Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The ongoing debate about PR & Sales

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

37c10c2This is how the meme goes: Every activity by a commercial organization, profit or nonprofit, is in the end about selling. It’s the ultimate triumph of marketing, the absolute ultimate objective. Let’s explore this thinking.

Mike Love (@therealitygap), in a Twitter discussion with Judy Gombita (@jgombita) and several others, avers this perspective, which prompts this post. Love’s view is that the sale is the thing and challenged all of us to describe what else it possibly could be.

I realize that I straddle the fence between practice and academy, and so that makes me a bit didactic, but my view is the all marketing is communication, but not all communication is marketing. I therefore reject the conclusion that sales is the ultimate objective. This might be better understood through the prism of the “3-outs.” When we measure comm activity (internal, external, regardless of industry) we need to measure at all levels — the output level, whether we are conducting activities appropriately; the outtake level, examining the immediate result of our activity; and outcomes, the business results emerging from the communication results.

An example would be following a strategy intended to educate and inspire employees involving changing the content of our intranet, increasing the number of stories focusing on strategy and the human results of our business strategy — we analyze the content to determine whether that occurred. First level measurement, but important. Second, we look at intranet traffic, to see whether employees consumed the content, including commenting, sharing, downloading, etc., AND we ask them to what degree the content helped them better understand our organization, feel more connected to it, and/or prompted them to recommend it or its products to others. Lastly, we look at retention, job performance, internal job posting, managerial affinity, etc. For some, we may examine impact on revenue or expense control. These are the business results and they constitute the deepest level of measurement.

In the Balanced Scorecard, enlightened organizations consider not only the usual metrics, but also the non financial metrics — attitudes and behaviors that might be distantly connected with sales, but largely are not, or at least are not provable conclusively. These types of organization define success more broadly than purely at the bottom line; it is true that enlightened organizations often do perform better than their counterparts, but which came first? Chicken or egg?

Contrast that perspective with that of a company that places sales at the point of the triangle – some of the most notable scandals (WorldCom, Enron, Arthur Anderson, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers) were also notable for their “anything goes” attitudes, driving sales at all costs.

This is what I think of when I see a meme like the one above. If everything is about sales rather than customer relationships, being a great place to work, being a stalwart in communities, making a difference in the world, then we risk becoming amoral slaves to the sales imperative.

In some ways, it’s a semantic distinction, and probably reveals a soft view of the role of business in societies. In others though, it reflects a sincere belief in the power of words. That’s why I see the “it’s all marketing” crowd as reductivist. It reduces the core relationships between organization and publics to a mere transaction, an exchange relationship. Especially as regards employee communication, such thinking makes building strong communal relationships (absolutely critical to employee engagement) much more difficult, more disposable.

When we declare that the only purpose to our activity is to sell, we define ourselves solely as agents in a transaction, powerless and dependent on the payment received. When we see the sale as one possible result of an effort to build a trusted relationship, we elevate ourselves and our publics to a more sustainable, deeper and more ennobling purpose.

Your thoughts?

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What I learned at Fusion 13 – the IT conference

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

iStock_000027047431LargeFish out of water doesn’t begin to describe the experience.  The itSMF and HDI — two professional services organizations focusing on information technology people — held their annual conference this week, Fusion 13, and I presented the AMMO method to about 50 attendees.

The speaking part went very well from my perspective — the people in my session were great — upbeat, positive, involved — and they really seemed to get a lot out of putting the Audience-Message-Method-Objective method to work.  With just an hour to work with, it was a crash course, but judging from the visible reactions and the comments, they found it valuable.

The trick for them now is to put AMMO to work — that’s always the conference imperative, right?

I attended some sessions as well as two of the keynotes, and confirmed my earlier assessment that every staff function — IT, Marketing, PR, HR, whatever — has the same strategic issues. Namely, how do we increase our perceived value in the strategic sense?

Change management was a hot topic, and Paul Wilkinson of  the Dutch company GamingWorks and Sharon Taylor of Canada’s Aspect Group evangelized on the need to articulate the value to the business, the desired business outcomes, the costs and risks of a change initiative in order to have any shot at success.  These are the four key words that describe a service. Wilkinson mentioned that he’d asked about 6,000 IT professionals, 90% of whom had completed their ITIL coursework (the framework for service management), what those four key words were. A large majority got them wrong.

One participant mentioned that this had been the case in IT for 30 years — if we asked the question of communicators “what are the keys to getting budget and people in your department?” what would they say?  I hope they’d say that success depended on articulating value, cost, risks and business outcomes!

