Info links for government communicators

02/29/08

I had a chance to speak to a passel of Canadian government communicators about social media yesterday, and I promised them I would post a number of useful links to help them work around implementing social media in their workplaces.

So here goes:

I’ve obviously missed a lot of resources, and I encourage my readers to mention more in the comments, so I can pass them along to the more disadvantaged. ;-)

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Can you really claim to be a “strategic communicator”?

04/10/07

Steve Postrel left some incisive comments on Grant McCracken’s This Blog Sits At, building on Leora Kornfeld’s question:

Why does everyone call themselves a strategist nowadays?

“Just for laughs, when someone claims to be a strategist, you could ask them which tradition of strategy they represent. Economic? Then ask them to define a Nash equilibrium and see how they feel about Cournot vs. Bertrand models. Military? Then ask them about Clausewitz or John Boyd or Edward Luttwak. You can do the same thing with sports, chess, marketing, or any other domain they claim that has a tradition of strategic analysis. …

As a rule, I am opposed to credentialism, especially in ill-defined areas such as strategy. In fact, there really is no body of knowledge whose possesiion truly entitles one to claim “I am a strategist” or whose lack bars that claim. But it sounds like people are pretending that such a credential exists and then further pretending that they possess it. For a modest fee I’d happily prick that double-bubble.”

Ouch, I have two degrees in International Relations and consider myself well-educated in the areas of military and economic strategy – and I don’t think I could meet Steve’s standard.

Grant, naturally, digs into the question in a separate post. He rightly points out that many marketers, communicators and other of our ilk claim strategic skill and strategic insight – despite having no education in the field or demonstrable experience as a strategist.

“And then the question is, why should this rhetorical misbehavior be necessary? I am quite sure that other professionals do not suffer the temptation. Lawyers, doctors, civil servants…they don’t use the term. (“What kind of medicine do I practice? Oh, I do strategic medicine, you see. I don’t just identify symptoms. I think about them.”)No, the buzz word abuse that Leora spotted is a symptom. The field of marketing and the fact that it is not in fact a profession at all …

Without sorting, we are reduced to making boosterish, self aggrandizing claims, dressing ourselves up in the dignity of someone else’s language.

It’s not clear how we solve this problem. I agree with Steve that certification (or credentialism, as he calls it) is probably impractical. Reputation helps of course. It would help even more if those of us in branding circles had the depths of knowledge that distinguish the McKinsey consultant.”

Of course, the trend towards ostentatious titles may be a lingering backlash against the more outrageous job descriptions adopted during the late 90’s tech boom. After all, once you’ve lost hundreds of millions of dollars, you’re less likely to place your faith in:

  • the Chief Dog Walker
  • Founder without Title
  • the Head Dreamer
  • Spiritual Co-Creator
  • Creative Imaginatist

[tags] Strategic , Strategic Communciations, Strategic thinker, credentialism [/tags]

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I tell ya, we government communicators got it tough. How tough? …

02/16/07

It’s tough to be a communicator in the employ of the government nowadays. Accelerating news cycles. Dwindling public interest in economic issues. Continuing distrust of the government.

On top of that, Ira Basen continues his quest to prove the public relations industry is the spawn of the devil. In a well-researched series for CBC Radio, Basen speaks to Canadian, American and British media, communications and politics veterans about the influence of spinners, spinmasters, spin specialists, the spiiinnn maaaann.

I still can’t shake the feeling, though, that Basen will be standing beside St. Peter when it comes to my turn, flipping through a giant book of perceived misdeeds in an attempt to condemn me to purgatory.

Nevertheless, the CBC has made available mp3 files of the previous episodes, as well as transcripts of his interviews. Here are two excerpts that paint a portrait of the environment in Ottawa today:

Scott Reid, on the shift in relationship and operating styles between media covering national issues and the federal government:

“… in the past decade there’s been a pretty substantial cultural shift in the town in terms of how media and government inter-relate. I think basically there is or there ought to be a culture of “nothing is off the record now”. I think that stories get told when they’re not fully formed in terms of the conduct of your job from where I sat, it meant you had to very much plan from a perspective that – you had to assume that the median in terms of gallery behaviour was going to be pretty punishing, pretty insurgent, and you had to factor that in.

