A great message doesn’t say what’s already popular; a great message makes popular what needs to be said.
HOW TO USE NEW NARRATIVES
Many readers of this guide will be experienced campaigners working in diverse situations around the world. You might fight for change through organising and mobilising support, movement building, lobbying and influencing politicians, critiquing and opposing those with economic or political power, or with other strategies. The tools presented on the following pages are intended to be suggestions to help you; not a list of instructions that you must follow rigidly. We have tried to make them as practical and widely applicable as possible, but some will simply not suit your circumstances. The intention is for creative campaigners to pick and choose from these tools as ingredients and use them to make up your own recipe for success in your environment. We will also introduce a few theories that may help explain why people support or oppose a cause, and link them to the new narratives to illustrate how they might work in practice, but there are no hard and fast rules. Use these tools alongside your own experience and local knowledge.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT YOUR AUDIENCE
Panel during Degrowth of Aviation conference 2019 in Barcelona. © Christine Tyler
With a strong set of new narratives and detailed case studies to support your messaging, you will want to put some time into considering your audience. Following your communications strategy and plan, you should have a strong idea who you wish to target and what you want them to do. In order to reach them effectively, you will need to pay attention to what makes them tick. Where do they get their information? Who do they listen to and trust? What are the core values that drive their decision-making? Changing hearts and minds is complex. Psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman’s work on confirmation bias revealed our tendency to believe things that are supported by what we already believe, and concludes that we have to work hard if we are to use data to change our minds. 1 If it is difficult to change how we think and act ourselves, then it is even harder to alter the deeply felt opinions of others. And opinions are felt, because our emotional response is more immediately available to us than our reasoning – which brings us to the power of storytelling in campaign strategies. 2
The reason people are triggered by certain campaigns and not others is because of the stories they tell and how that story connects with the audience emotionally. Just like when we form friendships, we first respond to how we “feel” about someone before taking the time to find out more about them. Many relationships fail at this first hurdle and many campaigns too. The aim is to get people to have an emotional response to the story you tell, creating a connection with them based on shared values.
Fairy tales and myths are good examples of how shared values enable communication: evil figures are easy to spot and many times we root for the hero or heroine. In campaigning, it also often helps to find shared ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’. Similarly, metaphors and similes help audiences to feel connected to an abstract idea by making it familiar, calling on established stories and biases to signal how an audience should feel about the subject.
Thinking about unfamiliar issues takes energy and effort that many people are not willing or ready to expend; part of the campaigner’s job is to make it as easy as possible.
It is worth noting here that this work will be difficult; you are up against an army of highly motivated and experienced corporate public relations people whose job is to maintain the status quo. Your campaigning work will need to be dynamic, experimental and extremely tenacious, looking for timely interventions where your message will land well and draw attention to your cause. It is much easier to communicate business as usual than change. Old narratives have been constantly repeated to keep things as they are and – as with any firmly established set of ideas – they will be hard to overthrow. Industry narratives, for example, focus on futures that avoid fundamental change; they usually look like exactly the past only fueled by seemingly limitless green energy.
Huge efforts are now needed to introduce alternative visions of the future or ways of acting in the world. Breaking through the constant chatter of today’s 24 hour news is always a challenge – perhaps more of an art than a science – but with strong messaging and a good story to tell, you are more likely to succeed. Alternative paths to the future need to be clear, understandable and desirable if they are to replace the drumbeat of today’s global capitalism. Society is made up of a variety of people with a multitude of identities, life goals and personal histories, but the key to thinking about your audiences is where, when and how they overlap so that your messaging can have the broadest possible impact. After all, global brands use this to great effect to sell consumer goods using simple, repetitive branding and messaging that might use the same approach, positioning and slogans for decades. What are the common values that can be used to encourage people to both change their own behaviour and to support systemic change? There is some useful academic work in this field that is worth covering briefly here – and for those interested in delving more deeply, there are references throughout.
Care/harm: our long evolution as mammals with attachments to and empathy for others underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness and nurture. The Common Destination and Safe Landing narratives speak most to these values, reminding us of our shared humanity, the harm our failing economic system does to people and the planet, plus the need to care for the people in industries that must change.
Fairness/cheating: the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism generates ideas of justice, rights and autonomy. The Plane Greedy and Common Destination narratives link strongly to this and can be used to reveal how a minority of wealthy companies and individuals are impinging on the global majority in a damaging way.
