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You will need to complete steps 1 and 2 of Project 1: a deep research dive and rigorous situation analysis of a specific SPCA organization. If there is no organization called “SPCA” (society for the prevention of cruelty to animals) in your town, My HOMETOWN IS BALTIMORE MARYLAND. Look for other animal welfare and adoption organizations. In my town, the SPCA is called Animal Humane New Mexico (because it serves the state rather than just the community). Almost every community has something similar. I do want to point out that ASPCA (the national organization) is generally NOT affiliated with local SPCAs.
Step 1: Conduct and Document Your Situation Analysis
You’re working with your manager, Carmen, to draft the first half of a communications plan—situation analysis, goals, objectives, publics, and messaging—for your local SPCA.
The first item of business is to identify your SPCA. This can be a local organization or any other SPCA you choose (in your hometown, in another state or city, etc.). It’s best if the SPCA has a fairly well-developed website, as browsing the site will be part of your situation analysis. Conduct a search, find your preferred SPCA, and bookmark the site. Choosing a specific organization is critical; you can’t draft a communications plan unless you can research the entity, its publics, and its internal and external environment.
Locate and browse the ASPCA site as well. Although the national organization may not be affiliated with the SPCA you chose, the goals and objectives should align, and it’s a good idea to gain familiarity with both organizations.
FROM: Carmen Amaya, senior account executive
SUBJECT: getting started
I know you’re starting your SPCA work and I wanted to help you along. Here’s a refresher on the communications plan and its components, as well as a reminder of how research is used in strategic communications. Gavin and Theresa reminded me that you worked on a communications plan in your last project, and I wanted to pass along the NazarOps comms plan for your reference. You’ll be happy to know we’re now on contract with the IT firm! Finally, here’s a pocket guide to writing goals, objectives, and strategies. This not only provides helpful verbs and phrases but also assists you in conceptually distinguishing the elements of a plan.
You worked on goals, objectives, publics, and messaging on the NazarOps project but, because the situation analysis is new to you, I’ll want you to run your analysis by me so I can make sure you’re on the right track. The research you conduct will inform every part of the communications plan … as well as the tactics you’ll be producing in the next few projects.
As you work through this step of the project, put together a neat and clear document telling me what research you conducted, what the results were, and what you extrapolated from them. Although your situation analysis will be just a paragraph or two in its final form, it will derive from a great deal of information that you’ll gather, assess, and synthesize. Your notes will not only give me a window into your methodology, but help you as you organize your findings to arrive at your problem statement.
Here’s one template you can follow or amend as needed:
Sample Situation Analysis Research Breakdown
Primary or secondary research?
Qualitative or quantitative research?
Was your research primary or did you find existing research (secondary)?
Was your research qualitative (such as from personal conversations) or quantitative (data-based)?
From the research, I found that…
This tells me that…
How I arrived at my problem statement: After careful analysis, I found that xxxx seemed the most prescient problem or opportunity because of yyyyyy. I considered zzzzzzz, but rejected it because of wwwww.
Your research breakdown document doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but just enough to give me a sense of your thought process and the techniques you employed.
Send me your breakdown and completed situation analysis by Day 5 at the latest so that I can get you feedback quickly. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!
Carmen Amaya email signature
Once you’ve reviewed the elements of a communications plan and how they fit together—and skimmed the NazarOps plan as an example—you’ll be ready to conduct your strategic communications situation analysis and fill in your research breakdown document. As mentioned in Carmen’s email, the situation analysis is a distillation of research into a paragraph (or a few paragraphs) outlining everything you know about the situation. Your situation analysis will include a review of internal factors—history, key actors, positions, policies, organizational structures and functions, and audit of the organization’s communications (to the extent to which you are able to conduct this)—and a review of external factors, which will include a stakeholder analysis outlining who the stakeholders are, what they know about the key issues, how they feel about the issues, and how they behave about the issues. It’s vital that you investigate the question, What are people saying? You’ll use your findings to conduct a SWOT analysis where you define the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to SPCA.
All this effort will culminate in your production of a problem statement, which describes in specific, measurable terms the problem you uncovered that requires a communications intervention. The word problem is used loosely here; this doesn’t have to be a crisis situation or anything overtly negative. The “problem” could be an opportunity the organization is missing, an improvement that could be made, a situation that could use mitigation, or a potential negative outcome to stave off. As you review your research and conduct your SWOT, you’ll use your insights to identify the problem to which your data point.
To get you started on conducting the research and filling out your situation analysis research breakdown, Carmen stops by for a quick chat.
“Now that you have a better sense of what to do, you may be wondering how exactly you’re going to conduct all the research you need in order to obtain the most accurate problem statement. Let me recommend a few techniques.”
“First, make sure you’ve studied all the resources we’ve shared with you, particularly the Broom & Sha readings, which contextualize all parts of the situation analysis. The resources include a sample marketing situation analysis, sample SWOT, and stakeholder analysis template that might prove helpful.”
