The media is the most effective way to spread your advocacy message widely. It can reach the broadest possible audience base, including the public, potential supporters, and policy makers.
The media is a powerful force in any society - it influences the way in which people view the world, and shapes public opinion. The media plays a leading role in social change. In many cases, without the media, any social change movement would be largely reduced to ‘preaching to the converted’, and so lack growth.
Major Media Outlets
- Traditional Media:
- Modern Media:
- Internet (websites, social networking, blogs, etc.
- Mobile telephones
Policy makers and groups involved in political processes pay close attention to the press, so using the media can help you to advance your policy issue.
'Legislators note organizations that the media quotes.'
Many legislators and their administrators have press clipping services and rank news items and editorials highly. Media coverage may increase your profile and credibility with policymakers, and therefore improve your access to them.
In some cases, criticism in the media of the government’s position can also have an enormous impact – but this can be negative as well as positive ... Like any advocacy approach, use of the media carries risks. The coverage of your organization may be unfavorable or inaccurate, or it might mobilize opponents against your cause.
The best way to ensure that media coverage will advance your advocacy goals is to think and plan ahead. Understand how the media works and be in control of the process as much as possible.
You can work with the media proactively and/or reactively. Effective forward planning can help you to use the media for your own advocacy purposes, rather than being used by the media to fit their agenda.
Proactive approaches would include:
- Using research to encourage and cooperate with in-depth investigative programs
- Writing feature articles and letters
- Planning press conferences, events, campaign actions, photo-calls, celebrity occasions etc. specifically to attract the media
Reactive media work can also be useful - e.g. if you see an article in the press today you can write in to support it or argue your own position. However priorities need to be established and resource constraints considered.
What you want to achieve by getting your message across in the media is to:
- Set an agenda
- Put decision makers 'on notice'
- Stimulate debate and awareness of your issues
- Build support for your issue
- Turn concern into desire to action
The media differs from country-to-country. In some countries there are few media outlets, and in others they abound. Some media are controlled by government, and others are privately run. Some outlets have wide distribution, others small-scale distribution. In some countries, it is appropriate to work with newspapers, in others with TV, and in others with radio stations.
Some journalists face issues that limit their freedom of expression, such as censorship and manipulation of the press. In some countries, government actively controls the topics that can be reported. There can also be obstacles in privately-owned media – possibly because corporations suppress issues that they fear could damage their business interests or revenues from commercial advertisers (who might be offended). It is helpful to know and understand such limitations in your media.
In countries where there are numerous private TV stations it may be easier to obtain TV coverage of your issue. However, generally this is difficult. But do not forget radio. There are many local and national FM radio stations, many of them run by communities. These stations broadcast news and other programs in local ethnic languages, and their coverage reaches rural people, as well as wealthier urban communities.
Before you use the media, you need to have a clear main message, and know who your target audience is. Then, you can research the most appropriate media to deliver the message. There are, for example, often specific media outlets that are influential with policy makers. You also need to consider:
- What media your target audiences have access to. What publications do they read? Do they own TVs? Radio? Telephones? Computers?
- What skills are necessary to operate in a certain media? What process is required to convey a message through a particular media?
- Who should deliver the message (who would be influential)? Would they be willing to be a spokesperson? Are they competent, reliable and available?
Then you need to plan how to obtain coverage of your issue. You will need to use the media creatively to succeed in obtaining coverage. There is more about this below. The media are usually interested in ground-breaking news, or how an issue relates to a burning current concern of the day. The media also like to know how a situation affects individuals, and often reports human interest stories. This is where case studies and investigations will come in useful.
The following can all form useful aspects of media planning:
- Include media aspects in research and investigations.
- Develop and use a creative celebrity strategy.
- Carefully plan the time and place of Press Conferences and media events (such as demonstrations, events, campaign actions, photo-calls, celebrity occasions etc.).
- Include visual impacts in planning (e.g. an event or action against the backdrop of a beauty spot or natural wonder, major building or historic location etc., with a national politician or celebrity; or a photo call that will make an interesting and novel picture).
- Analyse target audiences & give special attention to relevant media e.g. quality national newspapers that are read by those in power, publications related to your issue etc.
- Plan so the media has regular, but not too persistent, approaches - with variety.
- Link to major world events/occasions (e.g. World Animal Day or a relevant global conference) or major issues, where possible.
- Watch media articles, in order to react by bringing your issue into coverage.
- If seeking a high level of reactive coverage, decide which subjects will be covered and establish a system for responding to these (e.g. write your organization’s policy and opinion in advance, and review each time).
- Use supporters as part of your media strategy – particularly to reach local media.
- Prepare and maintain a media contacts list (see below).
- Plan and pursue your media contacts systematically. Rank media and develop and maintain contacts with the most important.
- Decide the extent and limits of your search for media (e.g. what is appropriate to your organization’s image and your message?
You will also need to consider and take decisions on how to deal with media work within your organization or coalition. For example:
- Who will be responsible for coordinating media work?
- What is your media budget, and who has budgetary authority?
