12 statements to ‘tick’ you off

June 13th, 2016

Grrrr. I’ve actually heard people say these things.

  • Communication isn’t important to leadership, or to management.
  • Leaders who communicate well do so because they’re born that way.
  • You cannot teach communication to people, because it’s an art, not a science.
  • Communication is all about getting your message across.
  • All that needs to happen is that a communication is sent. It’s up to the receiver to take responsibility for what happens next.
  • Listening is overrated. All employees want to do is complain.
  • Employees aren’t interested in the business.
  • Change is constant, so there is no point to talk about it.
  • Facts and figures are more important than trying to get people engaged.
  • Employees don’t understand business, so why bother telling them about it?
  • Internal communication is just a warm, fuzzy for the employees.
  • Employee communicators just don’t know the business, so they can’t help me with my issues.




3 new research items that move PR forward

April 21st, 2016

ResearchBlockThe research at the International PR Research Conference in March includes several items from Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig, who, as has become usual, is at the vanguard of public relations research. These three papers are leading our practice – and deserve much more notice among those of us who do the work. They join several others that I covered previously.

I’ve written before about the need for practitioners to embrace the academic professionals who are researching our field. Zerfaß brought with him Ph.D. student Sophia Charlotte Volk, who shared two papers co-authored with him (and won a heap of research awards at the conference, including this one) that I’ll briefly describe in successive posts. Talking with Ansgar and Sophia was terrific, and I learned a lot from them.

The Communication Value Circle — Introducing a multi-disciplinary framework for aligning communication with corporate strategy. (Zerfaß & Dr. Christine Viertmann) This research project explores the theories and concepts that explain communication value in the context of business, and identifies and arranges in a system communication goals, and links them to corporate goals. This latter portion of the project establishes that communication contributes to overall business objectives in four ways:

  • Enabling operations through publicity, customer preferences and employee commitment;
  • Building intangibles through reputation, brand and corporate culture;
  • Ensuring flexibility of a corporation through establishing and maintaining relationships with stakeholders, and building trust and legitimacy, and
  • Adjusting strategy through thought leadership, innovation potential and crisis resilience.


This work begins to codify, clearly, not only how to describe the impact and value of organizational communication, but to build measurement strategies to demonstrate it.

  • “Enabling operations” speaks to organizational effectiveness, productivity, and sales leadership and the measurement of each.
  • “Building intangibles” can give input to balanced scorecard figures on nonfinancial indicators.
  • The point on building and maintaining relationships suggests measuring the strengths of those relationships.
  • The most important, to me, is “adjusting strategy.” Measurement isn’t only about proving value, it’s about actionable intelligence that allows organizations to course-correct.

Stay tuned for other posts on the IPRRC 2016 research.


Latest PR Research sheds light

March 13th, 2016

Research is ImportantThe International PR Research Conference is a boon to public relations people like me, because it enables us to dig deeply into the state of the profession as researched by the academy, often in partnership with the practice. I wrote an appreciation of the conference over on LinkedIn, and this new post on my blog is the first of several going into some detail on what I found most useful.

Dr. Denise Bortree of Penn State examined 194 video sustainability reports from a variety of organizations, seeking trends. Her findings? Building legitimacy is the main goal — it’s less about the actual documentation of activity and more about the result of that documentation. Classic outcome measurement, as these organizations obviously see benefit in being perceived as sensitive to their non-financial obligations.  The UK and Europe are using video more frequently than do other regions of the world. These types of reports are seeing a recent rise in popularity.

Radford University’s Dr. Lynn Zoch and Dr. John Brummette looked into the connection between personal and organizational values, examining 10 annual reports from Fortune 500 companies and a series of depth interviews with PR professionals and organizational leaders to evaluate the link. This is the first step in a wider study, but the initial findings are that values do matter quite a lot on both sides of the equation. This supports the concept that several organizations have expanded lately — EY for one, focusing on purpose and hiring only people whose personal purpose aligns with the firm’s.

