Muhammad 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.
Here’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.)