Ten top tips for framing your campaign

Human brains like shortcuts. We create mental shortcuts about the world around us that trigger how we feel about and respond to things. But how can this help us to influence people, winning over their hearts as well as their minds?

In communications, brand is one way of providing these shortcuts. This enables us to make quick decisions in a supermarket about which baked beans to buy. ‘Frames’ can also help create shortcuts, but ones that fit with how we as individuals see the world.

Campaigns are truly powerful when framed in ways that appeal to how the people they seek to influence see the world. They can influence individuals on a deep emotional level to make lasting changes.

Framing is a compelling concept. Done well, says Brian Lamb, it can hold the key to successful political communications. For this reason, it is a core element of the Certificate in Campaigning and is described by students as a ‘light-bulb’ moment in the course.

That’s why Brian and I also ran a Breakfast Learning Session at NCVO on this topic. But for those who couldn’t make it, I’ve put together 10 top tips on framing your campaigns and communications.

Top tips

1. Come to a decision

Your brain stores that decision and comes back to it later on. This is a mental shortcut. This means that facts, however compelling, are not always enough to persuade someone differently.

2. Think carefully about your campaign messages – who you are trying to influence?

Be specific. How do they see the world? What values and beliefs underpin this view? Develop key campaign messages that will appeal to these beliefs and fit with how they see the world.

3. What voice are you going to use?

Your language will activate the frames and values of the listener. Make sure that you are appropriately aligned to the views and values that you want to tap into.

4. Test your messages with your audience

Test your messages with a group of people that represent your target audience. You don’t want to get feedback from people who are already ‘on side’.

5. Avoid using your opponents’ frame or even repeating it to challenge it

Doing this will only reinforce their argument by triggering the associations your opponent wants to promote. Instead, focus on establishing a distinctive frame that has positive connotations with your campaign. For instance, the words ‘equality’ and ‘fairness’ bring certain frames, depending on your perception.

6. Find and confront the problem

Often really good frames can be reduced to simple binary values, like ‘scrimpers’ vs ‘scroungers’. Tell a story about your campaign that pinpoints exactly what problem is.

Through telling the campaign as a story – however imaginary or metaphorical it may be – you can develop the structure of the narrative, bringing in the facts and figures later on. It may not be appropriate to share your story but it can help clarify your thinking and shape the messages you develop for your campaign.

7. Keep it simple

Explain the problem, describe how big the issue is and always present a solution.

8. Establish clear responsibility.

Who is responsible for the problem and who has the power to change it?

9. Find the narrative

Avoid framing an issue without a clear narrative that makes it real and credible to people. Ed Miliband’s notorious “squeezed middle” illustrates this point where he launched a narrative with calamitous consequences.

10. Be creative!

Challenge how you and your organisations usually think about and communicate issues.

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Sarah Gilbert Sarah Gilbert is an experienced campaigner. She is an independent consultant and runs projects for NCVO on campaigning and influencing, including the Certificate in Campaigning and Leadership in Campaigns. She also coaches campaigners, has guest lectured for Roehampton University, and is a member of the advisory board for the University of Westminster's MA in Campaigning, Communications and Media. Sarah sits on the Campaigning Effectiveness Advisory Board and writes blogs, articles and tweets about how to influence people and the sector’s role in campaigning.

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