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What can I do?

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Deliver your message

Once you have built public support for your position, identified your key decision makers, and developed your message, it‘s time to deliver that message to those with the power to give you what you want. Policy advocacy at this level can be intimidating for some, but the ability to influence and persuade decision makers is a critical part of being successful health champions.

One reason advocacy can seem intimidating is that it may include lobbying. Lobbying can be either direct or indirect. Direct lobbying happens when the proponents of a specific legislative proposal ask decision makers for their support. Indirect, or grassroots lobbying, occurs when the proponents of a specific legislative proposal ask members of the public to communicate with their representatives about supporting the proposal.

Some organizations and funding sources (including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) restrict lobbying activity. Nonprofits may be permitted to do a limited amount of lobbying, but check with your particular non-profit or funder to learn about the situations where it may or may not be allowed. If you lead a nonprofit organization and would like to learn more, the Alliance for Justice, through Bolder Advocacy, provides resources, tools, and guidance on advocacy and lobbying, including Worry Free Lobbying for Nonprofits handbook and The Connection. Influencing Public Policy in the Digital Age is a publication created to address the many questions organizations have about advocacy and lobbying digital communication and includes guidelines for public employee communications.

Connecting with the media can seem daunting—especially if you haven’t worked with the media before. Your media advocacy plan will likely include developing a key message(s), an elevator pitch, and submitting letters to the editor or opinion-editorial (op-ed) columns. Most campaigns use a combination of earned media and paid media.

Earned media – the coverage your campaign receives as a result or your proactive efforts to draw attention to it – is free. It is a critical tool for communicating to the public in all campaigns. You can generate media attention by issuing press releases, holding press conferences, meeting with editorial boards, submitting letters to the editor or opinion-editorial (op-ed) columns, and developing relationships with reporters.

Paid media directly promotes the merits of your position to readers, viewers, or listeners, just as businesses promote their products. It can be expensive, but necessary, for some types of large scale campaigns. TV, radio, and social media paid advertising are common for large scale controversial policy proposals such as efforts to raise the minimum wage. Some paid media in alternative or community newspapers, for example, can be relatively inexpensive while reaching a more narrowly focused audience.

Use media advocacy to move beyond education and knowledge building to engaging and inspiring action. Spitfire Strategies’ Activation Point reminds us that to see change, we need to move people from knowledge to action. They refer to this as an activation point, which “occurs when the right people at the right time are persuaded to take an action that leads to measurable changes for important social issues.”

Here are a few tips from Activation Point about persuasive messaging (pages 51 and 52 provide a guide to getting started):

  • Avoid overwhelming people with too much information or dramatic statistics. This may cause people to feel paralyzed and powerless, making them less likely to act. Use pictures and images and limit words.
  • Present relevant facts and use citations. Present information in a way that shows people you believe they are capable of making a good decision – don’t force your decision or conclusion on them.
  • Give people hope that change is possible and that they can be part of it. Alarmist language that makes the issue seem too big for people to make a difference will turn people off.
  • Make people care about your issue by framing your message so it matches their values, not yours. Go back to the internet and social research you did to find out what your audience values, cares about, and prioritizes. Why is your issue of relevance and concern to your audience?
  • Evoke emotion – facts are part of the picture, but what do you want people to feel based on your communication? Remember that emotions can engage and offend, so be thoughtful about what emotions you evoke.
  • Treat people like people – be personal, be respectful, learn about them, understand them, embrace their energy and ideas, and help them fit into your efforts in a way that works for them and you. Be sensitive to comfort zones and lifestyles.

You can learn more about media advocacy and using social media in Use media and social media in the Communicate step.