Loyalty/betrayal: means standing with your group, family or nation. Our long history as tribal creatures with shifting coalitions, this underlies patriotism and self-sacrifice – “one for all, and all for one.” The Plane Greedy and Green Means Grounded narratives speak to these values, revealing how false companies can be in their pursuit of profit, while Safe Landing can be used to draw attention to looking after the staff team in an inevitably changing future.
Authority/subversion: our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions generates leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions. This value could be used with Safe Landing to stress what we can achieve through high quality governance and regulation. Plane Greedy might be used here to suggest that aviation wants to be a special case, almost above the law. Green Means Grounded can be used when airlines and governments are not complying with climate targets and regulations. Enjoy the Journey could also be used to stress a return to local travel, local natural beauty and traditions.
Sanctity/degradation: shaped by ancient traits of disgust and contamination, this underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. The Enjoy the Journey and Safe Landing narratives fit with these values, encouraging us to live more harmoniously with each other and with nature.
Basic Human Values: The concept of common values is also explored in the work of Shalom Schwartz, 4 who researched what motivates people across 82 countries and came up with ten values that hold up surprisingly well across cultures (see graphic below). The UK-based thinktank Common Cause Foundation’s work on values examines this in detail, explaining how people do not always act in line with the values they hold to be important because of the need to trade-off between different, sometimes conflicting values. For example, people may vote for a political party that does not really reflect their values out of loyalty. 5 Cultural or societal attitudes also add to the complexity of action aligning with values: for example, a person might keep using their car despite the knowledge that it is harming the environment because of a lack of public transport infrastructure.
In addition to understanding a little about our common values, it can be useful to grasp the idea of a ‘common sense’ as described by Antonio Gramsci, which is how any dominant culture agrees on a shared understanding of what is good, bad and normal. 6 He calls this cultural hegemony. The mainstream view developed over decades by the aviation industry promoting flying as good, normal and bringing benefits to all could be described as cultural hegemony. Our new narratives are an attempt to shift this – and our global experience of the pandemic illustrates how common sense and therefore cultural hegemonies can sometimes shift very quickly. For example, during the pandemic, working at home shifted from being a minority activity and even unprofessional to being mainstream and entirely acceptable. We can do the same with flying, making it a rare activity done only when no other viable option is available.
Basic Human Values
The Basic Human Values theory developed by Schwartz identifies ten foundational human values, each distinguished by underlying motivations or goals which are recognised by people in all cultures. For example, the self transcendent values benevolence and universalism are associated with pro environmental behaviours. A particular value can conflict or align with other values.
Source: Schwartz (1992): Universals in the Content and Structure of Values.
Spectrum of Allies
Movements do not usually win by overpowering their opposition. Instead, they need to increase their own base of support and mobilise people who have been so far neutral to their cause. The concept of the Spectrum of Allies helps campaigners think about who their active supporters are, how passive supporters can be mobilised, and how opponents’ support is composed and can possibly be weakened.
Source: Beautiful Trouble: Spectrum of Allies. bit.ly/BT_SpectrumOfAllies
When deciding how to campaign on this issue – and particularly if you have limited resources – it is useful to look at the work of veteran UK campaign strategist, Chris Rose, and his useful guide to campaigning 7 about the importance of going to where the audience is and seeing the issue through their eyes. If a campaign is to succeed, he believes it must appeal to enough of the population to tip the balance towards something becoming the new common sense. This can mean focusing on a particular aspect of an issue where a broad range of people can find enough common ground to get the effect you need. He suggests not to waste time and effort trying to convince hard set opponents who have already harnessed their identities to something you are trying to change. Looking at flying, it will be important to find out which – perhaps small – part of the whole issue is the touchstone for most people. This could be the Safe Landing narrative, which builds on growing awareness of climate change and maintaining a pristine environment but also looks to the future of existing industries and their employees. This appeals to values from across the spectrum.
Several of our new narratives focus on a positive future where human wellbeing and flourishing is paramount, such as Enjoy the Journey, Safe Landing and Common Destination. To understand the importance of looking at the softer side of life, such as relationships and creativity, it is worth noting the ideas of US academic Tim Kasser. He looked at how materialism and consumerism have a negative relationship to wellbeing and human flourishing. 8 These latter “intrinsic” values, he suggests, are hard to realise beneath the daily battering from advertising and media messaging, which is why – although individual action is useful – widespread changes also need to be supported by policy and effective regulation. Another source of work on these elusive but inherently rewarding values is the work by the Common Cause Foundation 9 who lists examples such as community, love for friends and family and creativity as “intrinsic” and public image, power and how we are seen in the world as “extrinsic values”. Our new narratives are positioned to strengthen these intrinsic values, building on ideas of fairness, collaboration and acting for the greater good. In doing so, they follow the approach of transformative communication, working with messages and campaigns that strive to promote the positive compassionate values in people and society while effectively pursuing concrete goals.
OR SYSTEMIC CHANGE?
The often posed choice between individual change and systemic change is a false division.
Often, behavioural changes by individuals and large-scale systemic and political change are presented as separate paths to sustainability. Many campaigns rely heavily on one pathway or the other, but research shows that the two approaches actually support one another. 10 People tend to change their behaviours when others around them change theirs. This is especially true in the case of close relationships, such as family and friends. The behaviour of influential people such as celebrities and politicians can also have a great influence on what we see as desirable or negative.
Research shows that people rate the credibility of ‘climate change communicators’ higher when their carbon footprint is smaller. 11 Especially when it comes to mobility and travel, individual actions can boost or undermine political messages. Just think of a politician flying short-haul in a private jet to a climate conference and giving a big speech about how we need to reduce our emissions and that everyone needs to do their share.
People like few things less than hypocrites. 12 Behavioural changes by individual pioneers can serve as positive examples and initiate ripple effects across communities. Once a critical mass is reached, what is seen as normal and desirable starts to shift, thus creating the basis for the acceptance of institutional and political change. In this sense, one could also speak of ‘cultural change’. When triggered in the right way, reflecting on behaviours related to one’s values or identity can actually increase support for climate policies. 13
On the other hand, changing institutional structures and the policies that underpin them can in turn facilitate or make possible necessary changes in individual behaviours. Switching from a flight to a night train, for example, is only possible when such alternatives are available. All this makes clear: behavioural change and system change is no “either/or” – they cannot be separated and we need both. 14
HOW TO APPLY WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT REFRAMING AVIATION
This section focuses on using the new narratives of aviation within the climate crisis to get out there and make a difference with your campaigns. This will involve working out which of the new narratives work well for you, finding good stories that fit your context and will appeal to your audience. Making the most of media opportunities, understanding when and where to use the new narratives successfully, and building capacity to ensure the whole network can share skills and learning effectively.
Appealing to intrinsic values as discussed earlier may also be useful, and the Common Cause Foundation offers some excellent detailed examples of how to analyse your communications to check if they are based on intrinsic values. 15
This section may seem basic to experienced campaigners, but it is always useful to return to first principles and check that you and your work has not become siloed or stuck in some way.
This is an opportunity to explore new creative ideas and to exchange them with others in the network. New people often bring interesting insights, so try to remain open and take a step back to reexamine your campaign and communications approach as if it is brand new.
STEP BY STEP:
HOW TO INTERVENE EFFECTIVELY.
Identify your goals and strategy. Be clear about what you want to achieve so that you can ensure your strategy and communications plan lays out how to reach your goals. Decide who you plan to target, your timeframe and what you want to achieve. Consider the new narratives and work out which ones are most useful to you, given your goals and target audiences.
Choosing your new narratives will help you determine what messaging is most likely to succeed. This gives you something to measure against to monitor your success. Try to put actual numbers in where possible, even if you are guessing to start with.
This campaign canvas from MobLab here on the below side helps you ensure you‘ve touched on all the essentials of an effective campaign, from vision and strategy to storytelling and metrics.
Campaign canvas sheets like this one from MobLab helps you ensure you’ve touched on all the essentials of an effective campaign, from vision and strategy to storytelling and metrics.
It is also useful to collate past communications – for the last year or couple of campaigns and then ask yourselves ‘what worked, and why did it work’, and ‘what didn’t work, and why not’:
What goals did you set and did you achieve them?
Did you reach your target audience(s) and how consistent and effective was your messaging?
Was your campaign messaging and imagery diverse and inclusive enough?
How strong were the images used? How could you improve them?
How detailed and how honest was your monitoring? Were the results as expected or disappointing and – if so – do you know why?
Recognises that all life on earth, both human and non-human, deserves justice.
PREPARE A CAMPAIGN STRATEGY USING THE NEW NARRATIVES
The report The Illusion of Green Flying sparked discussions about aviation and the future of mobility.