There is no culture of being able to work on a story for a period of time and say, “well, hang on. You actually don’t have all the facts straight. Why don’t we – you should really get briefed up and we’ll take a few days…” None of that. Speed became the imperative. Speed became the only imperative and that changed the way that other journalists and other news organizations worked and that changed the way the people who answered the phone and dealt with journalists, worked as well.”

Elly Alboim, on the increasing level of disengagement citizens feel towards government and public policy issues:

” … Well, you know, look, it’s not the second coming of the apocalypse, you know I – what is the effect? We ‘re going to know in 20 years. We don’t know today. But there are signposts, you know.

The signposts are: we have the highest level of alienation from government and authority that we’ve probably had in our lifetimes or probably stretching beyond, and it’s not just a Canadian phenomenon, it’s western; the lack of deference to authority is astonishing worldwide; the cacophony associated with fundamental decision-making is loud; and voting turnout is dropping except for the last election which had a slight twist-up but most important, the disengagement of most people from issues involving governance, politics, labour, finance is astonishingly high.

They profess no interest in it, their literacy on fundamental issues has been dropping, and the shared sense of institutions, country, has become subject to all these centrifugal forces – you know, go to British Columbia and read their daily menu of information and compare it to the one in Atlantic Canada and try to understand where the common threads are. What does all this mean? I don’t know what it means.”

h/t to Ian for reminding me.

[tags] Scott Reid, PR in Canada, spin [/tags]

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Benchmark your pay as a government communicator

12/12/06

Are you a government communicator – particularly in the United States? Then benchmark your pay scale against the pay of senior communications staffers in Congress. A database put online by LegiStorm makes this available. Try, for example, these employees of the last Congress:

In Canada, the Treasury Board sets general guidelines for staffers in Minister’s offices: up to $124,100 for a Director of Communications.

Feel like contributing the guidelines or examples for your country? I’ll add them to this post.

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Success as a coporate communicator

03/24/04

I recently had the opportunity to share my 2 cents on how, as a communicator, to build a positive relationship with senior management. Here are some notes:

Success requires:

  • familiarity among colleagues, staff and management at all levels.
  • ability to recognize parcels of information that may be valuable to your clients, but not yet on their radar. This means reading widely and often.
  • demonstrating to your client that you have particular skills and information networks that complement their needs. Communicators always have access to dfferent sources of information.
  • continuing commitment to demonstrating how your services add value.
  • ready availability in times of crisis and deadline pressure.
  • demonstrating that your perception of external/internal/community or political aspects of communication can complement their operational focus.
  • identifying PR tools that will help you establish your strategic value to the client: regular environmental or stakeholder analysis, incisive media analysis, or increased involvement in integrated marketing campaigns.
  • Awareness of corpoate strategies and goals. Get on the agenda and info email lists for senior meetings. Even if not invited, you will know what is being discussed, and what internal debates are ongoing. This will give you valuable conversation fodder for elevator and hallway encounters with senior decision makers. It will also give you information to share with your colleagues, building your worth in your own organization.
  • establishing a standing offer to contribute communications advice to the corporate planning process and the preparation of strategic documents. This will lead your clients to associate your efforts with their process and progress.
  • cautious use of contacts with senior decison makers to underline/emphasize positive perceptions of your work and skillsets. Present your information or advice clearly and link it to corporate programs or goals. In other words: don’t spam your clients.

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How to play well among scientists

12/29/07

I admit it. Scientists and communicators often don’t mix well. They certainly don’t share a love for numbers, or even for precision. After all, it is hard to communicate science to the public.

