Media and Messages

Pre-testing systematically gathers target audience reaction to written, visual, or audio messages and media. In assessing the quality of media, program staff should document their having followed procedures that meet professional standards and that follow well-established steps to create media. Program planners who do not pre-test media lose the opportunity to gain valuable insights into the quality of those methods of communication. A thorough review of formative evaluation methods for media is provided in “Making Health Communication Programs Work” (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2005).

Pre-testing media is designed to improve communications before diffusion and to document which alternatives will be most efficient and effective. The concept of pre-testing is simple; it involves measuring the reactions of a group of people to the object of interest, such as a film, booklet, or TV announcement. Pre-testing should be done not only with members of the target audience but with staff. Obviously, the sophistication and budget that can be applied to conducting a pre-test seem infinite. The resources expended by the advertising industry each year confirm this fact.

In developing health information programs and revising existing messages and media, pre-testing is an essential method to assess ease of comprehension, personal relevance, audience acceptance, recall, and other strengths and weaknesses of draft messages before production. A pre-test should establish a target audience baseline and should determine if there are large cognitive, affective, perception, or behavioral differences within the target audience. Planners should design pre-tests of media to provide information on the following components of effectiveness.

No absolute formula can be used to design a pre-test or field trial. All ongoing programs need to have their media examined carefully before using them with an audience. Simple or highly technical and costly methods and procedures are available. The acceptability and memorability of selected media and products may often be improved, however, without a major allocation of time or resources. A pre-test should be tailored to objectives and should consider time, cost, resources, and the availability of a target audience. Planners may have to decide which media will be formally pre-tested and which will undergo only internal review. This decision must be tempered by the risk of creating active opposition responses. The following are suggested steps for developing media:

  • • State briefly the program topic;
  • • List the primary and secondary program audiences;
  • • Select the medium;
  • • State why the program is important;
  • • Specify expected objectives for consumer and provider;
  • • Specify what the viewer should know, do, or believe from media exposure;
  • • Prepare a 10- to 30-minute instructional program;
  • • Provide information on why this is an important information source;
  • • Prepare script content based on characteristics of the audience;
  • • Plan visual materials and develop a storyboard;
  • • Describe the evaluation procedures to assess cognitive, belief, skill, and impact;
  • • Conduct and evaluate the program; and
  • • Revise the product.
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