• “Brand management is a mindset…” A conversation with Nathalie Kylander, author of The Brand Idea

    1658749 Nathalie Laidler-Kylander is a Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government where she teaches courses on leadership and the strategic management of non-profits. She is the co-author of The Brand Idea, which offers a new strategic framework for non-profit branding. A lightly edited transcript of her conversation follows. You can listen to the interview here

    The Communications Network: You and your colleague Julia Shepard Stenzel have a new book out, it’s called The Brand Idea. Tell us about it…

    Natalie Kylander: The book is really based on an article we published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about two years ago now, looking at the role of brand in the non-profit sector. This was a research project that was undertaken at the Harvard Kennedy School in conjunction with some funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. The original intent of the research that started back in about 2010-2011 was really to examine the role of brand in the non-profit sector and to explore what differences might exist in terms of managing non-profit brands as it relates to full profit brands. Most of the brand and brand management models that we have really stem from the for-profit sector. One of our objectives was to understand whether those models were still relevant and useful and if not, to stop thinking about proposing alternative brand management frameworks.

    The Communications Network: In the non-profit, in the foundation world, people think about branding, they think first about fund raising. From there, it’s a quick jump to the logo and putting it on pens and coffee cups and t-shirts. What did you find in your research about how people do think about brands in the non-profit world and how is that thinking changing?

    Natalie Kylander: A lot of people do think about brand as a fund raising tool with the main audience really being donors or partners if you’re more of a donor organization yourself. Predominantly, looking at brands as a tool to increase funding or potentially access to funds. That poses a little bit of a problem because the brand was really communicated and controlled by the communications or the PR or the marketing department in an organization and not necessarily connected as strongly to the mission as it might be. What we’re seeing through this research and what we’re seeing talking to about a hundred people across 70 organizations is that there’s a fundamental shift that’s occurring in terms of how a brand is perceived. The shift that we’re seeing in the field with non-profits is perception or an understanding of brand, much more as a strategic asset that embodies both the mission and the values of the organization. What we’re seeing through this research and what we’re seeing talking to about a hundred people across 70 organizations is that there’s a fundamental shift that’s occurring in terms of how a brand is perceived. The shift that we’re seeing in the field with non-profits is perception or an understanding of brand, much more as a strategic asset that embodies both the mission and the values of the organization. The goal becomes less to fund raise and to PR to promote the organization and much more focus on mission impact, how to use brand to implement the mission. That’s the fundamental shift we’re seeing and obviously, that has a lot of implications for brand management.

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  • Communication Matters: Reputation, Relationships & Resources


    I had the pleasure of joining Communications Network board members Minna Jung (Packard Foundation), Alfred Ironside (Ford Foundation) and Joanne Krell (Kellogg Foundation) for a panel discussion titled “Why Strategic Communication Matters to the Causes We Care About” at the Council on Foundations conference in Washington, D.C.

    The standing-room-only session highlighted several important lessons about the work we do as communicators, and the responsibility we all bear for championing its strategic value across our organizations.

    It also gave me a chance to provide an update on “Communication Matters,” the Communications Network-sponsored research effort to gather evidence about what constitutes effective, integrated communications at foundations and nonprofits.

    Our research is now running at a full sprint… We hope to be able to show some exemplary models, relevant tools and clear evidence that can advance the field and help make the case for why Communication Matters.

    Remembering The Three R’s

    Our evidence gathering and analysis are ongoing, and will be rolled out in earnest at the Network’s annual conference this October.  But here’s one early insight we unpacked during the panel’s conversation.

    For most organizations, success (or failure) in strategic communications can be directly tied to how well they manage and leverage three primary assets. Let’s call themThe Three R’s:

    • Reputation: This is the sum of the earned and perceived credibility an organization holds around a set of issues (think of it as your brand equity and issue expertise).
    • Relationships: This is the set of affiliations and associations that give an organization “authority” and increased capacity to advance its agenda or theory of change.
    • Resources: These are what an organization invests to achieve its goals and objectives. They include both dollars (grants, PRIs) and human capital (labor, research, thought leadership, and access).

    Our research process is now running at a full sprint. We’ve been listening closely to communication practitioners from foundations and nonprofits. We’re hearing from program leaders about how they prioritize and integrate with communications. And soon we will be launching a survey to solicit the views of executive directors and CEOs on these same themes.

    effective-online-communication When all is said and done, we hope to be able to show some exemplary models, relevant tools and clear evidence that can advance the field and help make the case for why Communication Matters. Stay tuned for more in the weeks ahead.

