By Jono Smith
A few weeks ago, Katya hosted "Sticky Week" in honor of the book Made to Stick. I thought I would end my week of guest-blogging by interviewing someone who has spent much of his career helping nonprofits make and tell stories that stick. Kile Ozier has created communications & development campaigns for a litany of nonprofits across the globe, having worked on everything from the 1992 Candle Light Vigil for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in DC to landmark fundraising campaigns for Stanford University.
Four Questions for Kile Ozier
1. What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Frankly, it is the absorbing of the culture of the agency or institution with successive projects; learning and discerning what sets each apart. Colleges and universities, for instance, are surely one of the three most pivotal moments in the lives of probably 95% of those who attend…but, each institution does this in a different way, with a unique ethos and culture that is reflected in the student bodies and the experience of that institution. Immersing myself in the culture, learning it and perceiving ways to articulate that to an audience in such a way as to re-ignite the energy of First Experience and avoid the “running of old tapes” is the challenge and the reward.
2. What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
Helping non-profits through transition from grassroots to mainstream. It is almost inevitable that the Original Visionaries become Obstructive Dinosaurs, as an agency grows. The opportunity is to help these individuals see the value and to be come Resource rather than Management; and to open the door/pave the way for those who are adept at management of what the Visionaries have built to step in and do that very thing.
Visionary Leadership is very different from Managing or Directing Leadership. Both are critical at different junctures; rarely at the same time.
That, and getting agencies or institutions to make the appropriate investment in articulating the message so that the message can be effective. The ability to “do things on a nickel” is a greatly overrated “skill.” What usually results is an experience, a piece of video, a marketing or mission document that delivers less than it could. No one likes to spend money; but what I hate is to spend less to less effect. I don’t support extravagant budgets (and I never get them, either!), I do find myself spending a lot of time, enlightening clients to what things actually cost; and if one wants a message communicated compellingly, it’s going to take time, and cost something.
Lastly, time. All too often, agencies wait far too long to initiate the research and creative process as these projects encroach. Eighteen months prior to launch is a reasonable time to begin exploring possibility. That offers time to discover if a certain approach is valid, or is even the best approach to deliver a given message. Often, I enter a project with a client thinking they want an “event,” and what we ultimately deliver is something quite different, but that reflects the persona of the institution and delivers the message better; a dvd, a performance, a print piece…
3. What are the most common marketing and communication mistakes you see nonprofits make?
In creating the experience that is going to communicate the agency to the audience, it is the assuming of a level of connection that is truly no longer there. Any emotional connection, I believe, becomes intellectualized, over time. The quality of the original experience is remembered, rather than re-experienced. Thus, I further believe it is our job to circumvent preconception and “surprise” the audience (whether live, through media or in print) with the visceral thrill of reconnection…of actually re-experiencing what was experienced at first exposure.
This re-enlivening of the original experience – or, in the case of cause-related non-profits, the connection of that agency’s mission to a personal experience of each individual being exposed to this message – is what makes the difference between giving out of perceived duty versus giving MORE out of being moved to deepen one’s commitment to institution or cause.
This also works in marketing; but that’s for another conversation…
Another key error I see agencies and institutions making in crafting their messages is the omission of what I call the “shepherds of the mission” from the mix when canvassing, interviewing, and pulling together data and background in the process. I always include the secretaries, custodians, clerks…the myriad, disparate personnel of the infrastructure, many of whom have been in place far longer than any of the principals of an organization, are often the most articulate when it comes to divining what keeps people in their jobs, doing what they do for the little they are usually paid. It is a great method for discovering new ways to articulate a message that has been previously communicated…thus resonating more compellingly.
4. What big problem in the nonprofit community would you most like to see fixed in the next 5 years?
Assumption and Acceptance. The level of assumption of effectiveness of the status quo is, across the board, far higher than most seem to think. I believe that all of us in the community can be served with regular “objectivity sessions,” in-house or at conferences. Truly stepping back and examining what might be being assumed in organization, messaging, appeals, communications will undoubtedly serve to surprise and enlighten even the most accomplished and successful of individuals and agencies. It will keep our messaging fresh and the connection with our audiences evolving.
Transparency. As technology supports greater access to information, the institutions and agencies that step up to that and keep their integrity unimpeded will be the most successful. I would like to see ambiguous terms like “proceeds” and “net proceeds” be banned from the lexicon. What IS a “proceed,” anyway? Is it profit? Is it a portion of the profit? What is “a portion of the proceeds”? This sort of ambiguity will, ultimately, serve only to lower the trust of a sophisticated audience in a given institution, agency, event or producer.
>> Thanks, Kile!