Communication Key Area 3:


Developing Strategic Communication Campaigns

If you are interested in more in-depth information, click on the links provided throughout this key area.

After your communication work group creates messages about the coalition’s vision, goals, and initiatives, it is ready to develop the key messages for any suicide prevention communication campaigns you might take on. The written information that you developed about your coalition will strengthen your communication campaigns and can directly guide their content.

What makes something a communication campaign? A health communication campaign combines several communication methods (e.g., online, news, print, and social media) to encourage the community members you are trying to reach (your audience) to change their behavior in some way.

The best practice for communication campaigns is to combine them with other prevention activities, such as trainings or policy change, to accomplish the following:

  • Raise awareness of a health issue
  • Encourage people to address the issue
  • Get people involved with existing prevention efforts

Communication campaigns are not stand-alone activities. They need to be paired with other prevention strategies as part of a comprehensive approach. Campaigns should support other ways to reach the goals you identified in the Planning element, based on CDC’s Suicide Prevention Resource for Action. Visit the Integration element to learn more about implementing multiple approaches and their associated activities.

Key Steps

Identify your campaign audience and purpose

First, pinpoint who your primary audience is and what you want to achieve through the campaign. Base your decisions on your community’s suicide prevention data analysis and strategic planning goals and objectives. Is a campaign the right way to achieve your objectives? If so, decide what type of campaign will be most effective.

For example, if your community data have shown a significant rise in suicide attempts in Latina youth, you may set a strategic plan goal to increase help-seeking in the Latin American female youth population. However, cultural stigma about mental health services might be a barrier to this goal. Because campaigns can be useful tools in changing perceptions and attitudes, you might create a campaign that reaches Latina teenagers and their parents with the message that help-seeking is a strength. In this example, you have used data and goals to identify the purpose of your campaign (to increase help-seeking by showing it as a strength), who you want to reach (Latina teenagers and their parents), and why this campaign is needed (because data show increases in Latina suicide attempt rates).

Next, set goals and objectives for what you want your campaign to achieve. Goals should restate the purpose of your campaign. Objectives should explain what actions will help you achieve your goal. Both will guide the communication methods you choose to reach your audience. For additional information on goals and objectives and putting them into action, visit the Planning element.

Determine whether to use existing campaigns

Are there existing communication campaigns that focus on your message and can effectively reach your audience? Suicide prevention campaigns in the larger field often focus on the following purposes:

  • Raising awareness about the problem of suicide
  • Educating about the warning signs of suicide
  • Increasing help-seeking behavior
  • Empowering the community to recognize and support people experiencing a mental health crisis
  • Reducing stigma related to mental health and suicide

If your campaign’s purpose is any of the above, scan national and state campaigns on suicide prevention for ones you might be able to use in your community. See a partial list of national suicide prevention campaign sources below. Make sure any campaign you choose will be able to reach your chosen audience effectively.

If you cannot find a campaign that fits your intended audience, including their culture and needs, consider adapting existing campaign materials or creating your own local campaign. Many national campaigns provide frameworks, guidance, and resources to support local adaptations of their messaging.

Note: Be sure to check with a campaign’s authors before you adapt it.

Sources of National Suicide Prevention Campaigns and Links to Campaign Information

General Campaigns

Campaigns for Specific Demographic Groups

Awareness Day/Week/Month Campaigns

  • American Association of Suicidology: Media (suicide prevention week/month)
  • Mental Health America: May (Mental Health Awareness Month)
  • National Council for Suicide Prevention: WSPD (World Suicide Prevention Day)

In addition to checking for national sources of campaigns, check your state-level contacts, websites, and resources to see if they have suicide prevention campaigns that will work for your audience. Visit to learn more about your state’s suicide prevention efforts and to contact your state suicide prevention lead with campaign-related questions.

Before committing to doing a campaign, consider if your group has the time, skills, and resources to adapt or create, promote, and evaluate it. Determine your partners’ experience in developing campaigns, their access to social media and communication platforms, and their connections to local media outlets. Factor all of this into your decision. If adapting or creating a campaign is not the way to go, and no national campaign is appropriate as it currently exists, consider a different strategy to reach your goal.

Choose communication methods to reach your audience

Look at the Framework for Successful Messaging for recommended ways to develop strong suicide prevention campaigns. Then consider what communication methods will most effectively reach your intended audience. Some groups tend to get most of their information from social media; others regularly listen to local news outlets; and some need to be reached by word of mouth.