© Christine Tyler
PREPARE YOUR COMMUNICATION PLAN
How will you tell people about your work and convince them to support you in order to achieve your goal.
Creating effective communications strategies is highly dependent on the audience you are targeting and the context in which these interventions will take place. Despite the need to tailor communications strategies, there are some general principles of best practice that transcend contexts, audiences and aims. Here are some pointers to help you write your own communications plan:
Try to use simple and understandable language to speak directly to your audience and avoid technical jargon about the climate emergency, the aviation industry or broader topics such as economics or finance. Use everyday words and metaphors that are connected to people’s lived realities that show the severity of the problem. For example, ‘saying the aviation industry is good for the economy is like saying dynamite is good for a barbecue!’
Use language that is consistent with the worldview, values and goals you want to convey and reinforce. Talk about good things in positive terms and about bad things in negative terms (e.g. ‘strong climate targets’ instead of ‘tough climate targets’).
Try to create the right images in people’s minds with your framing. For example, instead of talking about ‘air travel’, say ‘air traffic’; while the word ‘travel’ evokes images of beaches, the sea and piña coladas, ‘traffic’ tends to make us think of traffic jams and aircraft noise.
Be accurate. Avoid exaggerating for effect – the truth is powerful enough. Many people really struggle with numerical information – so keep statistics to a minimum and as simple as possible. When you do use data, keep it short, ensure sources are reputable and referenced and use graphics if possible.
Maintain some sense of being near to current experiences or ‘proximity’ by using examples of what is happening now and around your audience to keep what you are saying grounded in the present and in your experience or locality. Avoid talking about 2030 and 2050 (e.g. for climate targets) wherever possible.
Stay positive by talking about the opportunities and benefits of achieving your goal – whether it’s more breathable air, less congested roads and fewer sleepless nights, or the enjoyment of travelling more slowly and meeting people in their own surroundings, make the benefits real. Try to avoid catastrophic framings that create fear and paralyse action.
For those who are organising, you can also stress the joy and sense of community that can come from constructive, collective action – describe what is to be won from addressing the excesses of aviation and direct people as to how to take action.
Play with humour and creativity. Although this may not be suitable for every occasion, funny metaphors, cartoons, memes, creative changes of aviation ads, actions and videos that make people laugh often work well.
Appeal to people’s shared values and explain why they should care, how it impacts them and how they can take action. This is an essential part of a storytelling arc, appealing to the sentiments and values that people hold dear, and taking them with you.
Tell stories. Find stories that appeal to the widest audience possible and fit within the new narratives you have chosen to focus on. Use metaphor and simile to bring the issue alive.
Use images – they are powerful (see box on p. 87) at communicating messages and appealing to emotions. Whether you want to stir up anger in your audience about unjust developments, expose the destruction caused by air traffic, or generate hope with a glimpse of alternatives and better mobility, images are vital.
Avoid the opposition’s framings wherever possible – using the opposition’s language, such as phrases like ‘carbon neutral’ flying or ‘decarbonising’ aviation might implicitly legitimise offsetting schemes and single tech-solutions, despite their problematic nature. Put your view and framing first and assert your stance with your own language and terminology, not theirs. Of course, it is not always possible to avoid certain suboptimal terms. For example, when criticising them, it may also be necessary. In this case, make sure to contextualise appropriately.
Be careful about getting into detailed discussions that can reinforce the negative influence of mainstream economics. This means not talking about the ‘true costs of flying’ as they are incalculable and impossible to monetise. In fact, monetising costs in certain cases, such as children’s educational attainment, may detach from the more human, lived experience elements of your communications strategy. What’s more, small disagreements or mistakes in calculating costs, may leave your comms interventions vulnerable to attack and side-tracking away from your narrative.
Keep an open, discursive tone that encourages agreement on shared values. Lecturing and hectoring people will turn them off your cause.
Address people as citizens with agency and extended responsibilities rather than as passive consumers. Remember they are all also employees, parents, friends and neighbours i.e. human.
An activist from the Stay Grounded network giving an interview disguised as a penguin. © Stefan Müller
FINDING SPOKESPEOPLE AND ALLIES
Successful communication needs an authentic voice telling a story that is understandable and believable. Does your team know what they stand for and what they are trying to achieve? If you ask them to write it down, would they all say the same thing? The Elevator Pitch is the imagined way you would describe what you are trying to achieve if you were in an elevator with an influential person and had just that short time to communicate your message. So what is yours? And who is best at delivering it? People facing the public and media must be able to speak clearly, with confidence and in an engaging way to give you the best chance of communicating successfully.
