Posts Tagged ‘Communication Theories’

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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2013 and the secret weapons

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

I can’t help but mention that in addition to a rocking good batch of client work that continues apace for at least the next five weeks, and the start of a new semester and its associated teaching responsibilities, I’m again sick.

I caught some sort of dread bug back at the beginning of December. It morphed into a sinus problem, consumed the drugs that save us all from the fate of our ancestors in such matters, but now has turned into yet a different sort of plague.  If it were 1850, I, the Esteemed Spouse, and several friends and family members would be hauled out of the neighborhood ala the old man in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Ring out your dead!!!!)

It’s not fair. I’ve done my sick routine for far too long, and it’s distracted me from matters both prosaic (it’s a new year! I should write something profound about the state of measurement/internal comms/ what have you!) and more important (the US election! Congress! Taxes!)

Oh, well.

The secret weapons of 2013, actually, are found in the presentation I’m giving about online influence at the International PR Research Conference. The IPRRC is a fave, it’s academic as all get-out, fraught with Ph.D. students and their profs, and a few practitioners who get treated REALLY WELL. OK, it’s kind of a head trip to publish a paper and present to people whose material I teach in grad classes (Hazelton, Botan, and Smudde, to name a few from past conferences). But it’s also the frickin’ bleeding edge of PR research. More people in the practice should attend, if only to call BS on some of the less practical research (though there’s blessed less of that these days – everyone is pretty interested in what’s actual rather than ideal.)

I just did a lit review and came up with an idea to use qualitative research to help shed some light on online influence. There’s so much total BS out there!!!

The secret weapons aren’t just in my work – I’m an egomaniac, but only a little.  It’s on that knife-edge of research that our PR academics are honing. I still feel a bit like the 13-year old sitting at the adults table at Thanksgiving for the first time!

Spend a few bucks, come to Miami in March (a dreadful hardship for any northerner, I know), and drink from the firehose of knowledge.  And, find the secret weapons!

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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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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.

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Giving marketers – and marketing – a bad name

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The 26 August edition of the New York Times carries a long story about Todd Rutherford, an Oklahoma entrepreneur who in 2010 started a company that solicited authors to buy online reviews of their work.  Rutherford paid freelancers to write the reviews, and for a little while, was making $28,000 per month. The piece quotes him saying, “These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews.”  Yeah, well, once upon a time there was a difference.

They have a term for when you buy space to trumpet your products and services: Advertising. A review in a publication or a broadcast is editorial content — by definition, it cannot be paid for. That division ensures that the reader/viewer is getting a third party view of the material, not one colored by someone with a vested interest in it.  If you made the rash conclusion that “user” reviews on Amazon are written by real users, I guess pity the fool. I often thought the reviews were too fawning and too “professional” to be done by real people, but I figured, “hey, if someone styles themselves a critic and wants to write 500 words on this book, movie, whatever, go for it.” It never occurred to me that someone was out there paying for reviews. Jeepers, no wonder so many Amazon books get five stars.

The Times spends 70 paragraphs exploring this issue. We hear from eBook authors who paid for reviews, freelance writers who wrote them (nearly always without reading the publication in question) and Rutherford himself now “regrets his venture into what he called, ‘artificially embellished reviews.'”

As much as I am a committed free marketeer, I still have quite a lot of heartburn about this. Rutherford says the market will take care of the issue, with true negative reviews overcoming the false positives. I’m not so sure about that.  I wrote earlier about bloggers taking either direct payments or junkets in exchange for talking about a product or company. This seems clearly to be in the realm of deception –under the law, the relationship between advertiser (the authors) and the editorial source (the  publication) has to be disclosed. Only then is the consumer of the review equipped to judge its veracity and its utility.

Rutherford’s firm was engaged in deliberate deception — the authors got the ratings and reviews that helped with sales (though some of the more successful ones didn’t give credit), Rutherford and the freelancers made money.  This doesn’t work for me. It’s fraud.

 

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3 essentials for employee communicators

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Employee communication continues to get a bad rap. Communicators who do internal comms get paid less than the media relations folks (you could look it up!), and frankly, in a lot of cases we deserve it.

When you do internal, what is your responsibility?  Populating the intranet? Editing the magazine? Rewriting news releases? How about functioning as the in-house expert on how organizational communication works or doesn’t work? Counseling management on how to be better communicators?

I don’t know why, but the latter couple of tasks seem to be outsourced more often than not (and thank you very much!) — I don’t think I’m necessarily smarter than I was when I worked at KeyCorp, National City or Goodyear, but I am a bit more experienced, perhaps. Winning an internal consulting effort while in-house was a tough sell — a lot of people were more comfortable with me as a writer/editor, a tactician rather than a strategist, despite my efforts to develop a contrary angle.

There are three really important actions internal comm-sters need to take if they aspire to more responsibility, more professional prestige, and/or more money:

Increase your business knowledge. You need to be a businessperson who happens to use communication to help advance the organization. That means numbers, reading business, being up on the products and markets, and not caviling endlessly about how boring it all is. It’s your job.

Better understand the process of communication. Why are people more comfortable in small group discussions than in large groups? Easier to participate, share information and make decisions (at least in one view.) How do communication styles affect collaboration? (Look up Myers-Briggs).  Why do complex topics require discussion? (The Q&A enables people to process the information more effectively than merely reading something.)

