|4. Communication Planning and Strategy|
Communication Planning and Strategy Fostering communication with various audiences is the crux of this Guide. The Communication Planning and Strategy chapter outlines concepts to be considered when designing a communications plan, and offers descriptions of sample tactics. This chapter is written in a general sense, not tied to specific types of fire communication such as education, prevention, or mitigation. Subsequent sections will address sample messages and tactics for specific types of outreach.
"Everyone in the organization is responsible for communicating fire messages" is a case often made.
Communication planning for wildland fire management is not a universal solution, but is a tool to
A communication plan is a road map to delineate important issues and ensure consistent message
A Perspective from Wildland Fire Communicators
In A Study of Wildland Fire Communications (Clute, 2000), wildland fire communicators drew the
- Incorporate evaluation into all of your communication activities and products. Evaluative
feedback should be thought of as a continually occurring process to provide information for
communication product revisions and for future communication product development.
Surround Sound Strategy
Following is a collection of planning concepts and examples from a variety of sources, including
federal and state agencies and professional communications firms. This section is designed to
help those responsible for wildland fire communications prepare effective communications plans that
will support your wildland fire management programs. While the goal of your plan may be different
in each situation, the principles of communication planning remain the same. This section addresses
the following concepts:
For example, if you're developing a plan to communicate with residents about a prescribed burn in their area, give an overview of the community and background on how residents might view the project. Has there been a large fire recently that caused heightened concern? Have residents been vocal about prescribed burns in the past? Are they educated about the need for a prescribed burn? Is smoke management an issue?
Consider the following factors when preparing your situation analysis:
General Audience Analysis
Social and Psychological Data
Data should not be equated with knowledge or wisdom. Data only becomes information after it is
Communicators often gather the best data they can and communicate "what science tells us we
Internal audience examples:
External audience examples:
Key messages are general concepts that agencies and organizations are encouraged to incorporate into their discussions, print materials, and other resources used in communication, education, information, and prevention efforts. Key messages are umbrella statements that require additional supporting points and examples for context.
Supporting points provide detail for the key messages and enable communicators to further explain the roles of: wildland fire in the ecosystem, land management agencies, tribes, and partners.
For example, the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)
Wildland Fire Education Working Team has developed a set of core
messages for agencies to use in communicating the role of wildland
fire. These messages have been through an extensive interagency
development and review process, and have been approved by the
The complete messages, along with supporting points, are available in the Education section of this
Example strategies to support the above Objective 1 Increase
Community Awareness might include:
Example tactics that support the above Strategy 1.B. - Provide Tools for Influencers:
1.B.i. Community Leaders
1.B.ii. News Media
1.C.i. Collateral Materials
1.C.ii. Community Outreach
Following is a sample list of general tactics and materials to consider as you develop your
- Direct evaluation - Measures against quantifiable goals, such as number of activities you
wanted to achieve. This may include number of calls made, letters sent, Web site visits, etc.
The goal may be the number of news story placements, number of meetings, or number of
people directly reached. However, keep in mind that these numbers are not an effective
measurement of impact on your audience, because they do not show that the message
carried through or that you motivated people to take action.
It has been found through focus group research as well as general
encounters with homeowners and social marketing research, that
individuals are greatly motivated by local influencers and peer-to-peer
recommendations. While federal, state, tribal, and local
wildland fire organizations are making progress with prevention
and public education efforts, an organized outreach initiative at the
grassroots level can enhance these efforts by systematically
identifying and enlisting influential "buzz generators" (or early
- Conduct presentations for neighborhood associations, homeowners groups, and tribal
Public Presentations: The Four C's of Persuasive Communication
1. Credentials: Why should the audience believe the
2. Connection: Why should the audience care about what the speaker has to say?
3. Context: How does the topic fit in the audience's lives?
4. Catalyst: What can the audience do, and how?
Like any communication activity, a special event must have a clearly defined objective, audience, and action plan. This section outlines basic considerations as you develop your special event plan. Special events may include community fairs and festivals, state fairs, sports events, cultural festivals, school programs, civic center programs, parades, and more.
Special Event Team
- Photographer - Provides a visual history of the event. This documentation phase is very
important for local, regional, and national use in reports, newsletters, etc. Selection of the
camera used should be based on the event conditions such as low light (flash), distance
shooting (telephoto), and user abilities(automatic function). Digital cameras are preferred
for convenience of sharing images electronically, but be sure you have high enough
resolution for print quality. A minimum of 300 dpi (dots per inch) at the dimension size the
image will be printed (e.g. 4" x 5") is generally required for print.
