Making a Difference Through the Media

Making a Difference Through the Media

Does someone who works in CSR and sustainability communications even belong at a conference on positive change through the media?

This question ran through my mind again and again as I drove through the Catskill  Mountains of New York last month, headed to the Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh) Summit.  The four-day conference and retreat brought together media professionals from a wide variety of fields: journalism, performing and visual arts, game design, advertising, public relations, non-profit leadership, psychology, academia and more.

The mission of ivoh, a non-profit organization founded in 1999, is simple, yet ambitious: “to strengthen the role of media as agents of world benefit.” I wondered how 3BL Media could help in this endeavor.

Over the course of the weekend, I was privileged to meet innovators from around the world, all interested in bringing about positive change through the power of story. Through the presentations, reflections and conversations during the summit, three key takeaways stood out:

1. Select the best medium for your message.  

Some of the most captivating storytelling examples shared during the summit stepped outside the confines of the written word.  2015 IVOH Award of Appreciation winner Tara Bracco created a multimedia website called “The Invisible Labor Project” to highlight the struggles of under-recognized workers in New York City. The site includes video profiles of food vendors and transportation employees, photos and Q&A’s with New Yorkers about the workers that make their day special, and research articles on labor issues. The variety of media gives site visitors a broader understanding of a complex topic.

2. Don’t be afraid to challenge stereotypes.

It can be tempting for advertising and marketing communications to rely on stereotypes or tropes so as to save time and get straight to the sales pitch. More and more, companies are avoiding these shortcuts in innovative ways, according to Felix Richter, creative director at Droga5 advertising agency. Richter helped create Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign, which showed powerful women like ballerina Misty Copeland and supermodel Gisele Bündchen showing strength, confidence and grace as they challenge negative comments about their race, body type, marital status, and looks.  

3. When sharing stories, seek to explain, not exploit.

Stories of trauma and disaster are multifaceted; they do not follow the simple “something bad happened, then we came in and saved them, and now everyone will live happily ever after” storyline so often seen in the media. In describing her work with flood survivors in Portland, Oregon, self-described “story midwife” Laura Lo Forti said she reminds herself that the community is not the flood, and the real importance is in telling the larger narrative.  Yes, an image of a crying child will evoke emotion and capture attention, but sharing a bit about the reasons for those tears can bring about even greater progress in addressing the issue.

By the end of the weekend, I had met an incredible array of thinkers, speakers and doers, all equally eager to bring positive change. I left the summit with a renewed sense of purpose, and a sense that yes, someone who works in CSR and sustainability communications did in fact belong at that conference after all.

For more information on ivoh, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo caption: Media representatives from around the world participated in the Images & Voices of Hope Summit in June. (Photo by Kenny Irby.)