Posts Tagged ‘Communication AMMO’

A communicator’s manifesto for 2014

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

no_year_in_reviewNo predictions, no year-in-review. Instead, how about a statement of first principles? Can you dig it?

Resolved: Whether in internal communication, PR measurement or strategic communications, we will be fearless, ruled by the right thing to do rather than the facile, easy or merely expedient. Therefore:

  • As the internal experts in communication, we will have facts and data at our disposal to support our strategies and tactics. We will do research, ongoing measurement and evaluation to ensure that our activities are having the desired impact on business results. Because we care most about that, we won’t allow ourselves to be wedded to our tools — social, electronic, print, whatever. Instead, we will do as every other department in our organization must do: be judged by our impact and value. We will measure at the output, communication outcome and business results levels (output, outtake, outcome), and if we don’t know how to do so, we’ll educate ourselves.
  • We will not cede the public relations field to marketing, embracing the credo that while all marketing is communication, not all communication is marketing! Neither shall we use marketing metrics for non-marketing activities out of inertia, expediency or lack of interest. Nor will we by word, deed or omission allow social media to be subsumed solely into the “marketing mix,” advocating instead for a truly strategic approach to the use of social tools as well as all the other tools in our cabinet.
  • We will insist on transparency from our vendors, never settling for “black box” methods. We recognize the unique value our vendors may bring to the table, but we will need to understand how their many miracles in return on investment, value of Facebook likes, financial values in nonfinancial situations, etc., actually work in practice. We will compare notes and seek metrics beyond anecdotes.
  • We will develop SMART objectives — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound — because performance against objectives is the most basic and appreciated mode of measurement for any communicator. It is these objectives — and the process of setting them — that lead us to our strategies and tactics. They give us purpose, drive, ambition and business life, a reason for being.
  • We will embrace the simple fact that we are business people — regardless of industry, specialty or education, we are business people first, using communication skills, tactics and strategies in support of business objectives. We therefore will be more than merely conversant in the language of business; we will employ it when we talk of what we do, who we are and the roles we play in our organizations.

These are weighty responsibilities, my friends. Are you up to the challenge?

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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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Summing up: IABC Heritage Conference a Winner

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Conf_BrochureI’ve given serious thought in recent months to letting my IABC membership lapse. With all the drama earlier this year, it crossed my mind more than once. But then, I attended the Heritage Region Conference, Oct. 13-15 in Indianapolis.

The IABC International is huge — 1,500 isn’t out of the question — and its venues, large hotels in big cities (New York, Toronto, etc.) makes for a spendy trip for the likes of a sole proprietor. But the regional conferences are more compact, are in smaller cities, and yet offer terrific programming.

This year was no exception.

I’m a little biased, as I had the chance to speak once again, but the quality was wonderful — Jim Lukaszewski held court for three hours, evangelizing on the concept that communicators need to be much more business-centric than communication-centric, particularly in times of crisis.  We know that we get more popular when it’s time to sweep up after some sort of conflagration, but too often, Jim averred, we see communication as the solution to every problem.

Case in point at my own expense:  Jim asked why the CEO of BP — Tony Hayward, of “I’d like my life back” fame — lost his job in the wake of the oil platform explosion that killed people and brought the US gulf coast to its economic knees.  I piped up instantly — blame-shifting, insensitivities, cluelessness

Jim said I was wrong – it’s just how things are done. The disaster happened on his watch, and so he paid the price. He’ll be OK, Jim added, because these guys get paid no matter what. But he’ll never lead as large or important a company as BP.  Jim’s point: we communicators need to better understand how business operates, not just the role that communicators play in it. There’s more, of course, including Jim’s gentle good humor, phenomenal stories and exceptional insight that comes from doing this work for 40-odd years.

Tim McCleary of The Involvement Practice keynoted Monday morning, offering not only a valuable speech, but a couple of fun exercises demonstrating how we can move from informing to involving people.  Establishing the central objective, then helping people understand it through real dialogue, then immersing them in the world of the new so that they own that objective and finally activating the power of the internal network (the What, Why and How of communicating change), was clear, intuitive and actionable.

