October 15, 1998
The following principles were derived from the Public Media Center's experience producing hundreds of media campaigns over the last twenty plus years.
TWO OR THREE OUT OF A HUNDRED
Perhaps the most important principle for a successful advocacy campaign is understanding that you're not trying to reach everybody. Instead, you're trying to reach just a few people, usually just two or three out of a hundred. Issue campaigns aren't about mass media to reach mass audiences. They're about attaining critical mass...about reaching and activating a relatively small number of "opinion leaders" who are ready and able to respond to the values you project and join your effort. These opinion leaders include journalists, teachers, religious leaders and other professionals who follow public policy issues in the media and who, in turn, influence others.
The ramifications of this principle in designing an effective media advocacy campaign are numerous. For example, when you understand that you're not trying to appeal to everyone, you can present a more complex and substantive message. You no longer are limited to superficial commercial advertising styles featuring glib headlines, snazzy pictures and short copy.
MAKE ENEMIES, NOT FRIENDS
Successful advocacy campaigns are about fights, about helping people understand which side they're on and why. The most effective advocacy campaigns clearly identify the opposition and aggressively attack their motives and strategies.
The importance of this principle is directly related to the superior ability of powerful commercial interests -- operating through corporation's or government agencies -- to hide, deny, disguise, obfuscate, or diminish any direct responsibility for their policies or actions.
Successful advocacy campaigns always point a finger and name names.
AMERICANS WANT TO BE ON THE WINNING SIDE
The dominant factor influencing the undecided to choose one side or another is the perception that they're joining the winning side. So, for advocacy campaigns, acting like a winner--projecting confidence, asserting the moral high ground, aggressively confronting the opposition-- is a prerequisite to winning.
RESPONSIBLE EXTREMISM SETS THE AGENDA
The news media in the U.S. is driven by a strong sense of crude and mechanical balance that they believe is objectivity; that there are two sides to every story and the truth is always somewhere in the middle.
It's critical that advocacy groups understand that to move the media in our direction, we need to communicate as responsible extremists not as reasonable moderates.
THE ROLE OF PRINT ADS
Free media coverage that's the result of presswork and media events isn't enough -- organizations need to speak in their own voice directly to their constituencies and not only through the press. The use of print ads in newspapers and magazines can accomplish the following:
- set the agenda
- define the issues
- communicate the full case and context of their issue
- create & mobilize a constituency
- signal organizational strength, leadership and credibility
- identify and challenge the enemy or opposition
- empower supporters by giving them meaningful information and involvement
- project the social values of justice, equality and support for civil rights
- target national opinion leaders, including politicians, policy-makers, and media
- recruit new donors and supporters
Note: Many nonprofit organizations without experience in advocacy communications are often reluctant to "point fingers" or to "name names" in the mistaken belief that they are addressing a public which is already attentive and informed. Generally, this is never the case. Ads which speak in confusing generalities or which address problems without citing causes, their motivations or economic interests simply frustrate people who have difficulty understanding complex issues in the first place. In fact, addressing public issues without the proper context can be ineffective at best, or irresponsible at worst.