Blog Posts
Questions to Consider When Building Your Purpose-driven Communications Plan
group of employees in meeting group of employees in meeting

Questions to Consider When Building Your Purpose-driven Communications Plan

Ed recently joined nonprofit marketing leaders for a discussion on the building blocks of an effective, purpose-driven communications plan. View the conversation and download resources from the DC Communicators event here. 

Image from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenge campaign

The communications industry is undergoing significant changes driven by an ongoing pandemic, a renewed social justice movement and a fast-approaching presidential election. Simultaneously, consumers want the organizations they support to reflect their values and openly discuss societal issues such as climate change, economic equity and more. 

In a competitive market, authenticity allows brands, specifically nonprofits, to stand out from the rest, making purpose-driven communications more relevant than ever. By communicating with intention and authenticity, leaders can be sure their message will reach the right audiences and make an impact.

“Being authentic and transparent means knowing why you want to convey the message on which you’ve settled. It also means knowing which of the values and goals of the organization it will further,” says Edward Wyatt, senior communications officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Edward is a former New York Times reporter and public relations professional and was a featured speaker at Speaking Truth to Power: Why Purpose-Driven Communications is More Important Than Ever,  a virtual panel discussion hosted by DC Communicators.

In 2017, Ed moved to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he led media relations, strategic communications and executive communications for the Foundation’s U.S. Programs in Education and Economic Mobility and Opportunity. 

We spoke with Ed about his unique experience as a nonprofit marketing leader and what communications teams should consider when developing effective, inclusive campaigns.

Proof: How has your career as a journalist impacted your career as a communication professional?

Ed Wyatt (EW): As a communications professional, I feel that I have been able to put myself in the mind of a reporter in ways that some of my colleagues weren’t able to do – to know their real motivations, positive or negative, and to see why they were pursuing an article in the way that they were. 

Most often, I’ve been able to calm colleagues down and make them less afraid of engaging with reporters – knowing that their motivations aren’t always nefarious – and to prepare a plan for how to deal with the most difficult questions in a truthful but disarming way. 

It’s also been key to remind executives that they cannot fixate on a single word or phrase in an article. They must take the work as a whole and believe that if the reporter understands, and the article reflects, their position in full, the net result is likely to be positive for the organization. 

Another tactic that I’ve been able to employ is to write a “worst-case article” about a situation that demonstrates what we might be up against if the reporter pulls out all the stops and tries to damage the organization’s reputation. Typically it results in an eye-opening experience for leaders who cannot fully imagine how their own words might be used against them.

Proof: Having been on the other side of a PR plan, what questions do you think an organization should consider when developing a purpose-driven communications plan?

EW: When preparing a purpose-driven communications plan, organizations should ask themselves:

  1. Does the communications plan align with the overall goals and objectives of the organization?
  2. Is the message that you will try to convey easily understandable by a non-expert public? Will it reflect positively on the organization?
  3. Have you considered all of the really tough questions that are likely to arise during an interview? Do you have answers prepared that hit on your main talking points and align with the overall message you want to convey?

Proof: With the Gates Foundation, you served as the strategic communications lead for U.S. Programs in Education and Economic Mobility and Opportunity. Can you share an example of when transparency played a key role in your strategy?

EW: At the Foundation, we were faced with having to release the results of an education effort that cost more than $200 million over five years but did not yield any appreciable overall gains in student outcomes. 

We didn’t try to spin the few instances where there was some positive gain into the overall picture of success. Rather, we emphasized that undertaking the effort was something that we were able to do because, as a philanthropy, we could undertake larger efforts that schools often could not. Schools themselves didn’t have the flexibility to search and attempt new ways of addressing long-standing issues.

The things we learned with that effort were then incorporated into a new strategy to improve the outcomes for our target audience of students.   

Ed recently joined experts from the United Nations Foundation, the Audubon Society, and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art for a discussion on the building blocks of an effective, purpose-driven communications plan and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

View the conversation and download resources from the DC Communicators event here.