How does an idea go from zero to a movement in six years?

Today is Pink Shirt Day. It used to be Pink Shirt Day in Vancouver. Now, six years in, people across Canada are taking a stand against bullying. I first heard about the anti-bullying initiative in 2008  on Vancouver-based radio station CKNW. (If you haven’t seen this year’s TV commercial, invest the 30 seconds. It’s brilliant. The link above will take you to it.)

My pink shirt.

My pink shirt.

How does an idea go from zero to this in six years? Some organizations work for multiple decades and achieve less awareness. Here are some observations about Pink Shirt Day’s communication strategy:

  1. It’s relevant and timely.Leading up to the first Pink Shirt Day, bullying incidents had been covered significantly in the news. One story in particular provided impetus for the day. A Nova Scotia youth arrived for his first day of high school, wearing a pink polo shirt. He was mocked, but two grade 12 students, stunningly, sprung into action. (Follow the link above for more on the story.) This incident became a flash point. Clear across the country, in Vancouver, CKNW stepped up to draw attention to the issue and bring about change. 
  2. It has a single focus and a clear goal. The folks behind the day applied the tested-and-true Keep It Simple formula. (Notice they are not trying to raise funds and awareness.) There is nothing complicated about the pink-day message. A child can understand it; in this case a child needs to understand it.
  3. It is easy to remember and easy to join. A pink shirt is linked to a real-life incident  It’s colourful and tangible. You can see it. You can touch it. Contrast the approach against a more ethereal message about working together for a better future or friendlier classrooms and feel the difference. It’s also easy to show your support. All you need to do is to wear pink. Simple.
  4. It leverages the power of media. Contrary to what some say, traditional media is not dead. For years now in February, the trusted personalities at CKNW radio have filled the airwaves with content about bullying, its prevalence and impact. I’ve listen to parents whose children have been bullied. I’ve heard former bullies share their stories. I’ve learned about bullying in the workplace and what motivates these behaviours and allows them to fester. CKNW birthed Pink Shirt Day; gave it life and energy.
  5. It kept going. At the end of the first year, the folks at CKNW could have congratulated themselves on a job well done and closed the file. Instead, they decided to keep the day alive and to grow it.  Just as a human body needs energy to live and thrive, so does an idea. I suspect someone on staff championed the initiative with passion, vision and influence.

How does your cause’s communication compare? Is it focused? Do you have a clear goal? Is your message relevant and timely? Is your communication memorable? How are you delivering your message? Who is championing your vision? 

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