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Crafting a Strong Advocacy Message


Ideally, an advocacy message should have four components:
  • Problem Statement: What is the current state of affairs with SW. The problem regarding SW that you want the society to pay attention to. The things that are wrong or could be improved.
  • Relevance: Why and how are the problems sex workers face relevant for the policy makers (in lobbying) and the wider society, family or nation (in media advocacy targeting public opinion). You have to prove that this problem needs to be on the agenda, that it is relatively important, compared with numerous other burning issues competing for the society’s attention. This is also called framing the message. For example, in lobbying, you could focus on the international human rights declarations that your country has ratified and parts of the national constitution guaranteeing equal rights for all. Or you should focus on the need to protect public health by providing free and confidential access to STI screening for sex workers.
  • Policy proposal: While the first two elements are enough for awareness raising campaigns, message in an advocacy campaign should offer a solution. New legislation and decriminalization, outreach services, mobile units, counseling services, additional funding, etc.
  • Proposed action: What those you are communicating to should do; what civil society, families, citizens, volunteers, activists can do to press those responsible to act? Create a work group to draft new legislation! Sign a petition! Come to the rally! Write to the editorial boards! What media reporters should do? Write about the human rights abuses of sex workers. Use sex workers as news sources. Join our journalist training. What should the government do? Draft new legislation. Provide founding for services. Include sex workers in drafting legislation, etc.
Obviously, good message should be target-directed – as shown in the above examples, different targets will have different relevance and action components of the message. In order to be heard, you have to be attractive to the target. Don’t talk only about the problems of sex workers. Try to put the SW issues in the context (frame) of your listeners’ main concerns.
-          The message should be relevant for the target audience – it should answer the question your audience asks: “What is in it for me?” Why are rights of SW important for those whose action you are requiring?
-          The language used should be understandable to the target audience
-          The media used should be the ones used by the target audience. Find out where your audience gets the news and go there with your message.
-          The messenger should be trusted by the target audience. Think of celebrity spokespersons, academics, individuals or institutions appreciated by those you want to influence. 
-          If you prepare a message for a meeting with government, parliamentarians or other policy makers, think how to craft it so it fits their agenda. How will it help them achieve their objectives, do their work? Put the SW rights in the frame of human rights, national health policy, more effective control of STD, etc.
In order to do it, you should base your message on research of target’s perception and behavior. In order to be able to talk to the target, you should know the target. For example, you should know what the national public health priorities are; what is the ways the laws are made; what are the human rights protection institutions and how they function; who are the decision makers and who can influence them, etc. Try to keep in mind the following:
·         The best messages are always built on target’s believes, and are not trying to overturn them. Find a shared common ground and build on it.
·         Message is not a slogan. Slogan is a powerful part of it, but message consists of other elements: policy proposal, validation, suggested action, the language used, context, timing, level from which the message is sent... The visuals such as logo, colors, design, etc – all together develop one message.
·         You should stay on message (be focused) and repeat, repeat, repeat. The message should be heard more then once in order to create awareness.
·         Discuss and share message on sex workers health and rights issues with other organizations that deal with the same issue. Although different organizations might have different priorities, you will for sure find the messages you will all be behind. That will provide for repetition and echo, which will make your cause stronger.
“It was really useful to have sent out the key messages regarding SW health and rights that we wanted our allies to echo. Getting these messages to allies in advance of the conference was an important step in education/outreach, and most importantly, making sure that key themes resonated throughout the conference. The press kits beautifully reiterated these messages, as did the banners from APNSW.”
-- Sue Simon on message coordination prior to and during the International AIDS Conference in Toronto in August 2006
Message needs to be a carefully thought element of each piece of communication. In media relations, message is what you tell in your interview or press release. Before each media appearance you should decide what is its purpose is and what the message you want to convey is. 
And remember that in your media appearances you are sending the message to the viewers, listeners and readers, not to the reporters. Use the language understandable to the TV viewers, not that understandable to TV anchors! Do not use jargon, technical terms and abbreviations that nobody else understands but those of us working with SW issues!