Kent Lewis of Anvil Media, and serial entrepreneur, talked social media analytics — but not in a dry, statistical way. He shared stories of how to measure effectively — key performance indicators, metrics and goals for each platform, content strategies, etc. — that resonated well with attendees. Two big reminders for me — YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, so having content on that platform is critical; and that SlideShare adds immeasurably to both search performance and sharing content effectively. One more from Kent — LinkedIn is essential in B2B, and one’s company page needs to be robust, clear and urgent.  I need to get on that right away!

That’s just a couple of examples.

The point is that about 150 attendees really got the chance to network. I met at least five people I’d not met before, and I reacquainted myself with dozens more.  The seven-person dinner Monday night at the Dine-Around was terrific, even if Harry and Izzy’s shrimp cocktail blasted my head (and everyone else’s) into a tear-streaked paroxysm of anguish and bliss.

IABC might be struggling to right itself, but they might have kept me in the fold thanks the Heritage Region team’s great work.  Check out the Twitter stream at #iabchrconf.

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It’s all about communication

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Regardless of what field of public relations/corporate communications/ marketing/ social media you are in, your ability to communicate effectively and to use the tools of communication effectively are what make you different from other business people.  Yep, we are all business people — it doesn’t matter if we’re in-house, agency, researcher, academic, not-for-profit, or what.

Sometimes we forget that, and sometimes we forget that we are communicators.

Reading the New York Times’ Corner Office feature on the second page of the business section every Sunday reveals that 99% (not a real number – just, well, a lot of them) of the leaders featured say that their own effectiveness depends on communication. They value good communicators, succinct, cogent, thoughtful, planful. But it’s often not about the “telling” part of communication.

The apogee of my career came when Dennis Long, then the head of retail banking for KeyBank of Washington, told me that my communication style was going to be career-limiting. He said, “there’s a line between confidence and arrogance, and you’re crossing it.”  He told me to make fewer statements and ask more questions, to realize that I didn’t have much of a base of experience on which to demand people take heed.

This echoed my boss, Rob Gill, who told me, “You are a talented guy, but you don’t have enough experience…” Rob told me to start learning how to listen and ask good questions.

This took me aback – I’d heard from pretty much everyone how terrific I was since joining Key on the teller line, moving up quickly and eventually into the management training program.  We didn’t cover asking questions, listening or really anything else but effective presenting in that program. I thought it was about positioning myself as an expert, making pithy, amusing, but still important comments based on my experience not only at Key, but also in my years elsewhere.

Communicating, to me then, was about me — not about other people. Now, I see it quite differently.  It’s about our audiences, the receivers of our communication, certainly — but they also are human beings deserving of respect as sources of wisdom.

In many communication professions, we scorn our publics — they’re too stupid to understand our brilliant campaign, they’re clueless about how our business works, or merely disdainful of business in general. They’re ignoramuses who don’t understand the Very Important Work our not-for-profit does in the world!

As a part-time educator, I’ve learned the hard way to respect the students – not merely as the vessels into which I pour wisdom, but as participants in an almost sacred ritual: Communication.  We don’t have it without them, without the circle, never ending or completing; always open at some end.

I’m so grateful to Dennis Long and Rob Gill.

It takes commitment to be a business person who uses communication, who is a communicator. It takes courage and a desire to do right. It’s my calling.

Is it yours?

 

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Do we have too many conferences?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Basta!  I had a pretty thick queue for speaking engagements this fall: PRSA’s employee communication section conference was scheduled for Sept. 10-11, but got moved to next year due to low registrations. I was planning to sponsor a speaker, introduce a couple of them, and generally boost my PRSA profile and meet some new folks. I decided not to attend the international conference in San Francisco because I was doing #prsaec.

No prob – the IABC Heritage Region Conference beckoned. I sponsored, and wound up facilitating a breakout session and speaking on the end of conference panel. Sweet! Plus, the IABC PRIME Global Strategic Communication & Measurement Conference was coming up Nov. 12-13 in NYC, and I was speaking on internal communication measurement. Now, that one is cancelled too. WTF?

