Comms 101: You won’t hear the message, if you don’t respect the messenger – Earth Day

Anyone around teenagers for 20 minutes will recognise that nothing creates a impenetrable wall of resistance faster than talking down (or worse, raising your voice) to a person – and yet authorityso much of the most critical information we need to make informed decisions is mired in incomprehensible rhetoric, charged with alarmist emotions, divided along preconceived ideals or coming from a talking head.  For all of our sakes we need to stop, now.

In the business world the sole function of marketing and communications is about getting the message ‘right’ and having it resound with its targeted audience to bring about action on their part and yet, the peril of the Earth, something critically important to each of you reading this and all the oceans and animals and plants and insects and birds, hasn’t garnered the kind of action so needed.  A WHOLE BUNCH of reasons exist for this, let’s start with greed and end with indifference, and the hundreds of variables to be found in between. But there are two basic components which serve to explain our (very nearly) collective lack of actions: the first is that the audience must identify that the messenger is ‘like me’ but be regarded as a respected authority and the second is pope-francis-selfiesthe inability of ‘real smart people’ to craft their stories (and yes, they are all stories even when non-fiction) and cut through the noise to create resonance.

First example, I don’t believe that there is a credibility issue with those represented on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (more likely an awareness or priority issue) which just concluded its Fifth Assessment Report – it isn’t happy news (the press release is also available Arabic, Chinese, Russian, French and Spanish use navigation at the upper right side of this page). The press release is long and dry – no surprise given that the two report(s) which the press release supports had to be written to ensure multinational agreement (by all participants) and publication in a marathon 28 hour session recently held sciencein Berlin. And while NPR did a fabulous job reporting the IPCC results the uber-right believes that NPR has a left bias, thus not a ‘like me’ trusted source. And so, unless you are a policy wonk, climatologist, or eco-warrior you probably are not going to read or listen to these two outlets.

In terms of successfully conveying complex science and culture, in succinct language easily understood and embraced by large swaths of the English language speaking populations the folks at the National Geographic Society have no peers.

“The world is not ready for the impacts of climate change, including more extreme weather and the likelihood that populated parts of the planet could be rendered natgeouninhabitable, says the planet’s leading body of climate scientists in a major new UN report.”

But if you are an Evangelical Christian (roughly 13% of the 32% of the worlds’ population who identify as being Christians) you are not going to put credibility in the painstakingly researched and documented science offered by Nat Geo scientists ~ all of the climate shifts, Polar Vortex, drought, earthquakes and tsunamis are the direct result of an angry God.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks ‘the same language’ as this Christian population: “It is a responsibility that begins with God commanding the first human inhabitants of the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it“. To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it.”, and this should guarantee resonance, comprehension and action – will his call for a universal boycott of the companies which most severely violate our planet actually happen? Or is the dominion of money still too compelling for such sacrifice?

The use of common language spoken by a respected member of a specific community is why I was particularly interested in the way that the producers, the director and the very high profile actors and journalists have come together in Showtime’s new 9-part series entitles Years of Living Dangerously.  I watched the first episode as a result of an email from Upworthy – they thought it important to share (as I do) and went a step further by including the Grist’s exhaustive effort in coalescing the counter-attacks presented in various op-ed pieces. Striking is the genuine effort put forth to listen and to speak in languages (various core audiences) that would be UNIVERSALLY EMBRACED and understood – and I do mean natural-disasters-7650127universally! – around the most complex issues our world is facing:  food and water security, climate change, war, natural disasters and those made by man and his greed and indifference.

If I have one fear about its viewership numbers, of the seven billion people on the planet, they are based solely upon the immediate impact  of those cozy and warm as well as those already overwhelmed and trying to cope.  Yes, it’s an hour in length, and no, it is not entertaining.  Actually it’s rather exhausting and painful but the contrast to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is palpable; most of us who watched Inconvenient Truth in 2006 were already aligned with the message whereas Years of Living Dangerously the respect for differing opinions, those in denial or attributing our planet’s destruction to an angry God are given a gentle hand in guiding them toward enlightenment.  Successful communications (and marketing) doesn’t ‘talk down’ to or yell at constituent audiences and in this Years of Living Dangerously embraces the model of a trusted best friend, devoid of real or perceived bias the value proposition of this first hour (seems to me) conveys exactly what it needs to regardless of what side of the issues presented you might stand. multiracial_planet

We are one.  There will be no need for a vengeful God bringing forth the Rapture if we don’t stop screaming at one another and really begin to listen beyond our personal filters because our ignorance, apathy, and intolerance will be successful in our own undoing, destroying the fragile Earth we call home and all life as we know it. It really is time for unity and action of the most passionate and positive kind! Earth Day must be everyday.

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