    David Brotherton is a Seattle-based communications consultant. He and Cynthia Scheiderer previously co-authored Come On In, The Water’s Fine, an analysis of the philanthropy sector’s engagement with social media. They expect to share the results of their latest research at the Communications Network conference in Philadelphia. Follow David on Twitter  @Wordsmith68.


  • “The misinformation persists…” A Conversation with Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth & The New York Times 


    Brendan Nyhan teaches at Dartmouth and is a contributor to The Upshot at The New York Times. He joined The Communications Network to discuss his recent research into false information: how it takes hold and why it persists. A lightly edited transcript follows. 

    The Communications Network: 

    Let’s start with a broader picture Brendan. Why are people fooled by false information? What makes them susceptible to that?

    Brendan Nyhan:  

    There’s a couple of big problems when it comes to politics, but I think the kinds of problems I’m describing actually do extend farther beyond politics. The first problem is that when it comes to things like politics the incentives for us to have accurate beliefs are actually pretty weak.

    You have a much stronger incentive for instance to buy a reliable car than you do to know the correct information about say an initiative you’re voting, or the presidential candidate you’re supporting, or the issue that you’re telling people your opinion about. So the accuracy motivations for us in politics are quite weak.

    That’s fine. That’s normal. Democracy has always been that way. People have better things to do most of the time and we all have lives. But it is something we have to contend with because it makes people more susceptible to false information. There just aren’t strong incentives to go out and get correct information. That’s the first problem.

    The second is we have in a lot of cases at least when it comes to controversial issues strong beliefs. We have strong preferences about the right thing to do or the side that is right in a given debate. What decades of research have shown is that those beliefs, those preferences about politics or issues influence how we process information. So they make us more likely to think information we get is true if it confirms our predispositions and less likely to think it’s true if it contradicts our preconceptions. 

    We shouldn’t just assume that facts and evidence are the best or the most effective approach to informing people or changing their behavior.

    The Communications Network: 
    In your work, particularly in healthcare reform, for those of us who have followed the debate, there are a lot of myths out there. Let’s talk about some of those myths and what are some ways that you would advice communicators and others who are confronting those strongly held beliefs. What’s the best way to have an informed debate and conversation about that?

    Brendan Nyhan:       
    Well it’s challenging when it comes to an issue like healthcare reform because it’s already so politicized. Much of my research has come to some fairly depressing conclusions about the difficulty of changing people’s minds when it comes to those kinds of issues. It’s very hard. There may be better and worse ways to approach it though.

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  • Eric Brown TN

    Ten Years, Nine Months, Four Days, and Five Lessons in Communications

    Eric Brown, Vice Chair of The Communications Network’s Board (and a former Board Chair), is departing his job as Communications Director at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. A version of his farewell post appeared on the Foundation’s Work in Progress blog.

    Here’s what I’ve learned about foundation communications in ten years, nine months, and four days:

    1. Tactics without strategy are pretty much a waste of time.

    I’m about to give away the secret to the nonprofit communications strategy kingdom—start your communications plan with a goal, and make it a good one. There, I said it. Organizations are pretty good about designing strategic plans that have reasonably good goals. They want the utility to remove a dam by 2015, or they want to provide reproductive health services for 25% more women in a particular district in Tanzania by the end of the year. Things like that. When the communications plans come in, though, often the goal is do some kind of tactic. Write an op-ed. Get people to like you on Facebook. If pressed, grantees might say that the goal is to “raise awareness” about an issue. Well, I have high awareness that kale is better for me than bacon, but that doesn’t stop me from eating BLTs. You get my point. Good strategies start with good goals, not good tactics. It seems so obvious, but we all know that it doesn’t always go that way.

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  • Nyhan TN

    You Can Fight Falsehoods

    More and more these days, debates and discussions about important social issues get hijacked or derailed by misinformation that people too readily accept as truth. For example, who can forget the “death panel” myth propagated by opponents of the Affordable Care Act?  Or in the absence of any evidence linking autism to vaccines, why do some parents refuse to immunize their children?

    In our latest SmartCast, we talk with Brendan Nyhan, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth University, who has been studying the phenomenon of false beliefs since 2000, as well as the challenges in debunking misinformation and myths once they begin to take hold.

    The big question we put to Nyhan: can anything be done to combat the spread of erroneous information?

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