This week, the Arthur W. Page Society’s annual conference focused on the theme of "Search for Community in a (dis)Connected World." As co-chair of this conference, I can advise you the topic was selected almost a year ago and, for better or worse, the focus proved prescient.
Finding common ground in this increasingly polarized, hyper-partisan world has become tougher and tougher.
But a glimpse of daylight shone through on a panel I had the privilege of moderating with two terrific political minds: former Sen. Barbara Boxer, who served California from 1993 to 2017, and Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s press secretary from 2001 to 2003, a period which included the tragedy of 9/11 and two wars.
Together, they discussed the need to identify and be champions for finding common ground in a country divided. And, despite their vast ideological differences, they agreed: there remains far more that unites us than divides us.
As they engaged in a constructive debate about the health and future of the country, it became clear that we as communicators have both the capability and the responsibility to use our skills to tell the stories that develop relationships and build connections across a wide range of groups. Communicators have the challenging, but rewarding, task of breaking through the noise with meaningful content that, whether politically focused or brand-oriented, creates a unifying, empowering, and engaging message.
Both Boxer and Fleischer had valuable insight, and much of what they shared is directly applicable to the work we do as communicators.
When the going gets tough, finding common ground is second nature
Fleischer challenged the audience to consider the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to see, "what really makes the American people tick." It’s not the circus of political news; it’s the day-to-day lives of ordinary people supporting those in need that shows us where our core values lie. In tough times, whether it’s for communities like those hit by the hurricanes or a brand in crisis, common ground stems from being authentic and empathetic.
When looking for common ground, get back to the basics
When navigating uncharted territory, Boxer recommends going back to the basics. She says at their core all Americans want the same things – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Just as Americans hold the same basic expectations for the country, individuals that comprise a company’s core stakeholder groups have similar basic expectations and needs. They likely believe in the company’s mission, and they value what the company provides. As such, when facing tough decisions or looking to unite seemingly different groups, return to your company’s core values and celebrate the essential founding principles on which your brand was built.
Authentic brands support strong communities
As we’ve seen, candidates with authentic personalities are more likely to make it to the Oval Office than those who struggle to connect on a genuine, human level. In the commercial sector, gone are the days of people making purchase decisions based solely on the products. With social media and instant connectivity, people expect brands to have personalities, and they’re hungry to support brands with whom they find a deeper connection. Communities are built on those deeper connections, which serve as the common ground for otherwise different viewpoints.
Regardless of the stories we tell, our goal as communicators is the same: build communities that can engage with one another in meaningful ways. We can do this by being authentic, staying true to our brand mission and values, and relying on the good nature of our communities to find common ground.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.