How to Win Campaigns Part I: Communication essentials

How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change by Chris Rose
Proven top tips on communicating your issues effectively from one of the UK's most successful campaigners...

In campaigning, discussion of what will be an ‘effective' communication can easily become circular. Try to avoid the pivotal word ‘message'. If a discussion starts by asking ‘What messages do we want to use?', it is quite likely to lead to a one-way process rather than two-way communication.

For communication to have the right effect, at least seven key components need to work together: CAMPCAT.

Channel - how the message gets there;
Action - what we want to happen (and what the audience is asked to do);
Messenger - who delivers the message;
Programme - why we're doing it (essential to know this to assess effectiveness);
Context - where and when the message arrives (including what else is going on);
Audience - who we are communicating with;
Trigger - what will motivate the audience to act.

The actual message is, like a binary warhead, the call-to-action (effectively ‘do this'), plus the trigger or motivator (effectively ‘why you should'). They may be communicated by an example or argument, or visually, but not often as an instruction or admonishment.

The programme is internal. The audience and the action should be determined by the critical path of the campaign. Qualitative research should determine the trigger, context, messenger and channel.

Campaigners have to accept that they will not always be the best messenger: in the words of Ayerman and Jamison's classic study of Greenpeace, they need to be users of research: iintelligencers'. There's no point going on the radio or TV to make your point for the sake of publicity: it's having an effect that counts.

Some campaigners enjoy sending messages so much that they scarcely ever stop to try and find out what message was received by the assumed target audience. The messengers themselves can then become ‘noise in the channel'. You see the campaigner on TV. You get the message - that she or he is campaigning - but what about? Quite probably, we don't remember.

Timing (part of context) can alter the effect. Anti-smoking radio commercials were found to be more effective on Sunday mornings, when many listeners regretted the amount they had smoked the night before, than on Saturday evening; an equally relevant time when people were just about to go for a night out.

Each of these CAMPCAT elements should be researched rather than guessed at (although P the Programme is internally decided). In 2005 for example, CDSM and Campaign Strategy ran a survey of attitudes to air travel for Greenpeace UK. As part of this we asked people this: ‘Greenpeace believes that pollution from aircraft is a serious contributor to climate change. Given that, which of the following do you agree with?' and got the responses shown below:

Attitudes to air travel

Air travel is now too cheap 33%

There should be a tax on fuel for air travel 52%

Air travel should be rationed by government 20%

No more airports should be built 44%

We should limit our air travel voluntarily 61%

There should be a pollution warning on air tickets 61%

Don't know 2%

None of these 10%

We also asked the same question but changed the messenger to ‘independent scientists' and obtained more or less identical results, indicating that in this case Greenpeace did not need to change the messenger or to seek third-party endorsement: it was credible.

In other cases - about finance for example - you might expect that the ‘brand Greenpeace' would have a less good fit and that using a different messenger could help effectiveness.

In a similar way, choice of ‘Channel' has many embedded effects. For instance, UK research into trust of channels by the Henley Centre showed 90 per cent trust for husband, wife or partner, 82 per cent for friends, 69 per cent for work colleagues, 50 per cent for TV news, 27 per cent for retailers or manufacturers, and only 14 per cent for government or advertising. So ‘information' or ‘content' delivered through one channel may have a very different effect compared to delivering it through a different channel.

Campaigning is not education

Campaigning involves stimulating action, best achieved by narrowing the focus and eliminating distractions and reducing options, as in advertising (Figure 1). Typically, it starts (left column) with a problem and moves a target audience through the stages of awareness (and alignment, not shown here), concern and so on, to action.

FIGURE 1 Comparing a campaign model (left) with an education model (right)

In contrast, education expands awareness of options and complexity (right-hand column). It typically takes a problem and shows that it is not so simple as you may have first thought.

The educational model is great for education but not for campaigning. It reaches understanding but not action. Using it to try and decide or stimulate action is likely to lead to confusion and frustration.

Attend meetings of university professors discussing a practicality to see this in practice. In one university I know, a discussion over what to do with a gap left by a 1940s World War II bomb, subsequently occupied by a car park, remained unresolved until the 1980s.

Contesting professors tend to make things complex, and dazzle each other with clever reframing, find angles nobody had thought of, or make reference to additional bodies of information that must be taken into account. Perpetual questioning is how knowledge advances. The same discussion in a bank or a double-glazing company would probably be over in minutes. Questioning fundamentals and reflecting on things is not how business, politics or war advances.

On the other hand, listen to the professors discussing the meaning of life or public motivations, or what music is, and you will probably leave impressed, turning over new insights in your mind, maybe seeing your whole existence in a new way.

Ask the bankers and the sales directors to hold the same discussion (or even ‘what business is') and you will quickly find it bottoms out in cliché, leaden tautologies and the sort of wisdom you can find in a fortune cookie (Figure 2).

FIGURE 2: Education and campaigning work in opposite directions

Beware campaigners who want to educate others to see the issue in the right way before accepting their support. To be driven by principle is an admirable thing. but to campaign by trying to make others adopt your principles is not likely to be effective. As Gerd Leipold has written: ‘Campaign organizations have to be opportunistic, not in terms of their beliefs and values but in terms of reaching audiences.'


This is an extract from How to Win Campaigns by Chris Rose (Earthscan, 2010). To get 20 per cent off the RRP, enter discount code ECOL20 when ordering at Earthscan.


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