It’s a classic meeting move I’ve witnessed it first-hand numerous times. Someone at the table describes a situation caused by underinformed and unengaged staff, voters, customers, or just people in general. You can fill in the situation and etcetera. Typically the problem is frustrating and complex.

Then, in a momentary stroke of creative genius, the clouds part and someone has a eureka moment. “We should advertise to get the word out!” they proclaim. The crowd goes wild.

Perfect. Problem solved. Every staff member, voter, customer and folks in your etcetera column suddenly become informed, engaged stakeholders.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news otherwise known as reality, but it’s not quite that simple. I love communications, and many times that includes advertising. Seeing people change behavior and make different choices because of good communication is why I do this work. It’s amazing to see, but it never happens because someone has a simple one-size-fits-all solution that magically solves whatever issue you are trying to resolve.

It all comes down to knowing your goals, audiences and having a good understanding of the media platforms available. In general, there are three general groups of platforms; space you own, space you earn and space you pay for.

Let’s start with the space you own. Owned media platforms include places like your website, YouTube channel, social media pages and materials you print and distribute. These are things you have complete control over. Get these platforms in use first so when people who have never heard from you before go to your website, they see the same message reflected. Using owned platforms helps reinforce the message and helps empower your internal stakeholders to help spread the call to action.

Secondly, getting information into media spaces that you earn is another component of outreach. This starts with relationships. Having your topic covered by any news platform that you don’t control requires a good understanding of that platform and the type of news that is important to their audience. Build a relationship with them and then offer information that is helpful to their audiences. That increases your chances of being able to work with them on a story that helps spread your messag.e

Finally, paying for advertising time and space can be very powerful. This is what people think of when they yell out simple solutions in meetings about how to get the word out. But I’m here to tell you that this might be the most complex of the three options. Unless you have access to unlimited amounts of money for creative development and placement, choosing the right placement and message is critical. Know who you are trying to reach and choose a platform based on their presence. Know what you are trying to say, and develop your creatives based on that call to action. Paid advertising allows you to meet audiences where they are at, but it requires more strategy and a bigger budget.

Just remember, when you know your goals and have a solid strategy, the campaign can feel like a well-choreographed chorus line. It’s amazing to behold and gets people talking about your message.