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Getting Your Message Across: Zen and the Art of Refrigerator Magnets

Roger Kifaru Newell, a NOA board member, has been part of a recent campaign victory. In this article, Roger reminds us to think about the audiences we try to reach to become allies. He looks at the basic message of a handout.

You have put together what your consider to be great flyer. It blasts your opponent and paints your organization in glowing colors for standing up to the “powers that be.” Yet, when you attempt to hand them out to the crowd intersecting the street corners in the perfect downtown location, few if any people are willing to take the flyer and of that group, most don’t hold on to the flyers for more than a couple of steps, choosing to deposit the flyers in the next trash can or flower box with others quickly tossing the flyers to the ground.

What could have gone wrong?

The answer is simple. You prepared a flyer for yourself and not for your potential audience. A successful flyer relies on establishing an “organic” connection between the group/individual producing the flyer and the audience. The goal of the flyer is not to serve a platform for you to shout your militancy to the proverbial “high heavens”. Instead, the flyer should provide something that has some value for the person in the audience who is receiving the flyer, while at the same time linking with some basic principles of justice and fair play. The goal is to establish a commonality of interests and build on that relationship to introduce your message.

For example, if you choose to handbill at a baseball game because one of the game’s corporate sponsors is abusing its workforce, most people attending the game don’t want to hear a litany of prose about the firm’s evildoings. It not because they don’t care, it’s because the audience has come to the stadium to see a baseball game, relax and have fun. They are not interested in being bothered by the day to day problems of people who work for the sponsor. They are at the stadium to see a baseball game. How do you get them to take and more importantly read your flyer?

Again, the simple answer is to make your flyer something that has value to them, so they will hang on to it and read it when they are in their seats. Sounds like a tall order, but it’s really simple.

As opposed to making your flyer an attack vehicle, you could make it an information vehicle about baseball. It could be team rosters. It could be scorecard. Or, it could be a baseball trivia quiz. This establishes an organic connection with your audience. They will hold onto the flyer because it contains something they want to keep.

What about your message? Once you have gotten your foot in the door, you can deliver your message by linking it to accepted baseball principles, such as fair play, rules and sportsmanship. In this case, it’s your job to link your message to baseball. This will help you get your message across because your audience’s minds are already focused on baseball and when you link your message to baseball, it creates a better “playing field” for the acceptance of your message.

I term the successful creation of an effective public outreach flyer “Zen and the Art of Refrigerator Magnets.” The “Zen” of the process comes with your searching for the organic connection between your cause and the audience when you handing out your flyer. Do you research beforehand and show respect for you audience by know your subject area or having somebody who knows the subject area help develop the material for flyer. The “refrigerator magnet” part comes with the creation of something that people will hold on to, like a proud parent sticking up a child’s drawing on the refrigerator with a magnet.

For example, when preparing a flyer to be handed out to visitors at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, to protest the fact that museum’s janitorial supply company had locked out its workers. The goal was to put pressure on the Museum to get it to intervene with the supply company. However, we knew that most of the visitors to the Smithsonian’s most popular museum would be from out of town and not really concerned about a labor dispute.

To get over this hurdle, using the “Zen and Refrigerator Magnets” concept, we devised a flyer that could be turned into a paper helicopter with a message of role of balance in flight and in the treatment of working families. The flyer was a hit. Kids going into the museum wanted the flyers so they could make the helicopter. Parents and adults held on the flyers for the kids that were with them or for kids and grandkids at home. The key thing is that people held onto the flyers. A search of tree boxes and trashcans turned up less than ten of the more than 5,000 flyers handed out.

In closing, as organizers we must learn to tap into the deep wells of discontent that exist in the public and spend the time, intellect and energy working these wells to build a deep, broad-based movement to stand up to the status quo and to move the opposed one step and one day closer to liberation.                                             Roger Kifaru Newell Washington, DC—America’s Last Internal Colony

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