Here’s part of a conversation I’m having with a Luke Wright, a journalist who’s writing about communicating change:

Well of course communication is vital however even the cleverest communication is a waste of effort if it does not meet a vital condition – that the communication is part of a conversation about things that matter to the audience. So, even though I’ve spent my professional life as a communicator, I don’t talk about communication any more, I talk about conversation. A good conversation is, of course, two way, about concerns, stories and solutions that matter to both sides of the conversation. The commonest reasons communication campaigns fail is that they are only about things that matter to the sender, not the receiver; and treats the receiver as a passive vessel for ‘truth’ to arrive. The vast majority of social marketing campaigns fail for this reason – they are little more that government agencies having elaborate conversations with themselves.

Even though you want to run your story as about communication, I’d like you to ask yourself whether you may be perpetuating ‘message fetish’, rather than opening up a new and interesting discussion.

In the Arabic smoking story*, for instance, what mattered was the time spent listening to the concerns of Arabic-speaking people and hearing some of the solutions they had spontaneously innovated to their own social dilemmas around smoking, then depicting those solutions in an ad campaign that acted as a virtual conversation, providing solutions to matters they already knew were at stake in their lives. The interesting work was the listening and spotting answers to problems people were experiencing. The communication was not unusual or remarkable. It was just how the solution was packaged. What makes a gift great is how it fits into the peoples’ hopes and dreams, not the packaging. In this way, the ad campaign packaged up just the right gift, and the art was in selecting the gift not choosing the packaging.

* See “The Art of Stickiness” chapter on my web site.
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