James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, has provided his colleagues with something of a guidebook to making your way as a scientist.*

As reviewed in Harvard Magazine, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science does dwell on his past as a Harvard professor and wunderkind, but also identifies some basic traits to help battle it out in academia and the world of science:

  • Manners Needed for Important Science
  • Manners Required for Academic Civility
  • Manners Deployed for Academic Zing
  • Manners Maintained When Reluctantly Leaving Harvard
  • Science works better when the winners don’t take all
  • Share valuable research tools
  • Never be the brightest person in the room
  • Science is highly social

As the review points out, Watson often broke these rules or didn’t demonstrate these traits. As communicators, however, we know that highly social systems are effective at creating “weak links” and helping transmit information and understanding.
*Watson isn’t without his oversize controversies, either.

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Third Tuesday goodness

11/14/07

It’s that time again. The Third Tuesday extravaganza, where you get to meet and mingle with the public relations, marketing, digital design and web marketing.

Next week, November 19, I’ll be under the spotlight. I’ll be talking about encouraging the adoption of social media and new technologies as a government communicator.

Judging from the reception I received at a CPRS session today, I may try to build on my “social media is like a water slide” analogy as well.

It’s sure to be a fun, informative and imaginative time.

You can find the details on Meetup.

And thanks to Joe for the kind words.

[tags] Third Tuesday, government communications, government blogging [/tags]

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Media Snackers: they’re just not filling

11/01/07

The premise, as posited by Jeremiah, Kami, Kevin and others: content generators need to develop materials and vehicles that communicate effectively with “media snackers,” those new economy animals who bounce from medium to medium picking up information and filtering it.

That means short blog posts, interactive web tools, podcasts of varying lengths, videos, Twitter streams and anything else that two guys withs seed capital can think up.

I see a strategic weakness in this premise, however: just because people want their media quick, easily digestible and interactive doesn’t mean we should abandon context and overlook longer term tactics.

That’s because I’m an old school media snacker. Not as old enough to be a Reader’s Digest subscriber, let’s get that out of the way.* But old enough to know how to follow Usenet threads. Old enough to have thought PointCast was going to revolutionize our world.

I think we run the risk of over-simplifying our tactics and under-estimating our readers/listeners/viewers: they don’t come to the dim sum buffet for the individual dish, they see ach piece as part of a larger meal.

You see, I’m not a media snacker, I’m a media aggregator. I may bounce from source to source and from one format to another, but I have one (or several) topics that I’m tracking.

I am picking up tidbits, thoughts and observations, and integrating them into internal narratives, or adding them to databases on issues I am following, or marking them as useful for work I am doing at the office.

The danger with the “snacker” meme is that we may see our readers in too simplistic a manner: as someone dropping by for a visit, or someone not really engaged in the process.

We have to make sure, as communicators, marketers, public relations hacks or community builders, that we integrate our “snack media” into a more comprehensive communications and marketing plan.

And that doesn’t mean a cool splashpage made in flash.

It means some sort of community hub, where all these snacks can be displayed on a big buffet table (or, given that most “media snacks” are ephemeral in time and place, a warming table). A touchstone for your “lifestream,” so to speak.

And then our reader, community member, stakeholder – whatever – can pick and choose the tactic that most suits them.

*You realise, of course, that Reader’s Digest was the original media snacker’s resource.

[Tags] media snacker, twitter, meme, community, interstitial, lifestream [/tags]

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World Bank Launches Report in Second Life

10/25/07

Another international organization is hitting the beaches of Second Life. On October 26, the World Bank is releasing the latest report from the Doing Business group:

“…“Second Life, as a global community with residents from more than 100 countries, is an ideal venue to host a virtual launch of a report that compares how easy it is for people to start and operate a business in 178 economies,” Dahlia Khalifa said.

“Second Life is on the frontier of collaboration and technology. It brings people from around the world together by removing boundaries,” she added. …(news release)

It’s a noble effort and an example that the World Bank and its’ partners are looking for new ways to communicate their ideas – but Second Life has not proven its worth as a communication tool.

