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C.5 Mass Communication

Mass communication refers to the dissemination of information using a means of communication that can quickly reach a large number of people. It includes tools and methods such as Public Announcements T.36, Radio and TV T.38, Text Messaging T.44, Print Madia T.33 and various IEC Materials T.19 e.g. posters, flyers or billboards. It is an important method for emergency risk communication C.9.

Mass communication reaches a wider audience and can be done comparatively fast and at a relatively low cost (particularly in proportion to the number of people being reached). It can also reach people who are otherwise isolated by geography or conflict. Information can potentially be (audio-) visualised and reach target groups who have limited literacy. It is, however, mostly a one-way medium with little or no participatory elements, making interaction difficult. Feedback on whether the mass communication methods have been effective at influencing change is harder to obtain. 

Mass communication, with its ability to reach a wide audience, may be useful to spread vital information, raise general awareness and help influence attitudes, behavioural norms and public opinion. It can create a demand for services. It makes issues or information more visible (or heard) and may lead to public pressure on local authorities and, indirectly, influence decision makers. It can also mobilise groups of people to take action (instead of only being focused on individual behaviour change). Mass communication is, however, rarely sufficient on its own and may require reinforcement by local hygiene promoters or health workers using more participatory communication means C.4.

During the initial assessment and planning, it is important to identify which mass communication channels the anticipated audience/participant groups have access to. It is always advisable to focus on more than one communication channel, using a blended approach of different channels and including tools for both participatory and mass communication (C.4 and C.5). It is essential to be clear about the information that needs to be communicated and avoid conveying too many messages at once. Important questions to be answered include: what are the key messages to convey? Can they be understood by the target audience? Has the chosen message the right content, the right tone (light or heavy) and the right appeal (rational or emotional)? Would using humour or fear be appropriate and effective? When and for how long should the campaign be used and with what intensity? Mass communication messages should be pre-tested to ensure that they are interpreted as intended. 

Messages should evolve during a crisis; there will be a need for new mass communication materials that respond to changes in context or a deeper understanding of the situation. It is important to provide timely information. Pre-designed mass communication materials may be available (e.g. IEC materials, T.19) as part of an agency’s standard hygiene promotion tool kits). However, mass communication materials and interventions should be adapted as much as possible to the local context, through, for example, involving local artists or community members in the planning and design, or using locally produced or adapted images that can be understood and related to by the target audience.

To find out if a mass communication intervention has been effective, Monitoring M.2 can track whether it has reached the anticipated audience (using process indicators) and whether it has contributed to changes in knowledge, attitudes and especially practices (using outcome indicators).

Process & Good Practice

  • Integrate the use of mass communication into a wider communication strategy and plan C.10 that typically includes various communication channels as well as participatory communication tools C.4. If resources are limited, selected tools and methods may have to be prioritised and may only permit the targeting of key audiences or the use of a specific communication channel.

  • Collaborate with others P.9 to identify the available communication channels by contacting stakeholders such as the Ministry of Information, Ministry of Health, UNICEF’s communication for development department, Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities Network and media landscape guides. Find out if there are existing materials that can be easily adapted and reproduced.

  • Develop clear and memorable communications and short slogans that emphasise the main message. Succinctness is the most effective style for mass communications. 

  • Create positive messages and avoid reinforcing negative social norms.

  • Check that all the messages chosen pass the tests of ‘What?’ (basic information being conveyed), ‘So What?’ (reasons or benefits for action) and ‘Now What?’ (defines desirable and productive action).

  • Find out which mass communication tools are accessible (and ‘used’) by the anticipated target groups. Consider literacy levels and the availability of the required media devices (e.g. mobile phones or Radio and TV, T.38). 

  • Assess whether Radio or TV T.38 might be better in some areas for reaching people with limited literacy if messages cannot be conveyed in pictures such as posters or billboards T.19. Ensure that communications are timely and in multiple formats to ensure that they reach a diverse audience. Consider Social Media T.44 as a potential channel for mass communication.

  • Vary the messages so that people do not become desensitised. Consider a series (e.g. of posters or radio jingles) with different, consecutive messages to attract continuous attention and build upon previous messages.

  • Assess the potential benefits of using a familiar slogan, recognisable figure or Song T.47.

  • Make visual mass communication tools eye-catching, but avoid being sensational.

  • Adapt the visuals to the local context (by e.g. employing local artists and using the local languages) so that people can relate to them more easily.

  • Select communication channels (such as television and radio) that exert a high emotional impact, if appropriate. They can be more effective at influencing attitudes.

  • Ensure that the content of educational materials includes a simple presentation of relevant facts and a clear statement of what the audience is supposed to do in response.

  • Design mass communications interactively where possible. For example, it may be useful to involve the public in the design and production (e.g. through a workshop) or by providing contact details on a website, an email address on a poster or to encourage phone-ins as part of a radio programme.

  • Think before you print. The decision to print posters and flyers T.19 should be taken carefully as they are often thrown away immediately after use and create a lot of waste

  • Obtain the consent of the relevant local authorities if mass communication tools will be used in public spaces.



To enable the dissemination of key information to a large number of people in a comparatively fast and cost-effective way.


  • Mass communication is usually information transmitted in one direction, with limited opportunity for direct interaction and feedback. As a result, its use is preferable in conjunction with other, participatory, communication methods within a wider communication strategy.

  • Mass information tools can be a powerful way to spread information and key messages quickly, particularly in the early stages of the response. 

  • Identifying the right mass communication channels and the information required should be based on a detailed assessment (chapter  A ) and, ideally, prior testing to ensure that the targeted audience has access to the chosen media and can understand the messages.

  • The content of mass communication messages should be based on credible sources.


Concise overviews for different mass communication tools

SSWM (undated): Media Campaigns – Radio

SSWM (undated): Media Campaigns – Posters and Flyers

SSWM (undated): Media Campaigns – Internet and Emails

Online guide on the media and tele-communication landscape in various countries

CDAC (undated): Media Landscape Guides

Guidance on developing effective radio spots

Shafritz, L., Cowan, C. (2005): Spot on Malaria: Facilitator’s Manual for Workshops on Adapting, Developing and Producing Effective Radio Spots, CHANGE Project