Historians, Have a Plan

Michelle Emick Ronholm has spent more than 15 years in communications, creating and implementing outreach campaigns for a variety of education and health clients, including PBS, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Currently, she assists historians in expanding the reach of their work through public outreach, media relations, and policymaker engagement.

Communications Planning for Historians

Historians, you need to be communicating. A communications plan will help you expand your reach, maximize your effectiveness, and better manage your resources (time, money, and staff.) Let’s take a look at steps you can take to put together a clear and executable communications plan.

Just take five steps.

A good communications plan creates a framework that sets expectations and keeps public outreach focused and effective. We’re going to take a look at the five steps you can take to up your communications game in 2019.

  1. Set your objectives
  2. Do your research
  3. Identify your strategy
  4. Choose your tactics
  5. Evaluate your progress

Step 1: Set your objectives

Of course the work of historians has always been important, but somehow today’s environment makes it seem even more urgent that historians are not only creating good scholarship, but are sharing it with all the right people. What is your role in this? What do you have to contribute? Where are you needed most? Choose your objectives. Make them clear and concise, and try to limit them to no more than three.

Some communicators recommend doing ‘market research’ first before choosing your objectives. I’ve found there’s something particularly authentic about deciding what you want to achieve and using that information to do some informed digging to see if what you perceive as a need is really, indeed, needed.

Example of an objective:  I will be a resource on immigration policy.

Step 2: Do your research

So, you’ve decided on a couple of objectives, now it’s time to dig a little deeper on what you want to do and whether or not it makes sense outside your office. This doesn’t have to be a major deep-dive or take hours-upon-hours of time, but the more information you gather, the deeper your insight will be and the more you will be able to think beyond yourself. And isn’t that the ultimate goal of communicating?

Let’s use our example objective from above: I will be a resource on immigration policy.

Some questions to answer might include:

  • What are the major immigration policies in play? What historical context can I provide that will be helpful?
  • Who needs to know more about immigration history – The media? Policymakers? Advocates?
  • What communications resources do I have? Media lists? Staff? Social media capabilities? Relationships? A budget?

Desktop research, phone calls and email outreach, taking a colleague out for coffee, these all are ways to gather information to help you better understand your objectives and how your communications plan will help you achieve them. Don’t be afraid to revise your objectives as you learn more. Structure is good, but communications is inherently pliable. It’s okay, even necessary, for course-corrections throughout the process.

Step 3: Identify your strategy

Your strategy explains how you will achieve your objective. This is the part in the process that can sometimes become messy as we tend to start thinking tactically. Hold tight, tactics are coming. For this, we want to think more broadly. Returning to our example:

Objective: I will be a resource on immigration policy.

Strategy: I will provide historical context for immigration policy by selling my book about immigration history, generating coverage in policy-focused media, and participating in speaking engagements.

Step 4: Choose your tactics

Now we can get tactical. What specific tasks will you do that are aligned with your strategy to achieve your objective? (Aaaah…see how that’s all coming together?)

Some tactics you could include in your plan:

  • Identifying your target audience and creating messaging
  • Monitoring immigration issues and policies – issues management
  • Creating a targeted media list and pitching media
  • Creating an editorial calendar for blogging or podcasting
  • Developing a speaker’s bureau to guide your public speaking activities
  • Actively engaging in social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram)

Step 5: Evaluate your progress

A communications plan can’t just be in your head. Write it down! Your plan should identify where you are now, determine where you want to be, and outline a process for getting there. Then check in on how you’re doing throughout the year. Are you adhering to your editorial calendar? Have you scheduled those speaking engagements? How’s your pitching going? You may find you need to make mid-course corrections based on the evolution of current events, unexpected budget constraints, or new opportunities.

Time to get to work!

Communications planning can be incredibly straight-forward or more detailed and complex, depending upon your needs. What works now may not work next year. You may learn that you can be effective with less or you really do need more. What’s important is that you have a plan, written down, to guide you. Your work is important, get out there an share it.

This post was first published at https://www.ronholmcommunications.com/blog/2019/1/1/whats-your-plan. Links to additional resources can be found there. For more information, Michelle can be reached at meronholm@ronholmcommunications.com or 202-870-8549.

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