Reframe Your Message for Better Results – You Can Change a Public Conversation

What happens when the media narrative or the public conversation is all wrong? The temptation is to try to make a counter argument or point out your opponent’s flaws. But as has been shown by a number of researchers, simply arguing against something can reinforce the very argument you are fighting. Same goes for publishing “myths/facts” comparisons. Inadvertently, you can make your opponents’ argument for them.

Too often we think that the way we are telling a story is the only way to present it. But nonprofits have gotten a lot more sophisticated in this arena in recent years. They have explored, often through research, alternative approaches to see what will work best. Consider the shift from “gay marriage” to “marriage equality.”

Another interesting example comes from a number of message testing studies we oversaw on how to promote arts education. We found that the arguments made by advocates about how the arts helped students learn and achieve were largely rejected. Parents really didn’t care that the arts improved test scores and graduation rates. The public highly values arts education, but mainly because it makes school more interesting and engaging for students. Basically, this makes them want to attend and achieve.

Try to reframe your message by considering alternatives to the prevailing narrative or simply asserting a new frame while ignoring the old. The frame, of course, signals what the idea is “about” and tells the listener how to understand your argument. Framing it correctly can make your communications a lot more powerful.