Step 4: Developing your key messages

A message is a concise and persuasive statement about your advocacy that captures:

  • what you want to achieve and the change you want to see
  • why you want to achieve it, including the positive or negative consequences of no action
  • how you propose to achieve it what action you want the audience to take.

If you followed the stages outlined earlier in this chapter, by now you will know:

  • what you want to say and why you want to say it (you’ve identified the problem and solution and you’ve done your research)
  • to which audience you want to communicate the issue (you’ve identified and analysed the relevant stakeholders and you’ve done your power analysis).

Now how? There are many different ways to communicate a given advocacy message.

It is critical to tailor the message according to the audience.

As advocates, words are the weapons we use to make our case. So choosing the right words for the relevant audience and directing them at our targets in a way that they will understand, and hopefully respond positively to, is very important.

Your message should be memorable. You want it to stick in the mind of your target long after you’ve left the meeting or the article has been read or the radio carrying it has been turned off.

A good basic message:

  • can be tailored to fit a specific audience
  • uses clear, brief arguments that will persuade the audience
  • uses simple and unambiguous language that can be easily understood. For example, avoid using technical words such as ‘transfer mispricing’ when you are talking to the media or the general public. They will not understand you.

Framing or tailoring your message

While your overall advocacy issue/position does not change, you should seek to adapt the way you present your message to achieve the greatest impact on a particular audience. The kind of messages you use depends very much on who you are targeting and what advocacy approach you’re taking. It’s sometimes easiest to think of a ‘primary’ or ‘core’ message and then have ‘supporting messages’, the tone, length and style of which will depend on the audience.

The core message can be easily captured in a popular, simple slogan. Slogans are particularly useful for public mobilisation and use in the media. Since they are designed to mobilise the general public, and are therefore targeted at the public, you need a message that’s emotive, passionate, eye-catching and that will get people angry and determined to take action. Chapter 4 will examine in more detail popular mobilisation and working with the media, including how to draft press releases.

Examples of slogans

Click on the image to see it full size

Supporting messages on tax and development

The supporting messages might be designed with decision-makers in mind, who may need a little more detail and analysis – but not too much! (We will look at tips for developing more specific policy recommendations for decision- makers in Chapter 4.) For example:

  • ‘Tax is a major way in which poor countries can win the fight against poverty.’
  • ‘Redistribution of income and wealth is only possible through increased tax revenues in developing countries.’
  • ‘Increased tax revenue is an essential means for developing countries to meet the millennium development goals.’
  • ‘Tax exemptions in developing countries deprive governments of valuable revenue that could be spent on the services that citizens need.
    Tax dodging by multinational companies costs lives. If the money lost through tax dodging was spent according to current spending patterns, the amount going into health services could save the lives of 350,000 children under the age of five every year.’12
  • ‘Money raised from taxation generates stronger state–citizen relationships than aid, and allows governments to take decisions without donor conditions attached.’

More detailed messages on specific tax issues

Issue

Global targets and allies

Regional targets and allies

National targets and allies

Regressive tax systems
in developing countries

Trends in tax policy at the global level have resulted in tax equity issues being left out of the debate for many decades – it is time for equity to be considered as a central part of the tax policy debate.

The IMF and the World Bank and many bilateral donors have supported this trend to ignore equity and emphasise more technical issues within the tax policy debates, encouraging a reliance on taxes such as
VAT – their contributions have been mainly regressive in this area, which urgently needs to change.

International actors must emphasise tax equity and the urgency of redistribution measures in all tax policy forums.

Equitable tax reforms must become a central part of regional tax policy work (alongside efforts to harmonise tax systems within regions).

Key regional actors (such
as the Asian Development
Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank) must work to ensure that equity is at the heart of tax reforms and that CSOs are consulted about all tax policy efforts.

Equitable tax policy reforms are urgently needed in developing countries to increase tax collection levels and address the fundamental inequities built into most developing country systems, which ensure that the poor are paying more than their fair share in tax.

While the tax burden on the poor should be lowered, the tax burden on the wealthy and large economic actors in society must be increased with a thorough review of income and asset taxes.

Generous tax incentives for business must
be abolished alongside stringent efforts to
address corporate and elite tax evasion.

Progressive taxation must go hand in hand with an increase in pro-poor public spending.

Financial secrecy leading to tax evasion and avoidance

People in poor countries are being denied the chance to make choices about how to pay for their own development. A fair, effective and transparent tax system applied to companies is a way to achieve this.

Global accounting rules need to be introduced that require all MNCs to publish their tax payments in each country where they operate. This will help tax authorities
in developing countries to combat trade mispricing and other forms of tax avoidance. It will also enable parliamentarians and civil society to provide scrutiny.

Regional guidelines setting standards for corporate governance and behaviour should include a requirement that all companies are required to publish their tax payments to national governments.

National subsidiaries of MNCs should publish their tax payments to government in order to help Parliament and citizens monitor government revenue.

Tax exemptions for foreign investors

Developing countries fail to mobilise sufficient domestic resources for development because of the excessive tax exemptions they grant to foreign investors.

International financial institutions should stop advising governments to lower taxes.

Governments should agree
on tax harmonisation at a regional level to help reduce tax competition between countries seeking to attract FDI, so discouraging a ‘race to the bottom’.

Governments should ensure more transparency in contracts signed with companies, by for example publishing them on the internet.

Governments should disclose the tax payments and other income they receive from extractives companies, as well as how this is allocated in the budget or other expenditure channels such as local development funds.

Deals should not be negotiated in secret and should conform to national legislation.

Conduct a thorough review of tax incentives provided to the mining sector and abolish overly generous provisions.

TOP TIP

One way of developing sharp tax messages is to link revenue loss as a result of harmful tax practices with a lack of financing for essential services. For example, a five-year tax holiday for a company might mean 300 unpaid teachers. You can use specific numbers on tax expenditures to frame this kind of message.

It is sometimes the case that one audience has access to the messages you are using with another audience. For example a decision-maker may well see your popular campaign message. So you do need to be sure that the content of both are consistent, even if they are distinct in style. It can be a difficult balance to achieve, but you need to think carefully about it and ensure that you’re ‘joined up’ if you want to avoid your tax advocacy unravelling before your eyes!

An important way of ensuring that your messages are joined up is to have a shared advocacy strategy and a process of designing it that involves key internal stakeholders, for example those in your organisation or network who deal with supporters, the media, policy and lobbying. That way you resolve any problematic differences of approach or tactics early on, before they cause you and your advocacy project major headaches and possible failure.

Think about the following:

  • What is your advocacy approach or tactics? (see Step 5 below)
  • What is the most persuasive way to present your core message to your target audience?
  • What way of presenting the message will most resonate with your target audience and encourage them to listen and take your message on board? Understanding what perspective your audience comes from is key to being effective in this regard.
  • What information does your audience need, and what don’t they need?
  • What key action do you wish your audience, in particular, to take?

Consider what your targets’ likely defence will be and how to counter their arguments effectively. It can be helpful to produce a checklist of likely arguments and how to counter them.

Your key messages may change over time to reflect changed attitudes or circumstances.
For example, as public understanding develops so the complexity of the message to the public can reflect this change.

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