Communications: Campaigning - Balance persuasion with realism

The Make Poverty History campaign hit our screens and our lives last summer. For one week in July, it was as if the stars in the heavens were aligning and the world was going to be a more glorious and tolerant place because of it.

As it turned out, many of the stars lining up to play their parts were of the rock and pop variety. They saw Live 8 as a wonderful chance to change the world, but for many it turned out to be a one-gig wonder.

The G8 summit brought campaigners face to face for the first time with the world's eight most powerful leaders in the full glare of the media spotlight. Millions of ordinary people around the globe pledged their support. Progress was made, but poverty in Africa is nowhere near being consigned to history. For those like me, who believe that passion and persuasion can change hearts and minds, it was a sobering experience.

What went wrong? I believe the media, which was expected to be part of the solution, became the problem. This wasn't its own fault - it sensed history in the making and exploited it for all it was worth. But in doing so, it raised expectations to an unrealistic degree. Seasoned campaigners were seduced by the power of the big television networks (and, to some extent, the tabloid press) and lost control of their campaign. It became all or nothing, and there was no Plan B to help the campaign regroup and reassess.

So where does that leave the rest of us? Well, whether it is to try to change the world or change our attitude to school dinners, campaigning does make a difference. Poverty will be defeated, providing public opinion drives the political will to do so.

For those of us in the sector, getting the message across is done with limited resources. Every column inch and soundbite has to be fought for - we can shock, but we have to be careful not to offend.

The trick is to balance passion and persuasion with a healthy dose of realism. Set your sights high, but understand that, sometimes, compromise is a healthy ally, and that there are different ways to measure success.

Above all, never lose sight or control of what drove you to campaign in the first place.

Make Poverty History is at a crossroads. The 'war on terror' has drawn the focus of the world's media elsewhere. It's down to campaigners to redouble their efforts and remind us of suffering in the developing world.

They must put the issue back on the map, and they will again need the media's support to make it happen. Whether they get it to the same extent remains to be seen.

This has been a wake-up call to us all.

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