“There’s a high cost in doing Muskrat Falls wrong…”

...there's power in doing it right.The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has sold the massive Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project as a giant leap forward in power generation. But to the people who live, fish and hunt in the area, it represents something much different.

To them, it means flooding 41 square kilometres — and creating a soup of decaying wood and vegetation. The result is an accumulation of potentially dangerous levels of methylmercury, a notorious poison that can cause serious harm to humans, in their fish and other marine foods.

Photo of man in boat leaving shore

Faced with a direct threat to their health and well-being, the Nunatsiavut Government representing the self-governing Inuit people of Labrador set out to build support throughout Newfoundland and Labrador for doing the project the right way. Their message: that Muskrat Falls should proceed only with mitigation measures to safeguard the area’s people and their food, water and land. Read the rest of this entry »

Not feeling the social media love? When to change course (or even abandon ship)

Unplugging an electrical cordRob was at the Inbound conference last week in Boston, joining thousands of communications professionals sharing experiences and ideas on using content to engage audiences.

When do you pull the plug on a social media channel?

That’s the question that faced Copyblogger, a service that’s all about communicating through social media. Yet they decided to leave Facebook — the single biggest gorilla in the social menagerie.

Graph in front of Facebook logoIt was actually a simple decision. Copyblogger was getting likes and shares, but very little engagement. Or, as their Chief Content Officer Sonia Simone told a packed room for her session The Intersection of Content and Social Media, “We didn’t love Facebook.” And great content, she added, is about love.

Copyblogger wanted a thriving community on Facebook, not just a presence. And if they were only participating reluctantly, that lack of enthusiasm would probably be picked up by their followers, and damage engagement.

They turned comments off on their blog for similar reasons.

English: Comment iconMany of the comments were low-value “Good post!”-style responses… along with a ton of the usual spam. And while they were also getting longer, more engaged comments, Copyblogger decided that — consistent with the company’s mission of promoting great written content — those conversations would be more powerful happening on the commenters’ own blogs.

Both decisions allowed them to focus their resources where they’d have the most impact, and engender the most productive engagement. Because the often-overlooked truth is that even “free” platforms like Facebook and Twitter have a cost to them: the time and attention they require you to spend to keep them fed with content, take part in conversations and uproot whatever weeds poke their heads out.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should ditch Facebook; you almost certainly shouldn’t.

But it’s worthwhile to give every platform a hard look now and then, and ask yourself: What do we intend to accomplish here? How are we measuring it? And how are we doing? And based on the answers, lay in a few course adjustments.

Those probably won’t be as drastic as shutting off blog comments or bailing on Facebook. But they can help ensure you’re making progress instead of spinning your wheels.

Playing with the box it came in: design, all the way through

We get excited about great, powerful design here at NOW, and this is an example.

If you speak to groups, then you should probably know about Garr Reynolds, whose book Presentation Zen has saved countless audiences from terrible presentations. Focusing on both speeches and visuals, Reynolds advocates a design aesthetic rooted in principles that owe as much to Japanese culture as to Zen itself.

A few years ago, he brought out a DVD with an accompanying sketchbook, packaged as The Presentation Zen Way. And while the content is terrific, the package itself is arresting in its beauty.

This is the box it comes in:

The Presentation Zen Way: box

And this is what you see when you open it:

The Presentation Zen Way: interior

It’s a bento box! With pencils for chopsticks! And Post-Its that evoke pickled ginger!

The “wow” factor is immense (and the photos can’t do justice to the actual package). But the impact lies in the way the brand has carried all the way through from content to the little envelope the pencils come in. Every interaction with the packaging reinforces Reynolds’ message of simplicity and grace… and reminds the viewer of the principles behind it.

Kids are famous for tossing the expensive present aside and playing with the box it came in. That won’t happen with this; Reynolds’ presentation advice is too valuable to let it gather dust.

But for us, this is a reminder of why it’s worth going to such lengths to make thoughtful, effective design permeate every aspect of our communications. Whether we’re promoting principles for effective speaking or policies for social justice, every interaction with our audience is a chance to reinforce our message, and design — great design — helps make that happen.