Earlier this year, Eric Kintz at HP argued why he still needed convincing about Second Life. Bandwidth and computing power were among the factors he identified for his reluctance to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak.

Those are very big issues for most government departments. Even OECD members have to evaluate the capacity of their network to deliver content over a service like Second Life – but also their network’s capacity to deliver that content back to their own employees.

I suspect that many organizations with outposts in Second Life (like Sweden) have set up separate networks and better equipment for their in-world representatives.

More on the event:

“…The event will be an open forum where policy makers and the public from around the world, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, can ask questions, challenge the findings, and contribute to a global business dialogue aimed at stimulating reforms that improve the business environment, and ultimately create more business startups, job opportunities, and economic growth.

Digital copies of the report’s overview, as well as World Bank–IFC virtual apparel and products, will be available to Second Life residents who attend the event.”

How are the clients of the World Bank – many of them living in remote corners of the internet – supposed to sign on for this report launch?

[tags] Second Life, World Bank, Doing Business, third world, international organizations, multilateral [/tags]

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Comms, PR and Marketing: is there a difference?

10/24/07

What's the difference between public relations, marketing and communications

Depending upon the topic, it seems that people define the role of public relations practitioner, corporate communicator, and marketing fairly loosely. What exactly is the difference between the three distinct professions?

This graphic tries to separate them by indicating specific “benefits” of working in marketing communications (like travelling on business, having access to Super Bowl tickets) and then presenting the proportional odds of that benefit being available to one or all of the professions.

[tags] marketing, communicator, corporate communications, public relations, schwag [/tags]

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Get a second shot at spinning that negative article

08/13/07

Thanks to Google News, your spokesperson or technical expert may have another opportunity to present their case in the news – AFTER the journalist has filed.

Google’s about to add a comment feature to Google News – but with a twist. Only people directly involved with the story, like those quoted in it, can submit a comment to be moderated by the Google News staff.

“We’ll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we’ll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as “comments” so readers know it’s the individual’s perspective, rather than part of a journalist’s report.”(Google News Blog)

This signals another shift toward the corporate interpretation of how social media should be managed.

For those of you following on the home game, the comments appended to a Google News story will have gone through TWO filters – the original reporter’s judgement of who should participate in the story, and Google’s own test of authenticity.

How about that? You can just throw the egalitarian nature of comments under the bus now. Traditional media, as interpreted and annotated by the gatekeepers.

For public relations specialists, this opens up a whole new channel of communication: pointing readers to your evidence and your record of the interview.

Especially for you paranoid and obsessive types that make it a habit of recording every moment your senior executive comes within a restraining order of a journalist.

And, judging from the FAQ on the new comments policy, your comments may have greater longevity than the story itself:

“However, we’ll try to be in touch with you and possibly include your comments in future stories that mention you. “

Communicators and media relations experts now have another channel to consider when evaluating the impact of their media coverage.

Why not respond to how your interview, fact sheet or news release were interpreted in the article?

[tags] Google News, comment policy, retaliation [/tags]

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Quantitative research needs to balance smart and useful

07/13/07

Often, our approach to preparing a questionnaire or a piece of public opinion research is to send an email around asking about corporate priorities, convening a brainstorming session, changing the date on last year’s moderator’s guide, or simply revising the questions from last year’s omnibus survey.

Andrew at Northern Planner offers some advice on preparing some useful quantitative research:

“… We mentioned before that quant is the bit that REALLY speaks the client’s language. So make sure it does what they want it to do. For the questionnaire, that means:

  • Prove your answers to their brief.
  • Have new ideas they can use in the future.
  • Meet approval from their clients (the board).
  • Fit their own style and standards.
  • Prove something they (and you) suspect.

But they’re not the only ones the questionnaire needs to accommodate. Some poor bugger has to analyse these things, so lay it out and code it as well as you can.

The interviewer needs it to be easy to follow, written in conversational tone, short, with no difficult questions and avoid embarrassing or intimate ones.

And the respondent wants it to be easy to follow, they need to see WHY a question has been asked. And for them most of all, make it short easy to follow and never difficult or embarrassing….” (Northern Planner)

It’s that last point that’s the most important.

Even after hours of wordsmithing, consultation, learned disagreement among communicators and quants, our questions frequently speak to internal priorities and rely upon largely similar terms differentiated only by their inherited symbolism inside our organization.

And then you have to spend another 12 hours deconstructing the responses to your questionnaire.

Realizing, in the meantime, that your respondents didn’t really understand your questions or your intent.

Now, that’s money and time well spent.

[tags] quantitative research, media planning, strategy [/tags]

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Past Work

07/11/07

Over the years, I have published a number of papers, presentations and booklets on public relations, marketing, social media and government communications.

Incorporating Blogs into the Marketing Mix – an e-guide prepared in December 2005

I spoke to a Third Tuesday Ottawa meetup about government communications and the implementation of a social media strategy at my government department. (MP3 audio available)

Secret Underground Guide to Social Media for Organizations – prepared in March 2008, this is meant to help communicators within large organizations to build the support for social media tactics and campaigns within their organization. It was very well received.

Basic Principles for Crisis Communications – prepared for Global PR Blog Week 1.0, October 2004

The complexities of government blogging in a dynamic policy environment – prepared for Global PR Blog Week 2.0, September 2005

And, for old school cred, Canuckflack was Marketing Sherpa’s best PR Blog of 2004.

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Public service webby types feel validated

07/03/07

Aaargh. Jimmy Leach, Tony Blair’s head of digital communications, wins an award for his work. He’s taken home the New Media Age award for “The Greatest Individual Contribution to New Media.” Why? Epetitions. Podcasts. A YouTube channel for a Prime Minister. All put in place in less than a year.

Simon Dickson underlines the importance of Leach’s work: it helped establish a precedent for British government communicators.

“…So Jimmy is free to do all sorts of radical things which most Ministries … would typically strangle at birth.

Standard Whitehall mentality is that it’s only acceptable to do something innovative if someone else has already done it. (Which, of course, is a contradiction in terms, but anyway…) And if the ’someone else’ happens to be the almighty Downing Street, all reticence disappears.

Suddenly there’s no need to fear a call from the most powerful office in the land, asking what the hell you thought you were doing. If you post your Minister’s stuff on YouTube, in the same way that No10 posted theirs, what can go wrong? (And if it does go wrong, at least No10 will probably be stuffed too.)”

And, as WhitehallWebby points out, beating out a worthy slate of opponents.

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Change agent: a sisyphean task

06/27/07

Stolen directly from Dave Gray’s blog, Communication Nation:

“…A blog is a way of getting support and affirmation from the outside, for the things you are trying to do on the inside.

A blog is a way to keep your faith alive.”

I know blogs, podcasts, general and specialist social networks and plain old Yahoo newsgroups have helped me explore new ideas as a:

  • public relations specialist
  • government communicator
  • blogger, and;
  • all around know-it-all

[tags] evangelism, xplane, Dave Gray [/tags]

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the fourth wall comes tumbling down

06/09/07

As communicators, public relations types, flacks, marketers … do you remember the moment in your youth when you realized that the wonderful smörgĂĄsbord of media did not just fall into your lap for your consumption and enjoyment?

I mean, when did the fourth wall fall down for you? When did you realize that vast armies of writers, composers, directors, producers and broadcasters were manipulating every moment of the music, film and cartoons you were sucking through your greedy little eyes and ears?

This was it for me:

Bob: “This is where the D.J. talks. Don’t say anything!”

Doug: “Okay, eh!”

That, of course, is the opening line to Bob and Doug MacKenzie’s “Take Off!

After that revelation, it was all downhill. You mean there’s a reason why most pop hits are less than two and a half minutes long? My favourite sitcom is only 22 minutes long? Radio tease? What’s that?

