Posts Tagged ‘communication messages’

Politics: Remember the ‘Litany Against Fear’

Friday, July 1st, 2016

innocent dog portrait on white background

Why are politics the way they are right now?  We’ve got a Hobson’s choice here in the U.S., and Brexit threatening not only the European Union, but also to the United Kingdom itself. There’s a sharp turn in many countries, and I’m not bringing up the spate of terrorism (which isn’t political in the same sense as the other stuff.)

The main economic and social order that has characterized the post-war (meaning World War II) world — free market economies, democratization, upward mobility — has come under scrutiny at least, if not outright threat.  The communication angle to this change can be seen in news media coverage, public relations and public diplomacy, and the rise of user-generated media.  There are many more voices in the public sphere than 10 years ago.

An externality (to use a term from economics) of these communication changes is that much media (whether social or mainstream or fringe) has become a contest to gain attention, rather than to add enlightenment and insight.  This means rumor dominates over truths, which a lot of people see as wholly subjective. It’s like the comment about being paranoid: That diagnosis doesn’t mean they’re NOT out to get you!

People analyze based on their perspectives, just as always, but now there is a ready echo chamber for conclusions. We seek out fewer alternative opinions in favor of justifications of our own. Why?

My unresearched, and rather seat-of-the-pants diagnosis is fear.

  • People who have jobs are afraid they’ll lose them, and with good reason.
  • People without jobs are afraid they will never be able to find one, also with good reason.
  • People in universities know people who graduate with huge debts and no job, and they’re afraid they will be the same.
  • Parents are afraid they’ll never be able to offer their children a better life.
  • Liberals are afraid that rich people exert too much power, preventing government from operating effectively.
  • Conservatives are afraid larger government will bring less liberty.

That’s a heap of scared.

Americans have the reputation of being confident to the point of brashness, so egoistic that we are convinced we’re the best. We seem to be losing that mojo, and that in itself fuels fear.

History has not been kind to societies driven by fear — Canadian author Erna Paris seems to be hiding in my shrubbery today, as is Don Hazen — it seems that fear is a precondition to tyranny.

Perhaps Frank Herbert can help us here.  In Dune, when the protagonist is being tested to determine his humanity, he must conquer his fear. But he doesn’t do this by ignoring it, dismissing it or trying to avoid it. He recites the Litany Against Fear — maybe we can get Mr. Cameron, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump, Ms. Merkel and others to chant it together — and respects the fear, but does not let it define him or his actions. It’s worth a try, no?

The Litany Against Fear

I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Frank Herbert, Dune. Retrieved July 1, 2016, from http://dune.wikia.com/wiki/Litany_Against_Fear

 

 

Share

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?

Share

5 facts that independent schools should take to heart about marketing

Monday, October 27th, 2014

462996881Independent schools (boarding and private schools) are bastions of wealth and privilege, packed to the ancient rafters with the sons and daughters of titans of industry, government and commerce, with long waiting lists of the 1 percent clamoring for entry. And the admission directors’ main job is to say, “no.”  Well, not exactly. This is 2014, and even alumni (many of whom have moved away from the old school) no longer “always” send their kids back. It’s a new world, and independent schools need to wake up about marketing.

What’s happened now is a massive demographic shift, from north and east to south and west, mirroring the wider trends in societies. For example, the state of Ohio, home to four boarding schools and countless private day schools, lost 150,000 households with children under 18 between 2001 and 2010. Who were those people? Young families from the state’s main metro areas, Toledo, Cleveland, Dayton, Columbus, Youngstown and Cincinnati.

In Massachusetts, nearly 31 percent of households had children under 18 in 2000. That figure dropped to 28 percent in 2010, and just 8.6 percent had children under 14… Connecticut:  20 percent of households had children under 14 in 2000. 17.7 percent in 2010. On the surface, these are changes of just a few percentage points, but given the continued trends, and the lower birth rates associated with modern American life, they’re sobering. SSATB’s recent survey noted a 33% decline in domestic boarding students since 2001, and a precipitous decline in inquiries.

How do independent schools need to respond to the shift?

1. Realize you are battling with your peers over a declining market. Differentiating your product is essential — the traditional New England boarding school experience can be had many places, and the cost to value calculation is being conducted more often than you think.  Your brand must differentiate you.

