Small media

The key to this intervention Small media are written resources usually intended to be taken away in printed format by members of the target audience. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes with variable amounts of text, and include magazines, newsletters, booklets, leaflets, posters and cards.

What is the activity?

Small media are written and printed resources usually intended to be taken away by members of the target audience. They include text-based interventions such as magazines, newsletters, booklets, leaflets, posters or cards. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes with variable amounts of text. They are usually made available, or actively distributed to African people in social or service settings. Alternatively, newsletters or magazines are sometimes mailed (or emailed) directly to users on a mailing list.

There is some overlap between small media and mass media, which becomes apparent when considering how the setting can change the name of an intervention. For example, health promotion information displayed in an barbershop may be called a ‘poster’ and considered small media, but a similar product from the same campaign in the African press is called a mass media ‘advert’.

Strengths and limitations

Leaflets and other small media help to ensure that a comprehensive source of information on a topic exists. As a part of a HIV prevention campaign, different types of small media can draw service users from initial interest (perhaps through a poster), to picking up a leaflet (which enables them to gain more detailed information), to making a decision to seek further interventions, or perhaps to alter their behaviour.

Written interventions cannot be expected to meet complex social needs or address interpersonal problems. Instead, they are best used to convey information, and to raise awareness. In addition, small media can offer information about organisations and their services, thereby promoting access to other interventions.

Where does it happen?

Detailed information on the settings for distributing small media are described in latter sections on static and interactive distribution. Small media interventions may be encountered in generic or African-specific public settings, or private settings. The choice of setting for the placement or display of written interventions will be influenced by the appropriateness of the content to the setting.

Challenging or complex content needs careful placement consideration, as some may feel exposed or stereotyped by targeted material placed in a very public environments. In this way, consideration of the potential settings can influence small media development, just as the content of small media may influence the selection of locations for distribution.

Frequently delivered alongside ...

Issues to consider

Less is more in terms of volume of text. Only the first eight words of a headline usually get read. Sentences should never be more than thirteen words long. Posters should only seek to make one point.

The production of high-quality, well evidenced written resources is relatively costly, although the cost per unit delivered to an end user can be relatively low. With this in mind, smaller agencies may choose to distribute interventions produced by others rather than devoting their own resources to development and production. Partnership-working enables the collaborative production of small media resources between agencies. Micro-printing technologies also allow, for instance, for one page of local contact details in a national resource, while still undertaking a large print-run.

‘Support media’ can help to draw service users into conversation with those distributing small media. These items might include pens, stickers, button badges, key-rings, sweets etc. carrying a campaign’s key message and perhaps some contact details. Front-line staff find that such items can be vital as icebreakers for verbal interactions, or a useful tool to close a conversation during outreach or detached work.

Complex messages often take time to assimilate, and as a result, may be more suitable to portable (leaflet) rather than fixed (poster) formats, so that they can be kept and read more than once.

Small media development must be carefully managed, from the creation of aims, the collection of relevant evidence, to the publication of the final product. ‘Mission drift’ is most likely where clear lines of responsibility are lacking, and where external agencies hired to deliver design services are allowed to take control of the health promotion content.

Small media interventions can be designed and delivered to almost any target group, but this does not mean that it is right for them to exclude others. As such, all HIV prevention interventions should ensure that they are inoffensive to people with diagnosed HIV, even in materials intended for those who have never tested. Similar attention should be paid to matters of gender, age, ethnic and national identity, sexuality, and educational background. It is important to account for differences in values and personal priorities among those who may come across these written resources.

Peer review and pre-testing campaign ideas and text in the development stage is essential in order to ensure that the aim and the content are unified, that the essential information is clear, and that the design ideas are acceptable and attractive to readers.


The outcomes of small media interventions are primarily information-based, and the list below offers examples of outcomes depending on the content of the intervention:

  • Knowing HIV exists and understanding the harm it can cause (see associated needs).
  • Having a clearer understanding about how and why different sexual acts carry differing risks of HIV transmission (see associated needs).
  • Knowing how to correctly use male and female condoms, and feeling more confident introducing condoms with sexual partners (see associated needs).
  • Understanding the benefits of knowing their own HIV status (see associated needs here and here).
  • Increased requests for (and uptake of) STI screening (see associated needs).
  • Increased consideration that the sex they have could risk HIV transmission (see associated needs).
  • Knowing more about reducing harm when unprotected sex does happen - such as withdrawal and ensuring sero-concordance - while also understanding that there are more effective means of avoiding HIV transmission (see associated needs here and here).
  • Knowing more about other services that can help to meet a range of needs, including HIV prevention need (see associated needs).
  • Knowing about the HIV prevention options for conception in couples where a partner has diagnosed HIV (see associated needs).
  • Increased requests for (and uptake of) PEP following sexual exposure to HIV (see associated needs).
  • Knowing about the HIV prevention options for conception in couples where a partner has diagnosed HIV (see associated needs).

Monitoring and evaluation

A key element of monitoring the production of small media interventions is ensuring that an archive of interventions at various phases of their development is kept for future reference. This allows agencies, partners and researchers to trace the history of small media production.

During various phases of small media development, the ideas, design and language used in the intervention should be pre-tested with people in the target population. This helps agencies to determine if the meaning they intended to convey is clear and unambiguous. Pre-testing can be undertaken as short cognitive interviews with individuals or in focus group settings - comprised of members of the target audience with no professional or personal connection to those developing the intervention. Similarly, focus groups among those in the designated user group can be undertaken after an intervention has run, in order to assess the acceptability of small media interventions, and in order to improve future campaigns. Peer review of interventions at all phases of design is also likely to be beneficial.

The extent to which small media have reached those in specific settings or geographical areas can be assessed by coverage surveys, where individuals are asked if they recall seeing a particular item. Coverage questions can be included in broader surveys, which reduces costs, and also facilitates statistical analysis that includes other demographics, leading to a greater understanding about which sub-groups of the African population are most (and least) likely to have seen the intervention.

Page last updated: 17 July 2013

Case study

PEP booklets

THT and HEAL pan-London partnership

Some years back, THT recognised a need for increased awareness of PEP among Africans. Pre-testing revealed extensive information need concerning PEP and related issues. Over time, small pocket-sized booklets were developed to cover these different needs. They were accompanied by sector development interventions to increase knowledge and skills among outreach staff. Recently commissioned work with the Pan-London HEAL partnership, has led THT to release a revised PEP booklet which is 14-pages, pocket sized, and available in a range of settings, including as a pdf from the Mambo website.