Hesperian Health Guides

Creating a communication strategy

Clear communication with community members, allies, and decision-makers about your ideas, plans, and goals is essential for building support and influencing public opinion.

Know your audience

To inform, persuade, and inspire people to support you, you first need to understand what they already know, think, and feel about the issue and why. The more you are able to find out, the better prepared you will be to address their questions and concerns.

It is helpful to think about all of the different audiences or groups you are trying to persuade. Who supports your ideas already? Who is undecided? Who is opposed? This can help you in your advocacy efforts as you prepare arguments to mobilize supporters, and to change the opinions of others.

An opinion map is helpful for thinking about different audiences and how you can influence those who are undecided, those who oppose your ideas, and those who agree but could be more active in their support. This activity also helps a group develop specific messages for each audience, and plan the next steps the group will take.

ActivityMake an opinion map

To prepare: Have the group review a power map they have already made on the issue. Prepare a large sheet of paper with columns left to right for "Active Allies," "Allies," "Undecided," "Opponents," and "Active Opponents."

  1. Look at the institutions or groups on the power map and discuss the opinion of each on this issue, that is, how strongly they support or oppose your goal. Write the name of each group in the column that matches their opinion (for example, "Allies") and any information you have about their concerns.
  2. Ask the group to discuss what message about your issue would be most effective for influencing that specific group and who might help you communicate it.
  3. To conclude, ask the group to identify action steps for developing a communications strategy for each group on the opinion map. For example, "more research to make convincing arguments," or "find allies to influence more people." Here is an example of an opinion map, based on the same example of a school-based health clinic from the power map:
HAW Ch10 Page 288-1.png
Active ally
No opinion or Undecided
Active Opponent
Student government
Loves slogan: Your body, your health, your clinic
Distribute flyers with slogan all over school to build support among students.
Community health center
Supports school clinic to ease workload and improve health
Enlist nurses to convince others of health benefits of school clinic.
Ministry of Education
Trying to avoid controversy
Delegate students and health workers to make case for school clinic.
School Administration
Oppose clinic because of cost
Make a sample budget (with help of local clinic) to show it is affordable.
Fear that access to birth control will make youth sexually active
Find studies showing opposite is true. Write letters to the editor. Develop flyer for handing out in public.

Build your message

Whether you are speaking at a rally, making a presentation, talking with a reporter, writing a flyer, or posting on a website, prepare your message carefully. You may have to make different messages for different groups of people. For each message, consider two things: what are the one or two ideas you want your audience to remember, and how will sending this message strengthen your cause?

Messages to your allies should be calls to action that give simple, immediate, and specific ways to be involved. The best messages suggest multiple actions, such as signing a petition, sharing information via social media, or attending events. Keep your allies updated and engaged!

Messages to neutral parties, who have not made up their minds or do not feel strongly, require information that will help enlist them as allies. While this audience may already know about the issue, your job is to help them gain a new perspective and care more. What facts and figures might appeal to their values? Using personal stories and testimonies is particularly effective.

a woman speaking.
To convince people in Mexico City about the problem of women dying from unsafe abortion, we have a doctor speak because people will listen to a doctor. The doctor uses statistics, and then tells a real story about a young woman who died. People can imagine a sister or daughter facing the same situation as this young woman.

Messages to opponents respond to their criticisms. Anticipate their arguments and plan your responses. One effective way to respond to arguments or criticism is to refocus or reframe the discussion.

a man and then a woman speaking.
Immigrants cost too much! With so many visits to the emergency room and no health insurance, the government ends up paying the emergency bills.
HAW Ch10 Page 289-3.png
If we had preventive care, we would all be healthier, and not need emergency care!
Your opponent might frame the issue by blaming or shaming those in need of health services. You could reframe the message by showing how health care for all would help everyone.
ActivityMaking advocacy messages that work

Use this activity to develop or improve your group’s advocacy message, and to prepare printed or written materials.

To prepare: Select several advertisements or political campaign messages from magazines, newspapers, or printed from websites. Post them on walls in different places in the room.

  1. Form small groups and assign each group one of the messages. Ask the group to look carefully at the message and think about what they like about it and why it is informative, persuasive, appealing, and moving.
  2. With everyone together, ask each group to share their ideas about the characteristics that made the messages work and communicate effectively. You can ask questions like these:
    • Is the message tailored to a specific audience?
    • What are the beliefs or attitudes commonly held about the issue and how does the message address those?
    • How does the message appeal to both logic and emotion so people understand and care?
    • What action does this message ask people to take?
  3. Ask each small group to create a message related to your own group’s advocacy effort. (Remind them to think about who their audience is and how this message will inform, persuade, and move that audience to action.)
  4. When they are ready, ask each group to share their message with the others. Then ask the large group to discuss each message, and give each other feedback.

Spread your message

Once you have decided who your target audiences are, decide where and how you will communicate your message: through mass media, such as the Internet, radio, or newspaper? By making posters? By giving performances, discussions, or speeches?

Mass media and public discussion tend to be very effective at reaching government officials, political leaders, and large audiences, while community art, posters, and performance tend to work well for local audiences who may have less access to print materials, or who usually do not participate in policy discussions.

Get media coverage. Find journalists who care about your issue. Develop an idea of the story you want them to create and how to present it. Since journalists often work on "popular" or current news, explain how your story relates to current headlines. Stay in contact with reporters and let them know how your story is developing. They may not respond at first, but if you can develop a relationship, they might write about you in the future. Most reporters only use a tiny piece of what you say, so be clear and to the point. If the conversation strays, bring it back to your main ideas. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself! Role play keeping to your message by asking a friend to distract you with questions that are not about your message.

You can also write your own press releases, which are updates about activities your organization is doing, and send them to the media. Another option is to write letters to the editor, or you could make and distribute your own recorded talks, called "podcasts." This is a good way to represent yourself in your own words.

Use public space. Create posters, street theater, and speeches to be shared in public. This can be a fun way of engaging your supporters and attracting new ones.

3 men in women's clothing.
In the Kurdish area of Iran, a court punished a convicted abuser by making him wear a dress to publicly humiliate him. In response, women and men protested in the streets and one group, calling themselves "Kurd Men for Equality," started a social media campaign in which they posted pictures of themselves in women’s clothing to challenge the idea that being a woman was humiliating

Mobilize through social media. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter can be a quick and compelling way to communicate with your allies. If you make a page for your organization, you can send updates, invitations, articles, videos, and pictures to your followers. Using social media, you can also communicate with similar groups far away to share ideas and build alliances. When working on a controversial project, consider using an anonymous profile for safety. You can do this by making a Facebook profile that does not have friends or pictures of members, but does include information on how viewers can get involved.

Using social media to create safe zones for women
Eight of every ten Egyptian women report they face daily harassment on the street. To combat this, a group of people created the HarassMap, an interactive map where women can report where and how they have been harassed. The group uses Twitter and Facebook to collect reports and also communicate with volunteers doing community education in high-harassment neighborhoods. This outreach enables the volunteers to create "safe zones" in those areas, where women can go if they feel unsafe. The group also has a blog where they post more resources for people seeking help, including classes for self-defense.