Why communications-as-usual won’t reach Millennials… and three things that will

Photo of young people together; several are using mobile devices

Tamara has been working for the past 4 months as a summer student learning the ins-and-outs of strategic communications here at NOW. She takes her leave of us for the fall today… but first, here’s her insightful take on communicating with her generation.

“We do have a sense of entitlement, a sense of ownership, because, after all, this is the world we were born into, and we are responsible for it.”

Snapchat creator and CEO Evan Spiegel, 25, addressing labels often associated with Millennials

Evan Spiegel’s words ring true for many in my generation – we do feel a sense of ownership over this world.

For Millennial generation outsiders — and those trying to communicate with us — this mentality can be hard to understand, and reasonably so. But our sense of entitlement isn’t rooted in greed, but rather a sense of responsibility for our communities and our planet. This misinterpretation highlights the shift that has occurred in the communications landscape.

Growing up alongside the Internet revolution was surely going to influence how Millennials think, communicate and express themselves. And as more Millennials enter the workforce (and more baby boomers leave it), labour communicators need to be able to connect with them effectively.

Here are a three approaches for doing just that:

1. Speak their language, on their platforms

Don’t change what you’re saying – just how and where you’re saying it. Modernize the language in your messaging and strip it of confusing insider jargon or heavy rhetoric.

Often Millennials are saturated in news, images, and messages – meaning your content will be fighting for their attention. Keep it short and simple, and add a little light humour. Taking a powerful message or honest critique of your opponent, and adding a bit of humour, can go along way in making sure you stands out.

Make sure you’re reaching out on the right platform. Newsletters and email are great for getting information out there, but Millennials are a lot less likely to engage in those channels than via social media outlets like Instagram or Twitter.

While Millennials — like every other generation — still engage with traditional media like radio and TV, they’re turning increasingly to streaming services and online channels, which makes it increasingly vital to invest in communications on these platforms.

And know the conversational tools that connect. Craft witty hashtags and share your photos in places where young people will notice them. Using inclusive language that makes them feel like they’re part of the movement (don’t be that guy at the party talking incessantly about himself) on a platform they are familiar with will attract them to your organization.

That doesn’t mean becoming something you’re not. Avoid adopting an unconvincing, inauthentic voice. (Authenticity is one of the other words that come up a lot when people talk about Millennials.) Don’t try to sound like a craft-beer-brewing 22-year-old hipster if that isn’t who you are. Communicating honestly and directly will get you a lot further.

2. Show them your interests are in line

Don’t assume Millennials automatically see how the goals and work of your union are similar to their own workplace ideals.

There is a growing concern among Millennials about work safety, precarious employment, fear of under-pay and over-work, living costs, etc. And we are well aware that cuts have hurt every sector and that establishing ourselves will be difficult.

What not a lot of Millennials don’t see, however, is that unions can help us fight for better standards. Show them your drive and passion, and relate it to the same resolve they feel.

3. Collaborate and consult with existing young members

I’ve read countless articles detailing the ‘annoying’ habit Millennials have acquired of seeking almost constant collaboration and consultation in every aspect of their life.

But taking the time to listen to, and even test, some of their innovative ideas about procedure and organization can be profitable. If a Millennial feels heard by their union, they will feel like they are a part of it. And when they share their positive experience with their friends, that will lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of the work unions do among this generation.

Take the time to sit down with young members, go visit them in their workplace, talk to them and make them feel like they are a part of the movement. They’ll be your greatest ally in building support and cultivating your union’s future.

It’s pretty. But is it strategic?

The problem with pretty is it can mask a serious problem.

That brochure’s gorgeous. That video’s beautiful. That website is so tasty you want to gobble it up.

And every one of them could well be a waste of money.

We’ve seen a spate of videos like this over the past month or two: well-executed, beautifully shot or animated, meticulously edited… and strategically, not worth the three minutes we spent watching them.

