coverRose, Chris (2010) How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change, Second Edition. London, UK: Earthscan

It can be instructive to view your work through a different lens. This book is about setting up and managing campaigns, and most of the examples deal with environmental problems, so the topic is very relevant to sustainability professionals. While you may not be working for an NGO that is planning a major campaign, the lessons in this book are still quite useful. Campaigns are defined as a conversation with society, with the goal of persuading large numbers of people to act with urgency, without having to make friends first. (p. 1) Some of the main lessons I took away:

 Campaigns as a story—you don’t want to reveal the ending to the story when you start, even if you have a clear vision of what you want the ending to be. On page 20, there is a visual that explains the flow of a campaign using broad phases: Awareness, Alignment, Engagement, Action. So you start by identifying problem, perhaps an enemy or victim, then a solution, the call to action. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the public has to go on the journey. You can’t start the story by telling them they just have to click their heels to get what they want or they won’t go on the journey with you.

The importance of events and images—Campaigns are organized around events, in part to draw media attention. There is a whole chapter on managing the media and that too is an interesting example of story-telling where the reporters have (perhaps subconsciously) certain archetypical stories that their reporting quickly falls into; and if you’re not careful in communication, they can be telling a completely different story than the one you intended. Rose provides an interesting example of this with campaigns of fishing quotas. Photographs of bulging nets can be viewed by the public in contradictory ways: as positive (there are still lots of fish, what’s the fuss about?) or negative (we’re raping the seas). The debate is esoteric with arguments by scientists and pressure groups on the health of the stocks. Suddenly the fishermen become the victims as talk of quotas emerge. And politicians use this as political theater while they play their cards to see if their nation can come out on top. While the fish are really the victim, what tends to be picked up by the media is the battle between the parties. Declining fish stocks become a distant memory while the power struggle story takes over.

Visual language—Rose emphasizes that you’re better off creating an image more than language because they are less subject to reframing and work to set up the shot so that it tells an iconic story we’ll quickly recognize. Remember the man in Tiananmen Square standing in front of the tank? David and Goliath. We instantly know whose side to be on.

Interview ‘suitcase’—If you’re going into an interview, the book provides a step by step process for preparing your communication: a headline (the main thing you want to say); three reasons supporting the headline (that answer the question, Why?); and then one fact to go with each reason (preferably a number); finally anecdotes (which brings it to life). Rose also provides appropriate bridges for when the interviewer asks a question which isn’t directly related to the points you want to make. He says it’s rude to ignore the question (as we see politicians do all the time) but instead to acknowledge it and get back on track. EG, “That’s an issue but what the public is really concerned about is…”

Fundraising—Keep it simple. Usually campaigns give people one option but different levels of support (eg buy a seat or table at the event).

The importance of solutions—Problems quickly become demotivating. We’re all overwhelmed with negative news. “Start campaign planning with an opportunity to take action and work back from it.” This may mean not taking on the problem (eg climate change) head on but rather one little piece.

All these principles apply equally well to sustainability practitioners trying to make the business case for something they want to do.