The Stay Grounded Multiplier Network is intended as a place for campaigners to share knowledge, resources, experience and expertise. It will also be a great place to make the most of powerful voices who may not be close at hand but are willing to co-create or collaborate as an ally on certain projects. Sharing others’ stories will strengthen your own campaigning and using voices from other affected regions and countries is important in communicating the global nature of this work. Finding strong spokespeople and sharing them is one of the most important ways in which you can work together to amplify your messages. For example, the UK’s Bristol Airport fight against expansion was not only a successful collaboration between local environmental groups; it was also able to call on collaborators in Canada once they realised that the site was owned by a Canadian teachers’ pension fund. When working with people from other countries and cultures, it is important to be respectful of their culture and precise about their geography. Avoid talking about the Global South as if it is a single homogenous place. Instead, be specific about the country and climate impact you are referring to.
It is really important that spokespeople are comfortable in front of a camera and microphone, and in front of a crowd. These skills can be taught, but some people are also naturally effective in this role and may be found in any part of an organisation, so remain open-minded and try out different spokespeople in a variety of situations. Think about who your target audiences are and who they might be likely to listen to. This doesn’t mean they have to look or be the same type of person, but it is really worth trying out different people with different audiences to see who gets the messages across best.
Who is best placed to speak to the new narratives? High-profile people are good for attracting large audiences but can also be liked/disliked by different groups. Try to find stories in your locality that illustrate each of the new narratives and spokespeople willing to talk about the issues from their perspective. For example, if you are campaigning against a new airport, it might be effective to line up someone living nearby whose home might be affected by pollution to use the Plane Greedy narrative to target the airline’s unfair behaviour, alongside an economist to counter arguments about financial impacts using the Green Means Grounded narrative about the need to fund real alternatives. You can support these with hard data, infographics and further interview options from your organisational representatives, but “real” people who are not seen to be working for a campaign group will appeal better to the public. The Stay Grounded Multiplier Network will enable you to link up different regions to illustrate how actions in one place can affect people elsewhere. Find some positive stories of change, such as local companies or organisations who are no longer flying and use them to encourage others to follow suit with the Enjoy the Journey and Safe Landing narratives, setting out new patterns of behaviour and new potential policies for a sustainable future.
The coordinators of indigenous Mexico valley organisations, CPOOEM, holding a solidarity protest in Mexico City. © CPOOEM
BUILDING CAPACITY – INTERNALLY AND WITH ALLIES
Capacity building means increasing both numbers of active people and supporters, and the skills they bring. A regular skills audit can help you to see where your strengths lie and to identify any skill gaps. It is worthwhile for even skilled practitioners to keep enhancing and updating their skills. You might find you need to bring new people into the team, train existing members in new methods or look for specific tools. Get to know your fellow network members and find out who is best at what. Few campaigning groups have the luxury of recruiting people with the perfect experience, so it’s sensible to be honest about what you are good at and where you need to ask for help.
Before and during COP26 Climate summit in Glasgow, the COP26 Coalition showed how effective co-creation and collaboration can be, successfully bringing together hundreds of organisations working across climate issues, including environment and development NGOs, trade unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks. This gave them the resources to put on larger events, pool media impacts and attract delegates from the formal proceedings who would otherwise have been fragmented and forced to choose between causes to support. Collaborating not just within the network but also locally with other campaigning groups that may not overlap completely with your work but can align on a single campaign can be effective and good for morale. Unions and other worker groups – particularly from the aviation industry – that may not be formally participating in your campaigns, may provide valuable input and be happy to support, comment or take part in certain activities. Building and nurturing these relationships is an important part of campaigning for a just transition and is how the Safe Landing narrative works on the ground.
The climate movement Extinction Rebellion’s ways of working are interesting to examine, as they represent a shift away from centralised decision-making through a genuine prioritising of wellbeing, a simple set of principles within which activists can self organise, and a willingness to learn and evolve in order to flourish. Despite their huge success, their form of direct actions have also been criticised as non-inclusive and outright dangerous for non-white activists due to police violence. Therefore, it may also be useful to organise various anti-racism trainings to improve your team’s awareness of socio-cultural dynamics within the movement. Although anti-racism training will not change behaviour overnight, it can help to embed attempts to bring different perspectives into working practices and to normalise sensitivity to other people’s experiences.