“Then, use web research as part of a situation analysis. In addition to general online keyword searches, tools such as as Meltwater and Google Analytics will help you understand the organization and its possible competitors, get a sense of your publics, and know what they’re saying on various channels (newspapers, radio, social media, community forums). Use Meltwater for at least part of your research so that you can take advantage of the searching and analytic capabilities. The Parabolic discussion Meltwater: Guidance, Questions, and Discoveries is a good place to ask questions and seek information about the tool itself.”
“You might also want to conduct interviews as part of a situation analysis. This requires identifying people to interview, reaching out to them, coming up with a list of questions written so as to obtain all the information you need, and synthesizing the qualitative data. I would love it if you could conduct at least one interview! If you do, please include your questions as part of your situation analysis research breakdown.”
“You may have noticed that even the research part of communications planning requires ingenuity: You get to use creativity and mindful self-direction to figure out which avenues to pursue. You may uncover research opportunities we haven’t identified in our resources; use these with zeal! I may end up learning something from you.”
“Lastly, please reach out if you have any questions about how to conduct your research and where to focus. I’m here to help!”
smiling woman asking another woman questions and taking notes
Kamon Supasawat / Moment Collection / Getty Images
Shortly after your conversation, a chat pops up from Carmen.
New Conversation: Carmen Amaya
Remember the professional development series I mentioned? I’m sending you a case study analysis one of the senior account executives worked up that shows the kind of magic that can happen during this phase of communications planning. The situation analysis can be much more than the sum of its parts!
Attachment: Pure Stone Case Study
Welcome to the first in our case study series! I think you’ll find this illuminating.
In 2015, the City of San Diego conducted a situation analysis that led to an ingenious approach to garnering support for the use of recycled water. As you read the case study, consider the research methods the city employed, the group the city called upon for ideas—this might surprise you!—the stakeholders the city identified, and the strategic decisions the city made to fulfill its objectives.
Case Study: Pure Stone (PRSA Silver Anvil Awards)
For more on Stone Brewing’s role in all this, and to read an exemplar of PR writing in itself, visit the Pure Stone blog (URL below) (Koch, 2017).
Koch, G. (2017). Stone Brewing and Pure Water San Diego go full circle. Retrieved from https://www.stonebrewing.com/blog/beer/2017/stone-brewing-and-pure-water-san-diego-go-full-circle#ageGatePassed
New Conversation: Carmen Amaya
p.s. If you’re interested in a more theoretical perspective on stakeholders, you may find some readings on stakeholder theory illuminating. Theory drives practice, and you never know when it will help you elucidate your choices to leadership.
Using all the resources Carmen has provided, conduct your situation analysis and fill out your research breakdown document. Retain all your situation analysis notes; you will need them in future projects as you create documents such as fact sheets.
Next, you’ll distill your findings into a few paragraphs and a problem statement.
Step 2: Draft and Discuss Your Situation Analysis (Submission)
Now that you’ve conducted and documented your research, you’re ready to synthesize your findings and draft the situation analysis. This will be just a paragraph or two culminating in the problem statement.
New Conversation: Carmen Amaya
. . . just want to give you a little guidance on the problem statement in case you haven’t written one before.
You recall the statement from the NazarOps plan:
The challenge for the communications program is to successfully introduce NazarOps to the DOD’s acquisition team, senior TRADOC leadership, and key congressional staff members, as well as differentiate the SecondSight Tactical Simulation System from its anticipated competitors.
This is a good example of a problem statement. It’s succinct and clear, lists key stakeholders, and follows the model in Broom & Sha (2013, pp. 244–245):
Write it in the present tense.
Describe the situation in specific and measurable terms (if applicable, the what, where, when, who, how, and why, similar to the contents of a SMART objective).
Don’t imply solutions.
Don’t place blame.
And remember that the “problem” can be an opportunity or even an acknowledgment that you’re on the right track and just need to stay the course.
THE ONE PAGE COMMUNICATION OUTLINE PLAN SHOULD BE LIKE THIS WITH THE INFORMATION PROVIDED FOR EACH CATEGORY
Communications Plan Outline: Template 1
Background and Problem Statement
Provide a one-paragraph synopsis of the situation about which the communications plan is focused.
Distill the situation to a one-sentence statement of the problem.
Identify the ideal end state for the campaign.
Limit the number of goals to three or fewer. The greater the number of goals, the greater the complexity of the plan.
Limit the total number of objectives in the plan.
Identify which goal(s) a specific objective is associated with.
Sequence the objectives logically.
Ideally, all objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound).
Target Publics (Audiences)
Identify the specific groups and/or individuals that the plan is focusing on.
Be as detailed as possible, providing information on:
current perceptions (relevant to the campaign), and
media consumption habits.
List the top-level key messages to be communicated as part of the campaign.
Explain the major types of communications to be utilized in the campaign.
direct communications, and
social media engagement.
The tactics are the specific activities executed as part of each strategy.
There can be as many tactics as are required to achieve the campaign objectives.
Specify the duration of the campaign as well as all milestones.
Present a detailed accounting for all anticipated costs associated with each element of the campaign.
In most cases, the costs associated with tactics will be the largest single element of the budget.
Explain how the campaign will be evaluated to determine if it was successful in achieving the identified objectives.
Determine if evaluation will be conducted during the campaign as well as at its conclusion, or only at the conclusion.
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