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Framing can help you communicate strong messages

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

Framing is a technique of focusing the attention of people within a field of meaning. How something is presented (the ‘frame’) influences the choices people make. Framing is a form of agenda-setting. It is the process by which a communication source defines and constructs a public issue. A framing example is the ‘war on terror’ (it is not actually a war, but the term has been used, probably with the aid of audience research, by the US administration to generate support for its actions).

Framing can be conveyed through:

  • Metaphor – to give an idea a new meaning by comparing it with something else.

  • Stories (myths and legends) – to frame a subject by anecdote in a vivid and memorable way. For instance, some managers tell and retell stories of how teamwork helped pull their organization through in tough times.

  • Traditions (rites, rituals and ceremonies) – to use to define and reinforce organizational cultural values. For instance, certain activities (some humorous and some serious) traditionally done during annual strategic planning conferences.

  • Slogans, jargon and catchphrases – to frame a subject in a memorable and familiar way.

  • Artifacts – to illuminate corporate values through objects that strike a chord with employees. For instance, a current best-selling product compared with an outmoded product from an earlier time.

  • Contrast – to describe a subject in terms of what it is not.

  • Spin – to talk about a concept in a way that gives it a positive or negative connotation.


US linguistic expert, Professor George Lakoff, views the term ‘tax relief’ as a current frame conceived by the Republican political party. The word ‘relief’ implies that taxes are unfair and have been imposed on innocent citizens. The Republicans will be the ones who rescue taxpayers by lifting the burden on them. Yet taxes provide the means for governments to provide essential public infrastructure.

According to Lakoff, metaphors are contained in most of the concepts of everyday life and should be used in communication activities.

He gives the example of an environmental group whose research found there are large numbers of toxic chemicals in our bodies and tried to publicise this in terms of statistics. The media response was minimal. Lakoff said the program should have been reconceptualised in a campaign called ‘Be Poison-free’. ‘Poison’ is a strong, emotive word that implies someone must be the poisoner. It makes you look at who is doing the poisoning – the companies that allow humans to be exposed to chemicals.

If you are working on media strategy, a speech or an issue, you should note the power of using metaphors and images in framing concepts for more effective communication. You can extend concepts into sub-concepts. For instance, if you frame your organization as a ship on a voyage, you can extend this frame or metaphor into related travel or progress sub-frames or themes such as steering the best course, avoiding the hazards (think Titanic here!), staying afloat, delivering cargo, keeping a good lookout for shoals and rocks, arriving safely at the destination, etc.

 

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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