We all work for someone. Many of us have traditional bosses who sign our timecards and delegate responsibilities. Others have clients who hire us as external support for particular tasks. Regardless of the financial arrangement between employer and employed, communications professionals know that there is a special relationship that exists between themselves and the executives they work for.
When Steve Rabin and I first met, we were helping to shape the communications strategy for Governor Martin O’Malley. Governor O’Malley had just been elevated by the people of Maryland from Mayor of Baltimore to Governor, and national leaders had already begun to notice the appeal of the young Governor’s message and style. Our jobs, as Press Secretary and Chief Speechwriter, respectively, weren’t just to put the right words on the page for our boss. They were to find ways to use his words in a way that mobilized our target audiences, excited our base, and marginalized our opposition.
Most often, foundations gather and share stories to simplify understanding: to more efficiently help audiences understand the institution’s work, service, or advocacy. As communications professionals, we’re collecting stories with a clear end goal in mind – one that demonstrates our foundation’s impact on an issue or the community; success stories that will encourage investment; and stories demonstrating the need for a proposed policy or service.
Sometimes we are able to elicit stories solely as a means of reflection, with no agenda or simplifying end point in mind. Eliciting oral histories, for example, allows for the complexity of personal experience.
For the past year, I’ve been eliciting wide-ranging oral histories from departing staff of The Atlantic Philanthropies, a limited life foundation that will complete grantmaking by the end of 2016.
What is this?
An explanation arrives at #ComNet14
See the full conference schedule.
Do your brand communications ring as clearly as the Liberty Bell does? Or are they muddy like the Schuylkill in rainy season?
When people hear your foundation’s or non profit’s name or see its logo, what comes to mind? Would your board members, and staff say the same thing? Would they mention the characteristics and values that you intend to convey? Do your website, materials, speeches, messaging, and client interactions align to present a consistent message about your mission and direction?
In the communications business, the stakes are rarely higher, the margin for error narrower, and tensions hotter than when you find yourself at the helm of communications during times of major organizational change.
Ahead of our #ComNet14 session on change communications, we’ve surveyed and interviewed communications leaders at foundations and nonprofits to better understand the unique considerations for communicating in times of change, and what they learned from situations that went awry. What have begun to emerge for us – and what we’ll dig into at our session in Philly – are the guiding principles of effective change communications. We’ve also come to see that when you start by naming what you fear (maybe it’s the tweet that goes viral about your organization’s #EpicFail), it’s easier to steer clear of pitfalls. Some call this a “pre-mortem.” We hear all the time that we learn more from failure than success. So, why not learn from failure before it happens?