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    Trade Development - What Do You Communicate?


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2005

    Photo: WTO Communicating at the WTO Ministerial Conference: NGOs outside the convention centre

    If you promote the potential of trade for development, look twice at the power of strategic communications.

    Opinion polls and street demonstrations are clear: globalization destabilizes people. As I write, helicopters whirr and sirens wail as demonstrators clash with police outside the venue of the WTO Ministerial Conference. Yet developing countries are lining up to join WTO and the majority believe that a multilateral trading system and open markets are the right direction. Our readers confirm the seeming contradiction: every month they search our site with the key words, "advantages and disadvantages of trade".

    Many of us involved in the pragmatic, technical work of developing and promoting trade find it difficult to link the public's perception of trade and our own development efforts. But when we work to raise awareness about the value of investing in strategies to boost service exports, ratifying trade treaties conducive to business or other trends reported in Trade Forum, it can help us to understand the broader context in which people view trade.

    Against this backdrop of fears and hopes, a multitude of trade issues and organizations competed for attention during the WTO Conference. Hundreds of events took place, each generating press releases, advocacy kits, briefing notes and web sites. Scores of new books and products were launched. Which of these got attention, with whom and why? Successful organizations asked these questions early, researched the issues and came prepared with a strategy to communicate their ideas.

    A communications strategy is a useful tool for developing countries wishing to harness the benefits of trade. Well integrated in your work from the start, it can help the right people understand the value of your trade development activities.

    Strategic communications is a service, similar to other service sectors outlined in this issue. The most successful communications concepts have drive, innovation and focus. And the best policies to support strategic communications will encourage professionals to get wired, get informed and get rewarded for creative capital.

    Short on means, long on idealism, fuzzy about audiences and loaded with jargon, many initiatives miss the communications boat entirely. Be creative. But, to be sustainable, start with the resources you have and combine creativity with rigorous planning and appropriate use of information and communications technologies.

    Communications is both art and science. Good literature about strategic communications in trade development is scarce. But the practices exist. Send us your examples; we'll publish those most relevant for our readers.

    The articles here range from the broad to the specific. They are not comprehensive, but give a range of options and how they can work for you, no matter what your budget. All show how communications can be integrated into trade development.

    Best practice, in our view, relies on not making communications an afterthought. In discussions with colleagues over the last year, we left them with these questions: What mindsets do you want to change? What is the one thing you want people to remember your initiative by? How much time and money do you have? What partnerships can you leverage?

    We hope these articles take you a step closer towards using the power of communications as a strategic and integral part of your work.

    Think it through

    Practical studies about strategic communications are scarce, especially in a non-corporate, non-profit context. Concepts such as development communications, strategic communications, advocacy, social marketing and education are all part of a continuum. The models of well-funded corporate advertising, public relations and media relations are those that dominate. These corporate models are not completely relevant.

    The essence of strategic communications for non-profit organizations is well captured by the Benton Foundation:

    "Communications is much less about the technology or medium chosen and more about advancing the cause of your organization.

    Effective communications strategy reflects your organization's mission, goals and objectives, and is well integrated into daily operations. It requires a clear articulation of audience, clarity of message and a choice of media platform. It includes an ongoing feedback relationship between planning and evaluation.

    • Planning. Good planning is key to success, whether for designing an organization's goals, mapping out a communications project or figuring out what your web site should look like.

    • Audience. Identifying your audience, then understanding as much as you can about them is essential to your communications plan.

    • Shaping the message. Your message must be appropriate for your various audiences and platforms. How you communicate an organization's message to the press might be very different from the way you communicate with your members. Writing for the web is very different than writing for print and radio.

    •  Media choices. Choose media to disseminate your message, based on who is your audience, how they form opinions and what is your message. Similarly, your choice of media will have an effect on the message and appeal to a certain type of audience.

    • Evaluation. A good communications strategy takes evaluation seriously. Most people overlook this, but funders regard it highly. Keep evaluation in mind when you create and implement your communications plan.

    • Funding. No matter how good the message or planning, nothing gets done without the right resources, financial and otherwise. But good planning, and strong integration of technology and communications into your organization's objectives help get you the support you need."

    Source: Benton Foundation, Strategic communications in the digital age (edited excerpts from a tool kit for non-profit organizations). For more information, see http://www.benton.org/publibrary/toolkits/thinkthru.html

    Natalie Domeisen heads communications at the International Trade Centre and is the editor of the Trade Forum. Contact: domeisen@intracen.org