Several researchers from Purdue University, led by Dr. Alessandra Mazzei of Universita IULM, Italy, evaluate the role that organizational authenticity and employee empowerment have on the practice of employee endorsement of their organizations.  This “megaphoning” depends a lot on the quality of relationship between organization and employee (no surprise there). Particularly during a crisis, having employees who trust their organization and who feel motivated as a result to take action in support of their organization leads to positive behavior.  Marketers trying to make people into “brand ambassadors” through some sort of training or indoctrination should take heed — build great relationships internally and people will be ambassadors without any such program.

More to follow – This post is already kind of long, so part two coming soon!







Communication and politics: What a drag

November 24th, 2015

Aside from being heartily amused by the rhetoric of what passes for political discourse in 2015, I’m also rather concerned about what it says about the power — or lack of power — of communication in the political realm.

Let’s start with the amused portion: We have an avowed socialist who doesn’t believe in the replacement of private property with state ownership. That make him more of a social democrat rather than an actual socialist. Socialism is the public ownership of property, goods and the means of production. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/socialism). It is an economic term, not a political one.

We have an avowed Democrat whose track record is moderate by Democratic Party history, and whose husband declared, “the era of big government is over,’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1996_State_of_the_Union_Address ) but who has spent the entirety of her presidential run so far tacking left to appeal to the wing of her party that wants the U.S. to become a European Social Democracy.

We have a bloviating egomaniac with no filter representing the fever swamp id of the most afraid constituency, railing against not the dying of the light, but the continued ceaseless change of the United States itself.

There are several highly capable people running alongside the loudmouthed lout — a couple of U.S. senators, two sitting governors, a neurosurgeon, a former CEO and several others (regardless of what one thinks of their political perspectives, they are accomplished people.)  And yet, polls show the moron leading the race.

It’s either laugh or cry, and I refuse to cry. You can’t make this stuff up — it’s quite entertaining to read the news stories that emerge…

Now for the “concerned” portion:

The Twitter age has demanded we communicate with brevity, but at the cost of probity, wisdom, depth and breadth. Politics should not be ephemeral. Politics should be an exercise in intellectual discourse. The news media no longer serve as skeptical third parties striving to attain fairness (quote from my journalism professor: “We’re human and cannot truly be unbiased, but we can be fair.”)  Instead, readers/viewers/ listeners need to fend for themselves in sorting through increasingly biased coverage. Watching broadcast news is worse than a root canal.

Other media are similarly challenging — read the NY Times, the WSJ, National Review and The Nation. You hardly know they’re talking about the same country, let alone the same people and events.

The language candidates and their handlers use make things worse, not better. Even my words above largely are attacks based on something other than mere perspective – calling someone an egomaniac (regardless of its truth) is not helpful.

What would be helpful is analysis that puts this race in context — what are the competing visions and what are the pros and cons of each?  What are the unintended consequences of these perspectives? How will those consequences be mitigated or at least addressed?

A few more thoughts:

  • Mr. Trump is not a conservative, nor a Republican. He is a Trumpian.
  • Secretary Clinton should be held to account over the email situation, and the Benghazi explanation (video versus terror attack.)  Democrats should be careful what they wish for.
  • Republican candidates should stop treating Trump as a serious candidate. But they should listen to people who are afraid and angry and convince them that those emotions are unsuitable as a platform for governing.  Most of the candidates have articulated specific platforms and proposals that are worthy of discussion and coverage (again, regardless of political orientation, there is serious information available for debate.)
  • Mr. Sanders should be asked to describe the impact of a large tax increase (for free college? How will making more graduates result in greater economic activity instead of merely devaluing the bachelor’s degree?) What about keeping the corporate rate where it is versus making it higher versus raising the individual rate. What does history tell us? How might that record apply to that decision?
  •  Candidates should not be included in TV debates based on polls. Devote as much time as required to hear from all of them — carry on CSPAN, and air without advertising. Have a conservative and a liberal interview each candidate together (Rachel Maddow and Megyn Kelly; George Will and Chris Matthews) — post the live feed and raw footage to YouTube.