Align content and strategy. This should be a no-brainer, but there are many constituencies in an organization, and a lot of them don’t care about anything except “getting the word out.” Guess what? If there’s no link to the business objectives, no one will care.  Too many times I’ve heard, “no one reads that stuff” as they’re demanding additional tactics (more email, a video, a paper newsletter). The fact is that some stuff just isn’t interesting and people won’t consume it. If you have a strategic content plan, you have something to point to when you say no. Now, my pal Patty Vossler would say, “don’t say no without a yes in your pocket,” and she’s right. Ask the question, “what do you want people to think, feel or do as a result of the communication?” If their goal doesn’t match the objectives of your organization, probe for clarity and bridge the gap. More on that another time.

In the meantime, read this excellent speech from Dr. Bruce Berger of the U of Alabama. It’s more pithy and not as simplistic. But then, he’s a darn smart guy.

Whatever you do, do not punt, fumble or otherwise abdicate. If you feel like you can’t do these three things, go into some other line of work. Nuff said!

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Why is telling the truth so hard?

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Creative Commons, by Brian Hillegas

The Institute for PR has published “Ethical standards and guidelines for public relations research and measurement“, which PRNewser’s Tonya Garcia summarized as “Basically, don’t be a horrible, self-serving liar.” The statement, By Dr. Shannon Bowen, John Gilfeather, & Dr. Brad Rawlins, is a stake in the ground, and on the surface might seem to be a statement of the obvious. But PR as a profession still seems ethically dubious — witness the latest in a long line of Walmart amazin’s stories.

Walmart hired Mercury Public Affairs to lobby LA city hall to approve construction of a store in Chinatown. No problem. But when Mercury employee Stephanie Harnett went to a meeting of Warehouse Workers United, which wants to unionize Walmart’s workers, she lied about who she was, claiming to be journalism student from the University of Southern California.

Both Walmart and Mercury declaimed any responsibility — Mercury saying that she was a junior member of their staff and that no one, neither Mercury nor Walmart, told her to do any such thing.  I’d be tempted to write this off as a sad commentary on PR education and the “anything goes” culture of the modern age, but Socrates did a better job of making that argument.

What seems likely is that both Mercury and Walmart tossed her under the bus. Media reports say that Harnett was shaking like a leaf during her ruse, so she has to know that what she was doing was wrong. Of course, apparently she got over it in short order. Her Twitter account is closed (good idea; it can’t have been much fun to read the tweets), and she’s keeping a low profile.

Walmart’s not known as a Pantheon of ethics — the Astroturf campaign, the Mexico bribery issue. And many PR firms seem willing to do whatever will generate revenue, from selling war through deliberate falsehood to representing dictators.  PR ethics can seem like a contradiction in terms.

But I won’t give up, and neither should you. Thanks to Bowen, Gilfeather and Rawlins, we’ve got another arrow in our quiver.

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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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Surprise! Innovation is a Change Issue

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

As part of my Knowledge Management class, we’ve been looking at innovation, specifically the twin paths of evolutionary innovation and disruptive innovation articulated by Prof. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. The base concept is that incumbent companies always win in an evolutionary innovation race (a sequential improvement or step-change – think hybrid cars), while new entrants always win in a disruptive innovation race (think iPods.)  But I could see how even evolutionary innovation could be considered disruptive.

This casts the innovation cycle as a change management issue, and that made me think of Harold Innis, the Canadian political scientist whose landmark collection of essays, The Bias of Communication (1951), precede Marshall McLuhan (the Medium is the Message.)

I wrote a paper on how Innis, who saw almost all technological improvements in communication as the path to decline for societies, might view Facebook (answer: not happily.) This material came back to me as I thought about the concept of disruptive innovation, which gets written about favorably nearly all the time. After all, do we want to give up discount retailers, community colleges, cell phones and doc-in-the-box medical clinics?

Christensen likes disruption — he sees it as the only way we move forward. But I can think of the dark side of such changes fairly easily.  Ask Kodak about digital cameras. They had the technology well in place for eons, but failed to grasp how it would change conventional photography.  Of itself, digital photography is more of an evolutionary innovation, but ever-smaller chips and other, seemingly less important innovations shrunk the cameras, improved the quality and let Canon and others rule the space.

Innis would call that shot — he’d have seen the negatives early on.  It’s a change issue, and in a change, only infrequently does everyone win. Usually, someone loses. We have cheap cameras, and professional photography is going the way of the iceman.  I’m now looking at innovation as a problem, and suddenly the reasons why companies grapple to make the creative, innovative and inventive processes cogent and repeatable makes a lot of sense.  So too the difficulty of organizational learning, and of knowledge collection and application, and the issues around losing talent.

Innis said:

Mechanization has emphasized complexity and confusion; it has been responsible for monopolies in the field of knowledge; and it becomes extremely important to any civilization, if it is not to succumb to the influence of this monopoly of knowledge, to make some critical survey and report. The conditions of freedom of thought are in danger of being destroyed by science, technology, and the mechanization of knowledge, and with them, Western civilization.” (Innis, 1951, p. 190)

Just thinking out loud here.

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Bloggers – Got Paid? It’s Commercial Speech

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Earlier this year, I did some research on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission guidelines on endorsements and testimonials for a class. As I dug into it, I wrote a post promising to share the paper, so here it is. I thought I’d share the results in hopes that anyone in social media would understand that pay means business, and that means disclosure.  The style is academic, which means there are a lot of endnotes and a sizable bibliography, but it shouldn’t kill you.

The short version: If you get stuff from a company to write about (even if they don’t demand it be positive), you are expected to tell your readers. If what you say is deceptive or misleading, you could be blogging from the Hotel GrayBar — or at least be a little lighter in the cash department.

But wait a second, what about free speech?  Journalists don’t need to disclose if they get free stuff!  Well, let’s just say that the Government — and the Courts — have ruled that your free speech is secondary to the rights of consumers.

I don’t think I can argue. But you can — just read the paper first.

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