Best Practices

This review will help you identify specific practices that lead to more effective outreach. Every group should consider conducting these steps, whether they have a staff of two or twenty.

Step 1: Audit Current Outreach Practices

The first step is understanding your project or center's current outreach efforts and capacity. An informal audit will help you assess your practices and provide a snapshot of your efforts to date so that you can build a plan going forward. You'll learn what's working and where you want to improve. We recommend a system for auditing your practices and performance at the end of this overview.

Step 2: Develop an Outreach Strategy

This second step will help you determine the purpose and scope of your organization's outreach efforts. Here you identify your messages, audience, goals, and collaborators. This is the "Why" of outreach planning.

  1. Identify the collaborators. Who is leading the outreach effort and what contributors are necessary to its success?
  2. Identify your organization's mission and/or messages. Describe the basic content in one paragraph (or 90 seconds) or less. Your outreach message should align with, but be distinct from, your project or center's mission. (Please refer to the Communications Guide for help in developing your project or center's message.)
  3. Define target audiences. Audiences should be specific and include key stakeholders, decision makers, and individuals, industries, or groups with influence.
  4. Define strategy. What's the big idea (purpose/scope) for connecting your audience with your message?
  5. Scan the marketplace. What opportunities, challenges, or other variables could affect the success of your strategy? Are there any conflicts with dates or competing news?
  6. Define goals. Create specific and measurable targets or metrics for your strategy.
  7. Draft a brief. Capture all of the strategic information (covered in points 1-6) in a 1-2 page document and use it to communicate your plan throughout all levels of the organization. See Sample Brief in the Case Study for ABC Education that follows for an example of how to complete this step.

Step 3: Establish an Outreach Plan

This third step is to devise a realistic and achievable outreach plan. Here you will create a timetable, budget, and workplan. This is the "How" of outreach planning.

  1. Select promotion channels. Social media, publicity, e-mail, conferences, etc. are all examples of potential channels for finding an audience and delivering your message. Factor time into your decision, as some channels require longer lead times than others.
  2. Develop tactics, activities, and tools. Tactics get the job done. What specific tactics will support your strategy and goals? Prioritize tactics and identify activities and tools for each promotion channel. For example, a tactic might be to promote your project through conference presentations, the first activity might be to identify conference proposal deadlines, and you would utilize a tool such as a timetable or workplan to meet those deadlines.
  3. Create a timetable. Establish a promotion timeframe, noting important milestones, dates, and contingencies. Once you've developed tactics and activities, identify who is responsible for each piece of the plan and assign deadlines.
  4. Create a budget. Identify what resources (staff time, money, technical infrastructure) are available and how to maximize them.
  5. Develop messages. What are you going to say to your audience in the various channels? What is the elevator pitch for your project (90 seconds or less)? What are your talking points? These elements serve as the basis for press releases, flyers, postcards, and other standard communications. (Please refer to the Communications Guide for pointers.)
  6. Identify spokespeople. Messengers should be viewed as credible by your audience(s), should be comfortable with extemporaneous writing and speaking, and don't have to be limited to project or center staff. They should be readily available.
  7. Create a workplan. Expand your timetable to include tactics, activities, and tools along with deliverables and staff assignments. This is your day-to-day project management document. Be sure to update it frequently, noting what's complete, pending, and canceled as you go.

Step 4: Ensure Outreach Execution

This step will help you make certain that your best-laid schemes do not go awry.

  1. Use project management tools. Successful project management utilizes a strategic brief; a workplan with deliverables, milestones, and roles assigned; and a budget. Be prepared to revise based on emerging opportunities and evolving priorities.
  2. Create and maintain promotional materials. Materials should be created for a specific purpose or distribution and in a variety of formats. Printed elements might include a one-sheet or handout describing your project, a brochure, a postcard, etc. Digital elements might include a website, blog, or e-mail. Consider how these materials will be regularly updated and made accessible to staff.
  3. Build partnerships. Create and foster relationships with internal and external stakeholders (faculty, industry, program officers, etc.) who can help refine and improve your outreach practices and mission and amplify your efforts.
  4. Train spokespeople. Once you've identified messengers, they should be trained in key communications and have the materials they need to deliver consistent messaging.
  5. Develop consistent and timely communications. Does your workplan include a regular series of target audience contacts? Are you looking for opportunities to tie in with important milestones, news, and events? See the Communications Guide for help with "what makes news" and working with media outlets and other dissemination paths.

Step 5: Evaluate Your Outreach Efforts

It's tempting to let this step slide. Don't. This is how you maintain quality throughout your outreach efforts. It's also critical in determining next steps.

  1. Measure effects. What data can you gather to show the effects of your outreach activities? Evaluate, either quantitatively or qualitatively, as much of your outreach activity as possible. Gather hard data such as website activity or e-mail metrics as well as informal anecdotes and testimonials.
  2. Analyze results. What insights or "lessons learned" have you gleaned from the various activities? Report on the value of your efforts throughout the organization, as well as any recommendations for a change in strategy or tactics based on your experience.
  3. Adjust your plan. Revisit the audit and assessment to evaluate next steps. Formative evaluation of your outreach efforts is crucial—it's an iterative process.

Now that you've reviewed some best practices, the next step is to assess where your organization stands with each practice. In the next section, Outreach Practice Assessment, you will learn how to gauge your organization's current outreach practices and needs.