Media Campaigns - Radio (WWT)

Compiled by:
Doerte Peters (seecon international gmbh)

Executive Summary

The media (television, radio, print media, internet and email) play a significant role in spreading information and raising awareness on water and sanitation. They enable to influence and change public opinion and behaviour on an issue. This can lead to public pressure on the local policy actors, so the media can indirectly influence decision makers as well. Furthermore, the media can play a role as an advocacy tool (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003). Here we will focus on why and how to develop an appealing radio campaign, which reaches a wider audience than any other medium (BURKE 1999). Also, radio campaigns are a cheap method to spread information about water-related projects widely (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003).

Media Campaigns as a Tool to Influence Both the Public Opinion and Policy Makers

As the media are part of the lives of many people (BURKE 1999), they can give a basis for public discussion and the reconsidering of norms. Case studies show that the media can have an immense educating impact on the public opinion and behaviour (BURKE 1999). Also, the media can influence the decision makers indirectly, when the public gets aware of a topic and applies pressure (WATERAID 2007). The media play also an important role in advocacy work.
Summarised the media are useful for the following reasons (WATERAID 2007):


  • Change public attitudes and behaviour
  • Inform the public about your issue and proposed solutions
  • Recruit allies among the public and decision-makers
  • Raise money for your cause
  • Get your issue onto the political public agenda
  • Make your issue visible and credible in policy debate
  • Influence decision-makers and opinion leaders


Main Stakeholders and Target Groups

As the central aim is to spread information and raise awareness of SSWM and so change people’s attitudes, your target group are people in rural and urban areas who have no or few information about the topic. Radio reaches a very wide audience.
The main actors of a radio campaign can come from the local level: You can just call the local radio station and ask if they are interested in your topic. The station might help you, as well as local NGOs, to get a recorder and make up an interesting broadcast.
It is also possible to reach nationwide radio stations: you can try to involve local decision makers to support the application and then ask directly at the stations if they want to broadcast your campaign. Search for media lists of NGOs to get the contacts.

Why to Choose a Radio Campaign?

Radio Campaigns are an efficient tool to influence the public opinion because radio reaches a wider audience than any other medium, and is accessible to people who are otherwise isolated by geography, conflict, illiteracy or poverty (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003). The involvement of the public will increase the decision makers’ attention to the water and sanitation topic and it will also influence social norms directly. According to this, radio campaigns can have a direct effect on the public attitude and behaviour (WATERAID 2007).


Radio - a medium that can be used almost anywhere nowadays. Source: RADIO FOR DEVELOPMENT (2010)


Radio also has the power to motivate people by building on oral traditions like songs, which help to get to the peoples heart (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003). In addition, radio listening can be a group activity, which encourages the discussion of educational issues after the broadcast (BURKE 1999).
Community radio stations can play a significant role in increasing participation and opinion sharing, improving and diversifying knowledge and skills and in catering to health and cultural needs (WATERAID 2007). To learn more about other media campaigns, see also internet and email, video, or posters and flyers.

How to Plan a Media Campaign

The following six steps are the main ones for developing a media campaign. The questions posed will guide you through your planning (adapted from FOCUS 2006):


Step 1: Define Your Audience: Whom do you want to reach with your message? Can you reach this audience within available resources? Do you know enough about your audience to select effective messages and channels of communication?


Step 2: Set Clear Objectives: What is your overall goal? Do your plans fit with other activities and plans in the community? Have you identified your objectives?


Step 3: Define Channels and Vehicles for Communication: Which channel is the best to use for your targets?


