Single-Issue Communications Plans: Why Have Them and How to Develop Them

A single-issue communications plan offers a tool to design and execute discrete communications activities. The utilization of such single-issue plans is often the result of an agency initiative, project, awareness campaign, or planned event and should be tied to the planning document attached to that activity. The plan is a road map that sets out what the agency will say, to whom, how and when, as well as the specific individual responsible for each particular activity. With input and buy-in from agency leadership, everyone involved in the communications process has a clear understanding of what they are expected to do.


The issue that forms the subject of the plan could be an announced development of a program, an important practice or service delivery change, or other significant initiative or development that the agency wants to communicate to important stakeholders. The issue also could be a single crisis event (such as death of a child by abuse or neglect in an open case or the arrest of an agency employee for crimes related to a child). The plan, in such an instance, would flow from the agency's standing crisis communications plan.


Key Messages

Key messages are incorporated into the plan so that those involved in the communications have a set of talking points to direct what they are saying. This promotes consistency of message and clarity for what communicators should and should not say. These should be developed with great care – each word counts.


As an example, communications can develop key messaging to help staff, the public, community stakeholders, and other strategic partners gain awareness and knowledge of disparities issues relevant to the agency; it can also develop messaging to eliminate disparate treatment within the agency. These messages should be informative enough to help participants challenge misconceptions and become aware of biases and attitudes. Agency staff and management at all levels should be included and involved in this effort. Communications should be careful to avoid unintended consequences of key messaging. Following the example on the disparities and disproportionality issue, the agency would want to avoid crafting or using key messages that suggest that all people within a given race think or act in a certain manner.



The various audiences that the agency wants to communicate with should each receive their own consideration by the plan. Different audiences are reached through separate communications activities. For example, the agency may want to communicate a new development to several different audiences, including staff, contracted service providers and policy makers. Staff may receive communications via internal email and through staff meetings. Contracted service providers may receive their communications through a central provider association and through use of email listserves. Policymakers and elected officials may receive invitations to briefings and a one-page bulletin describing the development. The plan should identify how each audience will be communicated with (meeting, letter, email, newsletter, etc.), who is responsible for carrying out the communications and when the communications should take place.


Make as few assumptions about your audience as possible. Because a development is the subject of a news story does not mean that the public has heard about it. For example, it does not follow, if a story gets published in the city’s only newspaper, that everyone in the intended audience has received the message. Some people may not get the paper. Others who get the paper may not read the story. The more specific an agency can be in identifying the individuals with whom it wants to communicate and the more direct an agency can be in identifying how to reach those individuals via targeted communications venues, the greater the likelihood of success in reaching them.


Not all audiences care about all the same things. Elements of the agency’s key messages may be more important to some than to others. Be strategic and stress the message points that are most important to a specific audience.

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