Many of the issues that charities campaign about are long-running and deeply entrenched. The battle lines between the sides are clearly drawn, the arguments established, the rhetoric well-rehearsed.
An argument can rage for so long that the very act of conducting it becomes counterproductive by simply re-enforcing the paradigm in which change is not possible. Sometimes there is a sense that if change was going to happen, it would have happened by now.
One of the hardest things to do as a communicator is to step outside the trenches and recognise that it is time to walk away from that long-fought, deeply embedded battlefield and start thinking about new ways of winning the war.
If you're stuck in a trench that says something is unfair, unjust, illegal or immoral, you have probably achieved widespread understanding that the situation is indeed unfair, unjust, illegal or immoral - even if nothing is changing.
The longer you stay in one battle zone hollering the same battle cry, the more you contribute to the issue being a problem; it's unsolvable or intractable because the same old arguments get rehearsed time and again.
So occasionally it's necessary to step outside the issue and look at the bigger picture; to reflect on the ways in which you've been fighting your battle and to think about whether or not they continue to serve your ultimate aims.
When you are closely involved in a campaign it can be difficult to know the right time to do this. One way to help determine the answer is to ask yourself the questions I've posed on the right.
Once you have, you might decide it is time to rethink the way you, the media, opinion-formers, opponents and allies are framing a story. If this is the case, there are a few steps you can take to make this happen.
First, throw out everything you think you know and re-examine the field with a fresh pair of eyes to identify the challenges, obstacles, allies and enemies.
Second, work out who holds the power now, who they listen to and what is going to make both those groups pay attention and change their engagement with your cause.
When you have the answers to these points, construct a new frame for your issue, positioning it where you want it to be - where you can have the discussion you want. Then construct your communications strategy to place it there and make it resonate for your audience in new ways.
- Mirella von Lindenfels is director of Communications Inc
REVIVE YOUR CAMPAIGN - QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- What is the discussion you would like to be having? How far does it differ from the one you're involved with?
- Does the discussion you are currently having actually serve you and your interests - or does it just keep you stuck in a cul-de-sac?
- Do your opponents show any desire to change the battlefield significantly? If they don't, this could well be because it suits them to keep you exactly where you are - on the sidelines.
- Do the people you need to influence say things like "yes I know, but it's a problem" or "of course, I would do that, but ... "?
- Has the world moved on - the zeitgeist changed - in the meantime?
- Have you felt tempted to throw a metaphorical bomb into the middle of the situation by saying something shocking - just to shake things up a little bit?