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Running Campaigns

What is on this page:

  1. What do organisations use campaigns for?
  2. Important things to know about campaigns
  1. General tips
  2. Universal truths about campaigns
  1. How to do research and analysis
  1. Setting campaign objectives
  2. Understanding your target audience: polling and focus groups
  3. Understanding the main challenges and tasks in the campaign
  4. Analysing your weaknesses and strengths
  5. Analysing opportunities and threats
  1. How to develop a campaign and communication strategy
  1. Clear message themes and slogans
  2. Campaign strategy
  3. A media plan with budgets and timeframes
  4. A public relations plan
  5. Mobilising strategy
  6. Training strategy
  1. How to draw up a campaign plan and budget

  1. What do organisations use campaigns for?

Campaigns are a very important part of your work as a community activist. Campaigns are often the main way that you interact with the public and get your organisation's message out to people. You can use campaigns to mobilise and involve people in your work. You can also use campaigns to pressurise decision-makers, to educate the public and to change behaviour.

There are many different types of campaigns you can run:

Many public issue campaigns combine more than one of the above types of campaigns.

Campaigns must be based on the aims of your organisation and must have clear goals. A campaign must be well researched and properly planned. Each phase and action must have the human and financial resources needed to succeed.

Many campaigns get off to a great start and then fizzle out because of bad planning. Just as a successful campaign will strengthen your organisation and motivate people to be involved, a failed campaign will weaken your organisation and disillusion your supporters.

  1. Important things to know about campaigns

Local campaigns should come from the needs assessment [see Planning Guide] you did in your area. There are many issues and problems that can be taken up and you should prioritise which ones to concentrate on.

Before deciding on a campaign, ask these questions to help you prioritise:

  1. General Tips

  1. Universal truths about public issue campaigns

Anyone who runs a public issue campaign must bear in mind the following universal truths about campaigns:

  1.  How to do research and analysis

Before you can develop a campaign strategy you must do research and analysis that provides you with:

  1. Clear campaign objectives so that you know exactly what you want to achieve
  2. A good understanding of your target audience and their concerns, values and interests
  3. An understanding of the main challenges and tasks that you face in the campaign
  4. An analysis of your own weaknesses and strengths in terms of meeting these challenges and doing the tasks
  5. An analysis of the opportunities that you can exploit and the threats that may derail your campaign

In this part of the guide we will briefly explain ways of developing each of the above.

  1. Setting objectives

Your campaign should have very clear objectives or goals. You may have long term objectives as well as short term objectives.

Example: In a campaign against crime a long term objective may be to decrease the rate of crime in your community by at least 50 %. A short term objective may be to persuade the local police to double the number of police patrols before the end of this year.

There are three important things to remember when you set an objective:

  1. An objective should be measurable - you should be able to count or measure what you have achieved.
  2. An objective should have a time frame or deadline - by when will you have achieved it.
  3. An objective must be realistic and achievable

An example of a bad objective for a crime campaign is: "we will wipe out crime in our community."

An example of a good objective is: "we will reduce violent crime by 20 % before the year 2002."

In the first example the objective is unrealistic and does not have anything that can be measured and has no deadline. This means that you cannot measure the progress you are making or claim any victories. The second example is more realistic, you can measure progress, it has a clear deadline and if you achieve the objective you can claim that your campaign has succeeded.

  1. Understanding your target audience

There are many ways to do research that will help you to understand what your target group feels about the campaign issue you are working on. As organisers you may think that you already know what people think - this is a dangerous attitude! The things that are important and obvious to activists are not always that important to other people. If you want a campaign to succeed, you need to know what people really think and what they want.

In this part we look at three ways of doing research:

These are small groups representing one of your target groups, that are brought together for discussion around issues linked to the campaign. You can use them to get an in depth understanding of attitudes and desires, response to message, slogans, etc.

You need a good facilitator who knows how to run a group discussion that draws out people's feelings. The facilitator must know what information you want from the group so that the discussion is steered in the right direction.

