Between media and direct campaigns
Between Media and Direct Campaigns: My Experience at the Graduate Internship Scheme.
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I remember an episode during a training session I attended, where the facilitator asked participants an awkward question “how do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?” the answers were as many as the participants, but the one that got it did not actually hope to; he was just being, well, simple. He said “just shove it in, neck, legs and all.
For a student of development communication, I am aware that it is the simple solutions that work best; the solutions that bridge the gap between the source and the receiver of a message. It is common to witness intense debates about the impact of the use of mass media in changing behavior, most times what it does is actually create awareness and little else. Proponents of the role of media in behavior change easily point to the prevalent violence and other key products of popular culture while those on the other side question the inability of media to foster positive development despite all the meticulous plans, big budgets and deliberate and painstaking persistence.
In my work as a Communication Specialist with the Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS), which is a project funded by Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and implemented in the Federal Ministry of Finance, I have come face to face with the workings of the mass media, their applicability, their shortcomings and have come to terms with the fact that there is the need to optimize the use of alternative approaches to communicating development. GIS is a development project capable of creating temporary employment to 50,000 Nigerian graduates every year across the length and breadth of this country, this employment will address the constant complaint by employers that our graduates are unemployable by helping them acquire working experience, skills for entrepreneurship and even tools for personal development.
Imagine the benefits of this project to employers, they get an easier opportunity to employ their staff by picking from the tested and trusted interns working for them, not to talk of the advantage of not having to pay them for their labour. Imaging also that the company can list the internship scheme as its corporate social responsibility. These and many other advantages on the part of companies and agencies would probably make them jump at this opportunity, but no, many are not responding.
Time and again the mass media were engaged in the campaign for firms to buy into the project, but the response when compared to the rate of registration by graduates is nearly 80:1; why are the graduates so interested in the project and the firms are not? There are issues of obvious consideration; the graduates follow the media campaign and because there is “something in it for them” they quickly register. As for the companies however, a simple poll indicated that they are not “aware” of the campaign despite the media hype. One was tempted to doubt that but for another simple discovery; most company executives do not watch any local TV and Radio Channels, where the hype is domiciled.
As for the ones that do patronize local channels, I remembered the selection theory. People oft choose what information they want to perceive, retain, and apply and also another theory that proposes that people find it difficult to accept change even if it is for their own good. Someone once gave an example of a slave that has been freed but they do not want the freedom due to its uncertainties. One key feature of media campaigns therefore is that people can pretend they have not heard it, if they believe that it does not address that germane question “what is in it for me?”
So, what to do? The project came up with its own alternative approaches; to meet companies door-to door and to meet them in groups. The key feature of these approaches is that the companies agree to receive the team and discuss with them, they also agree to honour the invitation of the project team to discuss the scheme. This is the threshold required to generate voluntary, as against selective perception and retention. The offer to listen to the team provides another opportunity, to establish an interaction, which also leads to addressing the fears and the key worries of the companies.
Interaction has been the bane of the mass media as even phone-in programmes have been known to be doctored. With direct interface however, there is no avoiding any issue raised as any such attempt would defeat the purpose of such an outing. The notion that direct campaigns is taking communication back to the stone age does not hold water; it provides the shortest distance between the sender and receiver of information and guarantees that the sent message has actually been received. What remains is for the receiver to gauge the value of the message and use it appropriately. The GIS will monitor and assess the workability of its alternative approaches in due course.