Sharing tactics

This year's AMUTA21C conference on non-profit innovation dedicated a session to learning how 'hasbara' strategies can help NGO's

AMUTA21C Conference521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
AMUTA21C Conference521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Telling Israel’s Story” would be a fitting title for a discussion at a conference on hasbara (public diplomacy) efforts. In fact, though, it was the name of the opening panel at this year’s AMUTA21C conference for nonprofits, which took place in a Tel Aviv auditorium early this month.
The annual conference – which is in its third year – offers panels and workshops to inspire nonprofit professionals and assist their organizations in reaching their goals. It also aims to provide them with tools and share the latest third-sector (as the voluntary sector is known) industry trends. This year’s day-long event boasted 250 participants.
But why would a conference on nonprofit innovation dedicate an entire session to hasbara? According to Elie Klein – managing associate and nonprofit accounts manager at Finn Partners, the conference’s public relations sponsors – it is of the utmost importance for those in the nonprofit sector “to realize that they can learn from every experience.”
To succeed in their own sector, “nonprofits need to start utilizing the successful practices implemented by both government agencies and businesses,” he explains.
“One might think that a session on how the IDF explained Israel’s positions is unrelated to this field, but it is very relevant, and those in attendance at this session were shown how to move the third sector forward.”
Klein says the ultimate goal of the panel was to examine “the social media strategies used to improve Israel’s image – focused on times of crisis and war, as well as proactive campaigns during peacetime – and then applying that to the nonprofit world, teaching how causes and programs can more effectively utilize social media to tell their stories and build their brands.”
THE PANEL featured Avital Leibovich, who heads the IDF’s Interactive Media Department; Avi Mayer, director of new media at The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI); and veteran journalist Ruth Eglash, a former Jerusalem Post deputy managing editor. The moderator was Aryeh Green, director of MediaCentral, a group that offers support services to foreign journalists.
Leibovich, who works with the foreign press in a wide range of international languages, said the key to any successful public relations campaign, whether against Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense last December, or in times of quiet, was “knowing your target audience.”
She noted that her office is divided into departments specifically targeting the hundreds of diverse journalists stationed here.
“Each desk covers a different audience,” she said.
“Even in regard to our European desk, for example, we break it down further to target the French as well as the British journalists.”
Emphasizing her point, she added that “over the years, I’ve come to understand that due to differences in culture and focus, even the Scandinavian press must be approached differently than standard European journalists.”
When it came to utilizing social media, she continued, “you must locate the platform your audience uses. Not everyone uses YouTube, for example, so you need to get out accurate visuals, which are critical, via other methods. Also, whether through traditional or social media, you have to do your research and present accurate information.”
Another tip she offered was to understand the importance of crisis management.
“My main mission is to be prepared in advance by collecting [and disseminating] information,” she said. “I need my 800 foreign journalists here to understand the threats Israel faces in advance, during times of quiet. Whether it’s security threats, borders, or Judea and Samaria, if a journalist only reaches an area of conflict for the first time after a war breaks out, we won’t be able to get our message across.”
Mayer referenced US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who was taken to task by a group of hecklers during a campaign stop for suggesting that “corporations are people” – a remark his critics interpreted to mean that his focus would be on helping the wealthiest Americans.
“I think [Romney’s] adage applies to nonprofits,” said Mayer.
“Nonprofits are people dedicated to solving human problems.”
JAFI’s ongoing social media presence – with the assistance of students in the MASA program who blogged during the most recent flare-up in Gaza – “helped serve as an outlet to the world, where the students shared their experiences being in Jerusalem while everything was going on,” he said. “Since we [JAFI] as a nonprofit are in contact with people [globally] on a regular basis, we are always poised to utilize those social media outlets and share those stories.”
He described other successful social media campaigns he had implemented during Pillar of Defense, including making JAFI’s social media logos red to mark the “Color Red” early warning siren that communities in the South hear before incoming rocket attacks.
He, too, stressed the importance of an organization getting its message out and telling its story not only in times of crisis, but on a regular basis.
Eglash described the “challenges and pressures” of modern journalism, especially with the introduction of new media.
“The role of the media is changing,” she said. “It is no longer my job as a journalist to inform, but to engage with an audience, to start discussions and raise issues and topics.”
Contributing to the pressures of reporting today, she explained, is that “bloggers and anyone who has a smartphone can be a journalist.”
She stressed that it was necessary for “most journalists today to be on Twitter and Facebook in order to engage.”
Another complication stems from social media that enable real-time sharing of information, she continued, and journalists “more than ever can make mistakes.” She cited the case of a BBC journalist who tweeted a picture of an apparent war victim from Gaza during Pillar of Defense, when it was actually a casualty from the conflict in Syria.
“He later apologized,” she said, “but the damage had been done.”
While as a journalist Eglash said she understood how mistakes could happen, she revealed that during the operation in Gaza she had crossed paths with foreign press members who had arrived with little to no background in the conflict they were supposed to be covering, and without the necessary languages (Hebrew or Arabic) and cultural nuances; rather, they were simply “looking for stories that bleed.”
Audience member Ron Allswang of the MFC Foundation pointed to Leibovich as having a particularly relevant message for NGOs: “There will be busy seasons and there will be less busy seasons, but the latter must be maximized by developing relationships – in her case, the foreign journalists that she works with, or in an NGO’s case, to engage their fans/supporters.”
Branding expert Shoshanna Jaskoll of the Reach3K group, who founded the conference along with professional philanthropy consultant Jonny Cline of the group UK Toremet, felt the panel was successful.
“This panel showcased a number of lessons vital to non-profits,” she said. “Learning which media to use, when to use it and how to use it can take years. Hearing inside secrets and best practices from four experts put our audience at a great advantage.” ■