Barb Dombrowski of Progressive shared a case study of their knowledge management program. This KM stuff involves creating specific content that the service desk (including multiple levels of support) uses in the course of working with callers. The goal is “production readiness,” and adopting a standardized template for the “articles” enforced search criteria and ensured the right material got to the right support people for the right issues.   Progressive went from 3,000 KM articles just three years ago to more than 19,000.  Now, Dombrowski and team are working on the quality of those articles, seeking to measure extent of use and weed out the weak items

We communication folks think we’re the resident experts in communication in the organization. Maybe reaching out to the IT people, in particular those in KM, will make us smarter.

I’ll also mention the terrific keynotes I caught – Cindy Solomon burned up the stage with a high-energy, often hilarious talk about the four types of courage — blind courage (just leap!), crisis courage (expressing calm when the world is blowing up around us), role courage (the confidence of knowing your authority in a given role) and core courage (the courage that comes from servant leadership, being unafraid of admitting you don’t know something, etc.)

Josh Linkner talked of creativity — of being willing to let go of the past and look to the future, to fail well and often and learn from the experience. He says we can learn from jazz — how to be creative and a great teammate.   He’s the founder of ePrize, which he sold for a boat load of cash, and now a venture capitalist based in Detroit. He, too, was an entertaining speaker who’d have been at home at a marketing, PR or HR conference.

I had client meetings to run home to, so I missed the Tuesday night party, but the Monday receptions and jam-packed Gaylord Opryland Hotel (vast, huge, capacious) made for a fun environment.  If they are interested in having me back, I’d gladly go!

 

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Look out IT: You’re getting AMMO

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

fusionsquareToday I’m in Nashville, for Fusion 13, the itSMF/HDI international conference, where at 11:15 a.m. I’ll teach a batch of IT folks how to transform their communication skills.  I’ll brief them on using the AMMO tool (audience, message, method, objective), then they’ll practice using it on their business issues.

Fusion 13 is a massive conference — nine tracks (which means nine sessions per breakout period) — primarily hardcore IT stuff. The centerpiece of the program is IT service management, which essentially says that IT needs to be a strategic competency of an organization.  I got some exposure to itSMF through its Cleveland local interest group. I attended their conference and was struck by the similarities to marketing, PR or HR conferences: bring us in at the beginning, we can add value, we’re not just tactical…etc.

All of that is true, and my hope is, as (with respect) IT isn’t renowned for its communication skills, that there might be a couple of forward thinking organizations who might like to have me help them address the shortfall. Stay tuned.

My engagement with this conference is a toe in the water for a broader effort to talk less to communications/PR people, and more to people who are in the business — kind of a continuation of the “outcome-focused” measurement that many of us say is missing from PR. I’ve got experience in a number of industries, and worked with the IT department at one global company on a number of initiatives, so it’s hardly a foreign concept.

Banking, of course, is another area of potential application – after spending more than half my career at KeyCorp and NationalCity, having been a branch manager (albeit briefly) and worked in the business of the business, I have a different perspective on communication than a lot of my peers.

In the meanwhile, it’s here in the artificial but stunning confines of the Gaylord Opryland (2800 rooms), carrying the communication ball forward to the unknown realms of IT. Wish me luck.

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Be the Gordon Ramsay of communications assessment (without the profanity)

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Watch any Gordon Ramsay show and you’ll hear a lot of screaming and profanity. Chef Ramsay screams because successful restaurateurs know there is no fool-proof recipe for success in that business. The same can be said about communications measurement.

A restaurant’s success is the combination of the ingredients used, the positive reviews secured and the way winning was defined. By combining data from activities, awareness and behavior, communicators can produce evaluations that that are accurate, actionable and vulgarity-free.

Select the ingredients: farm fresh and locally sourced
For communicators, we examine qualitative and qualitative activities — number of emails sent, press releases issued, or the introduction of new branding. Many measurement programs begin and end by counting effort, but fast food proves that ingredients are only one component of overall success.

Analyze the reviews: professional critics and Yelp.com
Opinions voiced in surveys and straw polls, as well as superficial engagement figures such as event attendance or number of blog comments, help communicators measure changes in awareness, attitude and understanding. Lacking context, this information is as helpful as a restaurant review written by the owner’s mother.

Define the win: Michelin stars and long waits for tables
Outcomes are the deliberate result of every other decision and action that was made. Communicators measure outcomes that are defined for each communications project and aligned to the business strategy.

Taste the victory: magic for diners, profits for restaurateurs
A comprehensive picture of your communications programs will help you claim victory for the larger organizational goals or identify and correct problems.

If your program falls short, it’s understandable that some choice words will be used. Gordon Ramsay could have been speaking about public relations when he said “Swearing is industry language…You’ve got to be boisterous to get results.”

Perhaps a little profanity is OK.

Amanda Marko, president of Connected Strategy Group, connects companies with stakeholders to make the business strategy reality and goals achievable during times of change. Connect with her online at www.connectedstrategygroup.com and on Twitter @connectedstrat.

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PR is NOT the Guardian of Corporate Reputation

Friday, November 16th, 2012

A guest post by James G.Savage — A few weeks ago Sean posted eloquently on the value of a firms’ reputation. Akin to the accounting concept of goodwill, there is general agreement that reputation and, hence, reputational risk is, in fact, tangible and material. In light of the wreckage of the past few years, stakeholders increasingly assume companies are on top of reputational issues, but in fact most companies still do not have any sort of proactive reputation management strategy, with no holistic approach to building reputation and mitigating risk.

Functionally, who owns corporate reputation? In the risk management world there is a fierce debate going on right now over that very point. Most corporate communicators reading this blog would probably assume PR is front and centre here, as communications is at the intersection of brand, business, stakeholders and reputation.

And they’d be dead wrong.

Reputation management remains at a very nascent stage. Like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, various internal ‘experts’ within the enterprise approach corporate reputation from their specific fields of expertise. Within companies, the C-suite assumes reputation is top-of-mind for all employees, while specific functions – enterprise risk management/GRC (governance, risk and compliance), marketing, communications, operations, product development, corporate sustainability, even IT – equally assume they “own” guardianship of the firm’s reputation. These various parties work diligently in splendid isolation from one another, often falling victim to the critical myths I outlined in an earlier white paper.

The author of KPMG’s authoritative Reputational Risk Survey, Dr. Thomas Kaiser, put it this way in a recent interview with Britain’s Risk Universe magazine:

The role of PR departments is essential for ‘clean-up’ operations following a reputational risk event, but they should not be key in its active management. Reputational risk is not a PR exercise – the underlying problems of any event need to be solved rather than actively managed after the event.

To me, that quotation epitomizes the singular failure of corporate communications to get beyond the tactical and be seen as central for business strategy and corporate reputation. Kaiser adds that “people (in the enterprise) need to define their role in reputation management.

So I’ll put it out there for this blog’s readers. Has PR missed the boat? Are we down there in the weeds thinking reputation management is merely a matter of getting rid of that nasty Facebook post or Twitter meme without taking the lead in communicating to the C-suite why the attacks on reputation are occurring? Have communicators been sidetracked by CSR into being the Pious Works department?

If PR doesn’t lead, then whom?

Jim Savage is principal of Reputation Leadership Group (www.reputationleadershipgroup.com) (RLG), of which Sean is a member of the board of advisors. They have been collaborating and co-conspiring happily for many years.

 

 

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I’ll be speaking at IABC Heritage

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Due to the last minute cancellation of one panelist, I’ll be running a breakout session on employee engagement comms at the IABC Heritage Region Conference, Oct. 14-16 in Pittsburgh, then serving on the end-of-conference panel discussion.  D. Mark Schumann will deliver the keynote on Tuesday morning, we’ll break into four groups for discussion, then return on the panel on communication reinvention. It’s an interesting format —  should be a great conversation. Join us there!

 

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On the balance sheet, it’s ‘goodwill’

Friday, September 28th, 2012

A fever dream of most communicators I know is that we could quantify in monetary terms the public relations/communications value to organizations. It inspires yearning, craving, shivering, salivating and panting — at least in a few communicators I’ve known.

The marketing folks love to lord it over their PR colleagues — X impressions equals Y prospects equals Z sales. We don’t apply that formula often, and I worry that if we concentrate too much on quantifying impact on sales, we wind up reducing our role by at least half if not more.  In the broadest sense, all communication functions are about impact on the business of the business, true, as we won’t sell as much with a bad reputation as we might with a good one.

The trouble is that looking for that direct formula can lead to discounting issues management, employee communications, social responsibility, community relations, and all other stuff that isn’t directly related to product/service PR.  This is why I embrace the term “integrated communications,” but reject the inclusion of the word “marketing” in between the two words.

What we need is a monetary proxy for reputation, and I wonder whether “goodwill” might be a worthy solution. Goodwill is, in a merger, the difference between book value and the price paid in the acquisition. It’s the value in real terms of the brand, the reputation the acquired company brings to the table, the potential sales represented by the customer base.  You might say that the intrinsic knowledge of the employees (as opposed to the explicit knowledge) has value in that construct too. Think of an industrial firm, such as Goodyear, with all the patents it owns, all the innovations it’s bringing to the table. Surely those are worth something in financial terms.

Improving reputation, even if it doesn’t draw an explicit path to revenue, should lead to an improvement in the overall value of the enterprise. The activity that brings about that improvement can be quantified in terms of impact through research, both objectively (in terms of behavioral factors such as recommendations), and subjectively (in terms of qualitative measures such as willingness to recommend.) We then could look for statistical linkages among those data.

OK, my academic friends can sharpen their red pencils, no doubt, as I’m grossly oversimplifying. But I’m fairly certain that there is something to this. What if we could document the reputational impact of influence?

Think with me…

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Political PR might be the root of all evil

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Kent State’s ever quotable Dr. Bob Batchelor just gave his “Is PR Evil?” lecture and posted about five minutes of it on Facebook. He says, “yes, PR is evil.”

I disagree. The majority are thousands of practitioners working every day to conduct themselves ethically, and represent their organizations accurately as they support business objectives. To say, as Dr. B. does, that failure to enthusiastically fight the gender gap is evidence of evil, diminishes evil. Al-Qaeda is evil.  Bernie Madhoff is evil.

There are myriad reasons for the gender gap, and sexism does not account for them all, as this report from Education International explains. I do not doubt that pay equity is a problem in many cases, but singling out the PR industry’s perceived inaction as evil is a gross oversimplification.

Dr. B. says that whenever he interacts with a corporation, he winds up using words like diabolical, Satanic, wicked, bad, dark, sinister, infernal, unholy, ugly, vile, slimy… Really? Every corporation?  What is your point, sir? That corporations are evil? That only government can save us from their rapacious ways? Right. Because government is so pure!

If any part of the PR industry might meet Dr. Batchelor’s description, it’s political PR.  Politics requires the basest elements of press agentry — a willingness to misrepresent at best, to ignore objective truth, to lie if necessary.  It’s a bipartisan effort that leaves citizenry contemplating polar versions of events, perspectives and paths.

Witness the discussion on national health insurance — it’s a right, it’s an assault on liberty, it’s an expensive boondoggle, it’s a money-saver, it’s a requirement for a just civilization, it’s a violation of the Constitution.

How about tax policy? It’s fairness for the rich to pay more, because they can afford it. It’s wrong for nearly half the people to pay no taxes at all.  It’s Robin Hood economics, it’s essential to our way of life, it allows us to rebuild the middle class, it’s a zero-sum cash grab that makes government more powerful…

And so on.

The political machine cares only about the perpetuation of government, and they fight over who gets to run things.  By the way, government creates no wealth at all. It exists at the sufferance of those who work in the private sector, and relies entirely on its ability to collect money from the private sphere. That’s not a political statement. It’s a fact.

At least business has a transparent mission: to make money for its owners, which means those of us working for and with business have a transparent mission as well – to help the organizations attain their business objectives. This does not argue for an absolute lack of regulation, however. Even Adam Smith believe business needed to be properly regulated.   So you won’t find me demanding an end to food safety, clean water and many other regulations, which, of course, marks me as an apostate among my more conservative friends.

Name-calling doesn’t help, either, whether it’s Birthers claiming the President is a socialist Muslim or Richard Cohen referring to Rick Santorum as “Mullah Rick.”

If anything, it’s political PR that sets out business issues in black and white terms, supported by governmental regulatory schema. Businesses are cast as the enemy, business people as the scourge of the earth.

Now, what is evil?

 

 

 

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Five Themes of Effective Internal Communication

Friday, September 9th, 2011

From 12, clockwise: @llibitz, @csledzik, @dak1966, @jgombita, @gypsynits, @ic_jen. Jeremy Schultz (@jschultz) is at center; no photo available for @GnosisArts.

The monthly Twitter discussion on internal comms, #icchat, made its return from summer vacation on 8 September, and after one question from the moderator (that’d be me), it was off to the races.

Special guest Jeremy Schultz (@jschultz) of Intel did a fine job juggling five or so concurrent discussions (a usual occurrence in Twitter chats) as the lively crowd picked his brain and shared their own tools and techniques.

Five themes emerged from the discussion:

  • Social tools inside organizations are coming on fast
  • Communicators play a critical role in enacting and facilitating them
  • Face to face and 2-way communication in general are still important
  • Leaders should use the social media tools that fit their personality and style
  • Storytelling is still the single most important activity in internal communication

It’s a commentary on the thin internal comms organizations that all five of these things are considered so vital — and it’s interesting what’s left out. I can’t do justice to the speed and depth of the conversation — we’re usually a small but voluble group (and often with different participants each time).

There were lots of very specific tactics –things people are using to great advantage: Wikis (@JGombita pointed out the persistence of the Wiki), @llibitz mentioned the internal social media tool called Handshake, a web 2.0 version of intranet, and sharepoint. @IC_Jen talked about Flowr, a kind of Facebook-meets-Sharepoint tool that permits documents to be uploaded to given topics. And internal blogging, where the blogger and communicator work together on the copy and organization.

@Jschultz talked about giving counsel to execs, helping to match personality and style with the right communication tools, rather than just saying, “you should blog.”  @CSledzik shared the difficulty in getting employees to move from simply expecting to be handed information to reaching out and asking for it (2-way communication does need two parties), even though leadership is committed to making the switch.

@Gypsynits was interested in how culture and values communications made their way into the business-focused, business-objectives world, and @jschultz didn’t disappoint. He points out that at Intel, these beliefs and the company values and vision are well-established and well-known — simply implicit in all communications.

Check out the “Storify” highlights — I still mourn the death of wthashtag for transcripts — Or if you’re a glutton for text, read all 180 or so posts in this ugly PDF of nine pages and more than 4,000 words. Read from the bottom up.

Many thanks to Jeremy, and to @gypsynits (up REALLY late), @jgombita, @llibitz @csledzik @ic_Jen @dak1966 & @gnosisarts. You make it great!

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Collaboration – 3rd “C” Toward Integration

Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Copyright, Creative Commons

The essence of collaboration

We think of integration as logical for organizational communication. But there’s resistance to integration as well, from budget jealousy to outright turf wars preventing even the low-hanging fruit from being plucked.   As I wrote earlier, we can realize a lot of the benefits of integration by adopting a step-by-step process, starting with communication, proceeding to coordination and finally to collaboration. These are the 3 C’s.

Collaboration is working jointly with others or together, especially in an intellectual endeavor (adapted from Merriam-Webster). The key difference between coordination and collaboration in our context is discrete effort: when we collaborate, we decide to combine our efforts toward completion of an activity. Here are two examples from my own history.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company operates a decentralized communication team, with the geographic business units in Asia, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Latin America and North America each operating its own communication team.  The heads of comms for each have a dotted line back to the chief communication officer, but budgets and functional reporting is to the business unit, usually to the unit president.

Goodyear moved along the 3 C’s spectrum slowly. It used to be that sharing strategy and plans was strictly ad-hoc; some units would forward a couple of pages to the CCO, some would give only the broadest outline. That made it very difficult to represent for the function with any sort of context, let alone establish common processes.  Best practices among units didn’t circulate well, and even budget visibility was limited.

By establishing an HQ position dedicated to increasing both communication and coordination, Goodyear was eventually able to establish a common planning process, combination bottom-up and top down.  With the intranet circulating best practices (often just a short story detailing what PR event had occurred and the results), in short order teams within units began to collaborate, borrowing event strategies and communication content from one another and working on cross-functional projects. Members of the corporate communication team were even invited to speak at regional communication meetings.

At National City Corporation following a determined effort to increase communication and collaboration across the communication function (see my posts Use 3 C’s to Work Together and The 3 C’s Toward Integration: Coordination), Marketing reached out to the retail communication group for assistance with a new campaign.

Corporate Communications worked with other units on materials development, retail asked for Corporate Comm help for a retail investing project, and Corporate Communications, Legal and Investor Relations formed a cross-functional team to work on financial PR releases. Even the measurement program benefited from collaboration, with marketing asking Corporate Communications to research the impact of news media coverage on a direct mail campaign, and corporate comms working with marketing to include unpaid media in its regular brand research (See “Measuring Company A”), and the Risk group asking for Corporate Comms help in understanding the impact of media on reputation.

Both of these cases marched steadily from communication to collaboration.  At both companies, there also were situations where they got stuck — a business process optimization team struggled to get past the communication stage, for example, and never made it to collaboration. But even in that case, the visibility of budget spend and the decision to coordinate several business unit and function-specific process improvements still demonstrated value.

It’s hard to truly integrate departments for a lot of reasons — the desire of executives to control their expense profiles top-to-bottom, among them.  The financial folks will want to add a fourth C — consolidation — which often seems like a synonym for integration. No leader wants to give up either headcount or budget willingly, regardless of the benefits — alignment, consistency and efficiency among the most frequently noted.

However, if we apply the 3 C’s effectively, we can gain all the benefits of integration except the financial ones.  For a lot of organizations, that’ll work just fine.

 

 

 

 

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