Government Strategic Communications Platform engages communication teams to focus their efforts on measured audience impact
About this Client
This federal government agency has a mission to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans. The public affairs (PA) office oversees public communications such as campaigns to help people quit smoking or information about disease outbreaks such as Ebola that are developed across the department to ensure consistent, on-target messaging.
The agency had a publication process that focused program managers and reviewers on the wrong aspects of a communication product, things like the cost to print or the color of images used. The PA office envisioned a new Strategic Communications Planning process that would shift the focus to a deeper emphasis on who they want to impact with their message and clear measurements of that impact. This entailed not just a process change but a cultural shift in how each agency managed the resources to design, develop, deploy and measure their communications efforts. Inceodia was engaged to lead the development of the lean process and to catalyze the organization to embrace this change.
The deputy of public affairs was frustrated that a great deal of effort went into communication campaigns – by people who really wanted to make a difference in the health and well-being of Americans – yet there was nothing that measured the impact of those efforts. He really wanted to turn “launch and leave” into “launch and learn” both to ensure proper allocation of resources and even more so to ensure they were having the biggest impact.
The cultural change challenges were complex and because the organization was large and geographically diverse, it was difficult to engage everyone around a common vision. The existing publication clearance process dated back to the ‘80’s, and review was full of controversy because program teams did not have a common view of what made for an impactful campaign. Management was not used to using impact data in their decision making so education needed to start from the top.
The PA office engaged a senior lean design expert from Inceodia to serve as a catalyst for the envisioned change. We led a workshop to get everyone on the same page and gain a common understanding of the problem to be solved, which would serve as our grounding as we approached the design of a solution. We then facilitated a meeting with management across the department to understand the issues that they faced with communication design and publication. Consistent, reliable results was a common theme, and a desire to control messaging to align with each individual agency’s mission. And timeliness – the American public is used to information instantly available and the current clearance process only slowed things down.
We next looked at the three aspects of change – motivation, knowledge and tools – and addressed each one to ensure that barriers were removed and incentives were in place. For example, we replaced the old paper forms with an online system for submitting a campaign for review and used it as an opportunity to provide training on how to design for a specific audience, how to set actionable goals and how to measure impact. Inceodia designed the system and the team engaged a web design firm to implement. We deployed this solution quickly and iterated the design to focus on the value that measurement brought to management, which then helped with motivation. We captured quick wins by highlighting successful strategic communication plans across the organization. Lastly, we provided mentoring and coaching, making it easy to for program teams to learn the new approach and exciting them with the results they could see very quickly from their efforts by measuring impact.
We also took a hard look at the PA review process. We pushed some of the decision making for campaigns that weren’t hitting controversial topics back to the communications management teams, relying on them to review and clear those publications. We made a goal to increase collaboration across the agency silos, engaging a broader range of expert eyes in the review process. And we created a lean process to reduce the amount of time it took for the PA office to review, improving the publication turnaround time.
One of the issues that face public affairs offices is that every day there is a media fire and it is hard for employees to know what to focus on. The first real result we saw from our efforts was a reduction in the campaigns the team had to review, from over 1,000 a year to 200. This reflected both a reduction in the number of publications as agencies focused their efforts but also an increased emphasis for the PA office on the things that needed their attention the most. Nothing was published without real impact measures in place, which in turn improved the quality of the communications. And for the first time, there was a real tie for department managers between their communications efforts and the goals of their agency.
Perhaps one of the biggest successes of this project was that the online publication clearance system was widely used not just for things that the PA office needed to review. Other departments started using it for all their publications, even those that didn’t need the PA office review, and adoption of the strategic communications methodology became ingrained. “What’s Your Impact?” became the motto, and everyone knew that their work was actually contributing to the health and well-being of their audience, the American public.