Developing an intersectional communication and media strategy

Toolkit arrow-right Creating a communication and media strategy

This tool helps you to develop a well-founded intersectional communication and media strategy for your lobby and advocacy work. It takes you through 10 steps, from setting objectives to constructing key messages, choosing the right formats and channels, and engaging external media.

Table of content

1: Identify the issue and objectives
2: Identify your audience (and get to know them)
3: Construct your key message
4: Know the opposition
5: Consider your resources
6: Decide on the format and channel
7: Engage the media
8: Design your content
9: Plan your activities
10: Evaluate and adapt

Additional material:

The strategic use of communication and media is key to effective lobby and advocacy. You need well-grounded, appealing and targeted messages that reach and convince your desired audience to either change, or to inspire change themselves. A communication and media strategy helps you do that: it outlines who you talk to and how and when you talk to them.

The tool builds on information from the Intersectional SRHR Lobby and Advocacy Toolkit, like issue analysis and stakeholder mapping, and complements it with information about intersectional communication and media. Going through all the steps will enable you to draw up a comprehensive intersectional communication and media strategy that you can immediately implement in your lobby and advocacy work.

1: Identify the issue and objectives

The starting point for every communication and media strategy is clearly identifying the issue you want to address and setting specific and realistic advocacy objectives. From there, you think about the most viable ways to achieve your objectives. Do you need to educate people? Change attitudes and behaviours? Build a shared understanding? Sometimes you can reach those goals directly. But you may need to take indirect steps first, like building better relationships with policymakers, creating media attention or increasing public awareness.

One indirect way of meeting your objectives is to build a name and a reputation, as the messenger is as important as the message itself. Visibility and credibility will help you reach your audience and have people listen to what you have to say.

2: Identify your audience (and get to know them)

To create tailored messages, and deliver them in an effective manner, you need to know precisely who you want to reach. A stakeholder analysis helps to identify your target audience(s). This is not always the decision-maker(s) themselves. It could also be individuals, communities or organisations that play an important role in influencing decision-makers. It might also be useful to talk to people from marginalised communities when you are identifying the target audience. They have first-hand experience from dealing with obstacles, and could have insights into who is responsible for those obstacles.

Communicating effectively becomes easier if you know who are talking to. So try to get as much information about your target audience as possible. Read the articles or opinion pieces they’ve written. Check their social media accounts. And watch, listen and read any other media statements they have put out. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • What is their current position on the issue you want to address? E.g. supportive, somewhat supportive, neutral, somewhat against, against, unknown.
  • What is their level of knowledge on this issue? E.g. none, basic, competent, expert.
  • What is important for them? E.g. re-election, public recognition.
  • What are their needs? E.g. accurate information, support from civil society.
  • How can they benefit from aligning with your goals? E.g. attention to their flagship issue, profiling opportunity.
  • What threats or obstacles are they facing? E.g. oppositional attacks, reputational damage.
  • What language appeals to them? E.g. formal vs informal, academic or personal.
  • What channels, media or otherwise, do they use to get their information? E.g. social media, specific civil society organisations.

3: Construct your key message

After identifying the issue you want to address, your advocacy goals and your audience, it is time to construct your key message. Key messages provide the takeaway headline of the issue you want to communicate. These are important because they serve as the foundation of your lobby and advocacy. So they should be reflected in all your communication efforts. They help you to stay focused, to prioritise and explain information, and to ensure consistency and accuracy.

Good key messages sharply define the change you want to see regarding the issue, and why you want to see those changes. Effective key messages are:

  • Concise and simple: a key message is one to three sentences long without complicated jargon or acronyms.
  • Active: it is formulated in active sentences, emphasising the actor. Who should do what?
  • Strategic: it clearly defines, differentiates and addresses the benefits of your advocated change.
  • Relevant: it balances what you want to say with what your audience needs to know.
  • Tailored: it actively addresses your target audience, with customised language and depth of information.

4: Know the opposition

Besides your target audience, you may well have to deal with people or organisations who proactively block your lobby and advocacy efforts. Be prepared for that. Talk to the people who are the most oppressed as they have the most experience with dealing with repression and opposition. Let them tell you who and what to watch out for – and how to deal with that. By knowing exactly who the opposition is, you can monitor their efforts and counter them. You can also prepare counter-arguments supported by appropriate data, or debunk myths on social media, for example.

These efforts are not to convince the opposition itself, as that may be fruitless. It is to make sure that members of your target audience who are still undecided on the issue will understand your position. Remember to always stick to your own narrative – repeating negative language will work against you.

5: Consider your resources

Implementing a successful communication and media strategy requires time and (often) money. By identifying your resources, you can use them in the best way possible, while ensuring that your plan is realistic and attainable.

Consider who is involved in the implementation of your plan, what expertise they have, and how much time they can spend on communication activities. Remember that your own network might also be an important resource: they can help disseminate and amplify your messages. Sometimes offering others easy-to-use materials (like social media cards, ready-to-use messages with hashtags, etc.) is an effective way to gain visibility and reach.

Also, think about the budget that is needed to implement your communication plan. Securing the required financial resources will help you to carry out your plans, and gives you the option to respond quickly if new opportunities arise.

