The importance of framing in communications

What is communications framing and why does it matter? 

I’ve been thinking about communications framing a lot recently, partly due to the work High-Rise have been doing with organisations including GMPA (Greater Manchester Poverty Action) and national HIV advisory body BHIVA

Simply put, framing is the context in which you place your communications messages to make them matter to your target audience. By using framing people can see how it’s relevant to them and their lives and over time you can start to change attitudes and challenge assumptions. Without framing, people can become defensive and even hostile to your message and what you are trying to talk to them about. 

When communications framing isn’t there 

If you want an example of where there’s been no effective communications framing, the announcement by the conservatives on national service last week is a great place to start.  

Where was the wider context? It simply wasn’t there. Are we facing new security threats that mean we have to consider national service for our young people? Is there a common threat that we all have to face together? Possibly, but that context wasn’t there. It was just a message that landed out of the blue with no attempt at communications framing. In my view, no serious communications framing is a sure sign of a non-serious announcement or policy. 

Communications framing principles to bring about change 

But if you do care and do seriously want to bring about a change then framing becomes hugely important. High-Rise use framing techniques in a lot with our work with charities, causes and social movements. 

Here are four useful principles of communications framing: 

  1. Set the scene – don’t launch into something without a lead-up (ie don’t take the national service announcement route). This doesn’t have to take long but give people the context of why what you want to say is important. 
  1. Start with what we have in common not what makes us different. Rather than hectoring and saying something isn’t good enough which can lead people to become defensive and resistant to your message, emphasise what we have in common and can agree on. The sterling work of the Jo Cox Foundation is a great example of this ‘more in common’ message in practice day in and day out. 
  1. Don’t myth-bust! People will remember the myth and not what you were trying to talk about! Myth-busting is now known to entrench attitudes rather than convince people of another point of view. This is something emphasised by organisations including the Poverty Alliance in its excellent sessions on communications framing. 
  1. Give people hope that change is part of a bigger, more positive future that it is possible to bring about. No one wants to get involved in something that looks simply unachievable. What’s the point? 

If you’d like to talk to us about communications framing and messaging at your organisation we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch!