The Four Steps to Creating a Public Awareness Campaign

By: Rachel Luoma, CAE and Brianna Barnebee

Many associations include advocacy as part of their mission. There are the standard methods, such as lobbying, working with allied organizations and communicating with regulatory agencies.

But, what happens when the association determines it wants to start messaging directly to the public?  Where do you start as an association?

SPIEOne of the most useful acronyms taught during my Certified Association Executive (CAE) preparation was SPIE – scan, plan, implement and evaluate.

Effectively, this acronym is a useful tool in determining a course of action and helping to ensure that the course of action was strategic in nature, well planned, executed and evaluated.


Prior to beginning any strategic initiative, it is important to scan the environment – both external and internal to your organization.  This can be completed through a formal assessment or through an informal or more social process – but it is a critical element to ensure that the need exists for such a campaign, that the resources are available and that it supports the goals of the organization.

Important questions to ask during this process include:

  • Does this initiative support the mission of your organization?
  • How does this fit into your strategic plan?
  • Is the initiative supported by your volunteer leadership, your membership and/or the industry or profession?
  • What are the positive outcomes from such a campaign?
  • What are the unintended consequences?
  • What are the resources needed to complete the campaign?
  • Do you have the expertise to complete this campaign internally or externally?
Image courtesy of MrWildLife at

The scanning process will not only produce information necessary to make an informed decision, but can help create buy-in and support for the initiative.  It is critical that this step be performed; otherwise, your association could be caught chasing the wrong squirrel.


Based on the outcome from the scanning process, the next step in the process is to plan.  This is the time to determine the following:

  • Establish goals
  • Identify objectives
  • Determine target audiences
  • Create strategies and timelines
  • Assign accountabilities

Don’t forget to include information about short-term and long-term budget considerations to ensure you have the financial resources to support your plan.

Also, it is essential that you engage your volunteer leadership during the process to obtain buy-in and establish open lines of communication.

Often times, the creation of a task force can assist with volunteer engagement during the planning process.

For more information about the planning process, visit Poor Planning Perpetuates Poor Performance.


Once your plan is in place, it is time to make it happen! The first step to implementing any campaign is formulating messaging and branding. Messaging will be used in all forms of campaign communication, whether you are composing a tweet or speaking to a reporter. This verbiage will help you concisely communicate your goals to the audiences you identified during the Plan stage. Messaging is one part of branding a campaign; you will also need to consider logo, colors and fonts to give the campaign a consistent look.

Here are some ways you can implement your plan by communicating to your audiences:

Media Relations. Establish your organization as the thought leaders on the topic through media relations and establish a relationship and rapport with these influencers. Don’t just send out an e-blast to any reporter; find reporters and journalists who have covered the topic of your campaign before.

News releases are a great way to announce your campaign launch, updates or accomplishments, but you also should consider writing letters to the editor, op-eds and feature stories to portray the issue in a humanistic light.

Digital Communications. The hub of any campaign is its website. All digital communications should link back to the campaign website where resources, materials and information should be housed. At RB Oppenheim Associates, we love using WordPress because it is user-friendly and is conducive for campaign websites.

Website Screenshot

PIAM partnered with RB Oppenheim Associates to produce the What’s In Your Mouth? campaign website.

These days, social media is a must for any campaign. No matter if your audience is old or young, they are on social media. Social media can be used not only to disseminate information and garner support, but also to start conversations. You want to engage with your audiences and hear what they have to say about the topic. You may even want to consider discussion groups using Facebook or LinkedIn.

The negative side to social media is that these platforms are slowly starting to increase their monetization. This means you may have to bring ad dollars into the mix if you really want to reach target audiences. The good news is Facebook ads in particular are relatively cheap and the targeting is precise.

If your organization already has an e-newsletter (which you really should!), you can utilize the contact lists and e-blast format you already have, or create one solely for the campaign. The great thing about e-newsletters is that you can reach your target audience directly to their inbox (assuming they don’t have any crazy spam filters you have to get past). Take advantage of this and include news about the campaign, blog posts, photos and resources. Always link back to your website so they can find more ways to get involved.

Grassroots. You want your members to be boots-on-the ground advocates for your cause. It is up to you to provide them with the resources to do so. You may want to consider constructing an entire kit for advocates, complete with templates for pitching the media, posting on social media, presenting PowerPoints, etc.

PhotoshowPrint/In-Person. Business cards, fliers, promotional products and other collateral are all important pieces of a campaign because these are items your audiences can take home. You may want to consider exhibiting at conferences in your industry or events in your community to spread the word in person.

Traditional Ads. The most effective ads for associations are in trade publications because you KNOW you are reaching audiences in your industry. Be careful about advertising in more mainstream media – it will drain your budget and you may not be targeting as precisely.

If your organization does not have an in-house marketing professional (or if this person does not have time to allocate to the campaign), it may be wise to hire outside help via a communications or marketing firm. Working with a firm is a symbiotic relationship – you offer the expertise of your organization and campaign issue, while the firm offers expertise in strategic marketing, as well as subscription services to news distribution and social media management tools that allow for more efficient work.


The evaluation step is not necessarily the final step; you must continuously evaluate your efforts throughout your campaign’s lifetime. This means using the metrics of your campaign to adjust when needed.

Focus Group.jpgSurveys are an important measurement tool you can use to find out your audiences’ opinions about the issue before, during and after the campaign. And all of your digital platforms should have some kind of analytics feature built in. For example, if you are running Facebook ads, you can run a report on the performance of the ads and adjust the ads if necessary based on your findings.

You may want to think about hiring a research company to conduct focus groups with your constituents. This is a great way to gather your audiences’ opinions on the campaign and the issue and adjust accordingly.

Overall, there is no way to ensure the success of a public awareness campaign; but by scanning, planning, implementing, and evaluating – you can increase the chances of success. Happy campaigning!


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