Our Work


Movements most powerfully come together and capture the public imagination where they intersect with their audience—in the media. While organizations have members and constituencies, most Americans form an understanding of an issue through the media, through contested discourse, and through the values they associate with each “side,” rather than through any individual organization.

That’s why our motto (coined first by one of our staff) grew to become, “The issues are our client.” What does this mean? It means working to align messages and provide capacity-building support across an entire sector. It means no billable hours and the ability to say yes to helping organizations who are doing great work, but do not have the resources or staff to get that work out there. And it means monitoring the issues 24/7 and helping organizations and community members respond quickly to an unforeseen crisis or opportunity, whether or not we have ever worked with them before.

The Rethink Model

Communicate Collaboratively

We focus on collaborative communications. The easiest analogy is to a team sport or a symphony. A professional team or orchestra has players who specialize in their roles or instruments. They work together. They are most successful when they each maximize their individual strengths in pursuit of a shared goal. Organizations are no different. By helping each organization pinpoint its strategic perspective and additive value in a campaign, we can propel the issue into public consciousness. In communications terms, we don’t want to fight over the same column inches or sound bites, we don’t want a cacophony of discordant notes that leave the audience flat, we want to measurably increase the number of column inches and sound bites for the issue overall.

Case Study

Coming Together to Demand Arms Reductions

Message Testing
Public Opinion
Media Analysis

When working to ratify the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (or New START Treaty) in 2010, ReThink worked with the arms control and disarmament community to adopt a shared messaging strategy that defined why the treaty was critical. We identified national security validators and other key spokespeople to convey those messages, and we helped them write and place op-eds in the outlets that were most critical to influencing lawmakers.

Strengthen Message Cohesion

People understand and relate to different issues through topline messages and core values—both ours and our opposition’s. While any “one message fits all” approach is destined to fail, some message cohesion is imperative to build public support for an issue and win long-term policy change. Overtly competing messages, stories of infighting amongst movement players, or a lack of clarity on what we are asking people to do, not only confuses our audiences, it excludes them from being a part of positive change.

In our experience, there are four critical components to developing message cohesion: 

  • An understanding of how the public—more specifically our target audiences—feel about an issue and what messages move them to action. 
  • The buy-in of organizations, experts, and spokespeople to adopt and advance those messages. 
  • A multi-year commitment to supporting organizations in reaching those audiences and implementing those messaging shifts in all of their communications. 
  • Continually adapting those core messages to be relevant to new political developments and shifts in public opinion.

Learn more about the nuts and bolts of how we strengthen message cohesion.

Use Data to Drive Strategy

Different movements have very different needs.

We begin our work in any new issue area with an extensive needs assessment examining the capacity of the groups in that sector. We couple this with a detailed media audit to identify where that movement is winning or losing with regard to their media engagement. In each case, the goal is to pinpoint where increased capacity will prove most effective and to establish baselines for measuring progress toward those goals.

Given that the goal is to use the media to shape public opinion, our analysis team tracks opinion trends and produces regular analyses—including specific messaging recommendations. While commissioned research efforts are best directed at message development, tracking and analyzing publicly available polling, in the aggregate and around key media moments, allows our team to provide organizations with solid and timely intelligence to inform their work.

Case Study

The Power of Data to Tell Stories

Media Analysis

In 2011, Rep. Peter King, then-chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, held a highly politicized hearing on the “radicalization of the American Muslim community.” He cited recent domestic terrorism cases linked to American Muslims, such as a shooting on a military base in Fort Hood, TX, and an attempted bombing in Times Square (which was thwarted by a Muslim man, a New York cab driver).

Power Rapid Response

There are two types of media engagement: those where you execute a proactive plan and those where you spring into action in response to breaking news stories. 

