Communicators as activists: themes from the discussion
I recently had the pleasure of Chairing a discussion on brand activism with thoughtful and important contributions from Jelle Mul from Patagonia, Rebecca Sinclair from Penguin Random House UK, Hilary Berg, social change comms specialist and advisor to Iceland Foods, and Karen Collins from Bates Wells.
The conversation covered the breadth of what it means to be an ‘activist’ organisation. Here I’ve drawn out some highlights:
- Authenticity. Unsurprisingly, this came up time and time again and cuts through how communications are executed, how themes and campaigns are chosen and the importance of action over window-dressing and puff. If the communications aren’t authentic and born from substance, then they shouldn’t be taking place
- Bravery. Change doesn’t happen without ruffling feathers and shaking up the status quo, but this must be done in a way that is brand and culture appropriate. For some, this goes as far as paying for civil disobedience training and bailing staff from jail, and for others, it means taking small but important steps into the limelight for doing something challenging and culturally or environmentally needed
- Collaboration and partnership. Striking out on your own will have lower impact, less depth, and be harder to achieve sustained change than when collaborating with others. Working collectively can bring its own challenges but the results, reach and dynamism can be significant. This is how campaigns can transform into movements
- Preparation. Speaking out can bring risk to organisations and individuals. The focus and tonality of campaigns vary considerably, so this will be more of a challenge to some than others. Taking time to ensure you’re activating with your teams prepared and protected, with risks mapped and scenario planning having been done is important, especially for the more strident actions.
- Urgency. The climate emergency is on us. Prejudice and discrimination are daily realities for citizens locally and globally. If not now, then when? On climate, we’re the last generation that can do something about it. The time to act is now.
Importantly, the conversation was optimistic and with a sense of opportunity for organisations of all types to move forward thoughtfully and progressively in a way that is right for them and appropriate to the needs and demands of the communities and territories in which they operate.
Many thanks again to all the panel.