Following the death of former President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (Madiba), many people have been given public platforms to share amazing personal anecdotes of unforgettable moments spent in the presence of the late former President. Listening to these anecdotes, I couldn’t imagine anyone who would be left indifferent by the Madiba effect. I personally shook his hand once in my life, it is a moment that I shall not forget; especially because I was too mesmerised to remember everything that I had planned to say to him when I met him!
One thing is clear though; Nelson Mandela understood the value of effective communication. It has been related many times how he always remembered people’s names and ensured that he used those names when addressing himself to his interlocutors. Everyone loves the sound of their own name, especially when it is called out by people they admire. I felt the same effect when His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, thanked me by name after I introduced him to the World Music Festival crowd at Kirstenbosch several years ago. I had been invited to act as Master of Ceremonies at that event.
From everything that has been reported and related about Mandela, it is clear that he understood the need to not only know his interlocutors (target audience) before he even met them; he also made sure to understand where they came from, both geographically and philosophically, and what they aimed to walk away with (outcome) from an encounter with Mandela. In this regard, Mandela was never a ‘zero-sum’ game man who believed that he should take all the spoils of every sparring match for himself. He tampered his own expected outcomes with his knowledge of the outcomes expected by his audience and ensured that everyone left the meeting feeling valued, at least, often with something in their hands.
PR and Communication practitioners have a lot to learn from Madiba. I have seen too many communication plans which seem to have been developed only with the interests of the communicator in mind; brilliant from a ‘look-and-feel’ perspective but dismally poor in tone, choice of communication channel, language and, often, timing of delivery. Old style communication campaigns seem to have been conceived to be admired for the beauty of their messages (output), with scant regard being given to how their messages were received (outtakes) by the target audiences and, importantly, by the impact they had (outcome) on attitudes and behaviour.
Mandela mastered the art of rallying people – even enemies – to his side; getting adversaries to gather around the same cause, softening attitudes and, ultimately, changing behaviour.
Are these not the same things that PR and Communication practitioners seek to achieve?
Let us summarise:
o Take time to understand what you want to communicate and what outcome you (your client) want to gain from it;
o Learn about your target audience and what ‘drives’ it. When communicating to change very entrenched behaviour and attitudes, give yourself more time and be open to not succeeding entirely after the first attempt; but do it to gain some initial positive shifts;
o Understand your target audience’s media consumption habits and patterns;
o Be clear about how you will measure success;
o Close the loop in the end, clearly linking achievements (outcomes) back to the aims you had set (goals) in the first place.
Importantly, think Madiba!
Solly MOENG – APR