Lobby and advocacy campaigns - The toolbox

Building Your Campaign Toolbox

After having made the case for a strategic lobby and advocacy campaign in part I of this mini series, I walked your through the main steps of any successful campaign in part II. With these two steps safely under out belt, it is now time to look at practical ideas. This week’s post features a wide range of possible activities to be used during your campaign. A treasure chest filled with hands-on advice and plenty of background information.



Endless Possibilities

Working with the press

Press release

A press release is a written or recorded piece of communication aimed at media representatives informing them about something newsworthy.


Here are some tips from The Guardian newspaper and how to prepare a press release. While these tips were initially published to help businesses to get into the news, I find many of them incredibly helpful for the lobby and advocacy sector. Other good resource pages you might want to look at are by The Huffington Post and by Georgetown University.



Briefing package for journalists

Briefing packages provide additional information accompanying the press release so that journalists have more information at hand if they want to cover your story more in detail. It‘s good practice to hand them out in hard copy as well as soft copy. Journalists are often busy, so if you provide high quality material as a soft copy, chances are high that some journalists will copy and paste some of it. Here you can also add visuals, graphics or photos to be used in the publication.

Here is a link to more information from The Ace Project and their advice on developing a media strategy.  



Letters to the editor

A letter to the editor is a letter, a mail or fax sent to a newspaper, magazine or other publication, often with the intend of being published. The letter to the editor often reacts to something that has been published in the paper/magazine recently or is on an issue of concern for the writer. 


Here is a very detailed step-by-step manual guiding you through the process of how to craft a letter to the editor. 



OpEd piece

Originally OpEd piece stood for ,opposite the editorial piece’ and was usually written by a member of the editorial staff of a publication. But there is a second meaning which is more and more in use. Nowadays an OpEd piece is often seen as an opinion piece. So an article that clearly articulates the opinion of a named author on a certain issue.



The best resource on the net - and probably the only one you need at the moment - for learning more about Op Ed writing is the Op Ed Project. The New York Times has recently published advice for people wanting to submit an op ed article. Here are the links to these articles: New York Times 1 and New York Times 2. Many other organisations have published simple guidelines on how to write an op ed piece. Here are some examples you might find helpful: Duke University and Harvard University



Mass rallies, protest marches and gatherings

A group of people gathering to voice their support for or opposition to a certain idea or practice in public. This often involves moving from one location to another. Often these locations have direct relevance to the issue at stake; e.g. the national parliament, the headquarters of a company, a memorial place etc. Another very common mass activity during a campaign is a sit-in. During a sit-in the participants peacefully occupy a premise, voice their demands and refuse the leave until certain conditions are met.  


Some of the elements often used during these kind of activities are the following:



Posters and banners

A poster or a banner is a sign to be carried and displayed during the mass event. Often they display a short slogan, the key demand, a drawing or an other visual. People tent to be very creative and an impressive collection of posters, signs and banners from an anti-Brexit demonstration can be seen here. In this context it is often worth learning from the advertising industry.




Slogans are catchy and memorable phrases that can be used during a campaign. Often they go side by side with a logo of an organisation, movement or network. Again, it might be worth learning from other successful campaigns as well as from the advertisement industry, drawing on their experience of what works and what doesn‘t. I have often seen people in campaigns adapting well-known slogans from commercials, from earlier campaigns, from other organisations, popular sayings/proverbs, songs etc.


Here is a list of general slogans you mind find helpful. Here is  list of advertisement slogans that have often been adapted in campaigns and here are some more. Some campaign slogans from recent years. And some examples of slogans used in combination with pictures.



Live speeches

Public speaking

Public speaking is performing a speech in front of an audience. In most cases the speech is written prior to the actual event, not necessarily by the orator himself/herself. Such a speech can be performed to give information about a certain topic, it can be about motivating people/encouraging people to do certain things, it can be about sharing a story or an experience - or a combination of these aspects. If you are interested to dig deeper into some of the theory underpinning communication in society, you might want to have a look at the - very simple - communication model by Harold Lasswell. If you are interested to explore a wide range of communications theories, their pros and cons and the situations in which they might unfold their full potential, here is a comprehensive list.


For some examples of impressive campaign speeches, have a look at the following ones:

Martin Luther King

Emma Gonzales 

Nelson Mandela

Mahatma Gandhi



Podium discussions

Podium discussions (often also referred to as panel discussion) involve a group of people discussing a topic in front of an audience. In most cases podium discussions are moderated. Depending on the situation, the actual discussion might be opened by a short introduction; either about the topic under discussion, about the people taking part in the discussion or both. Often the participants are experts on the issue that is discussed, but this is not a necessity and depends on the situation and the aim of the discussion. In many cases, there is a question and answer session at the end of the podium discussion. Questions might be limited to pre-formulated questions sent in in advance of the actual event; they might be limited to questions by the moderator, or the session might be open to questions from the audience. More information on podium discussions can be found on Powerful Panels. More information about the pros and cons of certain podium discussion formats can be found here



Question/answer sessions

As the name suggest, this is the time when people can ask questions and get replies straight away. Often a question and answer session is part of a larger event; e.g. it follows a presentation or panel discussion. During this time, the audience can ask questions and have them answered by the presenter or the participants in a podium discussion. It might be necessary to set rules for the questions and how they should be answered. These rules might be about the content/scope of the questions as well as about the manner in which they are presented. In some instances questions are filtered first. Or are limited to questions handed in in writing/via SMS or social media/via phone prior to the actual event. Or are limited to the questions that are asked by the person moderating an event. 


As question and answer sessions are often used in TV and radio shows, we can learn from them. Useful tips on how to prepare such a session can be found on virtual studio and college of public speaking.


A variation of this format - though not live - is to collect all the questions from the audience, answer them in detail and then distribute the answers through a variety of channels later on. This is often a very effective way to reach out to large sections of society, addressing their concerns regarding certain issues. For example, I know of a campaign that used this format, addressing the 50 most common questions people in Sri Lanka have regarding the truth and reconciliation process. This variation opens up enormous possibilities when combined with the use of social media. I will come back to that later.



Visuals, graphics and exhibutions

Photos and other pictures

A visual - which basically means picture - is often a good way to catch people’s attention, allowing you to bring certain issues to people’s attention/raise their awareness on a certain issue. There are numerous examples when pictures have been used to grab people’s attention, to shock, to accuse and to influence the political debate. 


Here are some very well known examples: (WARNING: Some people might find the following pictures disturbing!): Robert Capa’s picture from the Spanish Civil War (although there are now doubts about its authenticity), the famous photo from the 1989 student uprising in China’s Tiananmen Square, Nick Ut’s World Press Photo of the Year 1973 of a Vietnamese girl after a napalm attack or the photo of Alan Kurdi, a two year old boy from Syria who drowned while fleeing the war in his home country. Some of these pictures had significant impact on the political discourse around/policies regarding the Vietnam War, the relationship with China in the early 1990s and the handling of the refugee crisis in Europe in recent years.


Another powerful way of using visuals is contrasting before and after pictures; e.g. pictures of glaciers to document the effects of global warming.


But images can do more than just catch people’s attention. Often visuals are a great way to convey information or call for action. Many people are more likely to take in information through a picture then by reading a text or by listening to a speaker or an audio file. In addition using a visual has the advantage of being able to give relevant information in very short period of time; e.g. to passers by. This often asks for creativity as the picture needs to be spot on and to the point in regards to the issue you are working on and the audience you try to influence. It often needs additional information to support the visual. Here are some examples from environmental campaigns, some of them combining powerful images with simple slogans: Example 1, example 2 and example 3.




With infographic we are still staying in the category of visuals, but with a stronger emphasis on providing information. According to dictionary.com an infographic is „a visual presentation of information in the form of a chart, a graph, or other image accompanied by minimal text, intended to give an easily understood overview of a complex subject.“ Infographics are often used to illustrate data in a simple way, to summarize research findings and results, to make complex information accessible, and to compare things to one another. Infographics tend to work best when they are stripped down to the essence of the message you want o communicate, when they are uncluttered, when they clearly show that you know your topic and when they are fine-tuned for a specific audience.


Here is more information about how to produce professional infographics: Info 1 and info 2. And here are some examples of highly effective infographics on a variety of topics: On military spending, on refugees, on education and more on education and on social media (just to give you some ideas on how they can be used).




In an exhibition you display your visuals, may this be photos, posters, infographics. If an exhibition is part of a wider campaign, you often provide additional background information accompanying the visuals on display (either right next to the pictures, in a separate document/leaflet or in a different form like a link to a webpage, a recording or podcast). Exhibitions have the added advantage that they create a space to interact with people who show interest in the topic you are working on/concerned with, thus allowing you to deepen the management, providing additional information, encouraging them to take action or get involved in your campaign. Here is the link to the Human Rights Office in Kandy and its initiative around the right to information for torture victims and their families. 




Video documentations can be a very powerful part of any social justice campaign. With the advance of affordable high quality video equipment - often with editing capacities - and well-known user-friendly hosting pages in recent years it is easier than ever before to shoot, edit and publish video content. A mobile phone is often all you need. 


Videos are often used to document human rights abuses, social injustices and other important events and developments. Witness is a high quality resource page that has explored the potential of the use of video for defending human rights. It has published a set of guidelines on the principles of human rights documentation using video. Video is also often used to give testimonials by victims, by witnesses and by perpetrators alike. A well known organization that has moved video-testimonials to the centre of its work is Breaking the Silence, an Israeli human rights organisation established by veterans of the Israel Defense Forces providing a platform to talk about their experiences in the Occupied Territories, anonymously if needed. A third way to use video is to explain complex issues in an easily accessible way. Here is an example about plastic and one about human rights.



A Word Of Caution

If you are thinking about visuals in your campaign, it is essential that you are clear about the main message you want to convey with your visuals. In addition it is also essential that you are clear about the kind of reaction you hope to provoke. Do you want to inform about a given situation, create awareness on an issues, shock and stir up emotions, accuse someone, explain something, create empathy with another group of people? Do you hope to encourage people to act, to change their behavior, to join your movement, to put pressure on policy makers, to feel empowered and ready to stand up for their rights? Answers to these questions will dictate your choice of visuals. In addition you need to take into account your main target audience, the setting in which the visuals are displayed etc. And don’t forget: It is essential that you test your visuals to see if they work as intended. 



Post by Bjoern Eser from The Peacebuilding Practitioner.