A step-by-step guide to creating a media strategy
Creating your own media, distributing it and monitoring its impact can be a long process, which may become confusing and overwhelming if it’s not well-managed and carefully planned. Designing a media strategy will help; this is likely to be most successful when it is done as a group, with the people involved in your overall campaign or project.
The following sections break down the process of creating a media strategy document into simple steps. If you already have an overall campaign strategy document, some of these steps will be complete already; you can use your overall strategy document to feed into your strategy for making media.
What does your campaign or project want to achieve?
It’s not enough to have a general idea — your goal should be specific and actionable so they can guide what you do. If you have already established your campaign goals, they should be used to influence the media you make. If you have not already stated your campaign/project goals, it’s important to do this before making your media.
Your goal should be specific; for example: “We want men in this country to know that domestic violence is a crime.” “We want to substantially reduce rates of domestic violence in this country.” “We want police officers who do not enforce domestic violence laws to be charged with breaking the law.” Be clear about each of your campaign/project goals because these will be used to inform the media you make.
The next step in creating a strategy for making media involves defining the issue: What is the problem and what do you think the solution is? You should be able to state this in just one or two clear and concise sentences. Getting this statement right is an ongoing process – you may need to make changes while developing your media strategy over time. People should understand, through the media you make, what the issue is and what it is you are proposing to do about it.
Examples of proposition statements: “We need to stop child trafficking in Nepal; we must enforce the law against child traffickers.” And: “Same-sex couples in India should be recognized by the law; we must change the law to ensure same-sex couples are given the same legal rights as heterosexual couples.”
Objectives are even more specific than your goals. Objectives need to be SMART:
Though you may have only one or two concrete goals, you need to be precise about how you will achieve them through the use of media. A good strategy for making media may be multi-pronged and multi-faceted. For example, your strategy can include one objective to raise awareness among men about why domestic violence is wrong and another that targets the broader international community, asking them to get involved by telling governments and police to enforce the laws which prohibit domestic violence. You also need to be clear about how the media you make will help to achieve these objectives.
While you may be ready to write down your objectives in this early stage of making your media strategy, you will probably want to return to this section later once you have worked through the rest of the process. This is because SMART objectives must be very clearly defined, which means that you will need to define your target audience and decide the media format/s you will use.
An example of a clear objective is: “Our blog should encourage at least 2,000 people to sign a petition about police inaction on domestic violence within one week” or “5,000 men and boys in this village should see this poster about domestic violence within two weeks.”
When you know what you want to achieve, you’ll probably discover that you need to know more about your issue. The next step will be to do some research, keeping your goals and objectives in mind at all times. This research may involve the following:
Background research — Dig out old reports and data created by your group or affiliated partners. Write a brief history, map out what information exists and look for new information where this is required.
Previous efforts and campaigns — What have other organizations or individuals done to support this cause: Were they successful? Why or why not? Doing this will help you identify what to avoid and what to pursue.
Context mapping — Know what is happening right now in relation to your cause. What are the key events that have recently taken place and what are the events that will take place in the near future that may have an impact? Identify the key spokespeople for this issue and what key terms are being used by different groups. What messages relating to this issue are reaching different stakeholder groups, which messages are failing to reach them, and why?
Once you have done this research, you might want to adapt your proposition statement, your goal/s or your objectives by re-articulating them to take account of what you have learned.
There are generally several communities involved with an issue, and all of them can be considered stakeholders. It is important to list all of your stakeholders, as you need to know everyone who has the power to influence your cause and help make a change. Knowing all the stakeholders will help you define your target audience and participant communities.
- Allies – people and organizations who already support what you do.
- Adversaries – people who oppose the change you want to see.
- Neutral – people whose position or attitude is unclear or who have not become actively involved in this issue.
You should map your stakeholders using these three categories and have discussions about why you see them in this way. It is only after you understand where different audiences stand that you can prioritize them according to their influence and importance in terms of your objectives.