- Is there a clearly laid out chain of responsibility for making media statements, and issuing Press Releases?
- Who will be your main spokesperson (and stand-in)?
- Will you keep a calendar of key political events and issue-related events?
- Do you need media skills training?
- Do you have a plan to respond rapidly to certain events or coverage?
- Do you have available media briefing about your organization or coalition (mission, aims, brief history, programs etc.)?
- Do you have available media briefing about your policy issue and ‘ask’?
- Do you have available a set of resources for the media (e.g. resource/publications list, campaign video/footage, set of campaign photographs (e.g. on CD or downloadable online), leaflet or facts sheets, case studies, Q&A sheet (question and answers – particularly refuting ‘opponents’ objections) etc.?
One key hurdle to overcome is to ensure that the media is sufficiently interested in your issue and message to cover this. This also depends on the nature of your country’s media: what will hit the headlines in one country will make absolutely no impact in another. Many organizations fall into the trap of thinking that everybody will find their issue as compelling as they do. Sadly, that is rarely the case. Is there an aspect of your story that is news? Do you have dramatic or controversial new information that would be of public interest? When dealing with the media, we always have to get over the ‘so what’ factor, particularly for issues that are already known to the public.
It may be worth remembering that the media formula is fairly limited. These are the type of stories that tend to make it in to the media:
- 'We name the guilty'– exposing the people who have caused problems (e.g. the businesses or people who have caused animal suffering)
- 'We reveal the startling facts'– using shocking or incredible facts and figures
- 'The powerless will fight'– cases of abused animals (or their advocates!) fighting back
- 'Underdogs win'– e.g. cases where individuals or small animal welfare organizations win their case over those in power and/or the bureaucrats
- 'Shock statement' – a quotation or statement that will shock audiences
- Human interest stories– a story that shows the sad reality of an individual person or animal affected by the issue
But sometimes you would not be able to produce such stories (and sometimes you would not consider it wise!). So you need to be innovative and look for opportunities to place the sort of story you want.
To increase your chances of being included in the media, you need to build relationships with the journalists that are responsible for covering your issue. You should aim to build your organization into a resource for them – so they come to you for information, resources and comment on your issue. This means you will have to familiarize yourself with the position of key media, identify the right person on the editorial team, and developing useful (media ready) resources and expert knowledge on your issue.
In addition to building relationships and proactive planning, you also need to watch and work the media on an ongoing basis. The key is timing and linking your issue and message with breaking news. Jump on opportunities to publicise your message when your issue – or related issues – are already in the news, because then you do not need to convince that it is newsworthy. You just need to offer them a story or photo opportunity that illustrates a new or local perspective, dramatizes a point of view, or advances the debate somehow. Acting fast is vital – it usually has to be a day after the news has broken. News hooks could include: an anniversary or Remembrance Day, a man-made or natural disaster, a major speech or government announcement, or the release of research or statistics. If an issue becomes a major story then a newspaper may run an editorial on it. These carry weight in policy circles (there is more on this below).
- Popular cultural communication (e.g. popular music) can transmit your message if you can find a ‘star’ to include your message in their songs.
- Religious leaders may agree to transmit your message in church, temple or mosque. Therefore these spiritual leaders may be one target for your lobbying.
- Celebrities can support campaigns. However it is quite an investment to bring a celebrity on board, and there are certain risks.
Tool 30. Successful Media Coverage
Working with the media requires the development of good relationships with journalists and reporters. It is useful to research and maintain a list of contacts of news organizations, editors, and journalists who would be most likely to cover the issues of your advocacy campaign. To develop media contacts, it is possible to ask other organizations working on similar issues to share their media contacts, or contact media outlets directly to ask for information on the journalists that cover relevant issues. You will need to watch and analyze the media to identify appropriate media, publications, programs and journalists. Producers are key people, and sympathetic researchers can help enormously. Stay in regular contact with those you have designated as key contacts.
Once you have selected appropriate publications for your target audience, it is vital to think about the readers of the publication you are targeting - what you want to say to a particular audience is not necessarily what they will want to hear, or what the journalists will print. Adapt your subject, and message to obtain coverage, yet still achieve your major objectives.
Becoming a Resource for Journalists
In some countries, it is possible to purchase/subscribe to media databases (e.g. on CD), which are regularly updated and allow you to:
- Search and make your own targeted media selections
- Add your own contacts
- Send out Press Releases automatically (e.g. by email)
If this is not available, you will need to compile your own. Make sure your media lists are kept up-to-date, complete with names and contact details of editors, producers, reporters, or researchers for appropriate media outlets.
Include the working hours, deadlines, and preferred communications modes.
Distinguish types of coverage: news, feature, editorial, columns, calendars/event listings etc. Record past coverage and details of interests.
It is also helpful to keep files containing all relevant media coverage.
The Internet has revolutionized the way advocacy is done in some countries around the world. It has made the dissemination of information inexpensive, efficient and easy. In countries that have high access to Internet technology, it can be an effective way of mobilizing geographically dispersed activists around an advocacy issue. E-mail, websites, newsgroups, list servers, chat rooms, and blogs can all be used. Mobile telephones (cell phones) are also an effective means of campaign communication and mobilization.
