03 October 2011

Bank-rolling development communications

Is investment in communications the missing link in development? 

Social entrepreneur and communications consultant Rob Burnet, based at Kenyan comic-publisher Well Told Story, summarizes here his presentation to the Second Global AgriKnowledge ShareFair held in Rome, 26-29 September.
Though he gives his pitch with passion, I am unconvinced that the marketing of development programming is so easily compared with the budgets of for-profit Hollywood blockbusters.When the returns are tangible and bankable, perhaps that will change. 
The reality is that if more money was available, there would be more field work, more humanitarian delivery and more research as a priority. Of course needs differ markedly among the locations, people and issues being addressed, and in some circumstances communications can play a central role. But you typically don't see marketing investment unless you have a bankable script, and in many places development results are still on the cutting room floor. 
Burnet notes that a multi-national marketing campaign budget can stretch to the hundreds of millions of dollars - for a major movie. But that covers TV and display advertising worldwide. Need is the mother of invention, and there are a myriad of more affordable options for development. Notably, this video is on YouTube, which is accessible to almost all content creators and viewers. Social media and other word of mouth tools are eminently accessible. Part of their popularity is that they are by far the cheapest option. Of course there needs to be scope in the budget for communication experts - including consultants - who can strategise and help to deliver campaigns, but that does not mean communication budgets should suddenly balloon. 
For me, the real sizzle in Burnet's interview is his second point: that people (and not just youth, please) need to be interested in what you want to communicate. Stimulating imaginations and getting people excited is a sure way to have them take your ideas and do something about them... whatever your budget.