Click and expand each step in the process for more information and to access useful resources.
The Big Picture
🅐 Understand your performance data and informationThe agency has trend data on pavement and bridge condition over the last 8 years and has modeled future condition, both with and without additional investment, 10 years into the future.
🅑 Ascertain significant information to be communicatedThe agency seeks to communicate the potential performance benefits that could be obtained through additional investment. This means not only providing some insight into future conditions, but also presenting alternative scenarios that can be effectively contrasted. Based on data produced by the agency’s pavement management system, the agency plans to report the percentage of pavement in good, fair, and poor condition statewide. Similar analyses can be produced for bridge condition showing percentage of deck area in good, fair, and poor condition.
🅒 Create the context for communicating informationMaking a strong case for investment means breaking down complex data into terms that resonate with non-technical audiences. The agency’s performance data include bridge structural evaluations (deck, superstructure, and substructure) for National Bridge Inventory (NBI) reporting and pavement condition in terms of the agency’s own pavement structural health index (PSHI). PSHI captures several dimensions of pavement condition including roughness, rutting, cracking, and delamination. These condition ratings are complex constructs. Reporting condition of bridges and pavements in terms of percentage in good, fair, and poor condition helps provide clearer, non-technical descriptive terminology. But part of the challenge the agency faces is to explain just what these terms mean.
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🅐 Define Your Target AudienceSuccessful communications resemble a conversation with real person – it's not about addressing something impersonal. Turning abstracts like “30% better condition” into “someone who travels on one of the 200 additional bridges statewide that will be rated in poor condition without the proposed investment” will help focus the effort.
🅑 Determine How Best to Engage the AudienceTake thinking personally one step further. Personalize the target audiences. In this case, the target audience is narrowly defined: state legislators. They will expect specific information on conditions and projects that will impact their constituents.
🅒 Describe the Key MessageIn 15 words or less, what’s the main takeaway? The fact that the agency can accomplish more with greater investment is good but it’s not compelling in isolation. The bottom line is: pavement and bridge conditions are on a downward trajectory that will only be reversed with additional funding.
🅓 Establish Clear, Measurable GoalsIt is important to assess whether a communication effort is working. This requires an understanding that communication is about reaching a target audience and being understood – not necessarily about management actions being taken. The most important measure of success is whether or not the agency receives the proposed funding increase.
🅔 Compile the Communications PlanOnce the measures, context, audience, message, and media are established it is time to write up a plan. This will be the document that guides all that comes next so it's advisable to engage stakeholders as much as possible at this stage. A good communication plan can't be drafted in a vacuum. Because agency executives will be closely involved in delivering this message to key legislators, it will be important to have their review and input early in the process and to keep their communications staff closely involved throughout.
🅕 Write the Creative BriefUsing the communication plan, develop a one- to two-page document that provides the basis for evaluating creative concepts. What’s the feel? What style is appropriate? What limitations – words, colors, format, etc. – does the creative team need to know about?
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🅐 Draft Text and Sketch Out Several Possible Visual Presentation IdeasBrainstorm alone or with a group. Think of ways to express the message. Let the ideas flow uncritically. Ideally at this point it is possible to draw up three treatments that would work. Because this presentation will combine several related but distinct graphic elements, including infographics, line (trend) graphs, maps, photos, and text, it will be important to develop a strong template that can integrate these components. It's not uncommon for the first drafts to suffer from "information overload." This process is all about paring back and simplifying – and identifying which elements to emphasize. In this case, depending on the agency’s outlook, it may be important to show what it would take to achieve the agency’s condition targets – as well as showing the projected future condition at current funding levels and with the proposed additional funding.
🅑 Review and Select Criteria Treatment that Best Meets Creative Brief CriteriaNow review the best ideas against the creative brief. Which one meets all the criteria? Using the creative brief, circle back to stakeholders and make sure there is alignment on the concept. Because agency executives will be closely involved in delivering this message to key legislators, it is important to confirm that preferences regarding imagery, format, and overall tone are respected.
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🅐 Begin Creative ProcessThis is where concepts turn into products – and it's just as important to be technically accurate as it is to have creative flair. To achieve this, technical staff (e.g. engineers, planners) and creative staff (communications, designers, developers) need a shared vision and common objectives. This is why the creative brief is so important. It provides a foundation for this collaboration. In this case, your creative staff should make a point to include photography from across the state (not neglecting any districts or regions) and should make a particular effort to include imagery that will resonate with key legislators (and their constituents).
🅑 Finalize Communications ProductsThis is final critical QA/QC step. Be sure your information is accurate. Check that it is correctly produced. Then go back and look at that creative brief and communication plan once again – and make sure it's still on target. Because this effort is designed to develop a final set of presentation files, care should be taken to ensure fonts, images, and linked resources are all available and properly formatted.
🅒 Prepare Materials for Different Usage and MediaHere you complete the technical steps to prepare your creative product for dissemination. Check and double check file sizes, colors, permission to use images, and anything else that needs to be in order. It maybe best to use a PDF format for final distribution to facilitate sharing and viewing the presentation on tablets and ensure cross-platform compatibility.
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🅐 Schedule the Distribution of Your Communications ProductsExecute your media plan. Coordinate distribution, making sure you have the right materials for the right medium. For greatest impact, make sure your materials are available in one coordinated release. Double check run dates with publications, launch dates with your team, and calendar dates with yourself! It is usually wise to prepare high-quality printed copies of important presentation materials – these are your backups in case you need to overcome technical difficulties.
🅑 Implement Your DistributionYou’ve launched. Congratulations! Once the presentation reaches its audience, be prepared for questions ("what bridge is shown on page 13?") technical queries ("how were data interpolated?") or follow-up requests ("can you produce a chart like the one on page 4, just for bridges on the Interstate?").
🅐 Check-In throughout Communication ProgramAs you begin getting feedback, check it against your plan. Is it working the way you had intended? Then maybe just a tweak or two is needed. Is your audience missing the key message? A more major overhaul might be necessary. Alternatively, your audience could have identified a need for a companion piece, or supporting documentation. You have to be open to feedback in order to respond effectively.
🅑 Review and Assess CommunicationsFinishing your effort is really the start of the next one. What are the lessons learned? Do you have the data you need? Have you defined the right target audience? Is your message clear? Were your goals appropriate? Did the visuals serve to enhance communication? How well did the team work together? Where were the problems? This information helps you plan better for the next round. In this case, it will be helpful to receive early feedback from the agency executives who will be delivering the message – and the presentation – to legislators. If you wait to see if you reach the goal you set in step 2, it will be too late!
The Big Picture
Example communications resources:
October 1, 2013 / Colorado DOT
June 1, 2015 / TRB