Skip navigation.
Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
Change text size: T | T | T | T

“…To a surprising extent, the media dictates what happens in foreign policy in any given legislative cycle.”
-- Ritu Sharma, Women's Edge Coalition


The Global Health Council joined forces with a public television station, WGBH in Boston, to create Rx for Survival series and the related Rx for Child Survival campaigns. Other major media and educational partners included TIME Magazine, NPR, Penguin Press, and Johns Hopkins University. They came together to make this project the most comprehensive global health media education project ever mounted.

Media and Web Advocacy

Mass media -- TV, print, radio and online media channels -- can be your best ally or it can simply ignore you. Yes, these are two extreme situations, and there are many possibilities in between. Think carefully about whether the media has a role in your advocacy efforts, and what that role could be. If you are seeking an active relationship with the media, it should be because doing so is consistent with your theory of change and can help you reach your advocacy goals.

To increase your chances for success and to help evaluate your media efforts and outcomes, you need to plan a media strategy. Start by learning about how your issue is currently framed in the media -- if it is framed at all. A good understanding of how the media portrays your issue will help you decide what to “pitch” and who to pitch it to. Your plan will also make it clear what success would look like: What kind of media placements do you want? What audience do you want to reach? You could also consider paid media; buying ads is sometimes a more effective way to go and may be reasonably priced, especially in local media, and you control the timing and the content. Unpaid and paid media placements can support your other media tactics by, for instance, bringing more people to your Web site right when you have an urgent action for them to take.

Also important but often ignored is which media outlets you should target. There are some media that may be “preaching to the choir” -- that is, reaching people who already support your issue. If your goal is to increase and broaden your constituency base, then you should spend time understanding who specific papers reach. For instance, the readers of The Wall Street Journal may be very different from those who read The New York Times, and how they support -- or do not support -- certain issues and policies is critical to know when planning your media strategy.

You could also aspire to pursue a media partnership. You have many assets that a media company could be interested in; establishing a partnership could strengthen your public education efforts and help you reach new constituents, in addition to bringing a new level of positioning to your institutional brand or to your campaign's brand.

There are many resources available on how to plan an effective media strategy.

Building your capacity for media and web advocacy

  • Assess how the media has covered and currently covers your issue. This assessment will help you define how you could have an effect on this coverage as well as measure over time whether you have moved the mark. You could try simple things such as signing up for daily or weekly news alerts using relevant key words; perform a five-year review of media databases such as LexisNexis; or commission an outside report that will rely on more thorough techniques such as a content analysis.
  • Media monitoring databases such as Factiva and LexisNexis cost money. A faster and cheaper way to monitor the news is to use the Google news service. Simply set your key words and Google will scour participating media outlets for news on your keywords. It is a great way to keep up-to-date on your issue, but it can also let you know if your organization's name is getting coverage.
  • Use your database search results and analysis as your baseline media measure. Over time, you can compare how media coverage has changed to determine any potential effects of your advocacy efforts on moving the mark with the media. Evidence of change can include a shift in the language used to describe the issue. Is the angle leaning towards one side over another? Who are the players covered by the media? Who is getting more or less attention on the issue?. This can give you important clues about whether the framing of the issue is shifting to make your solutions easier to see.
  • Plan ahead for the kind of exposure and coverage that will support your advocacy goals and theory of change. Do you actually need to secure an article in one of the national newspapers? Placements in local and regional media might turn out to be more effective for your purposes. Sometimes a story in a Congresswoman's hometown newspaper, for example, may carry more weight than an op-ed in the New York Times,
  • Secure professional staff to work on your communications activities, including media and public relations. If you're not in a position to hire full-time staff, you could also work with external PR firms, many of which offer pro-bono services. Reach out to them. Also, your funder likely has internal communications resources that could provide you with guidance and support. Most importantly, with the right directions and tools, communications professionals can greatly contribute to your evaluation efforts.
  • Build and update a media list of reporters who cover your issue and related topics. Monitor their coverage. Cultivate a relationship with them. Once you have a hard-earned relationship with reporters, and they believe your work is credible, they will call you when they need information.
  • Compile updated statistics about your issue and your campaign, both to demonstrate your impact and to highlight the importance of achieving your goal. Always keep them close at hand, and be sure the sources and background for the statistics are up-to-date and accurate.
  • Have good stories available to pitch. Human interest stories might be your strongest asset; but try to craft stories that highlight policy solutions, not just individual need and charitable responses. The Message Framing and Share the Story sections feature advice on storytelling and additional resources.
  • Invest in an informative Web site with recent publications and reports. In particular, have a strong, well-organized and updated press room. In addition to your most recent technical reports, place there the bios of your organization's experts who could be available for interviews, as well as letters to the editor and op-eds you have recently placed.
  • Inquire about media training -- especially for your organization or campaign's spokesperson. Many communications firms across the country provide it; it's a worthwhile investment.
  • Explore the possibilities of media partnerships. Start by developing relationships with media companies' public affairs or community relations staff. Sometimes a member of your Board might be connected to media executives and could introduce you to them. See the resource section for an example of a media partnership.
  • Explore the ever-increasing possibilities of the Internet. Online campaigns, action alerts, newsletters, blogs, podcasts, online communities, are some of the tactics you could pursue. Web outreach can be the most cost-efficient and effective way to mobilize your audience. And the best part is that most online activities can be tracked and measured at a relatively low cost. A recent e-NonProfit Benchmark Study covers many of the possibilities and challenges of e-advocacy.

Visit Message Framing for additional information to help you plan and evaluate your media strategy.


  • Encourage your constituents to write up their stories and send them to you. Depending on your issue, consider devoting resources to contacting constituents whose stories could be powerful and requesting an interview. Content generated by everyday citizens who are active in your campaign can be very powerful, and it can also serve your evaluation purposes.
  • Consider producing your own media content, such as recording podcasts of interviews with your constituents or with experts or writing online journals from the field. This content can be placed on your Web site as well as used as input for your evaluation.
  • Paid media or advertising might be within your reach. Check out what did.
  • Always be responsive to reporters who call. Your press person should have be reachable whether in or out of the office. If you or your press person is not in the office, return the call as early as possible. Most of the time, reporters are on tight deadlines.