• Define your message
The first step in any communications exercise is to define the message or messages to be transmitted. An evident objective is to focus on positive achievements and the benefits they bring.
This requires clear agreement and careful coordination among all parties who may act as spokespersons or information sources for a particular project or network. Inconsistent facts, figures, emphases and viewpoints are to be avoided at all costs.
All public-oriented communications relating to FP6 instruments should acknowledge that such projects and networks are supported by the European Union – e.g. by stating ‘This project is supported by funding under the Sixth Research Framework Programme of the European Union’.
• Target your audience
Reconciling the communications goals of the consortium and those of the EU entails addressing a very broad range of recipients. Scientific, technical, business, institutional and governmental audiences are all prime targets. But, because FP6 is supported by public funds, there is an equal responsibility to show citizens that these monies are being spent to good effect. Fulfilling the societal objectives of spreading education and generating an enthusiasm for science also implies a need to reach the public at large, using all available means.
• Select your tools
Peer-reviewed publications, specialist websites and scientific congresses typically form the principal information channels of the research community. By contrast, 60% of the general public obtains its knowledge of science from TV. Popular newspapers, magazines, radio and – to a growing extent – the Internet also play major roles in informing public awareness and opinion.
Between these two extremes come the business-to-business tools, including: commercial, technical, financial and industrial publications; broadcasts; and trade fairs and seminars. All need to be considered in the preparation of a well-balanced communications mix.
Local community-related activities may form yet another route to limited but often strategically important audiences.
• Plan your programme
The communications activity has consequences in terms of both financial and time expenditure. It is therefore essential to establish a plan of predetermined scope and budget, with identified goals. Indeed, the outlines of this will have formed part of your FP6 proposal document.
It is advisable to plan for a regular flow of information, rather than to pin your faith on the occasional ad-hoc announcement. Establishing recognition as an active provider of news and information encourages journalists and others to approach you for help and opinions. By creating a lively dialogue, you gain opportunities for publicity that may not have occurred to you or your partners. And in setting your budget, retain a reserve to meet such contingencies.
Establish a list of spokespersons able to deal with particular aspects of your project or network, and ensure that they are informed about the overall plan and its key messages.
Explore the communications resources that exist within your consortium. Accessing professional skills and facilities, established contacts and existing mailing lists/databases can all save time and money.