Any communications strategy should start by identifying the problem it is trying to solve—as well as specific objectives for addressing it. Before you dive into research, creative ideas, and other major pieces of your campaign, it’s important that you take time to clearly define the problem and your objectives, which will guide all of your work.
Note, the problem and objectives you define at this early stage won’t necessarily be permanent. Throughout the process of researching and developing your campaign strategy, you will return to update and refine your problem and objectives as you learn more about the context and your target population. But by putting time and attention into these definitions now, you’ll avoid costly confusion and ambiguity later on.
- Write a problem statement
- Define your communications objectives
1. Write a problem statement
You know that you’re addressing a public health problem related to HIV. But for most programs at this stage, the problem is not yet specific enough to drive an entire campaign. Start by writing a single sentence (or two, at most) that clearly defines the problem. The problem statement should answer questions like:
- Who is affected by the problem? To what degree?
- Where is the problem happening?
- What should be happening (versus what is actually happening)?
- What could happen if the problem isn’t addressed?
- How is the problem presenting itself?
- Can a communications campaign solve the problem?
In many cases, the most powerful question you can ask is: Why? For example, if you start with a broad problem, asking why can lead you to focus on a specific audience:
- Problem: Female sex workers don’t feel empowered when it comes to protecting themselves from HIV
- Why? Because prioritizing her clients’ needs above her own ensures her physical and economic survival
- Why? Because she often has to agree to condom-less sex for clients that demand it or for clients that offer more money, taking the choice out of her hands.
Potential problem statement: HIV prevention is a difficult choice for female sex workers if it is a choice at all.
Most likely, you will not be able to answer “why” for your problem in great detail until you have conducted formative research (in the next phase). As you gather more information you will likely come back and refine your problem statement later in the process as well. But for now, you will know your problem statement is robust if it enables you to identify a specific audience and a potential intervention which will support your programmatic outputs.
Rewrite and edit your problem statement until you have established a draft that clearly defines the what, the who, and the why of the situation you’re facing. Get feedback on the statement to ensure it is clear to others.
2. Define your communications objectives
The problem statement (which you just wrote) is a description of the present moment—what’s happening right now, and who it’s affecting. In this next step, you will envision a better future: what will “success” look like? What factors need to change in order to alleviate or prevent the problem?
Write down a list of objectives (at least three or four), each representing a different, tangible factor that would represent change on your health goal. To make sure your objectives will best serve your plan, test them against the S.M.A.R.T. framework; look at each item on your list and make sure it is:
- Specific. Who is involved? What do you want to accomplish, and where? Why is this important?
- Measurable. Can you track your progress and measure your outcomes?
- Achievable. Is the goal reasonable and feasible? Can you accomplish this?
- Relevant. Is the goal worthwhile? Does it align with your short- and long-term plans?
- Time-bound. What is the time limit for your objective?
Examples of some communications objectives could be:
- Increase awareness of PrEP amongst 50% of female sex workers in 2018
- Increase knowledge and understanding of PrEP amongst at least 25% of female sex workers in 2018 so that they seek out more information about it
Checking in on your progress
The documents you’ve created in this phase will be somewhat “in-progress” throughout your campaign. You’ll return here to make sure your strategy and creative decisions align with what you’ve set out to achieve. You can also return to refine and edit your problem statement and objectives to reflect new insights you develop about the context and audience—which will happen most intensively during the next phase: Formative Research.