In many countries, mobile phone use is fast becoming the universal means of communication.
How will this affect advocacy techniques in my country?
Every country is different and you will need to consult local experts for what is possible in your country. Social Networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo are rapidly becoming very popular. They may be a way to reach urban young people in your country. Sites such as Twitter can share short pieces of news very quickly.
However in most of Africa and South Asia the internet is still not accessible in rural areas.
There is great potential in web-based campaigning – but don’t get carried away. Face to face communication is still a stronger way of changing attitudes and behavior in many societies.
There are numerous ways to communicate a message to an audience, and methods of communications vary with the type of media. This section deals mainly with traditional media – television, radio, newspapers and magazines - although the immense value of novel methods of communication is recognized. The more creative an advocacy media campaign, the more audiences it is likely to reach. Alternative forms of media may be more effective in reaching communities with low literacy rates or with multiple spoken languages (for example: comic books, street theatre, dance, and songs can be used). The challenge in producing this type of material is ensuring it is both entertaining and clearly promotes the message.
There are various ways of seeking traditional media coverage, including the following:
- Press conferences
- Press releases
- Media packs
- Letters to editors
- Writing articles
- Keeping and publicizing photo and/or video library
- Media worthy demonstrations, events and photo-calls
- Use of celebrities
- Agreeing to be featured on topical issues
- Working with investigative journalists
- Persuading 'soaps' to take up your cause/campaign
To develop an effective message, it is important to know and understand:
- The media
- Your target audience
- Your issue
- Your political environment (including burning political issues, interests and motivations)
Then, adapt your message to the chosen media, ensuring that your issue is put across in impactful and compelling terms, and in a way that reaches your target audience.
Framing and Tailoring Your Message
How you frame and tailor your advocacy message is critical. The following tips may help:
Develop your 'core message' - one or two brief, direct statements that reflect:
- Your analysis of the issue
- The causes of the issue
- Who is responsible for solving the issue
- Your proposed solution
- The actions you ask others to take in support of the solution
Tailor your message for a specific audience based on:
- What will be most persuasive to the audience (based on their priorities, interests and concerns)
- What information the audience needs
- What action you want them to take
This should help you to determine the following:
- Form (words, images, etc.)
Do not forget to:
- Use individual stories and quotes to highlight the issue
- Develop images that highlight your values.
- Use precise, powerful language and active verbs
- Use clear facts and numbers creatively.
A press conference can be organized to announce major news, such as the release of a report, an advocacy victory, or the development of a critical situation.
Organizing a press conference requires a significant amount of preparation. A location and date must be arranged, media must be invited at least several days in advance, if possible, materials for distribution at the conference must be produced, speakers must be arranged and visually interesting presentations prepared. Press conferences can also be costly events, so value for money needs to be considered.
Press conferences need to be ‘stage-managed and prepared well in advance in order to ensure that you use the media for your own mission purposes, rather than be used by media to fit their own agenda. In particular, you need to anticipate likely media ‘angles’ and potential pitfalls!
A well-written and compelling Press Release should be prepared.
Tool 31. Writing a Press Release
Press conference presentations should be kept brief, with more time for questions. Visual evidence presented at the conference should be brief and full of impact.
You need to know:
- The location that will attract reporters
- The times the media are most likely to attend
- How far in advance the media need to be notified, and best method for notifying
Media packs should be prepared including information such as:
- Copy Press Release
- Background information on the organization
- Background information on the issue
- Photo CD (or thumb nails of available photos)
- Details of further information available (e.g. reports, footage in suitable format for the media)
Preparation should include:
- Choosing the chair
- Key 'points to make'
- Good quotes/examples
- Considering all possible questions beforehand and agreeing responses
- Ensuring everybody is well briefed
- Giving media reminder call on the day of conference
- Making certain any audio-visual systems are flawless
- Name plates on the 'top table'
Keep a list of Press Conference attendees and contact details for follow-up.
Letters to Editors and Opinion Articles
Tool 32. Letters to Editors and Opinion Articles
Radio and Television (TV)
Don’t forget news directors of radio and TV stations when circulating press releases.
You will need a visual angle for TV (Videos should be broadcast quality (Betacam or Mini DV) with separate sound tracks).
TV and radio interviews can be rather daunting, and nervousness shows! To ensure the spokesperson appears confident, knowledgeable, and experienced, it is important to prepare well. It pays to ask the right questions in advance.
Tool 33. Media Interviews
There are various ways of dealing with criticism, including the following:
You will need a credible and firm spokesperson for each of these options.
The differences in the media in different countries, and in relation to different issues and organizations, means that you should ‘try and test’ different approaches and evaluate these. Effective media professionals always record the approaches they try, evaluate and analyze these, and then build successful formulas into their media planning:
- Always evaluate past performance, and improve wherever possible.
- Use evaluation as a learning opportunity, not a ‘witch hunt’.