Communicating impact as a global think tank

We all want our communications to generate impact among our audiences. But how does one do that when your key audience is Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other prominent policy makers? Tom Carver contemplates this question as the head of global communications at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States.

“As is the case for many organizations, it is a challenge for us at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to demonstrate how our communications is creating impact,” Tom told me in a phone interview. “Carnegie is positioned as the first truly global think. To continually define this will be a challenge.”

Tom has seen up close and personal what happens when nations don’t cooperate. As a journalist with the BBC, he covered global catastrophes in the 1990s such as the war in the Balkans and the genocide in Rwanda. Prior to joining Carnegie, he was also a communications consultant.

He joined Carnegie at a key time. The organization is pioneering the first global think tank, with offices now in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Beirut, and Brussels. “In the birthing stage, we established these centers,” said Tom.  “We now need to use our communications tools to connect them and demonstrate broad, ongoing impact.”

Speaking to Tom and learning more about the Carnegie Endowment further reinforced the idea that in our globalized world, relationships and a local touch are vital now more than ever. As Tom explained to me, “what works in Washington DC might not work in other parts of the world.”

Tom also shared insights on another communications dilemma for Carnegie:  providing focus not necessarily how you communicate but rather what you communicate. For an organization like Carnegie, this can be quite complex as its scholars provide analysis on a range of interdependent and global topics such as nuclear proliferation, energy issues and international economics.

Tom highlighted for me three key principles that could potentially apply to other communicators in different industries:

1. Link different parts of the world as opposed to just communicating from one place. Many of the issues that Carnegie addresses require connecting different offices and regions.

2. Continually tap into your network. Tom used an example of how the Carnegie Endowment tapped into its network to bring former Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov to co-chair an event. This ultimately enabled Carnegie to raise the profile of its multi-year Russian security initiative among Kremlin officials.

3. Get out of the office and count on your partners. Even though the Carnegie Endowment has offices in Beirut, it is simply not enough to address all the different challenges across the 24 countries in the Arab world from one location. Tom shared about how Carnegie has partnered with other local think tanks in places such as Cairo to hold key events.

Embedded in these three principles is the importance of being a glocal, that overused yet poignant term that intertwines thinking global and local. Going forward in the future, Tom believes communications at a leading global think tank like Carnegie will be less centralized and more distributed and networked.

While the audiences I communicate with in my role as a communicator at a global business school vary from the Carnegie Endowment’s core stakeholder group, it was interesting discussing with Tom the some of the key areas of concern which face all communicators.  One such area is social media.

“From my perspective, there are two models on how a think tank can best use social media,” explains Tom. “One is to have a separate team of journalists and writers produce content in parallel with the think tank. The other approach is enabling scholars to strategically use social media resources. There are merits to both and we are still trying to figure out the best approach.”

Tom concludes with a message that is applicable for many other industries, organizations and individuals.  “Ultimately social media is personal. People follow people. For us to strategically use social media effectively, we need to see a culture shift. We have to get there eventually. It is unavoidable that our audiences will be there.”

Tom Carver is also the author of Where the Hell Have You Been, an account of his father Richard Carver’s escape from POW camp in World War II. Learn more at