The groups are usually not told who has really brought them together because you do not want to prejudice what they might say. They need to be in an atmosphere that allows them to interact freely with a facilitator. The groups can be observed from another room if the facilities are available to do so or an observer can be planted within the group. You can also tape the session.

Participants are usually paid a small fee and their transport costs are re-imbursed. Refreshments are also provided.

The facilitator asks some questions related to issues around the campaign and ensures that everyone participates in the discussion and is open about their attitudes and feelings. Focus groups are usually divided according to age, gender, race, income levels, geographic location and other categories so that the perspective of each group can be analysed separately. People are then recruited for these different categories of groups.

For example if you are doing an AIDS campaign, one group could be males from an informal settlement, over 30 years of age, unemployed. Another group could be males under 30 from a township, employed in full time jobs. Another could be African women, between 15 and 30 who are sexually active. The issues and concerns of these groups could be quite different in relation to sexual behaviour and awareness of AIDS

The discussions from the focus groups are analysed and used to refine your campaign message to make sure that your target group will respond well to the message.

Focus groups are only useful when there are very specific questions that need to be checked. For example the group could discuss their response to a particular advert that you want to run for your campaign.

You must have good recruitment to find the right people and a good facilitator that can speak in the language and idiom of the participants. If the questions are not clear then the group can just have general discussion which does not give you enough feedback to help with planning your campaign and your message.

The results must be analysed and discussed soon after the groups as they also become outdated.

If you use professional researchers, focus groups can cost about R5000 per group of 10 people. You need to do a few focus groups to get reliable information. This cost includes venue, travel, food, cost of facilitator and a stipend for participants.

Focus groups are cheaper than surveys and you can do them yourself with sufficient preparation. You need to recruit people for the groups according to the categories mentioned above. Each group will consist of people that share the same characteristics.

You need to decide on a set of questions that will reveal their attitudes towards the key issues. Your questions must be very specific and direct for example ask: Which slogan do you like best and why - "Abstain, Be Faithful or Use a Condom" or "AIDS Kills - Use a Condom" or "Love Life - use a Condom."?

Many government departments, institutions, newspapers and research companies do very expensive surveys about a whole range of issues. These surveys try to find out what public attitudes are towards an issue. For example a survey may be carried out to find out whether the youth have changed their sexual behaviour because of HIV and AIDS. The research company will take a random sample (the group that you select for interviews ) of youth from all over the country and they will make sure that different genders, age, classes and cultures are fairly represented. A big survey like this will usually involve a few thousand interviews.

Very few organisations can afford to do this type of research that involves interviewing thousands of people. Try to find out whether any surveys have been done about the issue that you are campaigning on, and if possible get the result analysis from the people who did the survey.

Here are some research groups you can approach:

It is quite simple to do your own survey. If you want it to be reliable, choosing your sample is very important. Make sure of the following:

Apart from the sample, the questions you choose are also very important.

Try to do the following:

  1. "Do you think your ward councillor is doing a good job?"

  1. Which of the issues below are the most important for you for your council to deal with? Number them in order of importance.

  1. Crime
  2. Dirty streets
  3. Unemployment
  4. Parks and facilities
  5. Water
  6. Electricity
  7. Better roads
  8. Other__________
  1. Which of the following public transport system do you use most often?


Writing questions like this will make it much easier for you to work out the results since you can simply calculate how many people chose which answers. Never ask questions like: "What do you think about your ward councillor?"

To work out your results make a sheet with tables on it for each question and just tic in the right column here is an example for the questions we used above:

Interview NumberQuestion 1Question 2 - letter chosenQuestion 3- type chosen
    abcdefghTaxiSmall busBusTrainLift club

If you will in the answers here, it is easy to add up the result. You can also make a sheet for each target group - so for example, one for young women who are unemployed, one for men over 30 who are employed, etc. Some people can be on more than one sheet. If you add up the totals for the sheets for that target group you will then get results that are specific to the target group. You can also do all this on a computer by using a programme like Excel.

