By Rich Polt
When Louder Than Words signed on to help FORGE with PR, my promise to Sean was to blog openly about the process and the issues that we encountered – understanding, that what we were embarking on was an experiment in the purest sense of the word. We’re now about two weeks into this experiment, during which time we’ve had several conversations with members of the extended FORGE team and started reaching out to colleagues in the media. I want to spare you the play-by-play and will dive right in to an issue that has been stymieing this group – IMAGE.
Here’s the million dollar question: What image is FORGE projecting at this very moment? And the natural follow-up question: Is this image helpful or hurtful to FORGE’s goals?
Mahatma Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world.” It’s a wonderful quote (particularly for the nonprofit sector). It means that change begins within each of us, and we must lead by example. When it comes to effective communications, a similar principle applies. Project the image you want others to see. Project confidence and passion and your audiences are more likely to be moved by you. Project confusion and self-doubt, and guess what your audience will see?
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that people or organizations be disingenuous in order to manipulate audiences. This is the slippery slope that the PR sector walks on, and one of the reasons why people don’t hold “spin doctors” in high regard. What I’m talking about is a best-practice in leadership. In the same way that Sir Ernest Shackleton maintained a disposition of optimism in the face of overwhelming adversity, an organization and its leadership must act as beacons of strength to engender confidence in those who surround it, particularly during tough times.
Now there is a difference between optimism and denial. Shackleton was optimistic but he was also honest with his men. In my view, vocal introspection is an admirable trait. It’s a sign of tremendous leadership and maturity when someone like Kjerstin can say “We’re in trouble, and I don’t have all the answers.” This was the spirit of Kjerstin’s early blog posts and the spirit in which the nonprofit community rallied around FORGE. This was also the spirit that I believed would interest the media because it was so refreshingly transparent. In fact, it was this very dynamic which grabbed the attention of San Francisco Chronicle reporter Meredith May and led to her recent story about FORGE.
But over the last few weeks, the public discourse has drilled down into the inner-workings of FORGE with much greater detail. And during this time, media interest has been tepid. Most want to monitor the situation (through these blogs) to see what happens. So what I’m wondering (out loud) is, has all the public blogging that we’ve been doing collectively made you – the readers who are following this saga – care more or less about the organization? Has your image of FORGE changed over the last month, and if so how?