Lessons learned from successful public awareness campaigns

Here are #mediadev's key recommendations for launching and running public awareness campaigns in Africa. These insights come from analyzing eight successful campaigns and talking extensively to those involved.

Non-profits the world over have limited resources. This is especially true in Africa, where it can be difficult to attract continuous and sufficient funding. As a result, African NGOs in particular need to invest time and thought into planning public awareness campaigns to maximize their effectiveness. 

Our recommendations below will help you get started. 

Key insights 

Understand the issue and what you want to achieve

  • Take time to understand and engage with the issue you want to campaign about.
  • Don't start planning your campaign until you know the issue inside out.
  • Be precise and define what you want to achieve before you launch. 

Make sure the topic is a concern for people outside of your organization

  • Campaign on a topic that people understand and that is of growing concern to people's lives.
  • If the topic isn't an issue for others in the community, then you will have problems generating interest in, and support for, your campaign. 
  • If your message can feed off a general feeling of concern already within your community, you'll have a better chance of getting support. In fact, it could become the symbolic cause that channels people's emotions.

Involve the target group in campaign planning

  • Design the campaign together with members of the community you want to target.
  • If campaigning on behalf of a marginalized group, try to get this group to play an active part in the campaign. If this isn't practical, involve the group as much as you can.

Use language and media used by your target group

  • Make your message simple so that it's understood by ordinary people. 
  • Use the media and platforms most commonly used by your target group. 
  • Use real stories from ordinary people as a powerful way to illustrate your point.
  • A cheeky provocative slogan can help get people's attention.

Make it easy for the target group to participate

  • Provide a few options for people to support your campaign. Don't overwhelm them. 
  • Make it obvious how people can support the campaign and easy to do so. 

Use mainstream media and networks to amplify your message

  • The mainstream media can be a big help in getting the message across. 
  • Time your actions to coincide with moments when the media are focused on the issue you are campaigning about (such as World Press Freedom Day).
  • Reach out to your existing networks to help amplify your campaign.
  • Use community members as multiplicators.

Be accurate

  • Check any information carefully before you release it. Inaccuracies can be used to undermine the legitimacy of the campaign, especially if it's a controversial topic. 

Be flexible about the campaign plan

  • Once your campaign is up and running, listen to feedback and be prepared to make changes to improve the campaign. 
  • If you can see your campaign is getting a lot of interest or support, scale it up quickly.

Make sure you can sustain the campaign over the planned period 

  • Running an ongoing campaign through a loose coalition or group of volunteers is difficult to sustain. 
  • Even if your campaign is planned so that different partners or chapters work autonomously, organizing and coordinating this centrally can ease communication and workflows. 
  • Be aware that you often need a range of skills in a campaign, from web design to fundraising.
Mock-up: DW Akademie Edition 2018

For more in-depth information, take a look at DW Akademie's new booklet: 'Tips for launching and running public awareness campaigns in Africa' (PDF). It looks at how eight successful campaigns were created and gives key insights into the successes and challenges the campaigners faced. Because DW Akademie's partners often work on topics related to media freedom and freedom of expression in Africa, the campaigns included in the booklet mainly (but not exclusively) focus on these issues. 

Authors: Martin Vogl and Kate Hairsine