Gasp.

Comments (1)

Where’s my social network aggregator?

06/04/07

Okay, people. I’ve got a job. I’ve got a family. I sometimes watch network television. Who is going to invent a Trillian-like app for all these damn social networks? Really.

Yes. I know. I’m mixing multi-purpose professional networks with more general apps.  

Robin Crumby of Melcrum makes some good arguments why specialized networks may be more valuable to professionals.

Still, I don’t mean to seem like an old man, but I may not have the attention span to maintain all these networks!

Especially when the Senators are playing!

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Mashups, Expert Analysis and Keywords

04/28/07

Tag clouds. There’s your next content analysis tool. With Tagcrowd‘s “Alpha” service, you can easily analyze any text for recurring words and concepts. Obviously, tag clouds work best when applied to a large database: either a long speech or a quantity of smaller pieces.

For example, here’s a tag cloud of Canada’s 2006 Speech from the Throne:

It’s a useful tool to generate a first impression of a text or a presentation, but there are both advantages and drawbacks:

Drawbacks:

  • favours messaging over content
  • truly only measures repetition, not value, of words
  • overlooks key phrases and themes
  • doesn’t reflect logical or rhetorical progression of the text
  • doesn’t provide clues about context or how the text was received

Advantages:

  • shines a light on underlying tone (positive, negative, inspirational)
  • helps you understand the emotion being communicated (strong, responsive, dedicated, things like that)
  • provides a 50 word impression of the text and the intentions of its authors
  • much cheaper than contracted media analysis, with a similar level of accuracy

Tag clouds are also helpful in comparing texts. Over at pollster.com, you can see an analysis of the speeches delivered by the Democratic presidential candidates on Thursday night.

The breakthrough of TagCrowd is the easy capability to develop a tag cloud from any text – online or off line. This is a practical application of 2.0 technology to our everyday work as communicators and marketers.

As more web apps and mashups can be applied to offline tasks, these forms of technology will be integrated into the everyday work of all communicators and marketers – not just by early adopters and the technically saavy.

[tags] tag could, textual analysis, media analysis, word association [/tags]

Comments (1)

About that stupid survey …

04/14/07

“The most important phase of the communications survey is the evaluation phase.” Ever heard that? You have, at least from your boss during the annual performance review. Or from a media monitoring vendor making a pitch.

Of course, every communicator is painfully aware of the weaknesses of common evaluation methods.

  • Focus Groups? Easily railroaded by dominant personalities. Undermined by poor moderators. Doomed to failure by moderator’s guides developed by committee.
  • Telephone Surveys? Weakened by dwindling response rates. Limited by time. Stupid caller ID!
  • Advertising Equivalency Value? Don’t get me started on this voodoo economics!
  • Media Analysis? How often does the analysis relate your campaign to the paralell activities of your competitors? The analysis is also naturally coloured by the education and cultural upbringing of the analyst.
  • Direct Response Cards? Favoured by the already disappointed and the optimistic freeloader. As one comedian once said “I have a business card. It says ‘Mitch Hedberg, Possible Lunch Winner’.”

Sure. I’m exaggerating. I’m overlooking the benefits that can be found in each approach.

But everyone can relate to MRad’s “Don’t Coach Me On How to Answer Your Stupid Survey.” His VW dealer suggested how MRad should fill out his customer satisfaction survey, so the dealership could keep their company’s high performance rating.

The problem with this approach? By suggesting how to undermine the survey process, the dealer is undermining the customer’s confidence in the “five star rating,” the “certified service,” the “top customer service award” – all the crap that convinced the customer (who’s sitting RIGHT THERE, let’s remember) that this particular dealership wasn’t out to screw him.

Naturally, the dealership wants to make sure you leave a happy customer. There’s even some value, given the emphasis put on quality service by dealer groups, manufacturers and ratings groups, to making sure customers don’t leave with hidden grudges or issues.