“Target audiences” means the people who can actually make the change that you want to see. “Participant communities” means people you’d like to see becoming a part of your media campaign or project: these are the people, organizations and groups who will watch your media, help distribute it and provide different forms of support. Some of them will be active participants and some passive.
It’s important to define your target audience and participant communities because, very often, a media campaign that has been designed for everyone ends up being for no one in particular. Successful films, television programs, newspapers or posters are never made for “everyone.” On the other hand, a well-made media campaign that targets a specific audience can very easily end up being liked by many different groups of people.
Using the list of stakeholders you’ve created, identify a target audience (or audiences) for your media campaign and define the groups of people who will become your participant communities. Identifying these two groups will help ensure that your media is effective.
For instance, if a media campaign is seeking to ensure ethical practices are adopted by mining industries, the mining industry and the government are likely to be the target audiences. These are the people who have the power to make the changes you want to see.
Communities affected by mining and national or international environmental advocates will likely be the participant communities. These are the people who will become involved by consuming and distributing your media and by taking action to support your cause. The target audiences and the participant communities may overlap; for example, a media campaign that asks for behavioral change in men who commit, condone or ignore domestic violence might identify these men as both the target audience and the participant community.
After you have identified your target audience and participant communities, create a profile for each that includes details such as:
- Demographics– race, gender, ethnicity, age, education, religion.
- Geography – local, national, international, remote, urban, rural.
- Attitudes – how do they perceive the issue, how proactive they are? What would it take to get them to take action?
- Media habits – what media do they have access to, use and like?
- Culture – what is their cultural background, what languages do they speak or read?
This is a critical step in creating your strategy for making media. Your message is what will pull people toward your campaign. Through your research, find out what needs to be communicated and how. There can be several messages that you send to different stakeholders, but they should all lead to the same goal. Remember that an effective message should:
- Be simple and explain the cause clearly, without ambiguities.
- Emphasize the critical importance of the cause.
- Tell people something new, something they had not thought about.
- Be engaging, interesting, perhaps even shocking.
- Articulate the need to take action, and provide a solution.
When crafting your message it is important to remember that accuracy and honesty are vital. If your audience feel you have misled them in the media you have created, you open yourself up to criticism and the entire validity of your campaign may be questioned. For example, if you’re addressing climate change and you access a government report which states that there is a possibility that some large companies could make gross profits from selling their “carbon permits,” without reducing their carbon emissions, it would be inappropriate to tell people that “The biggest corporate polluters will profit from carbon trading.” This would be misleading without other concrete evidence. You should find multiple sources and seek out experts, if required, to ensure that your message is clear, truthful and can stand up to criticism.
Once you have created a message for your media, you should test it out on audiences who represent your target and/or participant communities to ensure they respond to it.
Creating an effective message
When Oxfam International wanted to create a message that would encourage people to pressure their governments to invest in education in developing countries, they used evidence that shows that education reduces poverty levels to develop this message:
“Basic education helps break the cycle of poverty”
However, when they tested this message on focus group audiences they found it did not motivate them to act. Instead, they found that this simpler message received a much stronger response:
“Education is every child’s right”
Once you have given your audience a clear message that states the problem or issue, you need to take them to the next level, where they are able to get involved to bring about the change you are seeking.
All of the media you make to support your advocacy campaign or project should state clearly what action you want people to take. Although your media can generate awareness about your campaign or project, it is not this awareness in itself that will create change. You have to be very strategic about your call to action because it is this action that will bring about the change you desire.
- Be actionable! It should not be something people find extremely difficult to do.
- Compel people to do something.
- Provide options for different levels of engagement.
There are two ways to address the issue of resources when you are creating your strategy for making media. One option is to design your strategy for making media and then work on pulling the resources required together. The second option is to map out the resources you know you have and decide the media you will make, using only those resources. When deciding which option you will use it is important to be realistic: know what kinds of resources are available within your group or organization and what you may have access to through your supporters and networks.
