Doug Gould is one of a handful of people who created the field of what I call ‘advocacy communications.’ He was among the first to apply strategic communications principles to the work of social justice organizations and continues to shape nonprofit communications practice as it moves into the digital space.
How would you describe your life’s work?
I have devoted myself to using communications to build public will for social change.
Why does it matter?
Information can be a powerful tool that can change attitudes. We can engage people and direct their energies toward actions that will make a difference, whether in their own personal lives or in politics. Powerful special interest groups dominate the public discourse and we try to break through to give people a greater role in determining their own and their communities’ future.
How did you come to do this work?
I was interested in making people more responsive to the needs of others—initially through opposition to the Vietnam war and in the civil rights movement. I naively believed that if we just told people the truth—helped them identify with others—that their empathy would propel them to think and act differently. Obviously, that wasn’t true.
Later, when working for Planned Parenthood, I realized that we could actually mobilize support for reproductive rights and health, but we had to be disciplined, focus on the right audiences and use carefully chosen, proven messages. Our legislative successes led me to want to apply this way of thinking strategically to other causes.
What would you say is your most significant achievement in the past two years?
Surviving the recession.
What’s next for you?
Everyone knows that the communications environment is changing rapidly, particularly because of technology, but also because technology is literally rewiring people’s brains. They think differently, acquire and use information faster, and have much shorter attention spans.
Many communications professionals are caught up in the next flashy new thing and fail to think about the basics of strategy – audiences, what messages will move them and the myriad ways to get them to see the message. My mission is to get people to focus more on a comprehensive approach that will work and less on the latest technology. Too many nonprofits have relied exclusively on building out great web platforms while ignoring techniques to get people to actually look at them. I want to find ways to get new people engaged who may not already be regular visitors to these websites.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a key partner who helped expand social justice.