When you are credited as the most “credible” vehicle in an organization, everything you say – absolutely everything – is significant. I can’t stress that enough.
We’ve all been appealed to by the celebrity spokesperson – in fact there are lists of the top celebrity spokespeople of all time that you can cruise to refresh your pop-brain. Voiceovers for Home Depot and Michigan Tourism, or black-and-white ads that want us to drink milk are designed to convict us with the authority of the personality reading the copy script or posing for the shot. And it works.
Marketing and communications research is rife with data to explain the power of the endorsement on the consumer-psyche, and while venerable sources like AdAge have lamented the death of the age of the celeb ad spokesperson; and instead posit (accurately in my view) that in an age of social Web interaction, we are all more inclined to be persuaded by our niched peer groups, the idea remains that a credible source, with whom we feel some sense of relationship has tremendous power to communicate concepts to and with us.
I work with many non-profit organizations, and within that category I work with a variety of religious organizations. On a recent visit to a large church-client in the Midwest, I was conducting a communications audit. I asked a range of individuals in the organization a core question: what is the most credible and influential vehicle for communication in this organization? Who is the most credible message carrier?
The answer, to a one, was this: the senior pastor with the microphone.
I share this post not to alienate non-ministry based readers, but to stress the singular power of the spokesperson, particularly in organizations that are high on trust and like-minded affinity. The leader in such an organization wields significant authority and influence because of the depth of relationship that exists (either formally or informally, real or perceived) with the membership. A non-profit, particularly one tied to religious belief is a highly niched organism, therefore the idea that credible voices increase persuasion becomes even more plausible. In the case of this particular client, it’s a large organization and so the senior leader does hold a sort of “celebrated personality” status, which when combined with the moral/religious authority conveyed by the office, and added to the affinity of the people who are members of the organization – presents a powerful communications opportunity.
My recommendation: don’t squander it.
In most religious organizations across the country, Saturday evening and Sunday morning are a gathering time. And in that time, lots of messages are communicated by the primary leader to the group. These messages are both planned and unplanned. In particular, with this client we discussed the value-association of Sunday morning announcements made by the senior leader to the membership. Most times, these announcements are scribbled on scraps of paper and handed to the leader prior to the worship time because someone forgot to include them in the bulletin or slide announcements.
This is not an effective and planned use of the most credible voice in the organization, and we agreed that we could do better and make a great influence on a number of fronts related to the overall culture and concept of the organization by changing our mindset about something as “mundane” as morning announcements.
Certainly, in a religious setting the senior leader is often sharing key messages as part of a preaching/teaching communication. However, all of those other, more “informal” communications activities go a long, long way toward shaping the culture and context of the entire experience members have with the organization on that day and as part of that event. Use this wisely. Be careful and intentional in the public communication you broadcast. What value are you intentionally or unintentionally conveying by the messages you transmit? And by those you omit? How might you do this differently?
Musings on a late Saturday night that really are relevant for us all – regardless of setting. The power of the spokesperson has not diminished in an era of social communications. If anything, the long tail of interaction has raised the bar for an increased number of heretofore “non-celeb” voices that now lead in smaller, more targeted communities. Be aware of the power of your voice, the persuasion of your messages, and the impact of your content; what you say, and don’t say, and forget to say, and say incorrectly, and say repeatedly, really does matter.