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!
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.
When I first walked into Akaku’s main reception area in Kahului, I had to blink a few times to adjust to the change in lights. I was wearing a button-down shirt, heels and black slacks, everyone inside was wearing flip-flops and T-shirts. As I introduced myself to a smiling receptionist, who I later learned was Tia, a portly man with a bounce in his step came charging out from behind a windowed door. I soon learned that he would be my boss: Jay April — a mercurial personality who had a great vision for establishing surer footing for a limping television station.
As soon as I started working there in 2007, Jay and I began strategizing on a campaign to square the TV station’s footing in its local community, on a state level, and even nationally among other community access TV stations. We focused our work — and rallied the staff — around three approaches to “make our channels look good”.
Produce Content that Looks/Is Good. Akaku launched “The Maui Daily“. Show production was really in Jay’s and other people’s purview. My job was to build a drumbeat of awareness around the program — that it was a daily “community news show”.
I also worked with the team to shape stories around important events. There were a few moments requiring public activism where Akaku could shine — not only as a C-Span for airing public debates, but also as a news station for bringing opposing voices into the studio to frame the debate in context. Members of the public could have the opportunity to appear as polished as an elected politician on the soapbox.
Branding. Right before I began working there, Akaku had just had a new logo designed. I made it my religion to make sure it appeared everywhere (and that the old logo would go the way of the caveman).
Redefine the Concept of “Channels”. Akaku was more than just channels 52, 53 and 54 in Maui county homes. They were Maui residents’ channels — a social and cultural “green space”, as Jay often referred to them, for play and politics, experimentation and representation. My job was to identify and document the activities of the station in a newsworthy way, as well as to ensure that messages were broadcast in all channels besides Akaku’s three community access channels. Activities included:
Print media outreach. Usually, this would be in the form of writing press releases. I also worked to develop relationships with the press when they (and we) were not under the squeeze of deadlines. We invited press to share their experiences with the community through media salons and such.
Email newsletter communications, which involved email list cultivation and management.
Website Development. With the threat of the television channels being shut down, we had to develop a way to ensure that people still had access to their right to free speech. Developing a website that reflected the vibrant and dynamic content that the community contributed to its channels was our main focus. This meant, one of my jobs was to keep up with the pace of content development, so there was always something new on the website. (Anybody who has managed a blog knows how tough that can be!)
Build Stronger Relationships with Our Audiences. Whether you’re in television or in any other sector, relationship-building is an involved process of communication (the two-way kind). We did all sorts of things to develop and grow our relationships with all sorts of strategic audiences. I will write about another time.
For the next few years, I worked with Akaku on countless projects — as an in-house communications director, and also as a consultant. It’s thrilling to see how Akaku has grown from a dusty, side-road “vanity-TV” community channel, to a vibrant, digital “central park” for Maui’s communities to engage with each other.
I am proud to have had a hand in Akaku’s growth. I feel that in those years, I not only enjoyed the privilege of lending a professionalism to the organization, but I also learned how to wear flip-flops and T-shirts with style.
Sixteen-page Annual Report to communicate this international humanitarian aid organization’s multiple programs around the world. We decided on an document that could be posted in the regular mail and wouldn’t be too bulky. The size for this report was a regular US-letter-size folded in half. This 2004 Annual Report was delivered on-budget and on-deadline in July 2005. (I had begun working for VVAF in May 2005.)
Concept and Copy Development: Cynthia T. Luna
Photography & Design: Researched in company’s files. I vetted all permissions for the designer. (Unfortunately, I can’t remember who the designer for this project was — he also helped on a few other design projects the VVAF and The Justice Project.)
Creating big bang for little buck seems to have become my specialty.
Lunacy Black Market
Akaku: Maui Community Television
VVAF, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation
The Justice Project & Criminal Justice Reform Education Fund
VVAF, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (Washington, D.C.)
This page includes the names, logos and/or images of most of the places I have worked for in an in-house marketing communications capacity. (Basically, these folks hired me to help them on a full-time basis.) Some of them were agencies, others were organizations with strong messages, one was a restaurant (which I helped start-up) and all of them had heart.