State Policy Network
Small yet meaningful communications investments for state think tanks

By Meredith Turney, Senior Director of Leadership Development and Strategic Communications

As we face another long stretch of stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus pandemic, many state think tanks are beginning to think about the future: What does this mean for our communications, messaging, and branding beyond this immediate crisis?

Last week, SPN’s Director of Marketing, Rebecca Primis, shared a fantastic blog post with our team about how nonprofits can leverage this downtime to invest in their media outreach. It’s a great reminder of the little chores that often get pushed aside thanks to the tyranny-of-the-urgent tasks.

The state think tanks in our Network haven’t had much downtime lately as they have been feverishly working on urgent policy solutions that will help states increase health services and prepare their economy for bouncing back. But it is worth examining how we can make small yet meaningful investments in our teams and work to prepare us for the long-term impact of this crisis.

In addition to the excellent items outlined in the article linked to above, here are some other things state think tanks can be working on to prepare themselves for the future:

Refresh your vision statement

A vision statement is perhaps the most essential cornerstone of any organization’s communications work. It lays out the vision you have for your state once your team is successful. What will people experience in a state that has fully adopted all your policy solutions? What will day-to-day look like? What opportunities will they have? This is an inspiring 2-3 sentence statement that will help others envision what your teams sees and draw them in to join your cause.

Your mission statement is the means by which you will accomplish your vision. These are the specific set of policies and programs you work on to bring about that vision. Especially as we enter a new world post-coronavirus, having an updated, inspiring vision statement and supporting mission statement will help guide your communications.

Reassess your communications goals

The world as we know it has changed drastically in the last 40 days. The future, while never truly predictable, is now even more uncertain. As you refresh your organization’s vision for your state’s future, the next step is to reassess the communications goals that will help achieve that vision.

If your goal is building 20 percent owned audience of likely voters in the state, how will that be impacted by the current pandemic? Is it still a reasonable goal based on changing circumstances? Can you increase that number because there is huge opportunity for connection right now? How will you allocate your marketing budget to achieve new goals based on the current situation?

If your goal is better earned media placement, how will that be impacted by the current media appetite, which is almost singularly focused on healthcare and pandemic-related news? Can you help reporters tell stories of people impacted by the pandemic and government policy? This may be an opportunity to help tell more stories and boost your brand. Or perhaps your organization can set the goal of starting its own journalism branch to help tell stories and inform the public.

Review communications tools

Every organization has a set of essential communications tools through which they are able to connect with key audiences. These include email service, website platform, social media, video editing software, contact list data platforms, and media monitoring. What tools are truly effective for sharing your message? Are they worth the cost? Can you renegotiate for a better cost with the vendor?

Sometimes the tool or platform itself it fine, but your team needs more training to use it effectively. Can you invest some time to become an expert with a certain tool? Or would your time be better spent on the areas where your natural talents lie? You could hire a contractor to help run some of your tools at a fraction of the cost of your time and effort.

Now is an excellent time to reevaluate what tools are advancing your communications goals and which ones you may want to streamline based on limited time and resources.

As we face an uncertain future, there is opportunity for us to take a pause in our usual hectic schedules and reexamine what’s benefiting us and what isn’t. This is especially true when it comes to investing in the critical communications work for each think tank. The solid foundation we build (or rebuild) now will serve us through this crisis and beyond.