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Three Steps for Getting Started with Media Advocacy

December 16, 2019 | Ingrid Daffner Krasnow and Shaddai Martinez Cuestas, Berkeley Media Studies Group | Originally published by PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group

Overcoming common communication challenges: A 3-part series for advocates

Over the past couple of years, advocates have faced formidable challenges in their efforts to stop continued assaults on a wide range of public health and social justice issues. Knowing that the media can provide a powerful way to influence public narratives—and public policy—on these issues, advocates often approach BMSG for help with messaging and media advocacy.

That was the case for many grantees of The California Wellness Foundation, to whom we provided strategic consultation between 2017 and 2019. Grantees faced big problems during this time, attacks on immigrants’ rights and racial equity being at the top of the list. As BMSG worked with these dedicated community advocates, we noticed some common themes among their questions about communication that could offer valuable insights to other advocates working to advance racial and health equity.

This blog, the first in a three-part series, is designed to help answer some of the most common media advocacy questions we received from both seasoned and novice advocates. Each post in the series can be used as a stand-alone or together with either of the others.


Crafting your overall strategy

The questions advocates have about communication are simple and not-so-simple. On the one hand, they are simple because there are a few tried-and-true formulas to help you think through the answers. On the other hand, they are not so simple because the formulas have to be applied to specific issues, in real time, so they can be meaningful in the context of your advocacy. Plus, sometimes the answers depend not just on what you or your organization thinks but also what your allies (or opponents!) do and say.

We often hear questions like, “There are so many issues we work on, how do we know where to start our communications?” and “Where does communication fit into our strategy today if our goals are very long-term?”

To answer these questions, we often ask advocates to step back and reflect on how their communication needs relate to their bigger-picture goals. More specifically, we ask them:

1. What is the problem you want to address?

2. What policy solution will you be advocating?

3. Who is your target—the person or group with the power to make the change?

These are the first three steps toward conducting a power analysis and identifying your overall strategy, which shapes a larger strategic process we refer to as the Layers of Strategy. In working through the first step, narrow your focus as much as possible in order to identify a specific, measurable problem. To do this, it’s important to know what is contributing to the problem, so you can better identify a solution that aligns with your problem. But even when the problem(s) and solution(s) are clear, most social justice issues are layered with complexity, making it feel untenable to make progress toward achieving a solution. It also might be frustrating to choose an immediate “next” step when so much needs changing.

Let’s look at an example.


The case of Mentoring in Medicine & Science

The grantees from Mentoring in Medicine & Science (MIMS) approached BMSG for help communicating about their programs, which have a mission to diversify the health professions. As always, BMSG started by asking the MIMS team, “What is the problem you are trying to solve, what is your proposed solution, and who has the power to make the changes you seek (target)?” MIMS’s answers:

Problem: The health professions do not represent the diverse demographics of our country. As a result, underrepresented communities, including people of color and monolingual non-English speakers, do not see themselves in their health care providers. This often results in less culturally competent care, among other issues. We want to attract and support more underrepresented students to pursue careers across the breadth of health professions.

Solution: Increase the number of people of color and bilingual speakers in health care professions.

Target: Prospective employers, like hospitals and clinics, who can increase recruitment efforts to include more underrepresented professionals.

While these are all important steps to increasing the number of underrepresented health care providers, this solution and target are still many steps removed from the MIMS mission of exposing underrepresented students to health care careers. So we asked MIMS to narrow their focus on the student population. They shared another one of their proposed solutions and prospective targets:

Solution: Provide appropriate support and resources to underrepresented students applying to medical school. This may include holistic application review, mentorship, and financial support.

Target: Health and medical graduate schools, who need to know about the benefits of educating a diverse health care workforce and the barriers that many underrepresented students face.

We’re getting closer, but this solution still assumes a number of steps have been taken to ensure high school students are interested in the medical professions, complete undergraduate prerequisites, and initiate the lengthy and complex medical school application process. This solution still isn’t aligned closely enough with the problem of exposing high school students to health science careers. We asked the MIMS team to continue to narrow the focus of their proposed solution. They shared:

Solution: Encourage high school teachers, staff and administrations to provide more health career information to high school students of color.

Target: High school administrators who can establish partnerships with MIMS to provide education and resources on health care careers to high school students.

Now the solution is more directly in line with efforts to reach high school students. Now the MIMS Overall Strategy sounds like this:

Problem: The current health care workforce does not represent the diversity of our communities. We want to attract more underrepresented students to health care professions by exposing high school students to health careers.

Solution: Empower high school administrators, staff, and teachers to provide more health career information to high school students of color.

Target: High school administrators who can establish partnerships with MIMS to provide education for and resources on health care careers to high school students.

By being as specific as possible when they identified the problem, MIMS was able to identify a specific solution that aligns with the problem they want to solve in the long-term and identify the person or group with the decision-making power to approve or implement the solution in the near-term.

With these three questions answered, their communication could be much more targeted and effective. MIMS can now turn to messaging and framing. The other solutions they seek may still be part of their work; they may work on them at the same time or after they’ve achieved this goal—something they’ll keep in mind as they turn to crafting messages that, over time, can reshape the narrative on who our health care workforce should be and what structures need to be in place to support the range of people who should be part of it.



Want to learn more? Check out our other blogs in this series:


Ingrid Daffner Krasnow and Shaddai Martinez Cuestas are both Strategic Communications Specialists at PHI's Berkeley Media Studies Group.