Media Advocacy: Developing and Framing Your Message

In a previous post, we learned the basic steps you need to take to plan for a media advocacy campaign, courtesy of PCN’s Tom Louie at the Be the Media! mini-conference in November 2011 at TSNE's NonProfit Center. Now, let’s look at the next step: message development and framing.

In a previous post, we learned the basic steps you need to take to plan for a media advocacy campaign, courtesy of PCN’s Tom Louie at the Be the Media! mini-conference in November 2011 at TSNE's NonProfit Center. Now, let’s look at the next step: message development and framing.

You’ve built your media list, you regularly read reporters that cover your beat, and you keep track of the local media and advocacy landscapes. Excellent! Now that you know who and where your contacts are, and how they will translate your story, it’s time to develop and frame your message.

Developing Your Message

Messaging simply means, “telling your story.” Effective messaging involves careful consideration of your campaign’s purpose, goals and audience – factors that you’ve already researched through your media advocacy preparation. (Right?) To aid in message development, Louie provided an easy-to-remember list of guidelines: The Five C’s of Messaging.

  1. Clear. Make – at most – 3 or 4 simple, easily understandable points. Do they address the problem, the responsible party or institution, and the solution?
  2. Connect. Make sure your message connects not just with your mission or core values, but also with the values of your audience.
  3. Compelling. Ask, “Why should my audience care about this? How can I make them care?”
  4. Concise. Use sound bites (7-12 seconds). You need to get your point across with a minimum of words.
  5. Continual. Repeat and reinforce the message. Keep it consistent and keep it in front of your audience.

Framing Your Message

Framing is everything when it comes to getting your message across in the way that you intended.

Imagine a photograph of a city street that focuses on the exterior of a large café. It includes several different scenes: a stressed-looking businessperson rushes past; a laughing couple holds hands as they linger at an outside table; a hungry-looking homeless person stands at the curb, holding out a cup.

Now, imagine cropping that photo so it only shows one of these scenes. Look at the new story it tells. How does the different focus affect the way you perceive and feel about the picture? See how those perceptions and feelings change when you crop the photo a new way.

Apply the same principle to your message development. See how the frame you build shapes and defines your story for the audience. Remember that telling your story is much like telling any story: there is a cast of characters, and there is a beginning, middle and end.

Louie presented a great list of tips on framing your message for the greatest effect:

  • Frame it so that it connects with societal issues and themes - not only what’s “hot” right now, but enduring themes such as community, equality and compassion.
  • Frame it so it takes into account existing assumptions and experiences – your message isn’t being sent to blank slates. Consider the various lenses through which your audience will interpret your message, as well as the lenses through which your media contacts will likely view the story.
  • Don’t deny people’s experiences or knowledge –it’s a turn-off to the viewer/listener, who is put on the defensive or feels patronized or ignored.
  • Connect with the opposition’s themes and goals – don’t just preach to the choir: if you want to reach them, you need to understand them, so check your own assumptions.
  • Frame to mobilize the community: they collectively define both the problem and the solution.
  • Frame it so it connects, rather than separates, various communities – this approach requires more footwork, but radically increases your reach.
  • Don’t undermine long-term goals – keep your framing consistent with your overall mission.
  • Frame around racial justice whenever possible – it’s an important component of the majority of institutional issues.

Now that you have properly developed and framed your message for your audience and goals, it’s time to get the word out to your media list and contacts.

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