Crafting the Message
Good communications starts with crafting cohesive messages developed in conjunction with the
agency’s senior leadership that align with the goals articulated in the agency’s communications
plan. An agency may develop many messages. They can be overarching and long lasting such as an
agency mission statement or guiding principles. They may be issue-specific and multi- year, such as
those regarding Child Abuse Prevention Month or they may be issue specific and relatively time
limited such as those resulting from positive or negative media attention. Irrespective of the
impetus, it is always helpful to synthesize any message, crafting it into a written statement,
sometimes called a “backgrounder,” to disseminate. This messaging piece can be distributed to all
employees, posted on internal and external web sites so all employees and the public have access to
it and sent to key policymakers and other stakeholders. Written messages are easier to reinforce.
The also serve to stimulate dialogue and facilitate feedback about the message permitting message
Preparing the Message for Dissemination
Once the key messages are crafted and approved by senior level staff, other materials, such as news
releases, articles, signage, flyers and PowerPoint presentations, can be developed based on these
key messages. The development of these message vehicles and ensuing activities is a communications
function. It is a good idea, if budgetary allowances permit, for a public child welfare agency to
have at least one individual reporting directly to the Director and dedicated to the agency’s
communications function (Communications). If the agency is small and does not have the capacity to
employ such an individual, the responsibilities should be delegated to either the agency Director
or a member of senior staff. It is important to have at least one person operating in the role of
Communications. If a designate has no expertise in communications, per se, formal training should
be considered as these responsibilities are not insignificant.
As the primary contact for the media and responsible for formulating strategic communications with
all other audiences, Communications must be keenly aware of the details of all issues, positive and
negative, affecting the agency. In addition to Communications’ direct research, it is expected that
the Director and other members of the agency senior staff will keep Communications abreast of all
situations that could or should draw the attention of the media or other audiences. Front line
staff as well, should be charged with the responsibility of reporting incidents “up the line.” All
media inquiries should go directly to Communications to ensure that the same message goes out each
time and to vet what is sent to the media. Communications coordinates the selection of the most
appropriate subject matter expert to speak with the media, if details are required.
Communications also shoulders responsibility for centralizing all messages, data and statements for
Using Data in Messaging
While pure statistical analysis of public child welfare data is of keen interest to some specific
stakeholders such as researchers, policy makers and funders, the remaining audiences are generally
more interested in the individuals who are reflected in those statistics. It is therefore advisable
to use statistics, presented in the form of graphs, as a supplement to a story about the
experiences of a child, youth, family or caregiver who was or is involved with the public child
welfare agency. Statistics can also be used to reinforce the needs of the agency such as the need
for foster parents, adoptive parents, mentors and donations.
For these purposes, it is important to maintain a reserve of commonly requested statistics in an
accessible format. Proactive messaging will be enhanced and Communications will be able to respond
more quickly to statistical requests from stakeholders.
Disseminating the Message
Although, strictly speaking, media relations are handled through Communications, getting an agency
message out is the shared responsibility of every agency staff member. From clerical support staff,
to direct service workers and managers, everyone in the agency must understand the role he or she plays in reinforcing a message with the public, families, their neighbors, community groups, co-workers and others.
As prominent professionals in the public child welfare field, it is critical to involve the
Director of the agency and senior staff in forwarding the key messages of the agency within their
professional and personal circles. Their actions plan are an integral part in improving morale
within the agency and set the tone when it comes to leadership. The Director and senior staff can
also build relationships and facilitate mutually respectful two-way communications with peers,
staff, policy makers, persons served, media and the community.
Mid-level managers play a key role in disseminating the agency’s key messages to those they
supervise, keeping them informed and motivated. Their role is guided by the concrete set of key
messages which should be distributed to and understood by everyone in the agency. Managers also
have a responsibility to pass accurate information both up and down the agency and to help dispel
Direct-service staff members are the most obvious ambassadors of the agency. Since they have
day-to-day interactions with those served by the agency and people in the community, line staff are
in an excellent position to disseminate the agency’s message broadly. It is therefore imperative
that they be well informed and frequently briefed on the key messages and goals of the agency.
Feedback mechanisms should be in place so they can provide input into message refinement.
As previously stated, selected mid-level and direct service staff members may be called upon by
Communications to act as subject matter specialists and spokespeople for the agency. Though
supported by Communications throughout and especially during the live or taped interview,
additional advanced training for such spokespeople might be appropriate. It will serve to increase
their comfort level and ensure they can stay on message while navigating the interview process when
the opportunity presents.
External partners such as caregivers, community provider agencies and non-profit groups who work
with the agency can be invaluable when there is a need to advocate for a specific issue or provide
first-hand experience. Do not underestimate the value of soliciting them as spokespeople. These
stakeholders can also be helpful in assisting to write op-ed pieces and letters to the editor when
needed. Often, they can enhance the credibility of the agency itself and add convincing background
knowledge to a story. Cultivating these resources by actively building relationships with stakeholders will serve the