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

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