Monthly Archives: June 2016

Is Your Cause “The Greatest”?

aliMuhammad Ali, whose life was celebrated in a public memorial service today, will be remembered as one of the greatest boxers and athletes of all time. The accolades for his athletic accomplishments, social activism, and religious convictions will continue for several more weeks and months.

It’s hard to imagine any other athlete (or anyone, really) giving themselves the title of “The Greatest” and having it stick. Many people cheered against him because of the way he boasted and belittled his opponents. But in addition to calling himself The Greatest, he also said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”

In promoting your organization or cause, don’t shy away from sharing its value, importance, and impact on society. But also make sure you can back it up with stories, statistics, and examples. A superlative without evidence will quickly be ignored, and will actually make people trust your organization or cause less. There are so many examples of this in nonprofit communications. How many times have you heard about a “unique approach,” “the first  of its kind,” “the biggest/the best/the only” with absolutely no proof that any of these claims are true? I won’t bore you with examples, but if you’ve got the time, you can read the 4.3 million search results for “unique approach” and tell me how many are actually unique.

You KNOW your organization or cause is The Greatest, right? So prove it.



“Weiner”: Crisis as Tragi-comedy

weinerHere’s the best description I’ve read for the new documentary “Weiner,” from NPR’s David Edelstein:

“…a cross between ‘The War Room,’ in which resourceful operatives steer a scandal-ridden but confident candidate to victory, and ‘The Blair Witch Project,’ in which everyone runs around screaming and dies.”

The film, which follows the mayoral campaign of Anthony Weiner, could have been a comeback tale about a disgraced congressman who turned around his reputation to serve the city he loved. Instead, it’s about a disgraced congressman who is further disgraced…this time in front of cameras that he invited into his professional and personal life.

It’s also a lesson about why crisis communications, no matter how well it’s executed, can’t make up for dishonesty. In one scene that will be uncomfortable for any communications professional to watch, Weiner tries to determine how to answer a question from reporters — not by telling his communications director Barbara Morgan the answer, but by trying to remember what he has said in previous interviews. “I think we’ve got to answer the question,” he tells her. “The problem was that a series of interviews that I did when I got in the race were after this. And people asked is the number still the same? I think I said to…six…and then cleaned it up in subsequent interviews because I knew that was a problem. The question is do we answer it or not? I think we have to answer these questions.”

It’s as much a film about Weiner’s wife, Hillary Clinton confidante Huma Abedin. She comes across as a strong and confident woman who deserves better, but in a situation that is out of her control. (If you ask me offline, I’ll tell you my Huma story, but I’ll just say that while I could somewhat enjoy watching Weiner’s downfall unfold on the screen, the movie is hard to watch knowing that it was Weiner, not her, who sought this cinematic attention.)



What’s Your Medium?

medium-show_7024What’s the ROI of annual reports and other publications? It’s a negative if no one is reading them (no matter how well they are written and designed).

In a guest post for The Communications Network, Ory Rinat, who leads digital strategy for the Heritage Foundation, makes a strong case the “the PDF is dying.” For the first time in 2015, the foundation published its 2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity entirely on Medium, replacing the original format of a print book and a PDF. Take a look — it’s a LOT of content but easy to skim and get key points.

Rinat explains, “The Index has a wealth of valuable data, but…we doubted that many of those who received the book read through a majority of it…What about those who were interested in just a few of the data points, or even a single indicator? Asking them to read through an entire book to get the information they need is simply unrealistic.  We knew that if we didn’t make the information easy to use and find, our audience would look elsewhere.”

Completing the “publication” took less than a week from setup to launch, Rinat says, and “the end result was exactly what we were looking for: a de-facto microsite that looks and functions as well as a custom-built destination.” And it attracted 20,000 views in the first month.

Compare those results with a study by the World Bank that examined the ROI of its policy reports. While the reports are intended to inform and influence the development community, more than 32 percent of its reports had  never downloaded. And only 13 percent of the reports were downloaded more than 250 times. Almost 87 percent had never been cited by another source.

The study’s authors note, “Knowledge is central to development. The World Bank invests about one-quarter of its budget for country services in knowledge products. Still, there is little research about the demand for these knowledge products and how internal knowledge flows affect their demand.”

Not that the World Bank has asked me, but the format of reports is just part of their usefulness and readability. It’s telling that the second page of their study lists 36 acronyms that are needed to understand World Bank jargon.

In my organization, these days we’re talking less about channels (websites, blogs, and social media) and focusing more on content. There are many ways to market content, and the medium (pardon the pun) is only part of the message.