  1. Understanding main challenges and tasks

Your research can be used to understand what challenges you will face in the campaign and what must be done to overcome them. These are challenges that exist out there within the community, and not those inside your organisation. Some of this information will come from your surveys and focus groups if you do them. But the rest of this information will come from informal interaction with people and political analysis. Informal interaction means talking to influential people in your constituency, networking with key groups and knowing the general feelings on the street. This interaction and research will help you to understand what possible problems you may come across in the campaign. Some of these challenges could be that people are afraid confronting an issue like AIDS and do not want to talk about it openly. Then your AIDS campaign will have to look at ways to make people talk openly - for example by holding public meetings that are addressed by respected people.

For any campaign, you need to make a list of what the challenges are that may make it difficult to run the campaign. Then you should discuss what could be done to overcome these challenges.

  1. Analysing weaknesses and strengths

You need a well-oiled machine to run a good campaign. It is important for you to analyse what strengths exist within your team. This exercise must be done collectively so that everyone contributes and understands the reasons for the analysis.

Usually, you would use a newsprint and on the one side put down STRENGTHS and the other side WEAKNESSES. Below the strengths would be OPPORTUNITES and the other side, THREATS (see next part below)

Some of your strengths could be people who have experience of working with the community, are hardworking and have a good understanding of the campaign issues. On the other hand you may have a number of weaknesses which you need to be aware of and if possible, deal with them before starting on the campaign. These could be weaknesses like not having enough volunteers, lack of resources or lack of support from influential people.

This analysis will help you to build on and use your strengths to make the campaign more effective. It will also help you to work out how to deal with some of your weaknesses and overcome them. You must recognise that there are weaknesses which you may not be able to do anything about.

This analysis will also help you to make lists of your campaign tasks, since many things will have to be done to overcome your weaknesses.

  1. Analysing opportunities and threats

Strengths and weaknesses are mainly about your team and your internal issues. Opportunities and threats relate much more to external issues based in the community or broader environment within which you will run your campaign. You need to analyse before hand what these opportunities and threats are so that you can use the opportunities and you can try to neutralise or deal with the threats.

An analysis of opportunities means knowing what issues - like the mood of the community, upcoming events and available resources - can help your campaign and move it forward. In an election campaign some opportunities could be that a massive new housing project is about to be opened and you can use that event to gain some political support. Other opportunities could be that people are excited about a Bafana Bafana victory so you could hold a celebration and use that event to speak about your campaign. Or there may be a popular person around like a musician who is willing to endorse your campaign.

Threats are the opposite of opportunities. Threats will have a negative effect on your campaign. Examples of threats in an election campaign could be that an opposition party is spreading misinformation about your candidate or that you have to deal with a hostile newspaper or that your party has passed an unpopular law or that a candidate is involved in a scandal. All these could lead to less support for your party. So your election campaign will need to deal with these issues strategically, speedily and decisively.

  1. How to develop a campaign and communication strategy

Once you have done your research and analysis you then have to develop clear communications, organising and training strategies. Elements of your communication strategy should be the following:

  1. Clear message themes and slogans

Message themes are the key things that you want people to know and agree with. Message is not the same as a slogan. A slogan is usually a few words that sum up the message. Message themes can be a few sentences that explain your main ideas. These themes should be the basis of all communications like posters, pamphlets, speeches, interviews, submissions and petitions.

Everyone involved in the campaign should understand the message and stay on it - one spokesperson contradicting your message on TV or radio can ruin a campaign.

Here is an example of a slogan for a campaign against violence against women and a few of the campaign's message themes

Unite against woman abuse

Message themes:

  1. Violence against women is widespread and affects all of us.
  2. Using physical violence against anyone is a form of oppression and is not acceptable.
  3. Woman abuse is not a women's problem - all of us should unite to root it out.
  4. We appeal to men who are not part of the problem to stand with us and to be part of the solution.
  5. Break the silence around woman abuse - the victim is not to blame. Let us encourage women to speak out.

If a campaign leader goes around saying things like "all men are rapists" this will be against the message and will undermine support for the campaign and confuse the public.