For instance, you might already have a video camera that you can use or a filmmaker or volunteer in your organization who can make a video. This will bring down your production costs immensely. You may have a partner organization involved in community radio which could help you get free airtime for your audio content. On the other hand, if you need to hire a filmmaker to make a film, or if you need to pay radio stations for airtime, this could put a huge financial burden on your organization.
It is best to create a rough budget for your media campaign at the beginning, that sets out what funds and other resources you will have access to. Seek advice from people who have done similar campaigns, as media production often has many hidden costs.
Different kinds of resources you may need to include:
- Human resources (people, skills and time)
- Financial resources (access to funds)
- Intellectual resources (access to knowledge and information)
- Material resources (access to equipment and tools)
Once you have made an estimate of what resources are available, you can create a budget. You can then work from this document to ensure you do not spend funds you do not have.
While it is always best to try and plan ahead for your media-making needs by including funding for this in your overall campaign or project budget, if you do not have adequate funds available, there are organizations, trusts and foundations which provide funds for rights-based media campaigns. Approach them with your proposal and funding requirements. Approach other organizations and individuals who might want to be partners in this campaign or project and who can bring in their own resources.
The effectiveness of a media campaign largely depends on timing. Your media should be released when the need for it is greatest. For example, you could release a photo-journal of human rights violations against women when authorities launch an event promoting the equal rights of women or when they make claims about the improving state of women’s health.
There are issues that are not so time-bound, but even with those, it is necessary to make the media campaign topical and relevant to current events. For example, a poster campaign about children’s rights may get more attention if it is released when a news story on this issue has made headlines. Or perhaps it could be launched on “Stop Child Labor Day” or “International Children’s Day of Action,” when you are more likely to be able to mobilize the support of participant communities and get media coverage.
In planning a timeline for your media production and distribution, consider how long your media strategy will continue. For example, if you are engaging in a three-year campaign, your plan for making media may not begin aggressively, but if your overall campaign will be short, getting people’s attention from the start will be critical.
- Show the period of planning and production of your media.
- Show when your media will be released.
- Include which messages and media are to be sent out and when; for example, 50 email or text messages over a one-year period.
- Allow for a progressive build-up to the whole campaign if you are planning to create multiple media.
- Relate important events to your media campaign and allow for flexibility to respond to events as they unfold.
- Be realistic and achievable.
It takes a lot of effort to ensure that people remember your message and take action on it. This is why it’s important for you to measure the impacts of your media campaign or project: you need to know what works and what does not and to assess whether you have achieved your objectives.
You should decide on the media impact indicators before you create your media. These should be developed from your objectives and they should be able to measure what your media has achieved. The fact that people consume your media does not, in itself, constitute impact; impact means people taking the action you called for. For example, if 10,000 people read your blog, you can count that as a good response. But when 200 people who visited the blog attend the rally as you asked them to, that is an impact.
Media Impact Indicators may include the number of people who visit your website and sign the petition; a formal response from the government when you lodge a petition to them; an increase in media coverage of your issue; a change in the laws you are campaigning against.
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Once you have the required data, you can evaluate the effectiveness of the media you created. There are now many tools for analyzing your online media outreach and these can help you collect data. By measuring the impacts of your media, you will know how many people you were able to reach, whether they included the right audiences and whether you sent the right message and created the desired impact. The measurement of impacts should be ongoing, so you know if your strategy is working and can make changes accordingly during your media campaign, rather than after it’s complete.
Examples of media impact might include, “1,000 people visited the website in a one-week period and 800 signed the petition telling police to arrest domestic violence perpetrators”; “There was a 500% increase in monthly coverage about domestic violence in selected major newspapers”; “After we lodged our petition, the government agreed to open an official public inquiry looking at how police officers can be made to uphold the law.”
It is important to broadcast your success stories to the world. The more people know about the positive impact of your campaign, the more likely they are to get involved. If you have designed your media campaign in various stages and it is progressive, then the impact from one stage can provide momentum for the next stage. It helps tremendously if you can demonstrate and document the achievements of your media campaign as it is happening because this can make the target audience more responsive, and inspire others to join in and take action. You will also be creating a document that your own organization and other rights advocates can learn from.