  • Raise awareness/spread information: accessible media with broad reach (radio)
  • Change attitudes: channels with emotional impact (television, radio)
  • Model specific skills: television works best because of sound, sight, and motion
  • Change public opinion: look for news coverage via editorials, news interviews
  • Complex message: print presentations


Step 4: Identify Effective Messages: Have you chosen a message for your audience that has the right message content (or theme)? Does the message have the right tone (light or heavy) and the right appeal (rational or emotional)? Would using humour or fear be appropriate and effective?
Any message you choose should pass the ‘’What? So What? Now What?’ Test:


  • ‘What?’ refers to the basic information being conveyed
  • ‘So What?’ addresses the reasons or benefits for action
  • ‘Now What?’ clearly defines some desirable and productive action


Step 5: Implement Your Campaign: What work needs to be done? Have you made a timeline? When and how long will you run your campaign, and with what intensity? When will you contact the media channels you have selected, obtain the messages you selected in the format required? Have you set out a work plan that defines required tasks, the people responsible and the timing?


Step 6: Evaluate Your Campaign: Does your campaign track coverage (process indicators)? Does it generate additional media coverage? Can you see changes in knowledge or attitudes (outcome indicators)? Are there any letters or phone calls with questions on the topic?

Things to Consider before Applying Radio Campaigns

  • Find out if the radio is the right media to reach your targets. Many rural communities now have access to radio, and some read national newspapers on a daily basis. Urban, industrialised populations may be more easily influenced through television, while professional audiences may respond to articles in key publications and periodicals (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003).
  • populations may be more easily influenced through television, while professional audiences may respond to articles in key publications and periodicals (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003).
  • If the radio campaign is part of an overall media campaign, it could be beneficial to use a corporate slogan that is recognisable within all kinds of used media. Make sure you use identical information in all media.
  • Radio campaigns are a cheap method to spread information, but they should be deliberate, in particular they need to be basic and memorable for anyone with any education.
  • For making a broadcast you will need a recorder. It is also possible to borrow one at a radio station. Maybe you can also make the broadcast there.
  • Radio campaigns should be a part of a wider communication process that encompasses other awareness raising instruments. Radio campaigns can achieve your objectives even better combined with other media, awareness raising and communication tools in the SSWM Toolbox.
  • Radio is a one-way medium and most people cannot listen again to a show or ask for information to be repeated. To avoid this, telephone calls or letters with questions on the campaign should be enabled to make it a two-way medium.
  • Many people lack access to radios, electricity or the batteries to power them (WATERAID 2007). Therefore, radio campaigns need to be appealing and burning themselves into one’s memory at the first listening.
  • Check religious background of the specific area before planning the radio campaign. The campaign can lean on religious issues but should definitely not break with any religious rites.
  • The title and opening line of a presentation are important, since they will determine whether you attract the attention of listeners (WHO 2008). See also sociocultural issues.


Ideas for Radio Campaigns

There are lots of ways to create a radio campaign: Short on-off programmes can be broadcast to highlight or explain particular issues, whereas series of programmes give a longer period for the introduction of a set of ideas (BURKE 1999). Below you can find seven different ideas how to make an appealing radio campaign for your issue.


1) Participation, Local and Community Radio (BURKE 1999): Individual radio programmes can be made with the direct involvement of poorer people, through interviews, phone-in programmes, letters, or recordings of outside events. Involving members of the audience in broadcasting itself, building up local content, and enhancing the relevance of programmes is not just good developmental practice — it can make for better radio as well. Most people are able to speak on radio eloquently after only minimal instruction, so community radio provides a means to voice local concerns, as well as a way to reach people with messages.


Radio is a medium that allows for almost anybody's participation. Source: RADIO FOR DEVELOPMENT (2010)


2) Soap Operas and Serial Dramas (BURKE 1999): Good serial dramas and soap operas can make a considerable impact. Soul City’s multimedia serial dramas in South Africa have been positively evaluated; a real difference in people’s attitudes and behaviour on the health issues being covered through the serial was identified. Similar results come out of the BBC Afghan programme. One of the key components in each case is high quality staff, with media experience and close working relationships with development specialists. The main benefit of soap operas is, that they allow the repetition of educational messages (SCHAAP et al. 2002).


