Chapter 1: Planning a Communications Campaign

The first thing to do is set expectations and prepare to get the evidence.

Just like a migrant, if you are planning a communications campaign, it is good to know your destination. This is critical for campaign design and for sustaining your donors’ support. A subtle problem is to define what your campaign will not achieve in order to defend your objectives and focus on what it can deliver. You need to communicate whose behaviour will change and what they will do. Your campaign never targets the “general public” and usually focuses on a small proportion of a given nationality or ethnicity in a particular location.

It is 2016 and Margot is a European government official responsible for developing strategy on information campaigns. She has plenty of experience with irregular migration issues, and her bosses have given her a budget for communications. But she is sceptical, telling colleagues, “Let’s be serious, an information campaign is not going to stop hundreds of thousands of people running away from conflict.”

She is right, but she is on the wrong track. It is true that the structural and environmental factors encouraging emigration – like war and poverty – do not magically fade in the light of new information. But she is ignoring the psychological factors. Moreover, she is emphasising one type of behaviour: Hundreds of thousands leaving the country because of conflict. This obscures the opposite behaviour: Millions of people not leaving the country. Margot is setting herself up to fail by misconceiving the purpose of the communications campaign – it means she will not choose the optimal audiences, channels, content and measures of success.

A good communications plan does not aim to stop hundreds of thousands of people. A good communications plan does not try to engage with the whole population. A good communications plan aims to understand and help a distinct group of people. It should include the following elements:

An understanding of which segments of the total population need what kinds of information. That’s your audience. 

An assessment of the life choices available to the audience and what proportion leans towards which option.

An outline of pathways from current intent to changed behaviour.

A calculation of the value for money that can be achieved.

When all of the above is in place, you’ll find that a good communications campaign is an efficient way to change the behaviour of a minority of the population. If you are challenged by someone asking how communication is going to “solve the problem”, you can reply that it is not. It is going to be an efficient way to address hundreds of thousands of people’s needs, and some of them will choose not to migrate in the near future. You can show your value for money calculation and compare it with other options to achieve the same result.

When you think of Margot, think of setting expectations and getting evidence.

Planning a Communications Campaign: Australia’s Communications with Hazaras

In 2008, some Australian government officials became aware that a disproportionate number of Afghans arriving by boat were of the Hazara ethnicity. An earlier generation of Hazaras had been resettled in the 1990s followed by their extended families and other community members. Some came from families long settled in Pakistan and were Pakistani citizens.

After the boats started arriving again in 2008, these facts became critical to communications planning. Of the millions of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan, just a few groups seemed to have a strong orientation to Australia and were considering irregular migration. They were from the Jaghori district of Ghazni province in Afghanistan; Quetta in Pakistan; and some pockets of Kabul. With that knowledge, we can immediately whittle down the number of communications channels and methods to consider. The locations to invest in are few and digestible. And it is relatively easy to set up a monitoring mechanism to understand impacts.

Australia didn’t have to engage with all Afghans, it could start with just Hazaras.

Planning a Communications Campaign: Case Study

The advertising executive David Ogilvy once said, “The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.” A western government ignored this advice years ago when it developed a migration campaign in a post-conflict country. For discretion’s sake let’s call the donor country Zembla and the post-conflict country Freedonia.

Zembla designed a mass media migration campaign based on a fairly extreme message of “You will not make it to Zembla.” The campaign involved billboards, television ads and radio ads, implemented by a multinational communications company, call it Glossy&Bossy. Zembla spent nearly USD 1 million on the campaign with Glossy&Bossy.

Zembla conducted a baseline survey of the audience’s perceptions of Zembla as a destination for irregular migration prior to the campaign. At the end of the campaign, a second large-scale survey was conducted to see what the impact had been.

The campaign was a disaster. Rather than discourage migrants from coming to the country, the campaign made the target audience in Freedonia more aware that Zembla was a potential destination for irregular migration. Worse, they were unable to recall the messages of the campaign.

So what went wrong? Lots of things, but we will just look at four. 

First, Zembla violated the cardinal rule of conducting an effective campaign – it was in a hurry and did not do research to test messages with the target audience. That meant campaign messages were unconnected with their thoughts, feelings and motivations. How could Zembla know what would have an impact on potential Freedonian migrants without enough research?

Second, Glossy&Bossy conducted a national campaign advertising irregular migration as an option to people within Freedonia who had never considered it.

Third, Zembla used the country’s coat of arms as the brand rather than creating a new brand for the campaign. This meant that the target audience more easily identified the destination country as an option for migration.

Fourth, Zembla did not consider that each potential migrant had unique motivations for leaving home. Therefore, the simplistic, unidirectional messages that Glossy&Bossy created had little bearing on their decisions.

The biggest lesson to take from this example is that it is perilous to focus on speed rather than spend time on research and campaign design. If you make this trade-off then you are making your minister, commissioner or donor vulnerable.

Planning a Communications Campaign: Irregular Migration Decision Making

Elham is our goddess of luck. She lives in the middle of Iran and participated in one of Seefar’s longitudinal research projects, in person and over the phone, patiently answering our questions. We select people for these projects by checking whether they intend to migrate irregularly in the next 12 months.

After a few months, Elham explained that she had abandoned her plan to migrate. The travel options all seemed to be expensive and risky; plus she was not convinced about the payoffs.

The next month, we could not find Elham. When we eventually tracked her down she was in Sweden, happily settling into her new home. She explained that a relative living in Europe had offered to pay for a gold standard smuggling option, telling her that it would be safe and that she’d be happier in Europe. Elham had packed up and departed within a month.

There is a tendency in the academic literature on migration and in some policy circles to imagine that the decision-making process on whether to migrate develops predictably. Someone looks at their life, does not like it, considers migration, formulates a plan, arranges the logistics and departs. Like this:

Reality is not so neat. When you think about the timing and channels for your communications campaign, think of Elham and remember that migration decision making is not linear. In reality, it tends to look like this:

Non-linear decision making has many implications for your migration communications campaign. It means that we should listen but also question what people tell us about their migration plans. It is better to track who actually departs, then look back and see what is special about them, rather than just ask their intentions. This will help to target your activities.

The charts above also highlight that there are multiple opportunities to work with people considering irregular migration. They are not on an escalator, they are in a pinball machine. You need to be available to people when they want to talk; when they have just heard something new; when something has changed in their lives. Static messaging through billboards and advertisements designed last month can provide reference points, but to be effective you will need to be much nimbler and more fluid.


Chapter 2: Avoiding Mixed Messages

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