We’d never knock good design; give us something eye-catching and compelling any day. But the problem with pretty is that it can mask a serious problem. If a piece isn’t strategic — if it doesn’t deliver its message in a convincing way — then pretty doesn’t matter, and neither does clever or funny (as painful as that is to admit).

Our first goal isn’t entertainment: it’s persuasion. It may sound harsh, but if a piece doesn’t move your audience toward supporting you, then it has failed.

That doesn’t mean you can’t use beauty or wit to earn your audience’s attention. But the way you do it can’t get in the way of your message.

Here are three questions to help you see past the dazzle and decide whether a piece really is strategic:

  • What’s the one thing you remember after seeing or hearing it? If that one thing reinforces your message, then great! If it doesn’t — if it’s a clever joke or glorious image that doesn’t deliver your message — then this piece hasn’t done its job.
  • Will someone who skims the piece get your message? A lot of people skim print ads and brochures. And most viewers won’t watch your video all the way through. If your message is one tiny little nugget at the bottom of a sea of off-message cruft, then this piece hasn’t done its job.
  • Does anything in this piece effectively contradict your message? I’m not talking about parody; if it’s clear that you’re making fun of your opponent’s point of view, that’s one thing. But if the piece appears to be dismissive of a serious issue, or makes jokes that undermine your point, this piece not only hasn’t done its job — it’s working against you.

Just because a piece is lovely, even moving, doesn’t mean it’s strategically effective. That’s where your strategic judgement has to come into play, setting aside aesthetics and asking the hard questions that can justify an effective use to time and money — or avoid a wasteful one.

Say it with pride: “This is a communications office.”

One of our greatest privileges over the years has been the people we get to work with — from talented volunteers to veteran staffers, from cramped campaign offices to national union headquarters to government departments and ministries—and of course our NOW colleagues.

All of us have one thing in common: a sense of higher purpose beyond just churning out product.

Among the people we work with, you won’t find the media stereotype of the mercenary who’s only in it to make a buck, or out of some win-at-all-costs, truth-be-damned neurosis. Instead, you’ll find committed people determined to make a difference. We’re in this to make the world a better place.

That deserves some respect. Maybe even some celebration. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t let your campaign get a bad wrap

Notice something a little… off about the federal Liberal campaign bus wrap?

Somewhere between the designer’s monitor and the printing press, a font went missing… and with it, the metrics information that keeps a typeface’s spacing from looking wonky. (And this isn’t a little problem with kerning; “CHANGE” has broken into two separate words.)

Designers and politicos alike have been snickering about this, and rightly so.

Amateur-hour flubs on a national campaign should be embarrassing—and not just because graphics nerds might laugh at you. Good, professional design inspires confidence and reinforces your message. Sloppy design mistakes do the exact opposite, especially if they play into a Conservative narrative that the Liberal leader just isn’t ready to be prime minister.

Even if someone has no design training, and even if they only catch a glimpse of that bus wrap, they’ll know something wasn’t quite right… and it’ll undermine their confidence.

How can you avoid the same mistakes? Well, you can avoid the biggest one by voting NDP on October 19th. But in the meantime, here are four key lessons to make sure your design works for your campaign, instead of giving it a (cough) bad wrap: Read the rest of this entry »

Your members can help you make the most of your next social media communications opportunity

Twitter photo from #ImInWorkJeremy campaign

We’re strong believers in the power of members as messengers, especially in the socially networked era. And the latest proof of that power comes from a spontaneous campaign among doctors working in the UK’s National Health Service.

Last week, UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt threatened to impose mandatory weekend working on hospital doctors in England. He claimed people were dying because of a “Monday to Friday culture” in the NHS.

He’s far from the first right-wing politician to insinuate that people working in the public sector are lazy. It’s an article of conservative faith that public-sector workers don’t make that extra effort the sainted private sector would demand.

Yet in conservative-led jurisdictions, public-sector employees are working harder than ever, trying to bridge the gaps created by cutbacks from, yes, conservative politicians. They’re far more committed to the people they’re serving than their right-wing employers are.

For communicators, the challenge is to make that point without playing into the right-wing narrative by sounding entitled or whiny.

NHS doctors rose to that challenge with a spontaneous campaign dubbed “I’m In Work Jeremy,” started by a trainee doctor. Within just a few days, thousands of them had posted selfies: photos of themselves and colleagues on the job, on the weekend, tagged with #ImInWorkJeremy. As of today, the hashtag has appeared more than 125,000 times.

And the impact went well beyond social media. Mainstream news outlets picked up on it, starting with a news website for GPs and eventually drawing coverage from The Guardian, the BBC and more.

What did #ImInWorkJeremy do right, and what can you learn from it for your next campaign? Here are seven lessons: Read the rest of this entry »

Playing the “card” card: Hillary defangs a beloved Republican attack line

There’s always a risk in trying to turn an opponent’s words back on them. You may well end up reinforcing their message.

But when the opportunity is there, you can pull it off… especially when your opponent’s message resonates with their base but not with your persuadable audience.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign did just that yesterday after Sen. Mitch McConnell accused her of asking people to vote for her because she’s a woman—and said “the gender card alone is not enough.”

If reading that phrase made you grind a few chips of your molars, welcome to the club. For the past several years, the right wing has used “the race card” and “the gender card” as a way to silence discussion of inequality and injustice.

The phrase is a masterpiece of intellectual dishonesty, conveying an accusation of manipulation and duplicity without coming out and saying so. It’s rooted in the conservative narrative that claims that oppression is actually privilege, and that—… auuuugh, don’t get me started.

The point is, that narrative is near and dear to the Republican heart. But it’s a lot less convincing to persuadable voters… and gag-inducing to the Democrats that Clinton wants to mobilize as primary season looms.

So Clinton turned that phrase on its head, with a brief but powerful message in the form of a literal “gender card”:

She followed that up with a video that flipped the “card” idea back at the Republicans:

And that helped prompt a conversation under the hashtag #gendercard that can’t be what McConnell had in mind.

When you realize your opponent is relying on an attack line that has lost its bite, you have the chance to turn it back on them. You want to do it carefully, and you need to do your homework. But done carefully, it can be devastating.

From the Bernie Sanders campaign, a scoop of e-mail inspiration

The U.S. presidential campaign may be ruinously expensive, hideously long and border-line parody… but it produces some truly great communications products for the rest of us to learn from.

And this one, we just loved. Here, for your enjoyment (and maybe inspiration!) is an email I received yesterday from the Bernie Sanders campaign, featuring Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of ice cream fame.

Bernie Sanders for President


Hi, I’m Ben.

Ben Cohen

And I’m Jerry.

Jerry Greenfield


I’m a person.

Ben Cohen

And I’m a person.

Jerry Greenfield


And together, we came up with a company called Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc.

Ben Cohen

That’s a corporation.

Jerry Greenfield


Ben, person. Jerry…

Ben Cohen


Jerry Greenfield


Ben & Jerry’s, not a person… that’s a corporation.

Ben Cohen

They’re different.

Jerry Greenfield


But there’s this problem. The Supreme Court decided that corporations are people, and that they’re entitled to the same rights as people are. It’s called “corporate personhood.”

Ben Cohen

That’s ridiculous. And what it means is that this presidential election, there will be a whole mess of shadowy money and corporate contributions backing candidates and causes on both sides of the aisle.

Jerry Greenfield


Except for Bernie Sanders, of course. Bernie has led the fight to put an end to the corrupting influence of big money in our politics.

Ben Cohen

From the very beginning, Bernie’s called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United — something with which we couldn’t agree more.

Jerry Greenfield


Sign Bernie Sanders’ petition calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Ben Cohen

People thought we were crazy when we started putting dough into our ice cream.

Jerry Greenfield


But what’s really crazy is all the dough corporations are putting into politics.

Ben Cohen

This issue is so important because all of the money it introduces into the political process influences almost every issue Congress considers.

Jerry Greenfield


Join us and sign Bernie Sanders’ campaign to overturn Citizens United.

Ben Cohen

Ben and Jerry

Thanks for joining us in this important effort!

–  Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield  –