What role does media play when advocating to government?
12 April 2021 at 5:24 pm
Neil Pharaoh looks at how NFPs can work with the media to achieve an outcome, and shares four problems that need to be kept front of mind.
The fourth estate, or fourth power, refers to the press and news media both in its explicit capacity of advocacy and its implicit ability to frame political issues. While it is not part of the political system, it wields significant indirect social influence, for good and for bad. Which begs the question – for social purpose organisations and NFPs what is the role of media in campaigns and advocacy, and how can you work with the media to achieve an outcome?
The term “fourth estate” was coined in 1837, and while it’s convenient that we have three parts of our government (legislature, executive and judiciary) the first, second and third estates actually referred to the clergy, nobility and the commoners – and that power is “balanced” between the three. But with the advent of printing presses, the fourth estate became part of that balance.
Fast forward to 2021, and what drives media for the majority of the time? Eyeballs. In the past, circulation numbers would dictate advertising revenue, and these days while the term circulation is less in use, eyeballs, clicks or time spent on a website or article are key to the media revenue that can be generated.
As its simplest level, stories that elicit clicks, interest or curiosity generate income for media outlets – this is a really core concept in speaking to the media so land your stories and ideas accordingly.
How do you do this? With my clients, we talk about the four problems (and three solutions) and how keeping these front of mind assists with advocacy, campaigning and media. Those four problems are:
- What is the technical problem?
- What is the political problem?
- What is the public problem?
- What is the media problem?
To win a great campaign, and achieve social, legislative, regulatory or funding change – you need to think of all four. All four also focus on how you tell your story, which is a key part of media engagement.
This one is where NFP’s spend way, way too much time – the technical bits which need to change in order to solve an issue. Sadly technocrats don’t rule the world, so the detailed logic as to what needs to be done should be best left to public servants and policy wonks. You do not win advocacy in this domain.
How does your issue look politically? What currents and tides are at play, and how do they relate to your issue. Think of a media release from a politician talking about your issue, both for and against, and you start to get a bit of an idea as to how the political problem can be framed.
What is the public thinking, and what are their motivators, drivers and issues? When you step outside the political class, a whole magnitude of pressures, issues and concerns are being discussed – whether it’s the cost of gas, rental or home loan interest rates, local schools or healthcare. Understanding what tides and currents exist in diverse communities, outside your social and economic bubble, is key. Media is often more in tune with this than politicians.
This is where we swing back full circle to engaging with the media. Can you write about your new idea, funding initiative or policy agenda in a pithy one-page media release? Can a Year 7 student understand it? If you can’t answer yes to both those questions, spend more time honing the messaging, driving the campaign and being clearer with what you want.
My favourite alleged Einstein quote is that if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. So true with your media, or political, pitch.
Remember the fourth estate has two parts – an explicit capacity to advocate, as well as implicit ability to frame an issue. Good media engagement for campaigns remembers both of these components, as well as the simplicity of the text.
About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. Neil is co-founder and director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems.
Happenings on the hill is a fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.
If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to him via social media at LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @neilpharaoh.