In many countries, especially in Europe, the climate movement reached a new level of mobilisation through movements such as Fridays For Future. Networking with national chapters or local groups of existing environmental organisations can help you reach committed climate activists, for example to coordinate decentralised action days.
The Degrowth of Aviation conference in Barcelona in 2019 brought together campaigners and activists from all over Europe. © Christine Tyler
The citizens’ assembly movement may also be a good collaborator, enabling the impact of aviation to be discussed in depth and in a well informed, calm environment. These events can be costly if well organised by trained practitioners with a broad representative group of people participating. But they are generally seen to be fair – and can be a good way to engage a wider section of the community.
Look for good training programmes or workshops within your budget. Free or low-cost options can be found. Ask for recommendations from other NGOs and ask a local professional to give you support for free via work-placed information platforms such as LinkedIn. Local colleges might offer a free place on a suitable course and some local TV or radio stations offer media training – after all, they all want good content for free, which is what you are providing. Your own social media or newsletters might be a good place to ask for resources and/or skilled volunteers from people who are already on your side. Many NGOs have developed toolkits for campaigning and communication such as Earth Defenders, 16 who encourage campaigners to share tools, ideas and what works with each other via an interactive platform. Others – such as Project Inside Out 17 – offer DIY workshops you can run to improve your skills based on evidence of what works. The movement-building network NEON also has a toolkit 18and other training resources that are free to use on areas such as organising and spokespeople.
TAKE IT TO THE MEDIA
The media today is less a discrete channel for information and entertainment, and more a constant thread running through our daily lives, thanks mostly to mobile phones and social media. The huge range of ways to get messages across to audiences now includes:
Traditional local, national, regional and international news organisations
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, and so on)
Paid advertising (Google AdWords, print or online banner ads)
Direct communications (newsletters, direct mail)
Public events – in person and online
Press releases to news services
Graphics online or in situ (billboards)
Radio or TV interviews
Videos or vlogs on Youtube, Vimeo, Tiktok
Publications – reports, briefings, booklets, maps (all physical and online as PDFs)
Some of these activities can be self generated and disseminated to interested parties on your mailing list or through partners and supporters. However, if you want your campaign content to be reported in the media by third parties, then you must think about how to make it newsworthy in some way. It may be that you have new research with reportable numbers, a survey or poll, or someone is involved who is well known enough to ‘make’ news, or that you have an action which is provocative or sufficiently interesting. Rarely is it enough just to have a point of view or opinion to convey.
SOME TIPS IN WORKING SUCCESSFULLY WITH EXTERNAL MEDIA:
Think like a journalist; put yourself in their shoes and ask which story in their paper should be kicked out in order to insert your own? Have you got a new fact, are you revealing something for the first time, or you doing something on a significant date that might attract attention?
Think like a journalist; put yourself in their shoes and ask which story in their paper should be kicked out in order to insert your own? Have you got a new fact, are you revealing something for the first time, or you doing something on a significant date that might attract attention?
Use ‘cheat sheets’ for spokespeople to ensure messaging is consistent; make sure everyone has a few solid quotes and your key messaging to hand.
Find a famous person or a social media influencer who supports your cause, and ask for their help with a specific event or campaign action.
Concentrate on high quality content rather than quantity.
If you cannot contact journalists online, call them as this is the only way to ensure you have their undivided attention, particularly if time is pressing.
In addition to mainstream media platforms, there are many more easily accessed progressive media platforms that you can strengthen by supporting, and that every subject has its own specialist media outlets.
You can always say no to an interview – or ask someone to call back for a quote to give you time to think about messaging. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into talking about something you don’t understand or is not part of your campaign.
Reaching the right audience can also mean going to new places. © System Change, not Climate Change!
Campaign actions are not just about getting a single photo opportunity and publishing information on the day that appeals to your existing constituency. They should be designed as part of a planned campaign strategy that contributes to broadening appeal, widening your networks, amplifying your messages, reaching new audiences, and starting conversations around a reduction of air traffic (or other issues) in unexpected places. Shifting norms must involve including new people in your sphere of influence.
Stick to the new narratives, but follow your own campaign plan. Find your own stories and bring them alive with relatable spokespeople and colourful metaphors. For example, if you are fighting airport expansion, work with local people to tell their stories of pollution and damage to homes and families using the Common Destination narrative; call for airlines not to be Plane Greedy by showing with graphics what the money paid to aviation could do locally if spent to benefit everyone; use the Green Means Grounded narrative to talk about reducing air traffic and creating better mobility systems; show real examples of a better life without airport expansion; and get some well-known supporters on board early to inspire followers.
