Part v: Identify key messages

The next step in elaborating your advocacy strategy is identifying key advocacy messages. A message tells your target audiences what he or she is being asked to do, why it is worth doing, and the positive impact of such action. Usually, you will only have a limited amount of time to get your message across, so it is best to be sure about what you want to say beforehand. Improvising messages may not only waste time, but also may fail to convince your target audience.

5.1 Essential elements of an advocacy message

  • What you want to achieve.
  • Why you want to achieve it (and why others should want to achieve it as well).
  • How you propose to achieve it.
  • What specific action you want the audience to take.

At the planning and strategy development stage, it is important to identify what the EO wants to convey to your audience. The EO will have time to tailor messages to the intended audience, choose a format, and craft a language that is appealing to your audience. A message is most effective when it is based on an understanding of what members of the target audience already know, and what additional information they will need in order to change their opinions.

Messages are a critical element of any advocacy strategy. Even with convincing facts and political trends, most advocacy efforts will likely fail without clear, simple messages that appeal to target audiences.

But, developing messages is also a continuous part of an advocacy initiative. Messages inevitably need to be revised as more is learnt about the policy issue, as arguments get refined and what appeals to target audiences. In addition, advocacy may require multiple messages when there is more than one target audience.

  • Develop clear and compelling messages. A message explains what you are proposing, why it is worth doing, and the positive impacts of your policy proposal. A few rules can help choose the content of the message wisely.
  • Deliver messages effectively. When the EO delivers a message, it wants its target audience to agree with it and then take action on the proposal. For this to happen, the EO must ensure they will understand the message and believe it. The EO will also need to think about how to ensure they receive your message.
  • Reinforce messages. Usually, delivering a message once is not enough. Always have a strategy to reinforce the message, either yourself, or through others. When re-sending your message, the EO can also use the opportunity to respond to any concerns expressed by the target audience.

5.2 What goes into a message?

Advocacy messages should capture the essence of what you are trying to say to a target audience. It should also give the target audience a clear choice of actions and suggest the consequences of those actions. Your message should be clear, whether verbal or in writing; it should also suggest what will happen if your target audience takes no action – or chooses a different policy option. The goal is for your message to explain why your idea is best.

As you develop the content of your advocacy messages, there are two rules to keep in mind.

  1. Know your audience. Good messages sometimes require research. Try to learn how you can best influence each of your target audiences. Each message should take into account the interests, ideas, and knowledge of the people receiving the message.
  2. Keep it simple. Messages should be short, just a few sentences or less. Limit it to one, and focus on your best supporting arguments, rather than a long list of reasons to support your proposal.

5.3 Use information strategically

Delay is the enemy of reform. The primary power of opponents of a proposal is to delay change, not block it outright; on the other hand, the EO has to prove the credibility of their ideas by showing that they work. Long delays strengthen the status quo, and exhaust allies. Delays also permit opponents to organize better.

Deploying information strategically is a key component in tackling this tactic. As information is more widely disseminated, those who wish to preserve the status quo are usually placed on the defensive, forced into strategic arguments about public interests, arguing through hidden channels and connections with political authorities, or confronting reform with passive resistance in hopes that the EO's proposal would be defeated by inertia.(1)

  • Information on the solutions chosen, demonstrating their credibility and likely effectiveness, is particularly vital in environments where scepticism about the ability of the government to change itself is widespread.
  • The media can be used in this respect as a tool for influencing other groups in the process. Where there is a deliberate effort to provide a stream of information to media sources, the media can become more supportive of a proposal.
  • Information by itself is not enough. Information must be structured and communicated in a way that reaches the right actors and generates the right response.
  • If the EO has done a good job in spelling out and clearly identifying the benefits of its proposal,in its advocacy campaign, it may start to get media support with opponents and the vested interests blocking it preferring to avoid stating publicly that they are against the proposal, as it leaves them open to blocking a public interest in favour of a vested one.

*Advocacy Tool 6 "Communication Strategies" will provide detailed guidance.

(1) Jeremy Rosner: "Communicating difficult reforms: Eight lessons from Slovakia" in S. Odugbemi & T. Jacobson (eds.): Governance Reform Under Real-World Conditions: Citizens, Stakeholder, and Voice (pp. 395-396). Washington, D.C., The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank, 2008.