Proctor Academy Comms head nails marketing advice

September 17th, 2015

GirlHandUpAs I’ve written before, the main issue with independent school marketing is their belief that they don’t need it. Second — once they realize they DO need marketing — is that they lack proper planning and strategy. You can’t know how to get where you want to be without a map.

In a recent podcast interview, Blackbaud K-12’s Peter Baron and Proctor Academy’s Scott Allenby discuss the latter’s excellent case study on how independent schools can use inbound marketing.  Aside from spot-on comments on the requirements to develop and maintain the website content needed to help tell your school’s story effectively, Scott avers that schools must start with understanding the distinctiveness of their offerings.

This sort of soul-searching (Who are we as a school?) is much more common in the business world, particularly in the service industries like banks and retailers.  The products most often are the same, and many are commodities. The “secret sauce” needs clear definition in order for the marketing and communications folks to do their thing.

In our work with schools (and other types of organizations), we start with the research and planning needed to set a proper course for the future. We want to know what makes you, you! Why families choose you, and why they take a pass. What truly is unique — which should be something other than selective admission, smart children and great history. If a school isn’t really distinctive, no amount of marketing magic is going to change that!

Take the 25 minutes or so and listen to the interview — it’s well worth your time.



HBR covers employee complaints about managers

August 12th, 2015

It’s almost a cliche, so much so that some don’t even believe it.  Employees have certain expectations about their managers, and too many managers totally #fail at meeting them.  In the Harvard Business Review, Lou Solomon hits the high (or low) points.  Read the article, then see http://bit.ly/CommAMMOF2F.





You are the expert in communication

July 27th, 2015

Does that headline make you nervous? A lot of corporate communicators (public relations, internal comms, etc.) don’t embrace the full extent of their capabilities. Your organization has internal experts in finance, law, accounting, operations, supply chain, marketing, public relations, etc., but you might not be seen in the way that could be most valuable for your organization.

What sort of impact would improving communication among managers and employees yield? If you seize the mantle of “expert in communication,” you can move into new territory beyond being the tactician, and have great impact on the functioning of your organization.

There is no one better qualified than you to take this on. Your friends in HR may “own” training, but you’re the best judge of the state of communication among managers and employees. You can be the sponsor for improving it.

When I ran the Face2Face Communication Learning Program for Joe Williams Communications, the people who typically brought us in to train their managers were communicators. Companies like John Deere, Lucent, Merck and Prudential had communicators who saw the effort to build communication capability in their companies as crucial, and they made it happen.

Now that I’ve bought the F2F program from Joe, I’m once again beating the drum for a more strategic view of communication that includes this type of training. Sure, I’m a capitalist – but this happens to be intrinsic to my purpose in professional life: To help people and organizations communicate more effectively.

This purpose gets me going every day. It’s a passion — because I see the impact in real terms. Companies that communicate, perform. People who communicate well foster and maintain better relationships with everyone.

I can help people, teaching them these tools, sharing my own experiences and setting an example to others.  Communication can change peoples’ lives for the better, and it starts with someone declaring that more effective communication is something the organization deserves, wants and needs.

Can we start with you?




Remembering a friend

April 22nd, 2015

Eleven years ago, my high school friend John Voland died. He was the first of my contemporaries to pass away, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. He was survived by his mother, Jean, brother, Mark, and his daughter, Hayley, then 14.

John wasn’t a particularly health-conscious person. He battled weight for years (he was 6’4″ and big), and his death from a heart attack was in some ways not surprising.  We hadn’t spoken in years, not out of animus but lack of proximity; I’d moved to Seattle and then Cleveland, he’d remained in L.A. freelance writing.

