The role of emotion in advocacy and communications

Like over 26 million other people (!) I was moved by the latest beauty-is-more-than-skin-deep salvo from Dove. Their wildly popular video, “Real Beauty Sketches,” compares women’s descriptions of themselves to descriptions given by relative strangers. The video doesn’t push Dove products very hard, but it certainly burnishes the brand as caring about their customer’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Selling is a lot about trust — and Dove seems to build trust very, very well.

The video, and the ensuing chatter (mostly positive, some negative), provoked a range of thoughts from me both on a personal and professional level. My biggest takeaway on a professional level is how important it is to appeal to people’s emotions in order to create positive change. For a non-profit advocacy organization, being influential and winning people over to your view takes likability, a compelling argument and good timing. And quite frankly, I think likability comes first. How do we determine likability? With our emotions. Continue reading

Advertisements

Increasing interest in an old story

It’s the eternal complaint I get from my colleagues and clients: “It’s an old story and nobody will listen to us talk anymore about it.” People particularly like to blame the media for not paying attention to “old” stories, but they also point the finger at politicians and donors (cue “donor fatigue,” which most advocacy officers probably say about 10 times a day).

I appreciate that it’s frustrating trying to get a meeting with a politician about a 10-year-old conflict where 200,000 people are still suffering but nobody has a solution and the politician’s country has already spent 40 million Euros trying to help those people. I also appreciate that some media don’t cover the stories I might like them to cover. Yes, less Lindsay Lohan and more Aung San Suu Kyi would be nice in general.

But when people complain to me about how they can’t stir up interest in an old story, I usually tell them to point that wagging finger at themselves. Improving your own advocacy and communications on an old story won’t guarantee you a headline and a policy shift, but I can also guarantee nearly every person I talk to with this problem that they can improve their own work. Continue reading

Being influential across cultures

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the director of the European office of a large US-based NGO. We had a fascinating conversation about cross-cultural advocacy, communications and fundraising and I thought some of the insights we discussed would make for interesting reflections to be shared here.

Communicating effectively across cultures is a skill required of every job in the international non-profit sector, but few people are really great communicators — either in their own culture and language or across a couple of different ones. Hiring practices in this sector too often, in my opinion, place too much emphasis on specific technical skills and previous experience that exactly mirrors the job at hand. I also know this is a challenge in more industries than just my own.

In the vast majority of situations I’ve been in, poor advocacy and communications are not a result of a failure to grasp the policy issues at stake. Most smart people who are astute analytical thinkers, have a strong work ethic and are adept at reading and synthesizing information can grasp new and complex issues rapidly and well. Rather, poor advocacy and communications are typically a failure to effectively communicate messages — and invariably a good chunk of that ineffectiveness is due to a lack of understanding of the cultural situation at hand. Continue reading

What is advocacy?

This is definitely the question I get the most — from my parents to country directors and heads of mission. The word “advocacy” (or “plaidoyer” or “Meinungsbildung”) isn’t terribly clear itself. So this is what I usually tell people. (And with a big smile and lots of passion! Advocacy is wonderful!)

Advocacy is about influence. It’s trying to get other people to think the way you think.
Continue reading