Building the Movement by Driving the Narrative
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Over the past four years, community activists and grassroots organizers - the backbone of movement building - have evolved rapidly in how they approach strategy.
Movements are built and driven by passion. Many of the organizers I've met and worked with view strategy - particularly media strategy - with some skepticism. For those of us who believe deeply in a common cause, any move that feels calculated, rehearsed, or self-promoting often feels inauthentic to the movement. Many movements now understand the importance of a multi-pronged strategy that includes legal action and policy change. But there still remains an inherent distrust of the third prong: engaged media strategy and media relations work.
From the activists' perspective, they've been burned before by large-scale PR firms that are often run and led by those in positions of privilege. It is rare to see a PR firm with majority of people of color or women in the lead, and often the advice that these firms give does not take into account the nuance or context required to craft messaging that remains true to the cause. On the flip side, activists often have a deep and rich vein of storytelling coupled with newsworthy protests and actions, but either don't have the time, resources, or desire to reach out to select reporters and media outlets ahead of an action.
The best messaging is crafted with a mix of strategy and authenticity. To understand the subtle "do's" and "don't's" of how a community wishes to tell its story is crucial to the success of the stories we tell. By that same token, the way that messaging is delivered must be strategic in order to drive the narrative forward and win public opinion.
What I always tell the organizers and activists I train is this: you can organize an action and hope that it's brilliant enough to garner media attention on its own - or you can build relationships with key reporters ahead of time and call them up to give them the scoop, provide names of spokespeople they can talk to, guide them to TV-worthy footage their cameras can grab the day of the action, and end up with a narrative that YOU control. Similarly, if we remain leery of self promotion, news outlets will always find other spokespeople who are willing to take the mic, and we may not always appreciate their representation of our communities. Isn't it better for our own voices to be the ones we see on TV?
To find out more about how we work to blend authentic messaging with sharp strategy, reach out to us, or keep watching this space for case studies from our work!