Timing can be key – it is much harder to stimulate interest in your chosen topic if the media’s attention is drawn elsewhere to a big story. Sometimes you may be able to link your work to the hot issue of the day by offering a comment to local media, using trending hashtags and commenting online via blogs and social media. If not, then prepare campaigns that are not particularly timely and can be launched on a quiet day with punchy headlines and strong photos. Find out which days are important in your calendar: they may be local government decisions, new publications, actions or shared calendar events that give opportunities for using the new narratives. For example, find out which time of year is busiest for air traffic in your own region and plan some work looking at how to travel better. Find people who travel by train or bus and bring their stories alive with short film clips, blogs and images.
TEST, TEST, AND TEST AGAIN
Do not rely on those inside the organisation to tell you that the messaging is good; they are firmly inside the bubble and will probably agree with you. Go to friendly outsiders and ask them to judge your work. Ask people who reflect the audience you are trying to reach.
You could do this face to face in your local area by talking to people on the street in an organised way. Asking open questions (questions to which people cannot respond simply yes or no) is useful when gathering information. Use those people in your team or support network who are comfortable engaging with the public in a non-confrontational way.
Social media can be useful to test messaging. Facebook or Twitter ads, for example, allows targeting by interest or key word, as well as the usual demographic criteria. Forums and Groups are also good ways to test responses – and sometimes to find supporters. Look out for large, active groups where your message will be of interest in each of the new narrative areas. For example, there are social justice Facebook groups, sustainable transport groups, environmental groups, and local issue campaigning groups that might align with your work. You might try different posts using each of the new narratives to see which has most appeal to which group.
Do they get what you are saying? Did they read or watch to the end? Did they share your work or tell anyone else about it? Do they remember anything about it afterwards? And then change what you are doing in response; do not feel offended or disappointed (although you might feel either or both) – just go with what works and move on.
Use available analytics software (Google analytics for websites, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter analytics for posts here) to track visits, impressions and engagement levels of your messaging. Online polls are also a good way to get feedback on communications, to find out who is listening and what they are hearing. These can be done to your mailing list if you have a newsletter, or during online events if you hold these – instant responses to simple questions.
Use the data collected as feedback to hone your messaging, adjust language and images, tone and style. Theory is useful to guide your work, but you will only know what works with any given audience by trying it out.
Using the new narratives to communicate means adopting some new language and thinking carefully about continuing to use old language. The box on page 86 covers some suggestions of terminology, phrases and keywords that are useful for our new narratives – and those that might be best avoided. These are suggestions and should not be taken as prescriptions. Dictating the use of language is always tricky, because circumstances and contexts can vary so enormously. In some contexts, such as short news clips, using the most well-known phrase is often the best course of action. We have tried to give some reasons for our choices here, but you will have to make your own decisions about which are useful to you in your own location, situation and media opportunity. Don’t be afraid to use your own initiative and experiment in the different spaces you are in.
PHRASES AND WORDS TO HELP YOU STRENGTHEN YOUR MESSAGING
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF IMAGES
Visuals are so important it is hard to overstate. Controlling your own images is best, using photography, film, and infographics. But this is not always the case – particularly at short notice. In this case, use open source, creative commons sites 19 to find eye-catching imagery. This means the artists or photographers have given explicit permission for their content to be used by others for free. Do not just take and use images without permission and ensure that citations and credits 20 are correct. There are also numerous paying sites – sometimes it might be worth paying for an excellent image you need and photographers also need to earn a living. However, volunteers in your own field can also often provide great imagery and film clips, given a clear brief and a commitment from your side to credit them and their work clearly. Remember that the image must be striking and not just accurate. In other words, an image of the correct site that is difficult to read or poorly lit is not as effective as an image of a similar site (accurately labelled) that is stunning and will draw attention. Images are easier to remember than text and are even more important now that many audiences will be looking at news on smaller devices such as phones and tablets. They simply will not see the detail in an image, but will be drawn to its graphic impact.
