Influencing the Influencer – Advocacy in PR
As the adage goes, “Change is the only constant” and change is beneficial, when it keeps pace with altering times, and as we all know time is one of the biggest game-changers. In context, therefore, the dynamic domains of advocacy and public relations also witnessed radical changes over the last two decades and continues to do so, even today, maybe with a much more accelerated pace than ever before.
Speaking from a PR parlance, advocacy in itself, as well as, strategizing campaign outreach for advocacy has witnessed several paradigm shifts through all the bygone years. Wind the clock back 15 years – At that time, advocacy only meant liaising with the Government and the media. Social media was non-existent then. Fast forward to the present times and advocacy campaigns construe an altogether different shape, with multiple NGO’s, general and specific industry bodies, RWA’s, academia, thought leaders, influencers, academic institutions, traditional and social media, and of course, the bureaucracy or the government. Right from conceptualizing and ideating campaigns to the way they are being implemented on-ground, every step has undergone significant changes, thanks to the different categories of stakeholders and the sheer multitude of them. Social and digital media added new spokes to the wheel.
Generally speaking, advocacy strategies effectively use earned, paid, and owned media opportunities to get your message across to the right target audience via both traditional as well, as novel methods, such as advertising, radio feeds, opinion pieces, authored articles, webinars, and seminars, to name a few.
From a PR perspective, however, media advocacy is of supreme importance and it is an inseparable part of any advocacy program. Leveraging this one tool, anyone can reach out to large disparate groups of stakeholders, be it the bureaucracy/government, NGO’s, industry bodies or the public in general.
Additionally, advocacy and the nature of outreach to adopt for that depends largely on the desired outcome and the nature of the business that is involved (B2B and B2C companies). Right from the aim, to the messaging, the target audience, and the tools to tap on to them, pivotally depends on the objective, nature of the business, and the outcome that you desire.
In terms of skill sets that any advocacy professional would need are, ability to have an in-depth understanding of the business, the allied ecosystem, identifying the right stakeholders, crafting the core messaging, and determining the desired outcome of the advocacy campaign. Media advocacy is a crucial skill that all communications professionals have to master over the course of their careers. Irrespective of the fact that you are working with an independent consultancy or with a corporate, the need for having professional knowledge about the practice of advocacy is immensely important in these current times. Alongside, one needs to have a good understanding of the media environment, media policies, edit pages, authored pages & articles, panel discussions, media relations, webinars etc. Social media and with the increased proliferation of smartphones and the internet, these tools have become important aspects for any advocacy program, owing to their vast and real-time reach, new-age audience, and impactful results.
To strategize any unique yet impactful issue advocacy program, crafting the right overarching core messaging is of paramount importance. A messaging that will speak to all your stakeholders and help them to understand the issue in the correct vein. That will make them think in the right direction and motivate them to act upon. Any campaign takes more than just a couple of conversations with select stakeholders, be it be journalists or legislators, to come up with the right message. Messaging should be crafted in a way that resonates with and engages the larger audience base that you are targeting. Just like a salesperson markets to sell his product to the customer, issue advocacy is about informing and shaping the opinion of relevant stakeholders. When you are advocating for an issue, you are actually selling ideas, influencing, and evoking a call to action.
With COVID 19 and the new normal that is underway, advocacy and media outreach will go through a lot of operational changes. These changes will be all-pervasive and touch across aspects such as the manner in which we research and create specific messaging, ideate campaigns, identify stakeholders, engage with them, timelines- all these have to be very well thought of and analyzed.
In advocacy campaigns, it would be wrong to expect results overnight. Influencing consensus among people for a certain issue takes time and sincere credibility. A lot of groundwork has to be laid and roadmaps conceived to have an outcome-driven conversation with your influencers.
Head – Corporate Affairs, Communication & Digital Media, Egis India. Guest Speaker