2.  People outside of the I-95 corridor don’t understand boarding schools. That’s why the highest proportion of boarding school attendees come from just six states, according to The Association of Boarding Schools.  Creating new boarding school families is critical, but it’s an expensive proposition that independent schools haven’t budgeted for. By one calculus, a prospect needs to be exposed to messaging 30 times before the product or service has a shot at entering the consideration set, and that’s assuming your targeting is precise enough to find the most likely people to be prospects.

3.  People have good choices other than independent schools. Many cities with challenging public schools not only have great private options, they have charter schools and parochial schools that compete with your school. Even in cities that are struggling, there are people who believe in public schools and want to support them, or who want a religious education, (or who just want to be five minutes closer to school), rather than send their kids to yours.

4.  For boarding schools and private high schools, the kids are driving the decision process, and they aren’t reading your viewbooks and brochures, or your letters. They’re using Instagram and Facebook to find your current students and evaluate your school from that angle. They hit your website looking for multimedia content that’s real, open, honest and focused on them. They find your followers on Twitter and engage on Snapchat. They don’t care about your marketing messages, they care about discovering the real story of your school.  They don’t read long articles. They are harsh judges.

5. Digital marketing is more targeted, more effective and more measurable than analog marketing. It can be efficient, too (ask me for details), but it still takes budget and expertise. It’s more than search engine optimization or buying Google Adwords (which can get spendy very quickly), it’s managing your digital strategy from objectives to creative in concert with your other communications. Public relations, social media, internal communication, parent communications and alumni communications all play crucial roles in the marketing mix. You need experience and talent to manage all of that.

It’s doable. But your school has to let go of the ego-centric conceit that it doesn’t NEED marketing because of its history, its venerable buildings, its location or its alumni base. The world is changing fast, and only the adaptable will survive.

Data retrieved from http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml , 2013 State of the Independent School Admission Industry (SSATB)  This post also appeared on LinkedIn. 

 

Share

Skills for PR need revision, research finds

Friday, March 28th, 2014
Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) listen.

Prof. Michele Ewing presents as Dr. Dean Krueckeberg (R) and Dr. Vince Hazelton (L) and others listen.

Public relations educators might need to re-examine the core curriculum to keep newly minuted pros relevant in the current market, according to research by Kent State University’s Prof. Michele Ewing.  A qualitative study of the required skills and knowledge for entry-level advertising and PR majors finds that planning, writing, multimedia and business knowledge are among the most urgently needed competencies.

Professor Ewing conducted interviews with 31 pros ranging from CEOs to mid-level professionals across agency, corporate and not-for-profit organizations, and the results were presented at the 17th International PR Research Conference, March 6-10, 2014.

The findings:

Strategic communications planning: Understanding of research and comms strategy is the foundation of PR education. Students must have critical thinking skills and grasp the basics of planning and measurement.

Writing across multiple platforms: Telling stories appropriately for the medium, including content intended to go directly from organization to stakeholder. Yes, we do need people who know the difference between writing a post-length piece versus a feature versus an objective piece.

Multimedia storytelling: Social, mobile, online — they all depend on imagery, audio, video, text, infographics… Visual storytelling is a great phrase, and knowing the power of graphics and imagery and how to lever them appropriately is essential. So is knowing your Adobe suite.

Interpersonal communication: You’ve got to be able to speak, present, engage, persuade, face to face, online and in print.

Digital: Social media and data analytics, including the strategic understanding of engaging audiences through these new tools, but that engagement is only the beginning. Community management, multimedia for social, online and mobile, and the ability to use data analytics to both develop strategy and measure its effect.  More important, it’s the ability to make sense of the data as applied to business issues and problems to facilitate decision-making.

Converged media: Owned, earned and paid work together, and pros need to know how to apply each in service to wider goals. Paid or sponsored social content was an area of emphasis noted.

Business knowledge: Understanding how businesses work, including entrepreneurship, business development, profit margin and bottom line, distribution and purchasing, basic economics… Yes, we still need to address our aversion to numbers as a profession and be business people who happen to lever communication skills.

Exposure to key practice areas: Internal communications, media relations, public affairs, issues and reputation management — but also industry sectors, B2B, healthcare, crisis, energy and technology communications are growth areas in our practice.  But, specializing as an expert in one or more of these is seen as preferable to the generalist approach.

Congrats to Michele on a terrific presentation of a very important topic.  What would you add in the way of advice to improve the curriculum?

