Advocacy Groups: Break Through the Noise with a Consistent Message
by Kristen Voorhees
by Kristen Voorhees
Purpose-driven and advocacy organizations have it rough when it comes to reaching their stakeholders. That’s why, especially in 2020—arguably one of the most chaotic years in the media, with a global pandemic and historic election—having a strong, consistent message is indispensable. But such tumultuous times can quickly shift an organization’s attention to rapid responses and crisis comms, which can leave message consistency in the backseat. However difficult it may seem, having a rock-solid message that can break through the noise should be your top priority.
Advocacy organizations and other purpose-driven groups are particularly vulnerable to getting drowned out by all the other calls to action and urges to mobilize flooding the national conversation. You have to contend with concerted opposition rather than market competition—opponents’ attacks often drive you to be reactive when you’d instead prefer to be defining the conversation on your terms. You also often have to punch above your weight, using a smaller staff and less funding to get a message across as you go toe-to-toe with massive, well-funded companies. While those challenges may be daunting, many can be mitigated or avoided entirely if your organization sticks to a unified, consistent message.
Consistent messaging doesn’t mean copying and pasting the same talking points into grant proposals, social media posts, and internal emails verbatim. It means relaying the same fundamental message to all your stakeholders and tailoring that message to each platform your organization uses to reach them. When done right, consistency can avoid confusing your stakeholders with multiple messages and help them become familiar with your work. Most importantly, consistency helps your message permeate through a noisy media landscape and reach who you are really trying to mobilize.
There are a few simple guidelines for ensuring your message remains consistent:
Develop a message framework and stick to it
Having a foundational message framework is the first step to developing a consistent message. A framework often includes your mission and vision statements, institutional values, audiences or stakeholders, and talking points. Everything you write for an organization should ladder back up to the messages laid out in your framework. This includes social media posts, website content, press releases, congressional testimony, speeches and remarks, and correspondence with your partners and members.
Lead with your values
Messaging resonates better when it is grounded in values. When developing communications for your organization, start by stating your values. Then determine, based on those values, what your stance should be on a given topic. From there, you can move on to specific language and start developing materials. For example, if you are advocating against a new state bill that does not align with your organization’s value of building lives free from violence, how would you structure your argument?
Instead of: This new legislation on gun safety will not solve the problems our constituents are facing.
Try: Everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, deserves to live free from violence. But tragically, this ideal has not been met for so many people in our country. This new piece of legislation would take our country a step backward.
Socialize your messaging to internal and external stakeholders
The biggest mistake an organization can make is believing that your message only lives within the communications department; your entire staff must thread your messaging throughout all content. It is just as important to have the right messaging in a press release as it is to have it in congressional testimony or an advocacy sign-on letter to members of Congress.
After solidifying your framework, conduct an all-staff workshop that introduces your messaging and gives concrete examples of how to weave it into every employee’s work. If a workshop is too big of an ask, send around a recorded webinar or a downloadable toolkit with guidelines on how to use your group’s messaging. The same should be done for external partners and coalition members to ensure your organization is represented authentically and consistently in their advocacy efforts.
Do not be afraid of repetition. I repeat, do not be afraid of repetition.
In the marketing world, the Rule of 7 states that a consumer must be exposed to a brand at least seven times before they make a purchase. The same concept applies to purpose-driven work. It may feel counterintuitive to repeat messaging points, but the only way a powerful message will break through a crowded space is through repetition. Encourage anyone writing or speaking for the organization to pivot back to your core messages time and again to familiarize your audiences with the same enduring message.
To ensure your tireless advocacy work does not go unnoticed, organizations must prioritize message consistency. Developing an overall framework centered on values, socializing your message with internal and external stakeholders, and repeating your message across all channels strengthens that consistency. This hard work yields a big payoff: rising above the chatter and distinguishing your organization’s voice and mission among thousands of others.
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