Section 08: Communicating your advocacy message

8.1: What should an advocacy message contain?

An advocacy message is a concise and persuasive statement about your advocacy initiative that captures:
  • The problem
  • The solution(s)
  • The action you want your target audience to take
Every good advocacy message should pass the TEA test.
  • Touch the person you are trying to influence: Why should they care about this?
  • Enthuse the person that something can be done about it
  • Act – tell the person what you want them to do
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A big cup of tea to remind you of the TEA test: TOUCH, ENTHUSE, ACT
Short film by Jonathan Ellis, "The TEA Test in Action"​

8.2 Establishing your own power and legitimacy

Sometimes we can be so busy identifying who has power on a given issue that we lose sight of our own power as advocates. Make sure you establish your own power when you first engage with those you seek to influence – ie in the first 20 seconds of meeting them. Why should they listen to you?
Your power comes from the legitimacy you hold in the eyes of the person you are trying to influence. NGOs’ legitimacy can come from a range of sources:
Expertise and knowledge-based legitimacy: Developed through your programme work on a given issue and/or the research you have published
People-based legitimacy: Gained through working with the people affected by a given issue; or it could be drawn from the number of organisations or individuals you represent (if you are speaking on behalf of a large coalition, for example, or a large member-based organisation with thousands of members)
Cause- or faith-based legitimacy: faith-based organisations may enjoy instant moral authority in the eyes of some target audiences; alternatively your organisation’s legitimacy may come from a cause or mission which is universally revered – eg. the defense of child rights or the elimination of poverty
Tool to help you establish your legitimacy
Prior to an advocacy meeting with someone you are seeking to influence, practice introducing yourself in 20 seconds in a way that establishes your power and legitimacy. Practice answering the question:
Who are you and why should I listen to you?

8.3: Tailoring your advocacy message to your target audience

How you touch and enthuse those you are seeking to influence and what action you ask them to take will depend on the person or institution you are trying to influence. The language and the amount of detail you use will likewise depend on who you are communicating your advocacy message to. If you are communicating it in public to ordinary citizens or in the media, you will need to keep the message short and snappy. If you are communicating the message to a civil servant in a private meeting, you can go into more detail.
Knowing your target audience (i.e. those you are trying to influence) and seeing an issue from their perspective are key to successful advocacy. Try to put yourself in their shoes, even if you don’t support or agree with all of their views. That way, you can tailor your message and your engagement with them to where they are at and refer to things you know they care about. Try to focus on common interests and values you share with them: `Minister, I’m sure you’d agree with me that child poverty is a scourge on our society…’
Before you communicate with those you hope to influence, try to find out:
  • What are their current interests and priorities?
  • How well informed are they on the issue(s) addressed by your proposal?
  • Where do they stand on the issue/problem and on the solutions you are proposing? What aspects of your proposal are they likely to question?
  • What will motivate them to support your proposal? How could they benefit from your proposal?
  • Will they incur any risks by supporting your proposal?

8.4: Elevator exercise – to practice communicating your advocacy message

Imagine… you step into the elevator on the ground floor of a skyscraper office block. You are visiting an organisation on the top floor. As luck would have it, the person you most want to influence steps into the elevator at the same time as you. He/she is also travelling to the top floor and the journey to this floor takes two minutes. You have two minutes to communicate your advocacy message to this person.
IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Two people in an elevator. One has a relatively short time to convince their "captive audience".
Remember to…
  • Be polite, to greet him/her, to tell him/her who you are and establish your legitimacy in the first 20 seconds. Successful influencing hinges on strong inter- personal skills and relationships. Treat him/her like a real person!
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are seeking to influence. What is on his/her agenda? What will make him/her listen to you?
  • Keep your language clear and simple
  • Touch, Enthuse and ask the person to Act – ie to do something
  • Think about how to continue the relationship and the conversation:
    • "Here’s my business card in case you’d like further information on this issue."
    • "I wonder if I could arrange a meeting with your secretary to discuss this in more detail?"
    • "It was good to meet you at last. Do you have a business card so I can send you further information?"
"When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful." Malala Yousafzai