for mental and substance use disorders. It provides a platform for aligning public health practice with evidence-based communications and marketing approaches and also establishes a common language among SAMHSA program staff, communications staff, and the field.
“Subject matter specialists and statisticians are experts in their areas, but they are not always aware of how marketing and communications efforts can target and expand the reach of the information they produce,” said SAMHSA Associate Administrator for Communications Mark A. Weber, M.B.A. “We want to help them articulate and disseminate their findings and best practices in the most effective way possible.”
The effort began in 2007 with a series of in-depth confidential interviews with stakeholders and thought leaders conducted by the Human Interaction Research Institute (HIRI). HIRI President Thomas E. Backer, Ph.D., described the process by which SAMHSA developed the strategic communications framework.
“We started by gathering information from the interviews,” he said. “This was followed by an analysis of the information, which we described in a report. The report was then distributed to all participants in the project to confirm and validate our findings and to enable them to suggest overall quality improvements. Finally, we prepared a strategic communications framework of the recommendations and distributed it as a working version to be modified during implementation.” Dr. Backer said that there have been at least three working versions of the strategic plan so far.
At the core of the framework is a template for creating communications and marketing plans to advance program goals. The template guides SAMHSA staff and their contractors and/or field partners in planning and executing a set of communications activities to do everything from creating and disseminating a product (such as a practice manual) to planning for a program (such as the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services Program, developed by SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services).
The template is brief and serves as a checklist for communications planning. It is also technology-driven, helping users make optimal use of new communication vehicles such as interactive Web sites and eblasts targeted to specific audiences. SAMHSA is currently creating an online version of the template that will walk users through the planning process by offering a series of multiple-choice questions.
“Our emphasis on stakeholder participation in the development and evolution of this planning framework should bring a certain consistency to the communications process and enable SAMHSA to bring better health information more quickly to the people who need it,” Mr. Weber said.
To launch a communications plan, you’ll need to set a goal, identify your audience, decide on products, determine a format, and more. The following elements are part of a good communication plan and help you stay on track as your plan moves forward.
- Goal—What’s the goal of the organization, program, or product?
- Audiences—What audiences must be reached and what behavior changes are needed to achieve this goal?
- Information or Products—What will be delivered to these audiences to reach the goal?
- Formats—What print or electronic formats will be used to structure the information or products?
- Life Cycle—What’s the expected life of the information or products?
- Marketing—What channels and messages will be used to disseminate the information or products, with what kind of overall marketing strategy?
- Budget—What’s the budget and funding source for this effort?
Source: Excerpt from SAMHSA’s Communications Planning Template