Learning innovative communication tactics from Martin Murphy, Director of Communications and Public Information at the ILO
On a steamy Friday, midway through Europe’s heat wave, I managed to get a hold of Martin Murphy. Between his work at the International Labour Conference and my hectic schedule in preparation for the Communication for Development Course, we were playing email tag for a bit.
It’s always nice to catch up with a colleague and friend. As the Director of Communications and Public Information at the ILO, he gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the machinery of an immense UN organization aiming to stay relevant in a new age of communications.
We spoke about the ILO 100 global campaign, digital storytelling, and innovation at the 100-year-old organization. Here are my main takeaways.
“The theme and goal of the campaign is: taking the ILO to the people,” Murphy said. “Behind most or all of the issues people deal with in their work life there is one or more international labour standard, and behind that there’s the ILO.”
For its 100th birthday, the ILO communications team launched a campaign to showcase how the organization makes a difference in people’s daily lives, as well as affirm its commitment to staying up-to-date with digital trends.
"The most fun part for me is the creative one. We had a nice, simple, catchy message for each topic,” he said.
But it’s tricky. You’re trying to capture in four lines something those teams have written books on.
Murphy and his team heavily consulted with ILO experts to narrow down the main topics and messages for the campaign. They also created an ambitious plan for promotion, pulling in as many partners as possible.
“Innovation works here when it’s through dialogue,” he said, emphasizing the teamwork that went into the project. “Each team brings something to the table. You sit, discuss, and evaluate.”
The Communications team ultimately came up with different print and digital products that overlap and interact, including posters, a website, and social media posts. For example, the posters that depict people in two situations—decent work versus decent work deficit—were adapted for social media through animation.
All the elements of the campaign are interconnected, with the strategic objective of raising awareness about the ILO’s work.
“You start with a big idea and try to narrow it down to a key message,” he said.
The idea is for someone to understand who we are by looking at it for two seconds. It was a nice challenge.
“You catch people’s attention with the poster,” he said. “And then, if they want to learn more, they’re directed to the ILO 100 website which is full of information about what we do around social justice and decent work.”
Another component of the ILO 100 campaign was the Global Tour—a livestream event that allowed viewers to visit different ILO offices worldwide, one per hour.
“We wanted to show the breadth and scope of the ILO and how it works across countries and cultures.” Murphy said. “Overall, it went extremely well.”
The entire event was an exercise in new media and communication for the ILO. Everything from logistical organization (each team had to be ready to go at a specific time) to technical constraints (the ILO works in countries with slow internet connections) was a challenge.
“Despite differences in language and culture, there is one thing that unites us,” he said.
“The purpose was to show that we’re all in this together. We’re all one ILO.”
“We have some nice digital products, and we're exploring more and more,” Murphy said. “Ten years ago, a story would have been just text and a few images. Now, we rely on digital assets.”
The International Labour Conference was another opportunity for the Communications team to pull in digital elements.
“We did our first-ever virtual reality story during the ILC,” he added.
That story, Dreams of Gold, is a short virtual reality documentary filmed in Ghana’s Ashanti region. The documentary follows three children who stopped working in gold mines and started going to school. It premiered at the ILC and highlights the ILO's efforts to end child labour.
We’re trying to move as fast as we can, within the realities of the ILO.
“It’s the present and the future,” Murphy said. “Digital storytelling is here to stay.”
The ILO recently started telling stories in new ways. For example, its InfoStories aim to convey information through succinct, easily digestible sentences complemented by interesting visuals and graphics. The globally minded organization also need to consider the linguistic and cultural differences between its diverse audiences.
“We need to make sure that every post fits within the ILO world,” Murphy said. “You must look and sound like a tripartite organization that deals with the world of work.”
Murphy doesn’t claim to see the future, but is optimistic about the opportunities and challenges it will bring for his team’s work at the ILO.
“It will happen faster and in more different ways than we can imagine,” Murphy said.
He also foresees that more people will join social media networks, with the obvious implications: the ILO and other organizations will be driven to dedicate more time and energy to the prevailing platforms.
Maybe not the usual sites: Facebook, Twitter,” he said. “There will be new platforms.
Fresh ideas and innovative approaches have the power to transform big UN agencies like the ILO.
“I think some people accuse the ILO of being too conservative and slow,” he said. “I think it’s a big, political place, but it’s open to innovation.”
His team’s year of work on the ILO 100 global campaign has proved that, with enough determination and vision, you can reach beyond expectations and effect real change in the digital landscape. Even if you’re 100.