In these moments, we work with our partners not just to win the news cycle, but to seize the opportunity to build the movement around our issues. In the case of crisis response, the way we choose to respond can help the community coordinate, address internal conflicts, teach new skills, expand impact, and develop muscle memory for future collaborative work. In some scenarios, we provide a coalition of organizations with shared messaging, pivot points, and near-24-hour media monitoring of how coverage is playing out in real time both online and off. In other scenarios, our rapid response zeroes in on individual organizations in need of support.

Amplify New Voices

When it comes to creating policy change and moving public opinion, who gets heard matters. We refer to this as “voiceshare.” Voiceshare is one of the first data points we look at in any issue we work on. Knowing the top opposition messages and messengers and how prevalent they are relative to our own is critical. If our goal is to move the public to understand and adopt our policies, and the public is not even hearing our messages and perspective, then we are not going to move an issue forward.

While our work to strengthen voiceshare varies widely across each of our issue areas, two critical components remain the same: 1) centering the voices of those who are most affected by the issues and policies in question, and 2) ensuring that our spokespeople are trusted by and representative of the people we need to reach. ReThink works with organizations not only to strengthen the skills of their current spokespeople but to identify up-and-coming leaders and allied voices. We train them; connect them with targeted reporters; and help write, edit, and pitch content, amongst other strategies.

Whether it's our work to center the voices of the Muslim, Arab, Sikh, or South Asian community; increase gender parity in peace in security media coverage; or promote pro-voter policies, we have worked to help raise up new voices from impacted communities.

Case Study

Putting Training Into Practice

Media Analysis
Message Testing

After a spate of efforts to roll back citizens’ voting rights, ReThink is working with local, state, and national voting rights experts and advocates to drive pro-voter policies across the country. This includes building a whole new cadre of local and state spokespeople. So far that has included local spokesperson trainings in Texas, Georgia, Nebraska, Wisconsin, New York, North Carolina, and Mississippi.

Innovation and Emergent Learning

ReThink Media is obsessed—with experimentation, measurement, analysis, and learning. As a data-driven organization, we track the results of nearly everything we do, and we match that by routinely capturing subjective reviews from those who take part in a ReThink Media skills training or use one of the resources we create. We poll organizations on what they would find most helpful in their work and we poll people on what resources they are using and how. We see each campaign and each of our three issue collaboratives as learning laboratories. We take key findings from one area of our work and apply them to campaigns in other issue areas. We derive lessons cross-collaboratively and share best practices with the hundreds of organizations that we work with, informed by that learning.

Training and Media Skills

We deliver on-line and in-person media skills workshops for nonprofit of all sizes and select experts.

Every media skills session ReThink develops is uniquely tailored to the group receiving the training—grounded in a deep understanding of the issues they work on, their organizational capacity, and the media landscape they are operating in. Whether it's crafting a strategic communications plan for your organization, learning the Do's and Don'ts of engaging a reporter on Twitter, or building your own expert media profile—as one participant said, "no other professional media training comes within a country mile of ReThink's in terms of value." Learn more or request a training session...

Why Should YOU Participate in a ReThink Spokesperson Training? Our past trainees have a few reasons.

Media Strategy

  • Build your expert media profile
  • Develop values-based communications
  • Craft Hill communications
  • Connect with non-expert audiences
  • Counter opposition messages

Traditional Media

  • Understand news values
  • Build relationships with journalists
  • Do effective print interviews
  • Master on-camera media appearances
  • Outreach to Op-ed and editorial boards

Digital Media

  • Know your digital strategy tool kit
  • Engage journalists and influencers on Twitter
  • Target your digital ad dollars
  • What to do in your "John Oliver moment"
  • Develop a digital crisis communication plan

How can we work together?

If your organization works in one of our issue areas or as an allied group, you may be eligible for access to many of the resources and training we offer.

If you are supporting progressive causes in another sector and want to find out more about advancing a similar capacity-building initiative to support the work of your grantees, we are eager to help—ask about our advisory and consulting work.

If you are a program officer at a foundation or an individual philanthropist interested in advancing or finding out more about ReThink’s work, ask us about our Partners program.

Contact Us