The last time we saw each other was a little rough.  My wife and I met John at DuPar’s on Ventura Blvd., a regular haunt following poker games, for lunch, and John was agitated and distracted. We talked at the time about how much we loved living outside of Los Angeles, and he denigrated our decision as moving to “the sticks.”  His behavior was rather off-putting, and so we quickly wrapped up the visit and went our separate ways, as it turned out, forever.

I thought of him often, wondering how he was, worried he might have some problem that perhaps I should have helped him with.  When he died several years later, I felt guilty, like I had failed him somehow.  I also worried that others in our coterie of pals might also be struggling. We’d been a tight group — Josh, John, Ken, Bill, and David formed a fairly regular six-some for poker or hearts or playing music or whatever. And of these, I’d lost touch with just about all of them.

Now, Josh and I are Facebook friends; Ken, following his usual pattern, was back in touch for a brief time; David and I corresponded a bit, and Bill disappeared.

I’m not sure what made me think of John today — maybe it was running across news of his brother’s death again (in 2010), or the impending 40th high school reunion next year, or maybe just finishing graduate school prompted a reflective mood.

I find that I wonder what he might have written, whether we might have regained our friendship, whether we had enough in common to stay in touch.  One thing is for sure – once, we were great, close friends, and that memory is something to keep close.

I’m so grateful for my friends now, so thankful they’re in my life — Jon and Patty, Janet and JJ, Lori and Jamie, Jim and Jodie (wow, lots of “J’s”), Heather and Brian, Greg.  We are only on this earth for a certain allotment of days, and none of us know how many.

If there are people in your life who mean something to you, be sure to let them know.



5 questions to ask your employees now

April 17th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-185452608We’re struggling in internal communication. The move to “social” within the enterprise is shifting our focus to tactics when we are still grappling with strategy.

What is internal communication for?  Are we advocates for employees? Advocates for management? Internal propaganda officers? Magazine editors?

We exist to help create organizational competitive advantage. Our executional elements for that will include tactics and tools, certainly, but in the end, our messaging and measures must reflect our existential mission.  Research from a few years ago (O’Neil, J. (2008)) shows that the answers to five questions can reveal *53% of the variance in employee comprehension of strategy, vision, values, etc. Here they are:

I am kept informed about the reasons behind company decisions. Nothing is more important to comprehension than reasons, and yet, organizations still persist in the belief that they’re not relevant or important enough to share. I think there’s a fear factor here — “What if they disagree with the reasons?” So what! Tell people plainly why you’re doing what you’re doing. They may not like it, but will respect you for sharing.

My business unit/function does a good job of communicating information to all employees. Perception of value is crucial. When employees believe the organization is good at internal communication, they tend to better understand the business.

The information I receive from my business/function is complete. Another faux pas is restricting information from internal communication. Employees are smart. They know when the sin of omission is committed, and in the absence of information, they will make up their own.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within my business/function. When the answers to this question are poor, you’re almost guaranteed to have a workforce that doesn’t comprehend what you need it to. It’s shocking how many times leaders will assume that people don’t need to know about a major change, often claiming that because it’s outside of their area of direct responsibility, it’s not relevant.

I am kept informed about major changes occurring within the company. How can you operate your organization without keeping people abreast of the most significant changes? There are too many organizations which simply don’t think employees care. Good heavens, of course they care! Don’t you care about your organization? There are counter-examples, but the exchange relationship commonly associated with customer relationships usually doesn’t apply when you work for the company. It’s a less transactional, deeper and more substantive relationship with employees that leads to high performance.

Why not ask these questions every three months for a year?  Quick, easy surveys, postcards after town halls, postscripts to intranet stories.  Ask them and use the results to guide your editorial and manager communication activities. You might find the results more than compensate for your time.
*R2 = .526; F = 625; p = .000


I’m in a reflective mood, and thankful

March 26th, 2015

Seanwilliams-tieNext week, five years of part-time graduate school culminates with my defense of my Master’s thesis, “Beyond Klout®: An exploration of online influence.”  This has put me in a somewhat pensive mood, and a number of things are on my mind as I prepare for the defense and graduation from Kent State University.

