Many social and environmental justice campaigns I come across put a lot of effort into getting media attention. This is understandable – the media can be a powerful mode of communication which can have a big impact on the success or failure of our initiatives.
But how do we ensure our communications are strategic and don’t just end up being more noise?
When setting out to change the world we need to consider:
- What exactly do we want to achieve?
- What is the problem? What is the solution we want implemented?
- What will it take to get from the current situation to our implemented solution? What’s the path? What are the steps along the way?
- Who is the person who can deliver the change we want?
- What will it take for that person to make that decision?
- Who are the constituents and allies we need to engage, to build power and influence, and apply pressure where needed?
- Who are the opponents whose influence we will need to counter or neutralise?
If through clarifying our strategy we identify audiences who are best reached through the media, then it makes sense to seek media coverage. However, we need to remember that there are many ways to communicate – we can research our audience, seek people out directly (knock on their doors!), make contact with them through other messengers, hold events for them to attend, carry out actions for them to witness… and many other ways.
If we go down a path of seeking media coverage we need to be clear about…
- What we want to communicate
- What we want to result from the communication
- Who we want to communicate with
… and we need to tailor our message and messenger for that particular outcome and audience. Being clear about our audience will also help us figure out which kind of media is the best conduit (Radio? Newspaper? TV? Social media? etc) for our messages.
What is the purpose of your media engagement? To raise awareness about something? To motivate someone to do something? To catch the attention of a power-holder?
Chris Rose outlines the difference between communication for the purpose of education and motivation.
Education is a broadening exercise. It uses examples to reveal layers of complexity, leading to lower certainty but higher understanding.
(By contrast) Campaigning maximises the motivation of the audience, not their knowledge. Try using education to campaign, and you will end up circling and exploring your issue but not changing it.
Rose compares a campaign model with an education model:
CAMPAIGN: Problem -> Awareness -> Concern -> Urgency -> Anger -> Action
EDUCATION: Problem -> Awareness -> Knowledge -> Understanding -> Reflection -> Confusion
Campaign communication still needs an element of education in it. At the early stages of a campaign we’re often trying to raise awareness of a problem and get people to care about it. Further along we may be educating people about the range of solutions to the problem, to show them that it doesn’t have to be that way. But this process is about narrowing the field until our desired outcome is the only acceptable response to the problem, and that action is urgent.
The challenge is to focus on what really needs to be communicated. When we’re working with complex issues all the time we can think that our audience needs to understand all the complexity too. In fact, we mostly need to be communicating that we are trustworthy and credible, that we share values with our audience, and in simple terms either the problem that needs to be addressed, the solution that needs to be implemented, or the action that the audience can take (depending on the stage of a campaign).
What do you think of these two models? Which approach are you utilising in your media work?
What have you done to make sure your communications are strategic? Do you have processes or resources you would recommend to others?
This article draws on comments made as part of the Media Tactics for Social Change conversation hosted by New Tactics in Human Rights in 2013.