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Media Advocacy: All about the Frame


It’s a lesson the advocates working on tobacco issues learned over time:

  • How do you address public health problems from smoking? You get people to stop smoking. It’s all about personal responsibility.
  • How do you address public health problems from tobacco use? You change policy. You restrict youth access to tobacco. You restrict the marketing of tobacco products. You increase tobacco taxes and fund programs to help people quit. You pass clean indoor air policies.

The difference? It’s all about the frame.

That’s the power of media advocacy. We need to tell our story in the media that matters to the decision-makers we are trying to reach. Real stories. Stories that are powerful. We need to be using them in our messaging and in the media. In order to make these stories more powerful, it is essential that they are framed around our policy goal.

Over time, we figured it out in tobacco. In our work around obesity prevention, it’s easy to slip back into personal responsibility – the media likes the story of the person who made a lifestyle change and lost weight. We do, too – they are motivational and they feel good, but often, they don’t support our policy goals.

Message research has shown that when we talk about obesity, most people see that as a personal problem. How do you address public health problems from smoking? Quit smoking. How do you address public health problems from obesity? Eat less and exercise more. It’s all about personal responsibility.

What happens if we expand the frame out from the individual? What if, by telling a real story about a real individual, we can show how the environment makes it difficult, if not almost impossible, to make those choices to eat healthier foods and be more active? Or, if we reframe the success story to show how the environment (for example, access to healthy affordable foods in the neighborhood) made it possible to make those healthy choices or lifestyle changes?

Check your frame every time you deliver a message in the media. If you do that one thing, you are on your way to implementing a powerful media advocacy strategy!