Framing Campaigning Itself

More and more organisations are campaigning, and a growing number of agencies and consultants are commissioned to design and plan campaigns.  As many strategists have pointed out, it’s the ‘starting conditions’ which often determine the fate of a campaign, and perhaps the most fundamental assumptions of all, concern what “campaigning” actually is.

When we plan a campaign,  we’re probably already thinking inside a box which frames ‘campaigning’ itself.  Here are some examples.  Campaigning is … “a war”,
“a conversation with society”, “a selling job”, about “winning the argument” … a question of “generating awareness” …

Which ‘campaigning’ frame we use then dictates many assumptions we make about the ‘right way’ to campaign, what’s in and what’s out, and what needs to be done in order to succeed.

Self-aware campaign groups may tune their assets, resources and tactics to create an organisational strategy which suits a particular approach.  I explore some of these in my book How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change.

This blog, based on part of a presentation given at the World PR Forum in Melbourne in November 2012, briefly examines how framing at the level of what-a-campaign-is, can affect how campaigns work.

It’s important to remember that all public campaigns which are not pure projections of your views, involve enlisting the time, affiliation or attention of others. They are “follow me” exercises. That’s especially an issue for large organisations.  If you’re big, rich or powerful, why do you need my help ?

follow me

So in general, the rich do not need to campaign.  the powerful

And for any campaign  proposition to be attractive, the objectives, activities and resources need to seem to be in balance, or it will not appear credible.  credibility triangle
If they don’t match, then people draw their own, negative conclusions, although you probably won’t hear back from them as to why they’re not onboard.  credibility problems

An issue for the over-educated is that campaigning cannot be like education – for one thing, there is usually no time or opportunity, and for another, campaigning is about focus of attention to motivate action, whereas education tends to multiply the range of possible actions, resulting in a lack of focus and uncertainty as to what to do.  over educated

Any organisation, particularly those which are not purely campaign groups, tends to import it’s own way of doing business into framing assumptions about how to campaign. Or to glean these from a naieve obeservation of campaigns, for example attributes that are obvious in ‘the media’.  Eg “I see people debating a campaign>  so campaigns work by debate”.   For instance lawyers tend to assume campaigns are essentially a way to win arguments, journalists one of generating awareness, and scientists that it’s a question of explanation of facts (hence the generally catastrophic role of scientists in trying to promote action against climate change).  They then tend to use this both to frame the design of a campaign and to interpret the results of attempts at campaigning.

So for instance, you launch a call to action and it may be accepted or rejected, based on the unconscious process of framing.  We then consciously rationalise the result  framed input 1.

If it has been rejected people may have ignored it, or successfully avoided it, in which we case we see or hear nothing.  If they’ve had to make choices we can see the rejection, and if we’ve been able to dialogue with them they may have challenged our proposition, giving ‘reasons’ (eg “you have your facts wrong”).     framed input rejected

If it’s accepted, then if we also survey their opinion, we can see they ‘agree’.  But that’s not the end of the story. If it’s not just opinion-generation we’re after but action, then they may ‘agree’ but still not take action, if for example they don’t feel the asked-for action applies to them, or not now, or they don’t have the sense that they can do this thing.  framed input accepted

Only if our ask or offer passes all these tests, do we stand a chance of seeing ‘action’.

So what happens, when as is most likely, we don’t see the desired result ?  We tend to rationalise the consequences using our frame of campaigning.  First we may see disagreement or rejection: “hey, these folks are wrong !”.  So we argue with their reasons or choices.  This only tends to reinforce the problem if it’s down to an unconscious mismatch of frames, values or other unconscious processes.

Second, we see they agree with us: “hooray !”  But inexplicably, they haven’t taken action.  Oh dear.

In both cases the natural reflex is to repeat the campaign effort – “one more heave” – but make it bigger and better, add embellishments, or make it more intense.  three client responses 1 and 2

The result is likely to be the same as it was the first time, only perhaps bigger and more definitive.  And because we tend to frame campaigning to match our own way of doing things  three client responses 3 we are likely to go on repeating versions of our overall mistake.

The only answer to this is to campaign differently.  Convincing organisations to do this can be very difficult but one powerful way to do so can be to show them the results of qualitative framing type research – for example the Frameworks Institute food system study discussed in a previous blog (see it here).  Even then, because of their own values they may prefer to conserve their strategy rather than make a change.  It depends how results oriented they are.

The different ways of framing campaigns each have their pro’s and cons: see common campaign metaphors, fighting a war, conversation with society, selling job, winning an argument, generating awareness.    It at least pays to be aware that these effects occur, just as it pays to have a look in the mirror before you set out in the morning, or even better, get someone else to take a look at you.





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One Response to Framing Campaigning Itself

  1. Pingback: Initial framing determines campaign outcome | VoluntaryNews

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