I’ll admit it. Public interest communications remained abstract to my understanding as a field until about two weeks into the program, when I began to become fully immersed in my work at The Communications Network, a nonprofit organization founded by Frank Karel himself. A main part of my job has included researching foundations and organizations such as The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, StoryCorps, and The Atlantic Philanthropies, as well as drafting a Wikipedia page for the organization. The Communications Network engages in social sector communications by providing the tools and resources necessary in order for foundations, nonprofits, and other organizations to improve their own strategic communications to advance their mission and extend their impact. It was through my own work and through witnessing what my organization does that I was finally able to grasp the importance of public interest communications and just how badly it needs to be widely recognized as a field. While organizations often understand that communications is valuable, it is much more difficult to determine what effective communication practices are and to subsequently carry those practices out. One crucial lesson I have learned is that communications doesn’t happen randomly; it’s a science. To be effective at it, organizations must be strategic at knowing who they are, what they do, and how they do it, as well as what and/or who they are doing it for. Therefore, I believe the most essential tool the Network has yet to develop is the framework for understanding the four pillars for excellent communications. These include: a brand, a culture of communication, a strategy behind who to talk to, and actions for communicating.
Although I am desperately aware of the critical need for strategic communications among and within organizations, I find it equally, if not more important, for individuals to develop that skill as well. Lacking both the confidence in using one’s voice and the knowledge about how to use it limits the ability to reach one’s full potential. Listed below are the four pillars of effective communications, tailored in a way to understand their value for individuals.
While the objective of branding is to differentiate yourself in the market to obtain your goals, I believe personal branding is primarily the business of identifying yourself, for yourself. In order to brand yourself, you need to have a strong sense of identity; who you are, where you came from, what got you to where you are today, and what your values are. It is also important to recognize that your personal brand will evolve, just as you do as an individual throughout time and experience.
Without a strong sense of self, it is easy to be mislabeled and misperceived. Developing a foundational culture for yourself, a platform upon which to cultivate the qualities that make you who you are and to be accepting of those, is vital in that it allows you to further succeed in your goals. Understanding your culture means knowing what is in your capacity to do and be, and to recognize and not be critical of the fact that you cannot do and be everything nor everyone. This helps to prevent you from being further misnamed.
To be both deliberate and intentional in communications choices is important in that it allows you to have the power in further defining yourself without relinquishing that power to others.
For an individual, it’s essential to never accept not being reciprocated in your communications. As The Communications Network puts it, “success demands a continuous, virtuous, self-correcting cycle of sending and receiving, plus the ability to cede control.” You have to be able to recognize when to be bold in your speech and be willing to address circumstances that you find important, no matter how insurmountable or uncomfortable they seem.
As a girl who grew up not realizing the value in her own voice, I am more than sensitive towards the need for individuals to cultivate the confidence it takes to effectively communicate for themselves and to establish an impenetrable sense of identity. For a period of time in my youth I felt inferior to a majority of my peers who, unlike me, came from higher income, two parent households and who also had the privilege of being white. All of these factors resulted in me silencing my voice because I felt less capable than those I was surrounded by. However, I began discovering my own strength as soon as I focused on who I wanted to be and how I was determined to portray that, as opposed to becoming too disillusioned by how others defined me. Reversing my sense of inferiority took time and continues to be a constant, mindful process rather than a single act. Despite of this, I now know that by truly listening to myself and by giving life to my words, I can be that much more effective at living my full potential.
It is empowering to recognize the strength of your voice and to stand and remain steadfast in who you are. By being cognizant of the brand, culture, strategy, and action that define me, I am learning to become a stronger and more successful communicator. This, in turn, has propelled me to do more for my community, live by my values, and to act on the causes I’m passionate about. I now dare you to listen to yourself and respond to that roar. You might just be surprised by how loud you are.