  1. A campaign identity

People must know that the campaign is happening. You use your slogans and logos on all media and at all events to make sure people identify these as part of your campaign. You can also use logos to popularise your campaign - a good example is the red HIV and AIDS ribbon that people wear to show that they support the campaign. You can also use famous personalities to speak in support of your campaign, appear on posters or endorse your campaign in some public way. An example of this was the use of Archbishop Tutu and Joe Mafela in IEC voter education campaigns.

It often helps to have one well-known person who acts as the public face of the campaign.

  1. A media plan with budgets and timeframes

A media plan should be developed according to the phases of your campaign - work out when you will need most publicity and how you will get it.

Media can be very costly if you rely on advertising, posters and pamphlets.

Remember to strategise about how to get free publicity through the press, radio and TV. Activities could include building good relationships with the media, holding briefing sessions, issuing press statements, organising and publicising newsworthy events and photo opportunities. [see Media Liaison]

Your budget will determine how much media you can produce yourself. [see Media production]. The media plan should have clear timeframes and deadlines and for each part of the plan you must work out the cost and make sure you have the money to pay for it.

  1. A public relations plan

You need a plan for communicating with key sectors and individuals so that you can win their support for your campaign - this is your public relations and outreach plan.

Work out who the opinion makers are that may support you and how to make contact with. Try and get them to publicly pledge support to the campaign. Work out which sectors or organisations you can persuade to support you and how to reach them.

  1. Mobilising strategy

Your mobilising strategy would aim to reach the broad public, to get your message to them and to mobilise support. Most of your campaign budget and human resources should be spent on this part of the campaign. Mobilisation is hard work and it is tempting to spend more on media and do less direct contact and outreach work. Remember that it is easier to change people and to get them involved in your campaign if you are interacting and engaging with them directly.

Your mobilisation strategy depends on the nature and target of your campaign and you should spend some time on careful planning. It should focus on the following:

  1. Training strategy

Without a training strategy no campaign will succeed. Everyone involved - spokespeople, leaders, organisers and volunteers must understand the aims of the campaign, the message and how to use the methods you have agreed on. Your training strategy should focus on:

  1. How to draw up a campaign plan and budget

Develop your overall strategy before trying to draw up a concrete campaign plan. The campaign plan must integrate all aspects of the campaign and set them against deadlines and budget items.

Here is an example of a campaign planning calendar you can draw up. On the left are all the different categories of things that have to be done. Under each week you write the specific activities that should happen for that category.

After 'Training', start with the 'Events' row since most of your other work will be to make events a success - highlight the main events. You can start at the end for some of them - for example if a march has to happen in week 5, work backwards and write down all the things that must happen in week 1-5 to make the march a success.

You then put all the items on one line together and work out the cost for your budget. For example:

Media production budget
500 A1 posters + boards - launch @ R3 each 1 500
3 000 A4 pamphlets @ 20c each 600
50 A1 posters - march @ R2 each 1 000

Sub-total 3 100

CategoryWeek 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5 Week 6
Training1. Leadership workshop
2. Prepare for volunteers briefing
1. Briefing volunteers 1. Train marshals for march Evaluation workshop, plan next phase
EventsPlan launch, arrangmnts + do all bookingsPlan blitz, march and cultural eventCampaign launchDoor-to-door blitzMarchCultural event
Outreach actionOrganise sectoral meetings for next weekHold short meetings with key sectorsLoudhail to invite communityto launchOrganise 100 workers for door to door blitz Mobilise for marchLoudhail for march Transport to marchLoudhail for cultural event.
Media productionPosters for launch to printer - 5001. Posters put up
2. Banner painted
1. Decorate hall for launch
2. Pamphlet to printer- 3 000
1. Pamphlet out for blitz 2. Posters for march to printer - 50Posters at march 
 Press release about launch +campaignPress briefing before launchInterviews on radio and press.  Letters to newspaperInvite media to march. 
Public relations
Persuade key local leaders to support campaignInvite local leaders + stars to launchGet key people to publicly pledge supportCampaignLeaders lunch with key local peopleMeet with local councillorsFundraising pledges for next phase


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