6: Decide on the format and channel

To reach your target audience in the most effective manner, choose the format and channel that best suits your message and the needs of your target audience. Do they have enough time and interest to read a lot of content online? Or would a face-to-face meeting have more impact? You can also ask the target audience themselves what formats and channels would most benefit them. After all, there may be obstacles which make certain platforms or formats difficult for them to use.

Examples of formats are:

  • Policy briefs. These can be very helpful in summarising the evidence of a complex issue and clearly explaining what you are asking for. However, remember to keep them short – policymakers often don’t have time to read full reports.
  • Interviews, personal stories and photography. They are great tools for supporting and making the voices heard of those affected by multiple forms of discrimination. They can also highlight the urgency of your issue.
  • Face-to-face. Meetings and public events are helpful tools for building lasting relationships with influential people.
  • Social media posts. Create engagement and build a movement through short but impactful messages, videos and photography.

Or you can use posters, flyers, videos, animations, graphics, quizzes, podcasts, polls, songs, murals, street theatre, banners, radio shows and WhatsApp/text messages. Whatever suits your purpose. Be creative!

As already pointed out in step 5, also consider your own network: partners, allies and other organisations, including members of minoritised communities, can share your message on their platforms, reaching an even bigger audience.

7: Engage the media

A powerful way to reach your desired audience is by making use of external media. This includes journalists, editors, bloggers and influencers, who can place your messages or related content on their platforms, whether a newspaper, magazine or social media outlet. Start by making an inventory of relevant media that might be interested in your message and that your target audience engages with. Focus on knowing the right people, not the most people. Get to know them well. Building good relationships with them allows you to customise your messages accordingly.

Writing a press release means developing a story that is original, timely, newsworthy and compelling. Entice the media with an exciting subject and headline, summarise your key points quickly in the opening paragraph, add the appropriate details, and provide contact information for follow-up questions and requests. Press releases shouldn’t be more than 300 to 400 words and the tone and style should be appropriate to the medium and the message. Finally, double-check your research, check for any plagiarism – and for any grammar, punctuation or spelling mistakes.

Triangle of newsitem content: the lead, the body and the tail

8: Design your content

Based on the combination of goals, target audience, key message, format and channel, plus the resources available, you can start designing and creating the content you want to put out. This could be social media posts, policy papers, interviews or infographics. Remember to always communicate from the receiver’s point of view, tailored to their needs, knowledge and current position.

While designing your content, keep in mind that hopeful, positive communication works best to activate people, and that negative messaging based on fear and resentment has a paralysing effect. So, set your own agenda, create your own positive narrative and show that change is possible.

Hope-based communication:

  • From fear to hope > Use hope as a powerful force for progress. Hope activates, while fear paralyses.
  • From against to for > Don’t just tell people what you oppose. It’s better to emphasise what you stand for.
  • From problem to solution > When mentioning the problem, focus on the solution. Show that change is possible and desirable, and persuade your audience to see how our solution will work.
  • From threat to opportunity > Instead of making people feel guilty or at risk, give them a chance to be part of something positive. Aim to reach people on an emotional level, as this will make them passionate about your cause.
  • From victims to heroes > Show people as everyday heroes, celebrating their humanity so that people can relate to them as equals. Compassion activates more than pity ever will.

It helps to formulate your messages like this:

  1. Start with a shared value (such as ‘we all want to live a healthy life’). This is something that is very difficult to disagree with and helps to get your audience on your side.
  2. Continue with the problem (however, due to …)
  3. And follow up with the solution (what can we do to achieve the desired situation / shared value?)

Engage and activate new audiences in ways that match their own experiences and values. You can do so by ensuring that there are different voices in most of what you tell them about an issue. This should include personal stories, for example of people directly affected by the denial of services. Valuing their voices allows those who are affected by a lack of good policies to play a substantial role in building their own story.

9: Plan your activities

Like all activities, making a good planning for your communication is helpful, if not essential. Well thought out planning specifies the frequency and timing of your communication activities, links it to key moments in time (for example events, national and international awareness days or holidays) and assigns the people responsible for the activities. It will also help you to plan ahead, for example to contract a designer, writer or photographer in time.

It is very important for communication activities to be linked with programmatic work. So plan together with the programme teams and don’t let communication be an afterthought!

10: Evaluate and adapt

To know whether your communication strategy is, indeed, effective and getting the results you are aiming for, you can evaluate your efforts and adapt them accordingly. The starting point for good evaluation is to be clear about what success looks like, besides reaching your objectives as set in step 1 of the strategy development. Is it a high engagement rate for a social media post? Is it your messages being adapted by other organisations? Things to consider are:

  • Have you completed your campaigns and followed your planning?
  • How was the frequency and quality of your content?
  • How many people open your newsletter, and/or click on specific links?
  • How many people visit your website (use Google Analytics)?
  • How many people actively engage with your social media (number of likes, retweets, comments, etc.)?
  • How many people listen to your podcast?
  • The number of mentions of your report/campaign by the media and policymakers.

Set the timing and frequency of these checks so that the administrative burden is minimal, yet the review is sufficient to determine the future direction of your communication. Celebrate your successes and keep an open mind – sometimes you can find solutions in creative, unexpected ways.


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