Wednesday, February 18, 2009

PR lessons from the Civil Rights movement

Given that it's Black History Month, it seems fitting to take a moment to take a moment to examine the Civil Rights movement through a PR lens.

[image: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., Leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963.
source: National Archives]

From a PR perspective, the Civil Rights movement made its mark with powerful images.

Images of young people in suits and dresses denied service at lunch counters, old ladies with handbags and hats denied the right to vote, children surrounded by soldiers as they walked to school, fire hoses and dogs turned on civilians as they marched peacefully, and many many more. These images combined to create a clear case for why change was needed, and why those who stood in its way were on the wrong side of morality.

Those images were, in many cases, orchestrated by the leadership of the day, and they served their purpose well. (Rosa Parks was, for instance, specially trained as an activist and was the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP).

Iconic, compelling images can do more to shift culture than legal or legislative changes. When those images do not occur organically, they can be created, captured, and widely circulated.

This is, of course, classic PR. And it is the one lesson of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's that has yet to be fully internalized by the movements that have followed it - including today's most energized civil rights movement - the post-Proposition 8 incarnation of the Gay Rights movement.

Had this more modern movement taken a lesson from the tightly-scripted visual storytelling campaign at the core of the Civil Rights movement, it's possible that particular battle would have gone quite differently.

It's all speculation, of course, but the point is that PR matters. As much today as it did then.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Who's Online? Everyone.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project just published their Generations Online report for 2009 and it's worth a read (hat tip to Shabbir Safdar @ Virilion Inc. for publishing a link to the report in his latest newsletter)

The report challenges the idea that young people represent the bulk of users online. According to their research, each generation is as active online as any other - they're just using the internet for different things. Teens and Generation Y find entertainment and social networks online. Older generations use the internet as a tool for research, shopping and banking. Both the younger and older generations go online to do research.

Many of my clients are hesitant to expand their online outreach strategy much beyond a basic website and a monthly email newsletter (indeed, sometimes it's a challenge just to execute those two effectively). In today's internet, however, these two are clearly not enough. SEO, social media, interactive tools, and online word of mouth, are need to be critical components of any online strategy.

This research reinforces that no matter who your current audience is, and no matter which new audiences you are trying to reach, your more likely to find them online than anywhere else.

Which begs the question, what are you doing - right now - to create and execute a comprehensive online presence for your organization?