Many of the people with whom we work in the corporate world seem honestly bewildered by the effectiveness of pressure group campaigns. The purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to two books that go a long way to explaining why the best pressure group campaigns are so successful.
There are two reasons for their success where they achieve it:
- The inability of corporate culture to accept that they are in a competitive communications marketplace. We have lost count of the number of meetings where the reaction to a NGO campaign is to question the legitimacy of the NGO itself. “They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this; our scientists say we are right”. Some version of this phrase usually precedes the collapse of the corporate position in the face of public hostility.
- The increasing sophistication of the smartest of the pressure group campaigners. A competitive marketplace has developed for the hottest of campaign strategists and one of the most valuable properties is our friend Chris Rose.
Chris has just produced a new book, What Makes People Tick: The Three Hidden Worlds of Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers, which we think is essential reading for corporate managers who want to understand why and how they are so frequently bested in the marketplace for public support. Taken in conjunction with what is in effect its companion volume, How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change, they are a ‘how to’ guide for winning arguments in the public sphere.
Rooted in the psychological theories of Abraham Maslow, interpreted by the eccentric genius Pat Dade, and put into practice by the campaigner of thirty years’ experience Chris Rose, the book shows a model of public attitudes and motivations that is changing the way pressure groups think about their work.
We will not attempt to explain the book in this blog, you can easily find it here. However, there are three things to which we would draw your attention:
The book is based in data in a way in which most corporate thinking on public attitudes is not. Corporations spend large sums on understanding the public as consumers, but virtually nothing on understanding the public as agents in the ‘licence to operate’ area. These campaigners have conducted thousands upon thousands of interviews to shape their model of what drives individuals, their motivations, their emotional needs. Chris Rose is himself a scientist (botany and zoology, with a specialism in lichen) and his love of ‘data’ shines through every page. So one reason why the great campaigners are so effective, is that they take what moves the public as a subject worthy of intense research.
The model is about people, not ‘messaging’; the author repeatedly warns the reader against thinking about communications in terms of ‘our message’. The book illuminates why facts and data are only part of what moves humans, the crucial issue being the values drawn from their life experience. The general public are not a passive audience waiting to be ‘informed’. It is not the role of the public to ‘get with the programme’; it is the role of the communicator to understand the needs of the public.
A central message of the book is that it is motive that matters most, not reason. The focus is on culture, understanding it and how it changes, what people believe rather than how they might answer a one-dimensional opinion poll question. For many corporate managers this is dangerous stuff; it implies making judgements about cultural dynamics (also the name of Pat Dade’s company) rather than assuring the board that the science is right.
All in all the two books are a must read for anyone who wants to understand the nature of competitive communications. Of course, many corporations do not know that the market place exists and that explains why they are sometimes bewildered by the effectiveness of NGOs.
An important caveat: The perception of the power of many NGOs is often exaggerated. Just as NGOs often attribute failure to self-serving fantasies about the “power of multinationals”, so the corporate world often attributes losses on public issues to “emotional campaigning”.
Small, single issue pressure groups are rarely successful in campaigns against major corporations. It is the successful campaigns by structured organisations like Greenpeace that achieve their goals, capture the headlines and stick in the memory.
Therefore, it is Chris Rose’s former role as Campaign Director for Greenpeace and other organisations that makes these books such a valuable guide.
You can find more information about Chris Rose and his work here.
For information about Pat Dade and Cultural Dynamics click here.