Tuesday, July 20, 2010

5 Lessons The Gay Rights Movement Can Learn From Mary Portas

I love this. Mary Portas is the founder of a shopper marketing agency in the UK, and I just came across this article that Michelle Penny wrote about how the lessons Mary teaches to businesses apply equally to the fight for LGBT equality:

1. Focus On The Why
The reason so many of the businesses that Mary deals with are failing is because they’ve lost focus on the “Why”.  These businesses know what they want to do, which is sell their goods, but have lost the vision, the “why” that gave them the passion to start in the beginning, and the “why” which makes them stand out from the rest.
And it’s that same “why” which cause many gay rights campaigns fail to have an impact. It is all too easy to get focused on what we want – equality, gay marriage, protection from discrimination – but forget to let everyone know the why. And that why is the most important bit. Why is what creates the passion, the sense of community. The desire to act.
Tell people that you want gay marriagem and  they might sign your petition. Tell people the whys, like you being able to take your partner’s hand and walk out of the church in front of friends and family together like you’ve always dreamt of, but at the moment can’t, and you’ll find you not only have signature, but a fellow marcher at the next protest.

2.  Don’t Lose Yourself In Vagueness
Mary only needed to step inside village store Clealls to know what was wrong. It was trying to do too much. Buying in 4000 different lines meant this store was packed full of anything you could think of, not  because everyone wanted them all, but instead in the hope that by having so much that people would at least find one thing to buy. The reality though is it left them bewildered and confused.
Mary’s solution was to refine the stock and provide a much clearer message about what Clealls were offering, and it’s a lesson we as a community fighting for more equal rights can also learn from. Yes we do want equality on all levels, but to push for them all at the same time only does one thing. It dilutes the message. Shout about gay marriage one day and homophobic bullying the next, and you’re going to end up either dividing your supporters into two very different groups.. either that or just end up confusing everyone so much they give up.

3.  Don’t Try To Be Everything, Focus On What You’re Best At
Few of us are blessed at being amazing at everything (though we’re sure Mary Portas is the exception to this) and it’s important to recognise this. Personally I  know I can do two things. I can write  passionately and emotively and I can stand up, fool about and make people laugh. What I can’t do is stand up and make a passionate and emotive speech.  For me it’s too much pressure on my broad gay shoulders, and  instead of giving me the buzz I get when I fool around in front of people and make them laugh, it makes me VERY VERY nervous, which in turn makes me VERY VERY poor at speaking.
And so that means I don’t do the serious stuff. I stick to (trying to) be funny and instead of making the speeches, I write the speeches for people who can pull the serious, emotive stuff  off but would readily admit they’d struggle to come up with five words by themselves.
And both of us admitting that isn’t a bad thing. It’s important we all recognise our limitations. Angela from the bakery Maher & Sons couldn’t. She felt that the only way she could achieve success in her business was for her to stay in charge of  everything. The end result was Mary and her couldn’t work together. To move forward and achieve, you have to be able to recognise that you’re not good at everything and that’s alright. Let everyone play to their strengths. Don’t try and be everything.

4. The Faces Behind The Cause Are Just As Important As The Cause Itself
The problem with many of the businesses that Mary dealt with was that they didn’t see themselves as part of the brand. They saw their business as a very separate thing from them and something that should thrive on it’s own. The reality though is people don’t connect with business structures they connect with people, so just like Mary made the Fosters sisters central to their brand with their promotional shots that now hand in their greengrocers, it’s important that our fights have faces too.
Don’t believe me? Take the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal fight. Think about that and it’s likely you don’t picture random soldiers, you picture Lieutenant Dan Choi. Whether he likes it or not, Choi has become what people connect with, not the cause. He encompasses all that the fight is about and why it must be won. Without him yes there would still be support, but would it be so passionate? I don’t think so.

5. Don’t Just Try To Get The Support Of The Community, Become Part Of It
One of the biggest problems with the village shop Clealls was that it’s owners had moved from South London, opened up the store then expected everyone to come. Expected everyone to go “Wow a friendly village store I must go in”.
It doesn’t work like that. The owners Chris and Juliet didn’t make any real effort to bond with the locals so the locals had no real feeling of connection to the store. There was nothing to pull them in apart from the 4000 very confusing product choices. Seeing that this was as much of a problem as what they were selling, Mary set about to get them working within the community and getting to know people. The result? People warmed to them, got to know them, and in turn felt a pull to the store.
And this is something that’s just as crucial in the fight for LGBT equality. We all walk past people asking us to do this or that for charity because we don’t know them. There’s no connection. Would you walk past that person if they were a friend or neighbour you say high to every morning? No, you’d stop, talk and probably sign up because you trust them. There’s a connection, and that’s important in getting people on board.
Add the personal element to your campaign and people find it very hard to say no.

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