Communications Strategy. Along with the announcement of the comic strip, we organized for small “town hall” events where people could chat with our iMMAP program leaders and/or the cartoonist to talk about their process, what they knew about the situation in Afghanistan, and other things they knew.
Landmines. Fresh reminders of an old conflict, a war tactic that destroys enemies and friendlies indiscriminately, they are a recurring nightmare for those who live in former war zones. It’s definitely no laughing matter, but even a cartoonist can handle a serious subject deftly.
When I worked at VVAF, a former Washington-based organization founded by Vietnam veterans that addressed “the causes, conduct and consequences of war”, landmines featured in some way in each of our “Cs”. Among other things, the organization conducted landmine clearance activities in such countries as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Angola, through its Information Management and Mine Action Programs, called iMMAP.
“Funky Winkerbean” explored the all-too-real consequences of post-conflict environments: abandoned landmines and unexploded ordnance.
I collaborated with VVAF’s iMMAP team to tell the story of their work. iMMAP was active in Afghanistan–a particularly hot location given the political climate in 2005–developing actual maps, and marking those areas known (through word of mouth and other means) to be strewn with UXOs (“unexploded ordnance,” or in plain speak, landmines).
Around that time, we learned that a U.S. syndicated cartoonist, Tom Batiuk, was figuratively sending one of his characters to Afghanistan in his regularly published series, “Funky Winkerbean” to help with these efforts. VVAF’s iMMAP and I were more than thrilled to collaborate with Batiuk to promote this storyline of his comic strip and also to raise awareness of iMMAP’s landmine clearance efforts.
So, if a comic strip can raise awareness, imagine what you can do (even if you aren’t royalty)!
Okay, so I’m not royalty, and my accomplishments aren’t as grandiose as those of Prince Harry or the late Princess Diana–but reading that story made me feel good about the work I have done and collaborated on. The many people I have worked with aren’t royalty either, and I know that they have accomplished big things to help make our world a little bit better.
Since 1975, land-mines have exploded under more than 1 million people and are currently thought to be killing 800 people a month. There seems little prospect of any end to the carnage. In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million land-mines still lodged in the ground—waiting. They remain active for decades. As one Khmer Rouge general put it, a land-mine is a perfect soldier: “Ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses.”- UNICEF
Maybe writing isn’t exactly your thing
The power of storytelling can make positive change, but maybe writing and raising public awareness ain’t your thing. You can also call your legislators and local community leaders and let them know these things matter to you; you can share this information with your peeps through social media; or you can always donate to organizations (try iMMAP!) that are known for getting things done; or you can skip the news and head straight to the comics in your local paper!
It was a day not much different from an Autumn day in Zurich. Partly sunny, mostly cloudy, and subdued.
But, for me, it was different. It was a defining moment. I had spent the previous few weeks working with the Save Darfur Coalition to prepare for Mia Farrow‘s return to the United States from her tour through eastern Chad–mere kilometers from the border of the Sudan. The United Nations, heads of state (including the then-president of the United States) and foreign affairs thought leaders were willing to acknowledge publicly and repeatedly that atrocities were occurring in the Sudan, but they weren’t ready to call it a “genocide”. Doing so would require action, involvement, and international coordination to secure the political, financial and military resources to implement a peacekeeping program there.
[The press conference starts some 50 seconds into the clip. The press conference is about an hour long. ]
After Mia Farrow had shown some badly damaged household items and shared a video and some photographs from her trip there, she answered questions to a rush of reporters and remained poised for the cameras too. Then, I had to whisk her off with a cab to several studios: BBC News wanted to interview her, so did NPR and Voice of America.
We chatted in the cab rides from one studio to another. And in one she started to sing John Lennon’s “Imagine” while breaking into a bar of dark chocolate. I was so moved and speechless, I couldn’t even hum along–because I thought I might break down into tears right then and there. (We were handling a lot of graphic images and talking about some horrific events. It was an emotional day.)
That autumn day in 2006 remains as fresh in my memory as though it happened just yesterday. It’s as if the few weeks prior: writing up the press release (click here: 11.20.06 – Press Release, Farrow), organizing my list of media contacts, securing the space at the National Press Club and working with the talented and energetic Save Darfur team, had existed solely for the purpose of building up to one eye-opening moment.
She ended up making the above video less than four years later.
