It’s April, 1963 and Martin Luther King, Jr. is sitting in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama. Someone has just smuggled in a newspaper containing “A Call for Unity,” a piece written to criticize King and his methods. On the edges of the newspaper itself, King begins to write a response.
The “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
His scrambled notes were pieced together by attorneys and different newspapers as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In the open letter, King defends his strategy of nonviolent resistance and outlines the necessary steps for social change.
As only he could say, “We may all have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Years later, we can all learn a lesson from King’s mastery of public relations, deep understanding of humanity, and passion to shift cultures.
The following 6 steps are adaptions, you can read the entire original letter in a pamphlet on The King Center’s website.
MLK’s Six Steps for Social Change
Step 1: Gather Information
Be informed. Do your research. Learn about the pain points and problems your community faces. Use the media, social organizations, and people’s conversations to better understand both sides, even those you disagree with.
- How it applies: Industry research, target audience and persona development, interviews, focus groups, and the works…sound familiar?
Step 2: Educate Others
With your new knowledge in hand, you now have a responsibility to share. Help those around you from neighbors and friends to co-workers and coffee-shop servers to understand what is happening around them. Educate them on the situation without swaying their opinion. Those who agree with you will join your team in time.
- How it applies: A perfect summary of the Inbound Methodology.
Step 3: Remain Committed
You will undoubtedly face obstacles and challenges as you try to create change. Find a source for encouragement and inspiration and use it to keep going.
- How it applies: Change isn’t easy on any front. But, with change always comes opportunity. Looking to shift your marketing programs? Trying to edit the employee handbook? If you believe in it, stand behind it.
Step 4: Discussion/Negotiation
“Using grace, humor, and intelligence” present a plan for initiating change. Even as opponents push against you, look for the positives in their points and use those to push for something better.
- How it applies: Do you have a strategy in place? Have you thought through your goals and measurement indicators? With a strong plan, it’s easier to work out the kinks.
“A genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus, but a molder of consensus.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Step 5: Action
If negotiation fails, demonstrate your passion with action. Illustrate your motivations, bring the proof, write out your sentiments and show how you plan to make a difference.
- How it applies: Does your product work? Why should your customers pick you? Try showing instead of telling, prove that you’re the solid option with authentic results.
Step 6: Reconcile
Lasting change prevails with friendship and understanding. There is no defeat; instead, there is a meeting of minds and a final product. Together everyone can make a plan of action.
- How it applies: Is each initiative surviving in a silo? Or, have you blended sales and marketing, internal and external communications. Look at the big picture and integrate elements from both sides of the fence.
King’s Six Steps still ring true today. From brand development and marketing campaigns to internal culture shifts, these steps are the phases of any campaign or initiative. What elements of Kings plan can you integrate in your communications or culture practices?