I spend every Monday with 11 European students and one from Sierra Leone as part of the Lantos/Capitol Hill Fellowship. Yesterday afternoon, we watched the documentary They Come in the Name of Helping and afterwards we had a lively discussion with its producer, Peter Brock.
Brock met now Lantos Fellow Joseph Kaifala (from Sierra Leone) at Skidmore College in United States. Kaifala and some of his friends from back home explain how they perceive aid workers and why aid is often wrongly implemented; Aid organizations lack understanding and knowledge of the culture and society they are operating within. Furthermore, Brock argues that donors give money out of pity instead of respect and humility.
PR and aid
This raised an interesting discussion about PR campaigns raising money for aid. Brock mentioned slogans as “Save Darfur” and “Save a Child” as examples where the message tailors the donors’ bad conscience and pity instead of respect for the African people. One of the Kaifalas in the documentary says: We are poor but we deserve dignity.
I do understand the critique of the campaigns – without having paid much professional attention to them. On the other hand, as a communications professional, I also have to say that PR does not work if the campaigns do not take the target audience’s self interest and motivation into consideration. And how much can one individual take in? The aid organizations are competing with each other and they are competing with other issues such as climate change, human rights, and homelessness in our backyard. Therefore, the PR campaigns have to cut through this clutter to be successful. Not to say that they cannot improve. I am sure they can!
Brock and Kaifala suggest that we should not only donate money to Africa but should become civically engaged in our local communities and fight local problems. I figure this should improve our respect and humility for other people – at home and abroad. This message might work in United States with a communitarian tradition. But I do not think it could work in a European setting – or at least in the Scandinavian countries. For instance, we do not have the same tradition for helping out in our communities. Another guest speaker to the group said that Americans cook a casserole as soon as there is minor problem. That is also my experience from living here. But that does not transcend to Europe – or at least my home country Denmark.
Please, watch the documentary. It is thoughtful and it raises an important debate and call for more respect and humility in development aid which does make a lot of sense to me.
Let the left and right part of the brain connect and you get a creative strategy! This was the first message of Steven Kostant’s (Fleishman-Hillard) presentation Tuesday night to my capstone class at Georgetown University. Everyone needs a creative strategy to survive “the experience economy” and the highly disruptive world we live in.
But how do you do it? How do you create a creative strategy? It is all about the process. Kostant mentioned the art and joy of collaboration between people with different backgrounds, research, and brainstorm as essential parts of a (design or innovative) process. All of this is of course not surprising. But he offered advice about how to do it:
- uncover deep audience insights
- sometimes it is interesting to observe/analyze an audience who is not relevant at all to your product/policy
- focus groups are cheap but you cannot tell people what they need…..
- digital ethnography (observe your audience and put a video together or make a collage of pictures and watch it and use the knowledge in creating a strategy)
We also watched the old ABC Nightline show, The Deep Dive, about IDEO, the product design company in Palo Alto which among other things designed the first mouse for Apple.
I found a version of the show on YouTube. Watch it if you are about to design a process. To me it does not matter whether you are designing a shopping chart (as they do in this case) or a new communications strategy.
My take away:
- include people in your project group who does not necessary listen to you, but try out things and asks for forgiveness
- Set a deadline and drive accountability
- Be careful to bring in the devil’s advocate too early
I have broken one of the rules for blogging; I did not blog for three months. I wrote in an earlier post that you should blog whenever you have time. December, January, and February just passed by with Christmas, lots of guests from Denmark and Brussels, a sick kid, Inauguration, and a trip to the US Virgin Islands. I have also started my capstone project at Georgetown University. And I am the program coordinator of the Lantos/Humanity In Action Capitol Hill Fellowship this semester which does take more time than I assumed – but it is great fun to be with 12 European law and journalism students.
I do not expect I will get more time – but now I will try to find time for blogging. I have missed blogging. Missed the conversation with peers from Georgetown, and it is a good way to reflect on what’s going on.
I wrote two pieces for the Danish communications magazine, Kommunikatøren in January. One story iss about my day on Inauguration. The other story is about corporate communication (or the lack of) during the financial and economic crisis. (Sorry they are both in Danish)
Posted in Blogging
Just saw that American Issues Project (which Chris LaCivita is part of) might have dropped its Ayers attacks. Today they have launched a new ad attacking Congressional Democrats – not Obama. Why?
We have kind of waited for the campaigns to turn negative and play the dirty tricks of politics. In the last couple of weeks, both campaigns have turned more negative. And the McCain/Palin ticket does not benefit from it. The Times/CBS poll released yesterday suggests that “McCain is hurting his bid by using attacks”.
I am just wondering – why did the swift boating work in 2004, but it does not today? Is that because McCain and Palin themselves turned negative and did not leave it to surrogates such as the American Issues Project? Voters do not like to watch this? Or is it because of the financial crisis? Or is it because the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth touched something in Kerry’s character – just like the Macaca YouTube video did for George Allen in 2006? But the Ayers attacks do not really say something about Obama (for instance, Ayers and Obama are not close friends)?
Or did the McCain campaign lose the spin war on negative campaigning – as a spokesperson claimed on Morning Joe? The spokesperson (Wallace) said:
“The truth is that Barack Obama has spent more money on negative attack ads against John McCain than any politician, Democrat or Republican, in history.”
I hope I get more time next week to answer these questions.