Here’s a little video clip I shot and edited in while on vacation in Mexico a few years back. It was a lot of fun. I scraped by with my Spanish to learn about the process, leaned over folks with my snapshot camera to get the shot, and then sat on the balcony of my hotel room editing the different shots. (Any video pro will note I used iMovie and one of its templates to make quick work of the project. I think it took me about four hours to edit.)
My husband, a cigar aficionado who stumbled on this factory in Cancún, spent a day rolling cigars with some of the best. I remember them saying their best guys roll between 80 – 100 consistently good cigars a day. My husband managed to eek out 10 in eight hours. About seven in ten rollers were Cuban–real pros who practically grew up in the trade. The others were Mexican. (In the video clip, only one of the four was Mexican–and he was competing in cigar-rolling events.)
What I love most about communications is the storytelling aspect involved. I like to share something I learned.
When I was working at Akaku: Maui Community Television, “How-To” videos were often used to teach the filmmaking process. Because it has clear steps, like a recipe, it’s easy to determine a beginning, middle and an end, much like a good story.
In journalism and creative writing, figuring this out can actually pose a bit more of a challenge, but it is essential to communicating effectively no matter what the medium.
Most of the time when people write email newsletters, they freeze as they sit in front of their computer screen. Their writing gets stilted and jargony. (It happens to me, too.) 🙂
When this happens to me, I believe it is because I do not have a clear image of what I want to accomplish with my communiqué.
A friend of mine — an executive coach — who was pulling together a leadership workshop in Zurich, turned to me for a little editing assistance.
But as she talked to me some more about her idea, I began to consult with her on using the email as an opportunity to develop a better understanding around her communications strategy.
Why does what I do matter to the people I’m reaching out to?
We defined her primary audience for this workshop as people who were already familiar with her work: current and past clients, or people connected to clients (referrals). These are people who are willing to invest the time and resources to work on their own growth — to optimize their leadership situation. Because the bottom line is: people don’t relate to “businesses” as such, they relate with the people that build those businesses. (In the case of brands, they relate with what those brands personify.)
Our main goal was to make sure the email represented my friend (and therefore her business) The email was only the first step in what has grown into a clear path. Today, I can see how our conversations about communications strategy has anchored all her materials with images and language that reflect her business authentically. (Check out her website and see how she uses images symbolizing height and depth to communicate her areas of coaching speciality.)
Tactics Rooted in Strategy
First, we used an email management tool (MailChimp) so we could create an email piece that would reflect her professionalism and also provide valuable information about how her contacts engaged with her material. We wanted her contacts to not only:
learn about the workshop, including time, date, and location,
understand how such a workshop would address their problems and fulfil their needs, but also to
have all the details right at their fingertips. (They could download important sign-up forms, or share with other friends and contacts, or send an email by simply clicking a button.)
Understanding how people engage
More importantly, on the backend of the mailer she could see how people engaged with the material. And engage they did. Yes, some people clicked on a hyperlink or a photo, but several people actually took the time to write emails… to her personally.
Several people emailed her with their own experiences of rising to a leadership position and feeling disconnected with their teams and coworkers. They were providing her with important insight about what issues they wanted to address. They were reaching out to her for two-way communication.
They were demonstrating they felt her email missive reached out to them directly.
It’s no secret that photographs are extremely effective communications pieces. I knew that my client enjoyed snapshot photography. We found some of her photographs that symbolized some of the problems we were addressing (“Lonely at the top”?), as well as the solution to that problem (an image of my friend among a group of friends on a ski slope).
In the end, we had developed an emailer we both felt authentically represented who she was and what she offered.
And that’s what marketing communications is really about — it’s stepping away from the mask of jargon and presenting oneself clearly and authentically.
I wrote all the copy and developed the concept for this multi-fold, bang-tail brochure. Akaku: Maui Community Media needed something that could explain the concept behind the organization — not only as a television station, but as a community resource. The “bang-tail” is a perforated, self-gluing mailer that you can tear off, and insert your check-donation into.
We were also launching the freshly-designed blog website around the time of the printing of this brochure — so we wanted to feature the website address prominently.
This was one of my first big projects for Akaku. The brochure was released in 2008, if I remember correctly.
Designer: Robert Glick of Glick Design. We also arranged a photo shoot to get some of the great photography.