Media Tactics for Social Change

Conversation Details

Dates of conversation: 
Monday, September 16, 2013 to Friday, September 20, 2013
Conversation type: 
Type of tactical goal: 

Summary available

Thank you for joining Holly Hammond of Plan to Win and the New Tactics online community for a conversation on Media Tactics for Social Change from September 16 to 20.

Communicating with people is central to creating social change and defending human rights. The media can be a conduit for that communication - allowing us to reach broad stakeholders and communities. However the media also reflects power relationships in a society, with the most powerful getting to have the biggest say. Media bias and corporate and state control can be significant barriers to our communication efforts. In many societies media is actually one of the pillars of power. The media can bolster or undermine progress. It can make or break regimes. It can foster, or undo, a culture of respect for human rights.

So how do we go about using the media in pursuit of human rights and social and environmental justice? How do we influence the media to get them to tell our story? How do we use the media to challenge stories of oppression and exploitation? And when the mainstream media is closed off as a channel for communication, how do we make our own media?

Campaigns are creatively using:

In this online conversation, we explored these and other tactics for engaging the media. This was an opportunity for social change agents and human rights defenders to reflect on and share their approach to engaging the media and learn new tactics from others.

This discussion is part one of our conversation series on building awareness so join us for the next two!

Summary of Conversation

Tactic Examples Shared in the Conversation:

How do you develop an effective communication strategy?

In order to successfully engage the media, it is important to have an effective communication strategy.   One participant shared the Center for Story-Based Strategy’s worksheet on grounding communications through Cornerstones, which organizations can use to create communication strategies.  This worksheet identifies goals, targets (i.e. the decision-maker or power-holder who can deliver the change you see), constituency (the base that supports your goal, the people most affected), and the audiences.  Another participant added that it is important to create strategies that increase your credibility, grow your voice and multiply the impact of your organization.

In addition to sharing the tools and techniques of strategic communications plans, participants highlighted the ethical implications of communication strategies.  One participant asked, “How can we use strategic and top-down/centralised approaches in ways that open space for a multiplicity of voices and encourage consultation?”  This question led to a discussion of ‘the world as it is’ mentality vs. ‘the world as it should be’ mentality.’  In general, participants agreed that more effective strategies work with the ‘the world as it is’ in order to create ‘the world as it should be.’ Thus, taking the resources at hand and creating engaging campaigns that address the issues.  This can be accomplished by adopting a values-based approach.

Communication strategies are motivated by different factors. One participant detailed the differences between engaging the media for education and engaging the media for communication.  The two models are:


Problem -> Awareness -> Concern -> Urgency -> Anger -> Action


Problem -> Awareness -> Knowledge -> Understanding -> Reflection -> Confusion

It is important to understand what outcomes and values motivate your communication plan.  These affect the implementation and success of your strategy.  

Media tactics that use art and film are effective ways to draw attention to human rights and social justice issues, and express resistance to injustice.    

Reflection: What lessons have you learned?

Participants reflected on lessons they learned from engaging the media.  One of these lessons was the importance of including their stories in their work.  One participant said they learned that, “Being willing to tell your personal story of the life experiences and values that brought you to the work you do today can really deepen the conversation and open the door for connection in a way that wasn't available before when you were just speaking about the issue.”  Several participants mentioned that  the comment, “Why do you do what you do,” is important to them when crafting media strategies.  This question helps NGOs insert their values and mission statement into a media strategy.

Participants also learned the value of using factual evidences in compelling and ethical ways when crafting media stories and outreach campaigns.  They reflected that a narrative technique of media presents the problem the problem clearly and explicitly.  Another lesson learned was  that the audience needs to be involved in the solution-making process. One participant gave an example of a successful narrative strategy they had learned, "Today, we are living in a world where X amount of tires go to landfill every day. We are each part of a society that produces X amount of waste everyday. X amount of the tires we use on our cars in US end up in landfills abroad and that is why WE need to take action to divert these tires, my company is one piece of that, blah blah blah.”  It is important that the narrative is clear, relays the problem and includes the audience.

Participants also shared media challenges they currently face. One participant highlighted a common dilemma faced by human rights NGOs: the responsibility to protect survivors and the need to raise awareness and support of the NGO’s work. This dilemma poses many challenges including the risk of re-traumatization and responding to media requests in a timely way. Participants shared lessons they had learned on how to navigate past these issues, such as creating a support group that can advise victims and provide training for media interactions. In addition to support groups, participants shared technical examples of how to avoid putting the survivor at risk by sharing their story with the media.  These different approaches highlight the importance of crafting media campaigns with empathy for survivors and ultimately placing their safety above media sound bytes.  

Upon reflecting on new opportunities for social change advocates, one participant pointed out that changing media outlets create space for organizations to shape their story, create buzz online through social media and websites, build their own distribution channels, and organize demonstrations that grab attention.  In particular, create a multi-faceted media strategy utilizing offline, online and traditional media.

Shared Resources

Conversation Leaders

Holly Hammond's picture
Holly Hammond
Plan to Win
Kathy Bonk's picture
Kathy Bonk
Communications Consortium Media Center (CCMC)
Liz Banse's picture
Liz Banse
Resource Media
hziemer's picture
Holly Ziemer
Center for Victims of Torture
Holly Minch's picture
Holly Minch
LightBox Collaborative