Transparency International is a global movement sharing one vision: a world in which government, business, civil society and the daily lives of people are free of corruption. Through more than 100 chapters worldwide and an international secretariat in Berlin, we work with partners in government, business and civil society to put effective measures in place to tackle corruption.
Like many non-governmental organisations, Transparency International is constantly facing new communications challenges. These are in part technology-driven, with rapid advances in information delivery and media convergence. They include the rise of new influencers, such as bloggers and news aggregator websites, as well as more demanding audiences used to receiving news in real time and across multiple platforms. Reaching out to a wide audience with promptness and demonstrating global impact is our first chall
With over a hundred independent chapters, delivering a coherent message presents our second challenge. It is clear that external audiences do not distinguish between the different chapters and every campaign or publication is often seen as part of the Transparency International brand. Our movement calls for harmonised, not centralised, communications as we strive to convince audiences that they can further the fight against corruption together with us, to shape communities and a supporter base, and to transform awareness into action in a number of countries.
"Our movement calls for harmonised, not centralised, communications as we strive to convince audiences that they can further the fight against corruption together with us."
In our relationships with donors and supporters we also need to demonstrate our impact both locally, in countries where we have chapters, and globally. Communities engage with us when they see a clear vision and when they can relate to our values. In a survey of more than 114,000 respondents in 107 countries, our global corruption barometer data show that people continue to suffer from corruption in their daily life. The survey also shows that respondents want to be involved in the fight against corruption in their own country. It has become urgent for Transparency International to address expectations, to consolidate a community and to convince people that they can further the fight against corruption with us. This is the third challenge of our global communications.
Our External Relations Group functions with two working principles that take these challenges on board: giving a global voice to local challenges and a global reach to local knowledge; and increasing engagement with our audiences. Let’s look at these principles in more detail:
1. Give a global voice to local challenges
In 1993, when a few individuals led by Peter Eigen decided to take a stance against corruption and created Transparency International, the principles of transparency and accountability were almost completely absent from both the public and private sectors. For the past 20 years, it has been our core commitment to set the tone in the field of good global governance and anti-corruption reforms. Transparency International has come a long way in reaching broad audiences, from gaining the respect of journalists, academics, government officials and donors, to reaching out to a wider audience and a younger generation. Our global communications and visual identity have been innovative, creative and internationally recognised, and our social media reach has grown steadily and remains a high priority.
"For the past 20 years, it has been our core commitment to set the tone in the field of good global governance and anti-corruption reforms."
Transparency International created a Rapid Response Unit that connects regional coordinators and communications staff several times a week to create global coverage of local news. Articles written the same day, often when the news is still developing, are distributed to a large audience mainly consisting of the journalists and supporters who shape our social media feeds. Every day, the website shows how challenges are tackled locally in the field of corruption. On January 20 last year, for example, a few hours before the adoption of new restrictive laws in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Americas and with one of the highest crime and murder rates in the world, Transparency International’s national chapter Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) published a press release urging the new government to reject the legislation under discussion and to respect the fundamental rights of access to public information and freedom of expression, as well as to promote transparency in the public sector, a key element in the fight against corruption. In this example, the secretariat and the local chapter worked in close cooperation to develop the message and to distribute the press release widely and internationally. The president of Honduras blocked the law and created a group that includes our chapter to shape and monitor anti-corruption reforms.
Transforming complex and abstract issues into compelling and digestible news is a crucial step in getting heard. To this end, we have recruited journalists who excel in finding the human angle in each story. A human face is essential to connect with the public and to make an abstract issue better understood; however, on its own this is not enough. Two additional elements are of crucial importance to us: the first is capacity-building and making sure that all chapters are able to communicate, and the second is finding the right tone.
"Transforming complex and abstract issues into compelling and digestible news is a crucial step in getting heard."
First, significant efforts need to be invested into raising the communications capacity of all chapters. Some chapters are more developed in communications and online capacity than the secretariat; some have even developed complex online platforms allowing their audience to report corruption incidents as they witness them. We often learn from our chapters and develop a strong voice together. But harmonising communications and being part of a world-wide debate is about making sure that all are heard, including the very small chapters, some of which do not even have any in-house communications experts. The challenge is to continuously develop a movement-wide spirit. We have established a Facebook feed for our communicators and have developed webinars and training courses in Berlin where we invite our chapter representatives. Our goal during these seminars is to make sure that all of us, from both the secretariat and chapters, learn from each other and develop a harmonised communication style.