3) Radio Spots with Traditional Songs: Radio has the power to motivate people by building on oral traditions (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003). To carry a message a radio-spot can for example rely on traditional songs as well as a composition of sanitation messages, like in the UNICEF’s Saniya Project in Burkina Faso (SCHAAP & VAN STEENBERGEN 2001).


4) Infomercial (SCHAAP & VAN STEENBERGEN 2001): Infomercial are two-minute animations that dramatise an issue (e.g. germs) and show the audience a solution sequence.


5) Break-Bumpers (SCHAAP & VAN STEENBERGEN 2001): Break bumpers are five-second messages that promote core-behavioural changes, for example, “Did you wash your hands today?”


6) Interviews (WHO 2008): Hosts and hostesses of talk shows are almost always looking for people to interview on radio. Just call up your local radio station and suggest someone for an interview.
Some information about interviews is listed below (WATERAID & WSSCC 2003):


  • Pre-recorded interview: Allows you to think about your replies and to begin again if you make a mistake. However, you cannot control how they edit the interview.
  • Live interviews: What you say is used for sure, but you will need more confidence in your responses to get it right first time. Do not tell anything confidential.
  • Decide beforehand what your key points are (keep it to a small number) and make sure that you make these points somewhere in the interview.
  • Prepare a few ‘sound bites’ (next point) in advance, they will help to make your statements memorable. Humour is also a good way to make your case without appearing aggressive and is more likely to make the public remember you.


7) Sound Bites (WHO 2008): When you have only a few seconds in front of a microphone, you need to use memorable phrases — sound bites — that will stay with your audience long after you have left. The sound bites should capture and communicate the one key message you want to leave with the audience, if they remember nothing else.
Some sound bite examples (WHO 2008):


  • 2.6 billion people (41% of the global population) lack access to sanitation.
  • 88% of all diarrhoeal deaths are attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and hygiene.
  • Hand washing with soap is estimated to reduce the risk of contracting diarrhoeal diseases by 42-47%.
  • 11% increase in girls’ enrolment mainly due to the provision of sanitary latrines.


The benefit of radio campaigns is their wide applicability. They are applicable in urban and rural areas. For urban areas sometimes television reaches more people than radio, but especially in rural areas radio might be the only way to reach the audience.

Radio is applicable in water scarce and water rich areas and can be important on all levels, as the only thing needed is a radio receiver and for the one broadcasting it a recorder:

With local, smaller radio stations the local public (households) can be reached and their opinion and behaviour in water and sanitation topics can be influenced.

At a higher level, more popular radio stations or even national stations can reach a great part of the public and push the communication of the general problem.

Religious backgrounds of the specific area need to be considered before planning the radio campaign. Its contents should definitely not break with any definitely rites.


  • Reaches wider audience than any other medium
  • Cheap to make compared to other media
  • Motivates people by building on oral tradition
  • Radio receivers are widely available, comparatively cheap and portable
  • Reaches people isolated by geography, conflict, illiteracy, poverty
  • Helps create demand for services, conveys vital information
  • Gives listeners the opportunity to make informed choices about decisions, gives them greater self-determination
  • Listening as group activity, encouraging discussions


  • One-way medium: information may not be retained
  • Rarely sufficient to teach new skills, requires reinforcement by health workers or by visual and printed materials
  • In the wrong hands radio can heighten people’s fears and prejudices
  • Many people lack electricity, batteries are expensive


BURKE, A. (1999): Communications & Development. A practical guide. London: Social Development Division. Department for International Development. URL [Accessed: 14.07.2010].

FOCUS (Editor) (2006): Community Based Media Campaign Action Pack. Kingston: Ontario Stroke Strategy. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012].

SCHAAP, W.; STEENBERGEN, F. van (2001): Ideas for Water Awareness Campaigns. Stockholm: The Global Water Partnership. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012].

WATERAID (Editor) (2007): The Advocacy Sourcebook. London: WaterAid. URL [Accessed: 12.04.2010].

