by M.O. Warren
PAO, Special Forces Underground
The purpose of this article is to provide the organizers of voluntary organizations an introduction to some essentials of effective communications and group organization. The first question we must ask is; "Why is communications important?" The answer is because we live in a world where, as Marshall McLuhan noted, "The medium is the message." Although the irrationality of this concept cannot be disputed, as the mainstream news media increasingly loses objectivity and concentrates on agenda-based journalism, perception becomes reality.
The professional journalist is worrying about getting his byline on the lead story (or his ten-second sound bite on the evening news.) That is the yardstick by which their career success is measured--not the objective reporting of the news. To be fair, this has (in the past) been less true of the print media than the broadcast media. Today, however, journalists are not taught to separate their personal biases from objective fact. According to a recent poll of journalists, they are normally left-of-center Democrats--bearing in mind that the Democratic Party is left-of-center politically. That means that anything you say or do will be represented by the media from, at best, a socialist perspective.
That is fine if your organization represents a position that a journalist sympathizes with personally. He will report your views favorably. But what if your organization's position is one that the journalist is predisposed to be hostile to? You must attack the philosophical premises of his beliefs at their root and expose them for what they truly are.
We must stress from the outset that your message must be truthful. Falsehoods are always found out and will discredit your organization forever. Always use objective facts, gathered from original sources, as the basis of your message.
Modern communication theory recognizes three phases to communication. These are 1) transmission, 2) reception, and 3) feedback.
Your group's communicator is the transmitter. The intended target audience is the receiver. How your intended target audience reacts to your message is the feedback to you defining the effectiveness of your message.
There are several factors that complicate communication. The first is the values and core beliefs of your intended target audience. These create filters which predispose the intended target audience to react in a given way to your message. Obviously, the more you understand about your intended target audience, their values, culture, social attitudes, etc., the better you can tailor your message in such a way as to reach the audience and get the response you desire. Madison Avenue does this with advertising, though imperfectly.
Reception is a difficult thing to ensure. You can tailor your message to persuade your intended target audience, but how can you be sure they will receive it after you put it out? One way is to get your message into outlets that your intended target audience considers credible. Even with modern advances in technology, finding suitable outlets still is not easy. A poll taken some years ago indicated that most Americans get their news from television, but that over 90 percent of those who said they got their news from television also said they never watched news programming! Where can we assume these people get their information on issues from? Entertainment programming. That means that programs whose producers use the program to stress certain political or social slants in presenting topical issues have an effect way beyond their entertainment value.
As a private group, you have to make the most effective use possible of the media available to you. Examples include meetings (rallies, demonstrations, and public meetings--to include town meetings, etc.), television (both stories by local and national media--as well as local cable access channels), radio (call-in shows, interviews, news pieces), newspapers (letters to the editor, advertisements, feature stories, etc.), facsimile machines (press releases, etc.), and electronic on-line services (both commercial and bulletin board type).
How your spokesman, your message, and your group are perceived is critical. Your spokesman should be a well groomed, well dressed, articulate, personable, and unflappable individual. He should not be a threatening, wild eyed, sputtering fanatic. People will immediately turn your group off if your spokesman isn't a normal, credible person they can identify with. This extends logically, although to a lesser degree, to the entire group. Having a credible spokesman standing in front of a bunch of threatening fanatics negates any acceptance your spokesman has gained for your group.
No one expects you will be able to groom all your members to the standard of your chosen spokesman. However, all group members who are exposed to the public (for example, your staff), must be able to talk to and deal with the media and the public, presenting your group's message in a credible way (in their own words). Analyze how the media treats people it interviews. Any individual or group appearing before the media or public in camouflage uniform deserves exactly the credibility they will receive -- none.
Group spokesmen should be carefully selected. Realizing you have only a finite number of choices among your membership, you might have to train your spokesman. Many local colleges have communications courses (including public speaking). Unfortunately, some training will have to be on the job, with the attendant risk.
By analyzing feedback you can fine-tune your message and increase its acceptance among the intended target audience. Madison Avenue calls this post-testing. You will have a harder time of it, as your group is trying to find out if your message is being accepted (rather than watching to see if sales go up, or whatever).
Some methods of post-testing include public opinion polls (some knowledge of statistics is necessary for this), interviews (these can be in the form of a question, or questions, that your members ask persons in the target audience in day-to-day activities), or other impact indicators like increased membership, favorable news coverage, etc. When you analyze these impact indicators, you will see if the intended target audience accepted your message and if it is affecting their attitudes.
Bear in mind that if your message challenges the core beliefs of the intended target audience it will be dismissed out of hand. It is better to start small and get people to consider your idea first. Once you can get people to concede you have a credible point, then you establish another point, then another, and so on. As an example, consider the anti-smoking campaigns over the past 30 years. We have gone from smokers freely smoking in public places to being forced (in many places) to smoke outside. This was not accomplished overnight! First the various anti-smoking groups got people to consider that maybe no-smoking areas were a good idea, then the
next step, and the next...
You are what you appear to be. No amount of communication is going to be effective if your intended audience can not identify with you. In organizing your group, which is, after all voluntary, you have to be selective in recruitment--especially any members that will have leadership or public roles. Often, groups that started for one purpose have been captured by irrationalists and deflected on to courses at odds with the group's original goal. The environmental movement provides several examples (such as the Sierra Club).
There are ways to do this. Your organization should have a clear statement of purpose (which should be public). You must make it clear that you will not tolerate anybody who does not stay within that statement of purpose. Of course, your organization may develop and change, and the membership may later decide to change that statement of purpose.
Whenever the members of your organization appear in public to represent your organization's views they are, as far as the public is concerned, your organization. If a hunter's rights group appears before the Fish and Game Commission unshaven and wearing camouflage while the animal 'rights' activists are neatly groomed and wearing suits and ties, the hunters will probably fail to make their point. You should always encourage your members to look their best in all circumstances.
You should consider that your organization is always in the public eye and that your members are your ambassadors at large.