Examples of images that work: a picture of a demonstration with many people in the background and one or a few clearly recognisable people to symbolise emotions and broad support at the same time. But be careful not to use too many images of protests and “typical activists” as they can also put many people off. Instead, show (geographically close) impacts of the climate crisis and positive solutions. 21
If you are campaigning against a project, either an image of the site of already happening destruction – or one of untouched nature or a community that could be destroyed for the sake of a project – can be a good fit.
Try to avoid using images of planes in the sky as these are the images the industry uses to promote frequent and unsustainable flying. If your intervention is around the future of mobility and transport, try and use pictures of that future: trains, trams, buses, slow travel options, or other forms of mass mobility. If using images of planes is unavoidable, make sure that they are either grounded, or their nose shows to the left and/or downwards. Images of planes ascending are very common and used to show progress and hope – this is something we must challenge and try to avoid reinforcing visually. In western cultures, “up” is associated with good and “down” as negative; and because of the reading direction in most languages, we perceive left as the direction for “past” and right as “future”. 22
Take particular care with graphics where type must be readable – if you want someone to see the header without zooming in, for example, test that it is big enough on your own phone. Make sure also that graphs use colourways and fonts that enable people with dyslexia and other common reading conditions to read them easily. Infographics are such a key part of campaigning materials that it is worth finding people in your team or – if you have the budget professionally – to make them work well. A strong infographic will live on and on, and is highly shareable. Make sure sources are widely trusted and clearly marked as they give credibility.
Activists form a red line against air traffic growth at Vienna Airport. © Christian Bock
Quote page 72: Center for Community Change (2017): Messaging This Moment: A Handbook for Progressive Communicators.
1 Daniel Kahneman (2013): Thinking, Fast and Slow
2 Center for Story-Based Strategy: storybasedstrategy.org
3 Haidt (2012): The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. See also: moralfoundations.org
4 Schwartz (2012): An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture.
5 Common Cause Foundation (2010): Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Value.
6 Boyd & Mitchell (2012): Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox For Revolution.
7 Campaign Strategy: campaignstrategy.org
8 Kasser (2016): Materialistic Values and Goals.
9 Common Cause Foundation: commoncausefoundation.org
10 Westlake (2019): Climate change: yes, your individual action does make a difference. bit.ly/WestlBeSy
11 Attari et al. (2019): Climate change communicators’ carbon footprints affect their audience’s policy support
12 Jordan et al. (2017): Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling.
13 Sparkman (2021): Moderating spillover: Focusing on personal sustainable behavior rarely hinders and can boost climate policy support.
14 Steinberger (2018): Actions Against Climate Breakdown (Part 3: I is for Individual). bit.ly/SteinbIndiv
15 Common Cause Foundation (2015): Common Cause Communication: A Toolkit for Charities.
20 Creative Commons: How to give attribution. bit.ly/CCAttribute
21 Climate Visuals: climatevisuals.org/evidence
22 Chae & Hoegg (2013): The Future Looks “Right”: Effects of the Horizontal Location of Advertising Images on Product Attitude. bit.ly/FutureRight
- Daniel Kahneman (2013): Thinking, Fast and Slow
- Center for Story-Based Strategy: storybasedstrategy.org
- Haidt (2012): The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. See also: moralfoundations.org
- Schwartz (2012): An Overview of the Schwartz Theory of Basic Values. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture.
- Common Cause Foundation (2010): Common Cause: The Case for Working with our Cultural Value.
- Boyd & Mitchell (2012): Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox For Revolution.
- Campaign Strategy: campaignstrategy.org
- Kasser (2016): Materialistic Values and Goals.
- Common Cause Foundation: commoncausefoundation.org
- Westlake (2019): Climate change: yes, your individual action does make a difference. bit.ly/WestlBeSy
- Attari et al. (2019): Climate change communicators’ carbon footprints affect their audience’s policy support
- Jordan et al. (2017): Why Do We Hate Hypocrites? Evidence for a Theory of False Signaling.
- Sparkman (2021): Moderating spillover: Focusing on personal sustainable behavior rarely hinders and can boost climate policy support.
- Steinberger (2018): Actions Against Climate Breakdown (Part 3: I is for Individual). bit.ly/SteinbIndiv
- Common Cause Foundation (2015): Common Cause Communication: A Toolkit for Charities.
- Creative Commons: How to give attribution. bit.ly/CCAttribute
- Climate Visuals: climatevisuals.org/evidence
- Chae & Hoegg (2013): The Future Looks “Right”: Effects of the Horizontal Location of Advertising Images on Product Attitude. bit.ly/FutureRight