WATERAID & WSSCC (Editor) (2003): Advocacy Sourcebook. A Guide to Advocacy for WSSCC co-ordinators working on the WASH campaign. WATERAID & WSSCC . URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012].

WHO (Editor) (2008): Celebrating World Water Day 2008. An Advocacy Guide. URL [Accessed: 26.07.2010].

RADIO FOR DEVELOPMENT (Editor) (2010): African Radio Listeners & Field Recording Pic Gallery. Birmingham (UK): Radio for Development. URL [Accessed: 23.03.2012].

Further Readings

Reference icon

BURKE, A. (1999): Communications & Development. A practical guide. London: Social Development Division. Department for International Development. URL [Accessed: 14.07.2010].

This document includes a guide to using different media (drama, broadcast media and other media). In the internet section, it focuses on networking. You can get detailed information on networking, especially combined with gender questions. As there are some case studies, the document is not just theoretical but close to reality.

Reference icon

FOSSARD, E. de (1996): How To Write a Radio Serial Drama for Social Development. A Script Writer’s Manual. John Hopkins University Population Communication Services. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012].

This document guides you through all steps of writing a radio serial drama. It offers some theoretical background information, but the main part focuses on practical methods. It is useful for both novices and experienced scriptwriters who have not yet written a serial drama that educates as well as it entertains.

Reference icon

SCHAAP, W.; STEENBERGEN, F. van (2001): Ideas for Water Awareness Campaigns. Stockholm: The Global Water Partnership. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012].

This document includes a section for advocacy, presenting an overview of many ideas and initiatives with emphasis on practical suggestions and clues. It is not a guidebook for planning your advocacy work but it might be a great knowledge source and starting point for your activities.

Reference icon

WATERAID (Editor) (2007): The Advocacy Sourcebook. London: WaterAid. URL [Accessed: 12.04.2010].

This book provides detailed information about drawing up advocacy action plans that aim to improve the water supply and sanitation situation. The document presents concrete examples of advocacy work in practice and it provides many tools, tables and diagrams, which advocacy workers may like to reproduce, adapt or distribute for their own advocacy campaign.

Reference icon

WATERAID & WSSCC (Editor) (2003): Advocacy Sourcebook. A Guide to Advocacy for WSSCC co-ordinators working on the WASH campaign. WATERAID & WSSCC . URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012].

This guide for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for all (WASH) campaign offers practical guidance on advocacy work related to water and sanitation. It aims to explain the different advocacy tools, provide practical examples of advocacy work, and provide information on key policy actors and processes and how to influence them at local, national and international levels.

Reference icon

WHO (Editor) (2008): Celebrating World Water Day 2008. An Advocacy Guide. URL [Accessed: 26.07.2010].

Awareness Raising Material

Reference icon

UN-WATER (Editor) (2009): Communication-Matrix. UN-Water.

This short matrix shows what can be done by using the media to make an issue public.

Training Material

Reference icon

FOCUS (Editor) (2006): Community Based Media Campaign Action Pack. Kingston: Ontario Stroke Strategy. URL [Accessed: 17.04.2012].

This planner takes you through a 6-step process to develop a community-based media campaign. Although it is written for a campaign on alcohol risks, it offers clear step-by step information on how to plan a media campaign that are useful for any kind of a media campaign. It includes many useful tips and tricks.

Important Weblinks [Accessed: 26.07.2010]

The page “Natural Resource Management” gives detailed information about the radio serial “Agua de Angel” from Honduras. [Accessed: 26.07.2010]

This website is about the radio and its importance in developing countries. It contains pictures, little videos and a training section where you can find information on how to make an appealing broadcast. [Accessed: 21.07.2010]

This web link informs ondifferent program and research activities carried by the World Health Organisation on household water treatment options along with some information on ceramic filters. [Accessed: 26.07.2010]

The webpage of the Water and Sanitation program contains some radio campaigns that are useful to see what those can be like. [Accessed: 23.08.2010]

Website explaining the concept of WSPs, and providing links to further reading documents and important websites.