If I were a baseball player, a .333 batting average would get me into the All-Star Game, but 1 for 3 on speaking engagements isn’t very good. Why is this happening?

It sure seems like there are a lot of conferences. IABC’s world shindig is in June (and in NYC ’13), and PRSA’s big dance is in October. Both the big shows alternate regions, but I know that if they’re in California, I typically pass due to time away from the office and expensive airfare. I like the Heritage Region conference (four years in a row) – it’s a great program and is close enough to drive. With both Heritage and PRSA virtually the same weekend (it was pretty interesting when IABC was in Philly and PRSA in DC), and budgets under pressure — maybe trying to do a September and November gig is a bad idea.

The smaller conferences that focus on a specific domain of knowledge or functional area should have a lower nut to crack on attendance – I’d think 75 attendees in NYC or Chicago should be doable. But IABC is also running a conference the first week of December on “strategic communication for executives.” Then there’s Ragan, PRNews, ALI, WOMMA, all the social media gigs…We’re conferring a lot. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if some fetes are failing to fill.

The irritating part is booking myself into some things, and therefore missing others — the Conclave on social media standards, for one, and an Institute for PR Measurement Commission meeting, for another.  Plus, I’ve worked on planning several of these conferences, and it’s no picnic. You’d hope that PRSA and IABC would have their act together on how to market these effectively.

What’s the answer?

I have no idea.

 

 

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IABC Heritage conference is Oct. 14-16 – See you there!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

The international conferences for both PRSA and IABC are epic gatherings. I attended several of them, but found the scale rather overwhelming, especially when trying to network. It seems like everyone is hustling to their next session, and there are few opportunities to connect with the same person across the days. That’s why I’m a big fan of the IABC Heritage Region conference – the scale is smaller and the ability to make personal connections better.

Besides, the quality of speakers is outstanding, the social aspects entertaining and this year’s conference is a mere two hours down the road from me in Pittsburgh. No cross-country flights, no rental cars, no tsuris. I’m a sponsor this year, and will have the honor of introducing a couple of speakers.

If you’ve wanted to shoot the breeze a bit on PR, measurement, internal comms, reputation, influence or anything else, come to the conference and find me. Hope to see you there.

Here are just a few of the sessions I’m looking forward to:

Andy Warhol: Marketing the Man and the Museum

Nicholas Chamber, Curator, Andy Warhol Museum

From Campbell’s soup cans to colorful portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol’s pop art celebrates the artistic expression, celebrity culture and ad-centric focus of the 1960s. As a renowned and often controversial artist, Warhol took the world of marketing to its limits in both his professional and personal life. The Andy Warhol Museum, which is the largest museum in the United State dedicated to a single artist, contains an extensive collection of Warhol’s art and archives. This session will take a closer look at Warhol’s early career in the advertising industry and the museum’s marketing efforts to engage with a diverse international audience about the artist’s life and work.

Best Practices in Engaging and Empowering Colleagues Through Social Media

Heather Young, Senior Manager, Corporate and Colleague Communications, Pfizer, Inc.

At the companies who do it best, no one person or department “owns” social media. Instead, they create advocates of their employees and train and empower them to speak on behalf of the company. This unique approach to social media requires hands on community management, policies that protect the company and its employees and a certain bravery and willingness to  accept risk. The payoff is an authentic, two-way, social media conversation that helps to positively shape and influence a company’s reputation. In this session, learn about these lessons through Pfizer’s Think Science Now program.

Setting Quantifiable Objectives: The Key to Proving PR Value

Mark Weiner, CEO, PRIME Research

In every business case – whether the organization is large or small, for-profit or nonprofit, local or global – there is an objective. But the best objectives in the world aren’t good enough if they can’t be measured. Corporate communicators increasingly are being required to provide proof of real value in the programming they plan and implement. An effective public relations program is rooted in research, which is used to set objectives, develop strategy and design tactics then moves through program execution and evaluation. This session will take attendees through a proven process for setting objectives that are measurable as well as address how to communicate with the C-suite about the process.

The New World of Communication: How Social Media, Games and Behavioral Economics Have Rewritten the Rule Book

Adam Wootton, Director of Social Media and Games, Towers Watson

The session will explore the new tools available for communicators to use to engage their audience with a focus on behavioral economics, social media, games and game mechanics. Participants will learn why these new tools are important, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to talk to senior leaders about them. Easy steps to get started for each will be shown along with firsthand practical examples for use.

 

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Connect with me this fall

Monday, July 16th, 2012

There will be three great opportunities this fall to sharpen your professional saw, and to schmooze with me!  Sept. 10-11, I’m at “Connect 12” the PRSA Employee Communication Section conference at NYU in The City. Oct. 14-16, I’m the bronze sponsor for the IABC Heritage Region Conference in Pittsburgh at the Westin. Nov. 12-13, I’m back to New York for the 2012 IABC and PRIME Research Global Strategic Communication and Measurement Conference (where I’ll be speaking as well as schmoozing!)

Each of these conferences will be terrific. The PRSA section conference will be my first; I went to International in Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago, and managed a section dinner which was great fun. I’m looking forward to lower Manhattan and a chance to meet new folks and connect with friends.  The Heritage conference is outstanding – I spoke last year in Detroit, introduced a keynoter two years ago in Philly, and have served on both the sponsorship and speaker committees in the past. It’s always great to connect with IABC peeps!

Two years ago, I spoke at the IABC Communication and Measurement Conference in Seattle, and I’m delighted my friend and Institute for PR Measurement Commission colleague Mark Weiner (CEO of PRIME Research) invited me to participate this year.  Expect a great program at The Yale Club.

Hope to catch you at one – or all of these!

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Considering the state of online influence

Friday, April 27th, 2012

How do we measure influence?

If you read these humble musings semi-regularly, you know that I’m rather suspicious of most so-called measures of online influence. Too often, it’s black-box, secret sauce, cloak-and-dagger, and one really can’t judge the veracity of the claims.

I don’t want to single any company out, so suffice to say that whatever science is behind those claims, I have been looking for independent, scholarly research that might back it up. Conceptually, I ask myself: “Is online influence different from offline influence? How might we measure it if so? If not?”

This pondering, and the requirement to write a literature review for Dr. Danielle Coombs’s qualitative research class, pushed me into examining research from several different disciplines, including marketing and communication, psychology, sociology, information technology and even the hard sciences. In so doing, I believe I’m building a foundation for my eventual master’s thesis.

I am interested in the influence process as qualitative in nature, rather than strictly quantitative. Predictability isn’t necessarily what I’m striving for (thus guaranteeing I won’t get it published…), but rather trying to understand the process as it is.  You’ve heard the claims — retweets and @replies as evidence of influence (Kaushik’s RTs per 1000 followers), shares and likes on Facebook, etc.  We know that it’s quite variable according to who you are and what industry you’re in, who your audience is, and so forth.

In short, where’s the beef in this influence sandwich?

I’m unsatisfied by publications from research firms and others with a vested interest, which is a huge challenge. I have found so far that there’s not all that much in current scholarship that is directly related to the online space, and much of what there is dates from three to five years ago, an eternity in internet time.

So, stay tuned – I have no intention of abandoning this effort, and to the extent there is interest in what I’ve found so far, I plan to share.

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Ethics starts with “me”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

If the public relations industry isn’t evil, it is frequently unethical, caught in a Hobson’s choice between making a living and living a moral and ethically sound life.  Have you opted to do something that doesn’t feel right because your boss, or your client wants it?

The anonymity of the Internet makes it easy: create a phony profile on Yahoo! Finance and go to it. Stir the pot on your company’s message boards, pick fights, misdirect.  Comment on Twitter under a false name and hide the fact the company’s paying you to foster Twitter dialogue.

How about priming the comment stream about your company’s product?

It’s all too easy to say, “Well, if our agency doesn’t do this, the client will just find someone else who will.” Or, “I’ll get fired if I don’t do it.”

We often seem to think that ethical problems are someone else’s concern. But it all starts with “me,” not with “you or them.”

At what price will you sell your ethical soul?

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