Picking the Right Tools.
There is an old parlour game called, “I packed my bag to Saratoga.” Seated around a table a group of folks pass along a short story whispered into each other’s ear. By the time the story has been rehashed through six or more participants, its narrative has changed significantly. Socks become nylons and soap bars becomes chocolate bars. It’s not because each player is a bad storyteller, it’s the plain fact that each person hears only what they deem important to the narrative. As human beings, we are used to hearing stories relevant to ourselves and the community in which we live. When it comes to living a better life, we are eager to share with others.
This inherent ability to advocate good and tell an important story is in all of us. Only the dynamic of a community will change. Have you not called your local councillor to promote an increase in play space for your kids at the local park? Discuss an article in the newspaper with your neighbour about yet another tax hike? Or shared a news story on Facebook that challenges the need for more infrastructure renewal – in other words, better roads? These are all forms of advocacy with one critical component, a clear and informed voice promoting enhancement or improvements for all.
Where is your audience?
Finding the right voice to carry your message can be difficult for many advocates. Once you have ear-marked your target audience, where are the conversations happening? Are they on the news at 6, or written as an opinion piece within your community newspaper?
As individuals and communities start their advocacy campaigns, many are now asking where do policy makers get their information so they understand the importance of your position. There is a universe of conversation happening right now due to technologies offering easier access to information. Mining the right channel to receive information is becoming more complex. Especially in many CMA (city metropolitan areas) communities, where multiple languages and customs can add a complexity new to many media professionals in Canada. Then there are digital platforms representing certain demographic preferences. Is social media the right space to have your voice?
This may sound complex but if we go back to the fundamentals of media relations and its strategies, it makes logical sense.
Media’s Brick and Mortar
When promoting policy and programs to particular audiences, strategic media is routinely used to encourage public conversations and debate. When used effectively, this process will generate an engaged community and aid grassroots support. Strategizing your media plan will help you define your goals towards developing an appreciation for the policy or campaign. Equally, strategic media identifies what needs to be done to take down all the barriers towards compliance and stakeholder adoption. Media is also helpful when sharing research to arm your influencers and change leaders with facts to support your campaign. Coffee shop conversations with the right facts can be a persuasive tactic when practising grassroots advocacy.
How policymakers and the general public understand and resolve the challenges faced by their communities is guided by the quality of information provided to their advocates. Today, more than ever, media takes a leading role in making this happen. Media relations is no longer hammering out media releases and fostering sustainable relationships with media partners. Each media channel, traditional, digital or social, plays a strategic part when reaching specific audiences and informing potential advocates.
Producing and fostering advocacy through the media involves four key processes:
- Build the Foundation
Your media strategy should fully integrate all government, stakeholder and issue planning. It’s imperative that media is a part of these campaign strategies. Not just as a tactical component to implement your plan, but also within objectives, research, key message methodologies and measurement. Media will offer you an opportunity to ‘amp-up the noise’ in each functional part of the campaign or initiative.
- Position the Right Partners
Identify the essential supporter(s) of the issue and frame the voice, or narrative, around this person or persons. This is dependent on which supporters are best aligned to deliver the biggest impact. It’s important to note that impact in one media channel, may not necessarily be as ‘loud’ than on another media channel. For example, if we look at a medical issue or policy rooted in senior care; you would use traditional media (broadcast, print and radio) as these audiences represent a conducive community to watch the news, read the paper or listen to the radio. Your spokesperson would be a trusted leader known to stakeholders within this segment.
Conversely, if your campaign is based in teen mental health issues, you are then concentrating on who would be the best to carry your message forward. Social media will then take a leading role in your strategy. Your voice will come from various subject matter experts which in turn offer influence to their followers. They will be trusted by this audience to carry the voice forward. Unlike traditional media, social engagement is more immediate and offers quicker behavioural traits to help modify your key messaging.
Having short, clear and factual data to support your issue or campaign is critical for your planning. Cold hard facts rule when trying to put across a point or winning credibility and eventual acceptance. This can only be brought forward by spending the time up front to research your audiences and their behaviours. Utilize stakeholder and government research for segmented behaviours to craft messages and themes relative to this audience. Look for trends through the media that either support or oppose the issue or campaign. On social media, conduct regular audits to monitor issues and tone.
- Plan and Measure
With your foundation in place, your supporters identified and your research complete, you are now ready to create your plan. Adding to your foundation work, media planning today often will reflect methodologies of change management. Change is no longer a phenomenon but a fact. Governments, societies, groups, etc., are constantly changing. As a media planner, you must be aware of change within the media and within your stakeholder community. Tie-in your goals and objectives to reflect the capability for change – at any time. Plotting your objectives along a timeline will help you keep the plan time-bound. If change is foreseeable, plot it accordingly. S.M.A.R.T. (strategic, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) objectives offer guidance when developing your plan. Measurement, both qualitative and quantitative, will offer the data necessary to adjust your plan along the planning continuum; then monitor, monitor, monitor.
How Not To Be Seen