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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
You will also need to consider and take decisions on how to deal with media work within your organization or coalition. For example:
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:
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).
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:
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.
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:
To develop an effective message, it is important to know and understand:
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.
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:
Tailor your message for a specific audience based on:
This should help you to determine the following:
Do not forget to:
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:
Media packs should be prepared including information such as:
Preparation should include:
Keep a list of Press Conference attendees and contact details for follow-up.
Tool 32. Letters to Editors and Opinion Articles
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: