Public interest communications
It’s been a while, but sure enough it happened again, I was condescending about public interest communications. It happened at a dinner the other evening. There I was, being social and mingling, talking about all the things that parents talk about; I should mention we were all students’ parents attending a prom night potluck dinner. Well, as the evening was winding down, the subject of public interest communications and public service announcements cropped up and, as usual – I have to learn to control this – my cat hairs stood up on my back. Out came the claws too.
Some context is required. For about a dozen years now, maybe it’s been two dozen, I’ve been on a mission to get public interest organizations — UN, other multilaterals, civil society and governments — to stop telling us about themselves and to start telling us how we can help, change or otherwise make this world a better place. It cannot be about ‘them’ or even ‘us,’ it has to be about ‘it.’ We have to start focussing on what needs changing and how we change it. But that’s not all.
Public interest communications have strayed. They have become a tool to tell us what’s wrong or what some are doing about fixing what’s wrong. And yet, we need more. We need hard hitting, in your face, calls to action. We need messages that spur us to either act, give, participate in or in some fashion concretely contribute to the mission. I say ‘either’ because I also don’t want public interest messaging to be a stuff bag; it often is. Public service announcements tend to stuff several messages into one: this is what’s wrong, this is what we’re doing about it, this is what you should do about it, this is what others are not doing about it. By the end of the message, whether in video, print or just audio, we lose track of what was being called for in the first place.
Fortunately, there are some organizations that are getting it right. For now it’s not many, but some have understood that their hard earned donor dollars are best spent focussing on a single call to action than a self-glorifying ode to their achievements.