Today NASA plans to officially release a long-awaited new strategic communications plan. I was able yesterday to preview a copy of the plan, which goes over the market research NASA performed to see how the agency is perceived by the general public, how the agency plans to tailor its message to address weaknesses uncovered in that research, and strategies for implementation.
The market research (which Robert Hopkins, chief of strategic communications at NASA, discussed in some detail in a presentation last month at the ISDC in Dallas) found that, not surprisingly, NASA has broad public support, but a smaller fraction of the public believes that NASA is relevant to their lives. However, a far larger percentage of respondents believed the agency was relevant after being told about technologies (from smoke detectors to weather satellites) that the agency had a hand in developing. Poll results also showed limited excitement about, or even awareness of, NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration plans. Men and younger audiences tend to be more interested in such exploration, although the plan identifies its base audience as the “Apollo Generation”, those 45-64 years old.
Using those survey results, NASA has crafted a new “core message” that emphasizes not exploration or missions in and of themselves, but on the benefits accrued from them: “NASA explores for answers that power our future.” In the document, “future” is defined as the sum of three things: inspiration, innovation, and discovery. “Why explore?” the plan asks. “Because exploration powers inspiration, innovation, and discovery.”
The plan also introduces a more specific message for highly-targeted audiences called “The Space Economy”, which the document defines as “the full range of activities and the use of resources that create and provide value and benefits to human beings in the course of exploring, understand and utilizing space.” The plan calls for NASA to establish “thought leadership” around this concept that further enhances the agency’s relevance in specific audiences.
The implementation of the plan will primarily be structured around the year-long 50th anniversary celebration for NASA that will begin this October (NASA was formally established on October 1, 1958.) Many different events and other work are planned, from “Future Forums” around the country to new public service announcements to a “Web 2.0″ redesign of the NASA web site that will incorporate social bookmarking, tagging, user-generated content, and even a “NASATube” and “NASApedia”.
It’s far too early, of course, to tell how effective this is going to be. Even if NASA convinces the public that the agency is more relevant to them, will the public respond in turn by demanding more money for NASA from the White House and Congress? Or will the public simply be more satisfied that they’re getting their money’s worth at current spending levels?