There are two major ways to identify which communication channels your audience prefers:

  1. Ask your local media agencies for statistics on their consumers. Newspapers, television, radio stations, and print and online publications all keep records of information on their readers or viewers.
  2. Ask your audience what their preferred media are and how often and when they use them. You can get this information through focus groups, individual interviews, or informal meetings.

If you are using an existing communication campaign, identify whether its promotion resources can be used with your audience’s preferred media. For example, many national campaigns provide social media “shareables,” audio public service announcements (PSAs) for the radio, and videos that you can play at community events. If existing materials do not fit with your audience’s preferred media, consider creating your own materials. If you do, be sure to consult with the campaign’s authors.

If you are adapting or creating your own campaign, choose media that fit with your audience’s needs and culture as well as your budget. Social media is usually much less expensive than radio or television. However, if you already have relationships with local media outlets, they may be willing to air PSAs or press releases at a reduced price or for free.

Develop campaign content

If you are adapting or creating your own campaign, the next step is to develop its content. To guide your efforts, it is essential that your communication work group have members with knowledge and experience in both campaigns and your audience’s culture and needs. Although there are many different topics within mental health and suicide prevention that you can focus a campaign on, make sure the messages you develop tie directly back to your identified communication purpose and goals.

Keep in mind the space, format, and guidelines for different forms of communication. For example, press releases have specific formats, and each social media platform has guidance on what type of posts will gain traction. Research your channels to make sure your content will fit industry standards. If your communication work group members have expertise on and relationships with the media (or are from the media themselves), this will really help your group develop strong communications. Finally, remember to follow safe suicide prevention messaging guidelines when you develop your communication content. See Communication Key Area 2: Ensuring Safe Suicide Prevention Messaging if you are unsure of safe messaging guidelines.

For more detailed information on developing communication campaigns specific to suicide prevention, visit SPRC’s Strategic Communication Planning series.

Pilot the campaign

Once you have drafted preliminary campaign content, test it with members of your audience. Such a test is called “pilot testing.” Ask for feedback on the messages from members of your audience. In particular:

  • Do they understand the intended message?
  • Are the words and images clear?
  • Does the message fit with their culture and needs?
  • Are they getting any unintended, harmful message?
  • How is the format and length?
  • Does the material catch their attention in a positive way?
  • Does the message help them feel that suicide is preventable and that they have a role to play in prevention?

To get this feedback from your audience you can host informal meetings, focus groups, or individual interviews, or you can use a written survey. Check whether your content meets accessibility standards so that individuals with disabilities can read, hear, and understand the key messages. Use the feedback to adjust the campaign materials before a full launch.

Promote, evaluate, and improve the campaign

After pilot testing, your campaign will be ready for full promotion. This will take significant time and investment from both your communication work group (who will be leading this effort) and your wider coalition members. They can support the rollout of campaign messages and materials through their networks.

Consider which media outlets, agencies, and sources are likely to help you reach the most members of your audience and focus on communicating through them. You won’t have the ability to flood every media outlet or local network affiliate with your campaign materials. So, it is essential that you use the information about your audience’s preferred communication methods and sources to prioritize where to promote your campaign.

Your work group also needs to monitor your campaign’s impact. This can be as simple as reading reports from the media outlets you use about the campaign’s reach. Or it can be tracking the number of people that view or forward the campaign’s social media pages. If your data show low views of your content, your coalition should discuss the possible reasons and strategize about how to improve your reach. You may need to switch media outlets or alter how information is displayed. A strong pilot of the campaign before full promotion should reduce the need for major adjustments during the campaign’s rollout. But any campaign, no matter how well developed, will need adjustments over time.

For more information on monitoring, evaluating, and improving prevention strategies visit Data Key Area 3: Using Data to Assess Progress and Make Changes to Your Plan.

Key Resources on Developing Strategic Communication Campaigns

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Utah benefits from a strong network of local coalitions focused on both suicide and substance misuse prevention. These community coalitions have applied for and received funding from the state Department of Health & Human Services to tailor a statewide suicide prevention campaign to their local context. Each coalition that has adapted the campaign for local use has participated in training on using and promoting safe messaging on suicide prevention.

– Ray Bailey, Youth Suicide Prevention Program Manager, Utah Department of Health & Human Services