Start the Conversation

I’ve recently been rewatching an early season of Mad Men, courtesy of the arrival of Netflix. There is so much I love about it, including many one-liners that still relate to our work today. In a recent episode, Don Draper told a client

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

No further explanation, no strategy, just Don Draper awesomeness. End scene.

But in reality, when you don’t like what’s being said, or when what’s being said is neither accurate nor balanced, can you simply change the conversation?


I’m torn – when Don Draper said it, it somehow felt a little dirty and manipulative. But in many ways I think that is exactly what our work is about, engaging with communities and stakeholders to ensure the right conversations are happening at the right time.

Since we aren’t operating 1960’s advertising agencies, where I’m guessing Don would run a full-page ad in the New York Times, how should you go about changing the conversation?


We would start by looking at what is being said, by whom and why. Then it is a case of analysing if and/or where things got off track, prioritising who should be part of the conversation of this point, planning a new approach that frames future conversations, and then re-starting meaningful conversations with those who have been vocal, but also those who should be participating.


Taking the opportunity to stop and take stock of what has happened provides good insight to take a strategic step forward. And it gives you the opportunity to clarify things, like what is negotiable and non-negotiable both for yourselves and to your stakeholders.


In the ideal world we would all start the conversation by having the perfect Communication Strategy or Community Engagement Strategy in place when we begin. But people continue to surprise us and we continue to adapt.