 

 

Share

To German CEOs, PR heads still not ‘equals’

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Ansgar ZerfaßIt was disappointing to learn that public relations people, even at the topmost level in an organization, are not seen as the go-to person on communication topics among senior leaders, according to a study involving more than 600 German executives.

In research presented at the International PR Research Conference this year, Dr. Ansgar Zerfaß of the University of Leipzig and newly minted M.A. Muschda Sherzada surveyed CEOs, managing directors and executive board members of German corporations in ten industries. They discovered several interesting findings, including:

  • Mass media is more influential on corporate reputation than social media — 96% to 71%
  • Personal communication by leaders is more impactful than that of professional communicators — 87% to 65%
  • When exchanging views on building public opinion or communication strategies, peers on the board or in functional divisions are most important, versus the contribution of the communicators or communication departments — 87% to 64%
  • CEOs and other top execs say motivating employees, fostering corporate trust and supporting a positive image are the most important objectives of corporate communications, more than fostering dialogue with stakeholders and gaining trust among journalists.
  • Marketing communications and financial communications are rated the most effective sub-disciplines in corporate comms, but internal communication is seen as most relevant.

That comms pros aren’t seen as the first choice when it’s time to talk communication strategy is telling. Many of my colleagues say that they are business people who use communication skills in service of company objectives. But clearly in Germany, our function is tactical, not strategic, and communicators focus too little on internal communications and effective counsel.

What is it like in your organization?

Share

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?

Share

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!

 

Share

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.

Share

Notebook: Reputation questions to chew on

Monday, September 10th, 2012

With trust in business — particularly big business — holding steady, but near all-time lows, and a political climate bent on slavish promotion of business and business people on one side, and equally slavish denunciation of business and business people on the other, where does that leave the public relations function of reputation management?

What are the components of reputation, and how do you measure them? What role do business executives play in supporting or undermining reputation? How do social media reflect popular opinion — or not? Do transactional relationships help or hinder reputation? Do simple errors constitute a crisis of reputation? Why or why not?

How should businesses (and other organizations) respond to reputation issues? What role does organizational behavior play? What about employee behavior, customer service, problem resolution?

I’m pondering these things, and realizing that they’ll take some research and exploration.  Stay tuned for some expert witnesses in this space in the days and weeks to come.

Share

Getting attention with internal communication

Monday, January 16th, 2012

It’s become a cliche, you know. Overworked employees who can’t keep up with all the information they need to consume to be effective, despite (or because of) e-mail, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, Yammer, Sharepoint…  But why blame the tools? It’s the strategy that needs work.

I recall 17 years ago when “we want employees to manage their own information” became a watchcry.

The idea was to create a repository of news and information and get people to seek it out.  This change from “push” to “pull” was supposed to take the heat off of communicators and bring about a knowledge revolution. Instead, employees voted with their feet, ignoring most all the news we pushed out, especially the stuff that supposedly was “important” — the company strategy, leadership messages and  human resources materials.  We were repurposing news releases in those days, not really originating stories from the employee perspective. We were passive, and we waited for our internal clients to come up with stuff.

Well, that’s not altogether true. We called them and asked, “Got any news?” What we should have done is treated employees as our clients and looked for reasons to do a piece, not expect our leaders and managers to come up with stuff on their own.

All through the years, our best-read materials at Key, Goodyear, National City and other places were stories, not news. They had people and drama and conflict and tension, or at least a compelling new angle on our business, told through example and demonstration, not mere recitation of fact.

At Goodyear, we had our interns do a ton of writing for our intranet, GO.  During their yearlong assignment, they’d cover plenty of news, such as events, quarterly earnings, significant announcements and industry doings, of course. But they also had to originate stories, particularly in the last couple of months of the assignment.

They wrote country profiles, talking with leaders and others about the business situation. They did stories on different parts of the business and people. And they did a multipart series focusing on one regional business, or on the fastest-growing geographies in the company.

These stories got read because they helped employees make sense of the information instead of merely leaving everything up to them.

We began to attract news from all the major business units, increasing our annual story count into the range of 1,200 – 1,500 stories per year.  Over a two-year period, we tripled our monthly GO traffic (visits and pages viewed) and saw a 10% increase in understanding of our company strategy.

How do you get attention, cut through the clutter? Write (produce) stories that matter to your employees, balancing the need for leadership to transmit information with the need for employees to have relevant content available to them.  Do research among employees and leaders to discover what those stories should be, and do it often.

All you’ve got to lose is your irrelevancy.

Share