Click and expand each step in the process for more information and to access useful resources.
The Big Picture
🅐 Understand your performance data and informationA national-level performance report shows the agency’s pavement condition lagging behind that of its nearest neighbor states. The key data are not the pavement condition data at issue. Instead, this effort focuses on additional data that will help the agency communicate the appropriate context for understanding pavement condition.
🅑 Ascertain significant information to be communicatedThe agency wants to be proactive in contextualizing the performance gaps. It is seeking to develop communications products that provide appropriate context for comparison between states’ reported pavement condition. This means providing insight into the performance results reported by the agency and its peers. It also means providing insight into the agency results compared to national averages. Specifically, the agency will make use of data on each state’s average investment in its roads. Supporting information may include differences in data collection methods between the states and decades-old historic condition trends.
🅒 Create the context for communicating informationThe local media has already used the national-level performance reporting to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of the agency’s management. Providing additional context and information will help make the case that such comparisons, even if based on common measures with common dimensions of performance, can still be limited by the inability to control for factors that are largely or entirely outside of the agency’s control.
The Big Picture
🅐 Define Your Target AudienceSuccessful communications resemble a conversation with real person – it's not about addressing something impersonal. Turning abstracts like “the public”into “someone who reads that pavement condition in his state ranks in the lower third of all states” 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 primary target audience is the general public. They will expect high-level information: a good approach is an infographic with a minimum of supporting text. The secondary target audience is local media. For this audience, the high-level message should be supplemented with a greater quantity of supporting information, providing additional detail.
🅒 Describe the Key MessageIn 15 words or less, what’s the main takeaway? The bottom line is: "It’s not a competition – understanding performance means understanding context."
🅓 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. One potential measure of success for the infographic, if published via the agency’s official social media channels, would be standard metrics of page likes, engagement, or views/reach. Another, context-specific measure could involve a press plan for local media coverage: targeting specific blogs, websites, or other local media outlets that might feature the new infographic.
🅔 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 the agency will be contracting with an outside marketing firm to develop the infographic, it will be important to have the technical details clearly defined in the communications plan to ensure that the final product is accurate.
🅕 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? The contacted marketing firm will need guidance on establishing the right tone and visual style. However, even more importantly they will need to review sections of the agency’s style guide covering quantitative data displays.
The Big Picture
🅐 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 product will consist of a primary infographic supported by limited supplemental copy, designing the main infographic will be the focus of this effort. 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 how investment levels vary across states in a way that broadly tracks reported asset condition – an approach that could work equally well with the agency's bridge or pavement data.
🅑 Review and Select Criteria Treatment that Best Meets Creative Brief CriteriaNow review the three 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. It is important to decide if this is a one-time effort or if a series of related infographics might be beneficial. If this is an ongoing effort, it's important to think ahead and identify a concept that offers the flexibility to adapt color, typography, and layout as needed while maintaining a consistent overall appearance.
The Big Picture
🅐 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, the creative staff should make a point to include bold imagery that will capture the interest of social media users. The infographic should have a streamlined visual style so that it can be ‘read’ at a glance and at relatively low-resolution.
🅑 Finalize Communications ProductsNow it's time to complete the technical steps to prepare the creative product for dissemination. Check and double check file sizes, colors, permission to use images, and anything else that needs to be in order. Because this effort is designed to develop a complex web infographic, it is important to confirm that the design has been optimized for display on a range of screen sizes. In particular, care should be taken to ensure that the design works well on all target operating system/browser configurations.
🅒 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. Because this product is an infographic, it is important to find the right balance between image resolution and overall image file size. If the image is too small or too highly-compressed the infographic will not look its best – worse, it may be hard to read. If the image is too large or saved with minimal compression, the file will be too large for many applications. This is an issue you will almost certainly want to flag for your technical team to address. Unfortunately, there is no one right answer here and finding the right balance will depend entirely on the individual situation.
The Big Picture
🅐 Schedule the Distribution of Your Communications ProductsExecute your media plan. Coordinate distribution, making sure you have the right materials for the right medium. Double check run dates with publications, launch dates with your team, and calendar dates with yourself! Will the printer deliver your materials in time? Is your webmaster ready to go live as soon as the board meeting is over? It's important to remember that communications products take on a life of their own once they're published! Comparisons will undoubtedly be drawn that were never anticipated when the products were drafted. It pays to remember that framing appropriate apples-to-apples comparisons is a key responsibility of managing and executing a communications campaign.
🅑 Implement Your DistributionYou’ve launched. Congratulations! It's never too soon to think about revising and updating. Perhaps you want to consider a minor refresh it to keep the information current. This can be tricky if the final graphic is not easy to edit and becomes even more complex if the marketing contractor does not provide clear and well-documented original files. Failing to anticipate the requirements of long-term maintenance can severely limit the value of the finished product (for example, if keeping data up-to-date requires entirely redrafting the infographic).
🅐 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. The infographic won't have all the answers so you should consider it a success if it sparks conversation and questions. But not all questions will reflect a successful effort: if a large percentage of these questions reflect a lack of understanding or a negative reaction to the product, you may need to step back and reassess.
🅑 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, you may also want to consider whether this is an effort that you want to extend by producing additional related infographics.
The Big Picture
Example communications resources:
March 1, 2014 / Michigan DOT
November 14, 2014 / Oregon DOT
September 1, 2013 / Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
October 1, 2014 / Wisconsin DOT
January 1, 2012 / New York State DOT