First, when someone sets a goal, attaining that goal can bring a bit of a let down, an anti-climax. It happened to me when I went to work for Joe Williams Communications, leading the Face2Face Communication Learning program. I’d attended Joe’s Dialogue in the Desert workshop on strategic planning, and had kind of dreamed of working for Joe. it became a reality, and over the course of  two-and-a-half years, I worked with about 15 clients, taught communication skills to more than 5,000 managers, facilitated strategic planning workshops and generally learned a ton about myself.

It happened again, when I decided I wanted to lead internal communications for a global company, and joined The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. in that role. I supervised the internship program (and what a great internship it was – a year-long, 20-hour per week gig for two students), and got introduced to the great people at Kent State.  I left Goodyear and went to National City Corporation, where I realized another ambition — to create a public relations measurement program from the ground up.

I had, for years, had the goal of becoming a teacher in university when my corporate life was through. For that, I knew I needed at least a Master’s degree. As it turned out Kent State had a need, I was available, and they let me come in to teach without one. My first class taught was a graduate class in PR Theory. Over the past five years, I’ve taught that and many other classes both in-person and online. I even created a course — PR Measurement and ROI — that is a smash hit.

I also had goals about writing and speaking, and have published four scholarly papers and presented them at the International PR Research Conference.  I speak 4-5 times per year at industry conferences. I’m finishing the thesis.

So, now, comes the realization (G-d willing!) that yet another life goal is on the cusp of being realized: I’ll have a Master’s in Journalism/Mass Communication.

This has made me very thankful this Thankful Thursday.  Here’s a short list of people I’m thankful for, who have helped me attain these life ambitions, and who sustain me.

Sandy – my wife.  I dedicate my thesis to her in gratitude for her love and faith in me. She has had to put up with my building a business at the same time I take graduate classes and write and present and teach and…You get the picture. Thanks hon.

Then, in alphabetical order:

  • Janet Gaydosh, Patty Vossler, Heather Marks, and their husbands, JJ, Jon and Brian, respectively, and Jamie and Lori Owen. Your friendship is the most amazing gift! Thank you.
  • Robert T. Gill — Rob was my boss in Seattle at KeyCorp, first as my supervisor when I interned during the management associate program, then as my manager when I became first employee communication manager for Washington, then for the Northwest Region. He taught me about responsibility, dedication, and deadlines, and about what the heck PR is all about. And also about the need for open communication and avoidance of “Reindeer Games,” his phrase for talking trash about your boss. Hard lessons, but essential.
  • Dennis Long — Formerly the head of Retail Banking for Key in the Northwest, Dennis taught me humility and the delicate art of asking questions rather than making sweeping pronouncements. It was my first lesson in consulting. A quote from Dennis: “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and you’re crossing it.” Yipes.  Thank you.  He’s now the CEO of a bank in Western Washington.
  • Bill Sledzik — Professor, colleague, friend. He had faith in me and took a risk to have me teach. He now heads my Thesis Committee, and I am grateful for his wise counsel. I’m also grateful for the quality of student Bill and the Kent PR program produce!
  • Joe Williams — Joe, a Fellow of IABC, a pioneer in strategic planning for communicators, a veteran entrepreneur of more than 30 years, is an inspiration. I got to chat with him and his wife, Barbara, last year in Toronto at IABC. He has meant the world to me, not only because of his wisdom and talent, but also because of his imprecation to me: “Trust yourself!!!” It’s a long road to heeding that instruction from the depth of low self-esteem, but I’m finally about there!

There are more, and I could go on, but I’ll stop there. My heart is so full! #ThankfulThursday