In life, we look for magic bullets when we need something to solve all of the problems.
When it comes to communications for social change the magic bullet approach is when we apply a particular tool or tactic to solve all of the problems and challenges we face. This often looks like turning to the latest social media platform that “everyone” is using, or searching for the perfect message, or writing the single most important OpEd – without consideration of goals, objective, targets, audience, not to mention theory of change. This search for the magic bullet is a tactical approach, one in which individual tactics are uncritically elevated to the level of strategy.
The problem with magic bullets is, they don’t exist. No one tactic can solve a deficiency of strategy.
When I think about communications I prefer to think about silver bullets. Silver bullets, as any monsters nerd knows, are used to kill werewolves.
Theory of Change:
Silver bullets kill werewolves.
1. Goal: Werewolves leave the village alone.
2. Objective: Kill a werewolf AND send a message to other werewolves.
3. Target: Werewolf!
4. Tactic: Fire silver bullets from grandpa’s rifle.
5. Audience: All the other werewolves.
6. Message: Don’t mess with me, I will kill you.
7. Outcome: My village is safe from all sorts of monsters because they see me as a bad ass.
When we have alignment at any given moment between our theory of change, goals, objectives, targets, actionable tactics, messaging, and audience, we are living in the realm of strategy. When we use strategy we are more likely to accomplish our goals, and see some impressive outcomes along the way, like stopping werewolves AND all other monsters.
But when we misalign our tactics – wooden stake vs. silver bullets – from our theory of change then we have a higher likelihood of failure, or in the case our village being overrun by werewolves AND other monsters.
The silver bullet or strategic approach to communications calls for aligning tactics at any given moment with our theory of change, goal, objective, target, audience, and message. With this approach we wont be chasing Instagram users when we should be placing an OpEd in the Washington Post, or buying an ad in the New York Times when we should be chasing local market Spanish language radio.
The strategic approach to communications requires us to pause before we take action and ask, “Is this a silver bullet moment or should I be using a wooden stake instead?”