Sample Timeline for Events
News media can be a valuable partner in sharing your news with the public. It is important to establish relationships with news media, and entrust yourself as a reliable source for information.
Working with local media to share your story with their viewers, readers, and listeners is a great way to generate awareness for your efforts. It can also educate more homeowners in your community and surrounding areas about how to prepare their communities for wildfire and get involved in Firewise Communities activities.
Advice and technical support in working with the media is available from agency Public Affairs Specialists or Public Information Officers. Most of these specialists work with the news media on a regular basis and have established invaluable contacts. If you plan to work with the media, contact your agency Office of Public Affairs or Public Information Office ahead of time to ensure that efforts are coordinated.
General Media Relations Tips
I. News Release
The order in which these facts appear depends on their importance in the story - the most critical go first. Avoid bureaucratic or technical jargon. Use small words rather than big ones.
Your news release should be formatted according to the specifications of your agency. Contact your
public affairs/information officer to learn your agency's distribution approval policy. You agency may
require review and signature by your public affairs/information officer before sending anything to
the media. Your public affairs/information officer should also be able to provide a sample news
release. Following are some general guidelines.
II. Media Advisory
The advisory should be distributed two to three days prior to the event. Follow up via phone the day before the event and/or the morning of the event to encourage attendance.
III. Pitch Letter
IV. Letter to the Editor
Following are other tips to consider:
Inviting Media to an Event/News Conference
At least two days prior to an event or announcement, contact local newspaper, radio and TV stations
Tips for Calling Media
What to Say When Calling Media
- If you reach voice mail, leave a 15- to 30-second voice mail message. If he/she doesn't have voice mail, ask if there is someone else to speak with about a story idea. If not, offer to call back at a more convenient time.
Arranging an Interview
What to do When a Media Representative Calls YOU
Fire tragedies and extensive fires as seen in Florida, Mexico, and elsewhere in 1998 brought the
issues to the forefront of national and international news. Likewise, escaped prescribed fires such as
Cerro Grande in 2000 that could not be controlled made headlines. For any immediate fire crisis, it is
most important to cover the ABCs of communicating the basic message:
All too often news reports are restricted to tight time slots and sound bites. However, each fire crisis is a window of opportunity for opening in-depth dialogues with our audiences about the need to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations and restore certain fire dependent ecological processes. Audiences need to understand that an immediate need exists in many places around the world to reduce fuel load to prevent extreme fires and to both restore and maintain the health of fire dependent ecosystems.
Elements of a Crisis
Crisis Communication Goals
Media as a Communication Vehicle
Common Questions in a Crisis
The structured learning environment of the classroom is where much of our fundamental knowledge was gained and many of our basic views were shaped. Through schools and teachers, information reaches our society in one of the most accepted and positively reinforced venues. Teachers are a direct conduit to students. Working with teachers will enable you to access their expertise in child behavior and development as well as their knowledge of curriculum needs and requirements. With the aid of teachers, your message can be shaped into an age appropriate and contextually grounded part of the students' experience.
For the most part, teachers are seeking innovative ways in which to access information relevant to their curriculum guidelines. At the same time, educators around the country are under immense pressure to meet national and state education standards for curriculum development. Teachers are charged with meeting increasing requirements within the limited time frame of the academic year.
If you determine a school education program is right for your needs, reference the following sources for best practices to ensure your program fits the schools' needs and will be relevant by age group.
Education World: www.educationworld.com/standards
USDA Forest Service Conservation Education (CE): http://www.fs.usda.gov/conservationeducation
The Forest Service offers a workshop titled: Training Tools for Non-Formal Educators. This workshop is designed to help non-formal educators (people who conduct conservation education activities) to better understand the culture of formal education. The course will help non-formal educators to understand the needs, background, language, and priorities of classroom instructors.
"Tools" learned at the workshop will help make your environmental education activities and programs more attractive to formal teachers. Each module has been constructed to fully engage the learner in sound, innovative educational activities. Those who complete the workshop will be able to address many of the issues that classroom teachers face today, including Learning Standards, Assessment, Learning Styles, and Multiple Intelligences. Also, techniques for correlating North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) Guidelines for Excellence to state curriculum standards will be discussed. "Training Tools" is a hands-on, fun workshop in which participants practice a variety of techniques and skills.
For more information, contact the USDA Forest Service National Conservation Education office in
North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE): http://www.naaee.net//
National Science Teachers Association: www.nsta.org
Project Learning Tree® (PLT): www.plt.org
Project WILD: www.projectwild.org
Project WET: www.projectwet.org