The single overriding communication objective (SOCO) is the main message to your target audience, by which you would like to achieve you communication aim. The SOCO is described with: “What is the ONE message you want the audience to take away from this interview/report?” or “What is the ONE message or action someone needs to understand?” A good SOCO should be objective, concise and precise.

A SOCO is especially important when communicating with the media. For a good usage of a SOCO see this example of Barack Obama.

The concept of the SOCO was developed by the CDC media relations office as part of the preparation of a communication process. The CDC advises to answer four questions before a communication process. By answering those questions you develop a SOCO. CDC SOCO worksheet

In every communication process you have the basis of your communication. In epidemiology this is usually a study with certain elements e.g. public health problem that the study addresses, study objective, methods of the study, results of the study, recommendations based on the study. Besides the content of your communication you also have the communication process in itself with a communication aim, a target audience and the SOCO. Note that the SOCO is not the “objective” of the communication process.

For different communication processes the basis of the communication your study does not change, whereas the communication aim, the target audience and the SOCO may change.

Example of different SOCOs for different communication processes

Basis of the communication

  • Public health problem that the study addresses: Notification delay (from physicians to local public health agencies) hinders timely public health measurements. A law states that notifications should be done within one day.
  • Study objective: Evaluate the number of notifications done within one day
  • Results: 1/3 of notifications take longer than one day
  • Recommendations: Stakeholders of the surveillance system should strive to improve the number of notifications done within one day.

Communication process with physicians

  • Communication aim: Physicians need to know that notification time is REALLY important.
  • Target audience: Physicians
  • SOCO: Because a third of all notifications are delayed, serious public health problems may occur.

Communication process with local public officers

  • Communication aim: „Local public offices should educate physicians in their counties“
  • Target audience: local public officers
  • SOCO: You can and should reduce the number of delayed notifications, possibly by educating physicians in your county.

Communication process with the surveillance unit of the national public health institute

  • Communication aim: „ The surveillance systems needs to change“
  • Target audience: members of the surveillance unit
  • SOCO: The surveillance system has a flaw and needs to change. 1/3 of notifications do not abide the law.