Campaign Communications – A five step guide to success from a seasoned campaigner

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Oscar Soria – former Director of Media at WWF International


We all know that successful campaigning needs bold and hard-hitting communication. But lately, I see the same formula over and over, to the point that it gets boring, if not irritating! “Save [this]”, “Stop [that]”, “No to [something], Yes to [something]”. More and more, I see campaigning groups shooting random and confusing messages, and more and more I witness discussions where campaigners go straight to communication implementation, messaging and media materials without answering five key strategic questions.

How to get to that stage?

First, we need to ask ourselves what we communicate to get our message across, who do we need to speak to and why or how can we make this campaign understandable,  compelling and exciting –especially to the audiences of our own media and the mainstream media. For that, we also need to ask ourselves why should our campaign be of interest to our “target” audiences, and try to find a single target, a single pressure point where communications can make a real and positive contribution to our campaign objective. So, here I’m outlining some steps to get there.

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© Oxfam International

1. Analyse the situation.

An absolute no-brainer right? Actually it’s a very hard exercise, and usually takes most of your time. Defining what’s the real issue can take time and it needs dedication, so first ask yourself “what’s the issue”, gather statistics and data in surveys, polls or media clips, and put your articulated topic into the wider social and political context. Once you understand better the “game”, it will be easier for you to define the key players!

2. Decide who has the power.

The right campaign should bother the right people to force them to make the right choices. So define and clearly distinguish between the decision makers and the ones who influence them. After than, define who’s on your side already and who could be on your side;  and how do we shift their position?

3. Set your objectives.

Go back to step one, define the vision and maybe write it down (no less than 2 lines!), find your main objectives, both short and long term. And make sure these objectives are specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time bound.

4. Identify your audience.

I know… sounds obvious, but it’s not. Write down who are your audiences, what they do, gender, interests and age. This will help you to identify the groups, and then you can prioritize. After defining your priority audiences, think in the typical personas, maybe you visualize then: it’s a typical Brazilian middle class housewife? A teenager from Delhi? A young professional in Geneva?

Once you draw them, then ask the question: what do they think, do and feel now? And then ask yourself what do you want them to think, do and feel in the future. Do some additional research, and if you know some people who “fit” the audiences you outlined, maybe add some informal research by asking friends, your mom and colleagues:

  • What would motivate them to change?
  • Who do they trust (scientists, government bodies, sportspeople, celebrities?).
  • Do they trust you or the organization you belong to?

Once you have all the answers, ask yourself: do you really know the answers to the above questions? If not, how can you find out?

5. Develop the messages.

What messages will emotionally resonate with the priority audiences? Don’t think about yourself, don’t make the assumptions that people feel and think like you. Get to the critical facts, think of possible call to actions and campaigning elements that you think need to be included according to the audiences. And once you get there, ask yourself: is there one sentence that incorporates all of the above?

Once you’ve done that, remember to review the answers. Ask again the same questions to a different group of people, try to challenge every part of your research. And once these questions pass the test, you’ll have a solid base to start thinking about implementing your communication.

Last but not least, be genuinely passionate about your cause. If you don’t feel strongly about it, nobody will do: forget about going to ask for funds from a donor or seek coverage in the media. They’ll see the lack of passion in your eyes, and believe me: that’s crystal clear, if you don’t believe in what you’re saying, nobody will believe you.

Go get them!

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