Second, we also find that the way we speak and our choice of words can help us to shape our brand. The tone of voice is one of the most fragile elements of our communications as it can often differ from one region to another, depending on the political and social context. When launching a global campaign, we undergo a large consultative process with all our members to take the pulse of the movement and to ensure that the majority of us feel comfortable with the chosen tone.
"The tone of voice is one of the most fragile elements of our communications as it can often differ from one region to another."
In a narrative arc, the tone of voice could portray either an “angry space” denouncing the corrupt and demanding that they be thrown in jail, or a “sympathetic space” that exposes the consequences of corruption and calls on greater responsibility from the public and private sectors, or even a “hopeful space” stating that we should aim for better and that we would all be happier in a world free of corruption; either way, the choice of words is vast. In our last Annual Membership Meeting, our positioning became one of the most discussed topics in the workshops and corridors.
It is precisely such an honest conversation on the tone and on our cultural red lines that allows us to better understand each other and to refine and strengthen our international communications.
II. Increase engagement with our audiences
Like most brands, Transparency International has traditionally focused its communications on exposure and broadcasting rather than on engagement and conversation. Media planning is primarily a game of exposure, and all publications are systematically accompanied with a media plan. We all want our message to be understood and remembered by all, regardless of the limitations of time, space or topic.
However, the success of any organisation today no longer depends on how it presents itself to the public; rather, it is linked to what people say about the organisation, away from traditional communications platforms.
"However, the success of any organisation today no longer depends on how it presents itself to the public."
Also, supporters rarely consume information in a linear way. Most of them need to be informed on a variety of platforms. Being informed by digital media for almost two decades, a new generation has grown which no longer wants to receive news passively, but wants to be part of the discussion. Beyond being used for information purposes, social media is now a platform where people develop their own image. By sharing photos, videos and comments, people passionately communicate their personal values and how they see the world, trying to control how others see them.
It is often considered that exposure to a broad audience helps develop engagement. In other words, the more people hear about Transparency International through its publications, website and social media, the more we can rely on volunteers and individual donors. This assumption is only partly right. We tend to forget that before tapping into the resources of volunteers or donors, an organisation needs to transform its audience into supporters, shape a base for them and engage with them in a meaningful way. In the case of Transparency International, a supporter base is comprised of those who truly care about the cause of eliminating corruption and want to take action.
"It is often considered that exposure to a broad audience helps develop engagement... This assumption is only partly right."
When we read the hundreds of entries in our first youth writing competition last summer, we realised that young people in Nepal were saying exactly the same thing as those in Nigeria. These young people connected through a writing competition to answer the question: “What can young people do to stop corruption?” All were arguing that they have the power to set examples and to change their world. All were announcing their readiness to say no to their mentor, their professors, even their parents and loved ones, for the good of the cause they believed in: stopping corruption and believing in a better world. “This is only because of the enthusiasm of youth”, I can hear you say. That may be true. But it is a communications lesson that we’re trying to build on.
History has repeatedly shown us that people think alike in various parts of the world at any given time, even when they are unable to connect with each other. Whether you call it the zeitgeist or the flavour of the month, the fact is that trends shape people’s views and actions beyond any government control or media advertising. The picture one needs to draw is not one of cogs functioning together to drive the engine forward, but one of a single anti-corruption state of mind. Not all of us enter this space, and when we do so it is often following an incident that provoked a personal reaction. I call this a Moment of Choice. Because we adopt the cause of anti-corruption at various paces and for various reasons following our own individual moment of choice, it is close to impossible to define when the informed audience will become supportive.
"Whether you call it the zeitgeist or the flavour of the month, the fact is that trends shape people’s views and actions beyond any government control or media advertising."
This approach has important implications for the way we communicate. It tells us that the most important aspect of our engagement is to build a space where people from around the globe can meet and share their experience. It should be a space where the public engage with you and not the other way around. Within such a framework, our traditional communications methods would no longer be as useful as they used to be in shaping our supporter base. The future of the anti-corruption space lies in non-linear communications, in our ability to foster a sense of community among those who have truly had enough of corrupt systems, in our ability to listen, to interact and to work together.