Learn From Harvey Milk’s Communications Finesse: Observations of a Moviegoer

Learn From Harvey Milk's Communications Finesse Observations of a MoviegoerMy husband and I saw Milk last weekend, the astonishing biopic about gay rights activist, Harvey Milk.

The film works on multiple levels, illustrating Milk's personal journey from a closeted gay man to the first openly-gay elected public official, as it traces the evolution of a focused, organized gay rights movement. Incredible (but human, like the rest of us) man and an incredible story. See it.

Beyond this compelling story though was the back story of Milk's communications finesse. I sat in the dark scribbling down a few of the communications strategies Milk used regularly to dazzling effect:

  • Make a clear, succinct call to action, right up front. It'll frame the rest of the conversation.Harvey Milk introduced himself  to groups with, "I'm Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you." (First heard in a 1978 speech)
  • Keep the issues front and center, personalities behind. Time and again, Milk moved attention back to what really mattered.. When attention kept turning his way, he responded: "I'm not the candidate. The movement is the candidate."
  • But humanize the cause by focusing on the lives affected, making the abstract real and accessible. "It's not an issues, it's our lives," said Milk.
  • Mobilize support for controversial issues through one-to-one relationships. Milk urged the gay community to come out, certain that once people knew their child or or cousin was gay, they'd "make a place for us in this country."
  • Use humor to navigate tight spots. Sometimes it's the only way to move through. When Milk met with a group of union members (big, tough guys) to build their support for his candidacy, his first words were, "You probably haven't met many people like me, so I left my heels at home."

P.S. When a powerful tagline is joined to a compelling mission…nothing is impossible! Download the free Nonprofit Tagline Report for must-dos, don't dos, case studies and 1,000+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Photo: Roberrific

Nancy Schwartz on December 10, 2008 in Campaign Marketing Models & Tips, Incredible Minds, Nonprofit Communications | 1 comment
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  • ray

    good article! i was just thinking along these lines last week…

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