Spitfire Strategies

Preparing for the Main Event

The air was electric outside Barclay’s Center on March 18. It was the opening round of March Madness and people across the country sat glued to TVs while the lucky ticketholders crowded excitedly toward the arena to watch one of the first of many bracket-breaking games. As they approached the gate and reached for their tickets, many fans got an unexpected dose of reality when they looked up to a video projected on a nearby building.

“During the 5 years of the Syrian Conflict, nearly 2 million children have been unable to attend school,” the screen showed. “Nearly the entire population of Brooklyn. That’s the real madness.” The video, created by our friends at Save the Children, quickly put these global realities into perspective for many fans.

Save the Children capitalized on March Madness, which already holds the focus of millions of Americans, to grab and focus people’s attention on the Syrian refugee crisis. And it worked because Save the Children was well-prepared.

Properly preparing for big events or announcements involves three important stages. Often we want to jump immediately into what we will do during a big conference, anniversary or other event. But to really spark change, it takes smart planning before, during and after the big day itself. Here are some tips for preparing for your main event:

  1. Before: Shape the Narrative. The story for your event begins well before the first hoop scored or the opening plenary. Begin to set the stage and craft the story that you want to tell before any action takes place. Ask yourself, what story do I want this event to reinforce? What other narratives will be competing for dominance? How will my narrative out-compete them? Who can help me tell my story? Then create and execute the tactics that will deliver your message to the people who need to hear them most.

Consider last year’s Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. The Supreme Court handed down its decision on Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26, ruling 5-4 that same-sex couples can marry nationwide.

But advocates had been preparing for this landmark decision for years.

Advocates carefully shaped a narrative that emphasized love and commitment, important values for their main audiences. Long before the Supreme Court’s decision, advocates began placing stories in the media and educating journalists. The Human Rights Campaign solicited hundreds of thousands of signatures to file a historic “people’s brief” which had more signatories than any amicus brief ever submitted to the Supreme Court and received national media coverage. They continued getting people involved and excited about the ruling, all with their messaging framework of love and commitment.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court ruled, advocates had already set the messaging foundation to frame the case. Which was why it was even more exciting when the ruling came down and marriage equality became law of the land!

  1. During: Spotlight Action. The buzzer sounds! The conference attendees have grabbed their badges! The gala has begun! Once your event is in play, highlight the important pieces of it that reinforce your message and the story you’ve crafted. Think about your target audiences and the best way to reach them. How can you make them feel connected to the event and spotlight the critical pieces of action which will amplify your overall narrative?

In a 20/20 exclusive interview last year with Diane Sawyer, Caitlyn Jenner, who was then known as Bruce, came out as a transgender woman. This took most people completely by surprise and the news cycle ate up the story. GLAAD, a nonprofit media monitoring organization focused on LGBT issues, was quick to use the story as an opportunity to educate the public. They immediately released a statement supporting Jenner as well as a tip sheet for journalists reporting on the story. They also quickly positioned themselves as experts to the media and gave interviews to push their strong messages out about transgender and other LGBT issues. GLAAD have continued using Jenner’s story as a way to positively portray transgender issues in the media and educate people. While many groups criticized Jenner as a poor advocate for trans issues, GLAAD used her story to push forward their own message and even invited Jenner to visit their offices and learn more about how to be a better advocate for the cause.

  1. After: Give it Meaning. When the lights go down and your event wraps up, you enter the final stages of your strategy. Your event was a huge success; it had a strong narrative and you spotlighted all the critical action. But it shouldn’t end there. Give the event meaning within the greater context of your issue, so the story you’ve crafted lives on. Which narratives broke through? How can you best reach and engage your target audiences to reinforce these narratives? How does your event contribute to the greater vision of success that you’re working toward? Consider these questions as you position your event and your message to have lasting meaning.

Save the Children did just this after their March Madness video. They filmed people’s reactions to it here and used it as an opportunity to raise funds through a text to donate campaign. Rather than only reaching the people who saw the actual video projection, they were able to push it out over social media and via partners to expand their reach.

Whatever your event or opportunity is – a conference, a gala, a charity run or something trending in the news – having a solid communication strategy will help you to prepare for and smartly respond. Don’t forget Spitfire’s great, SmartChart® for Communication Planning to make sure your plan is a winning one!

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