But when you influence survey results with customers by drawing the link between their ratings and your pay package, you render the survey nearly useless.

And you weaken their confidence in your actual commitment to quality and customer satisfaction.

[tags] survey, survey technique, auto dealer, customer satisfaction [/tags]

Comments (1)

The Conversation Age – another author adds on

04/10/07

Okay! I’m in too!. I’ve volunteered to write a chapter – okay, a one page note – on how government communicators will have to adjust to dealing with the the members and issues embodied by new online networks and affinity groups for the new e-book being corralled by Gavin Heaton and Drew Mclellan:

… And out of that blogging conversation and a few e-mails, Gavin & I concocted the idea for an e-book about this new era of communications we’ve all entered together. But not just any book. It has to be a quick book. Exciting. Sharp. Inclusive. It had to be a book about community and conversation that came from that community and spoke the same vernacular. The title — The Conversation Age.

And that is why we are talking to you. Our idea:

  • 100 authors. We’re a few but need more.
  • The overriding topic is “The Conversation Age” — where you take it is up to you.
  • The items are short – one 8.5″ x 11″ page — it can be words, diagrams, photos (again up to you) If it is words – about 400, give or take a couple.
  • We write it quickly and get it out there. We publish electronically.
  • We make it available online for a small fee and we donate 100% of the proceeds to Variety the Children’s Charity — which serves children across the entire globe.

If you’d like to write a chapter, here’s what you need to do. E-mail Drew with a commitment and a focus/topic that will fit under Conversation Age (first in gets to choose) by April 11th. Drew will going to keep the master list so we keep the content from getting too overlapped.

Your chapter will be due April 30th.

The initial authors included the people below. I’m sure the list has grown since then.

Gavin Heaton
Drew McLellan
CK
Valeria Maltoni
Emily Reed
Katie Chatfield
Greg Verdino
Mack Collier
Lewis Green
Sacrum
Ann Handley
Mike Sansone
Paul McEnany
Roger von Oech
Anna Farmery
David Armano
Bob Glaza
Mark Goren
Matt Dickman
Scott Monty
Richard Huntington

[tags] The Conversation Age, e-book [/tags]

Comments (1)

Conversation managers, or conversation architects?

04/09/07

Slide 39 of David Armano’s Conversation Architecture presentation

David Armano has been building out an argument for the role of a “community architect” at his Logic + Emotion blog. BusinessWeek has given him a chance to speak to a more general audience this week, and many of Armano’s clear and informative graphics accompany the piece.

The image above is taken from a presentation, Emerging Media’s Impact on the Customer Experience, that Armano prepared for a MarketingProfs webinar last week.

Bob Glaza posted some observations after participating in the webinar:

“The obvious – and foremost – thing for us to remember is we serve people. Whatever our vocation, calling, job, gig – call it what you will – if we are not putting people first – it won’t work. We might call them customer, consumers, readers…but cut to the chase…and its people. And people want good experiences. Part of a good experience is good design. In order to help create good experiences, we need to be good designers. Design is not about making something look good – thought that is part of it – but its more about creating an experience that is pleasurable. “

While Glaza was referring to marketers and more consumer-oriented marketers, his comments apply equally well to the role of government communicators.

As well, Armano’s emphasis on conversation architects, instead of conversation managers, points to a weakness of many of the plans developed by government communicators: a belief that we can manage a conversation at all. Or even manage the environment around messaging and interaction with our stakeholders.

As I’m finishing this post, I’ve realized that Armano’s The End of Thought of Leadership, posted today, provides a perfect capstone to this observation:

“In the conversation economy, dialogue rules. Monologue, and rehearsed presentations play second fiddle. An academic or corporate pedigree is nice—but really doesn’t matter. If you have something valuable to say and you are willing to listen, share and participate—then you have the opportunity to “submit” your ideas and be heard.

These are the new rules of the conversation age, or economy or whatever you want to call it. This is why, if you have adverse reactions when you hear strange words like “blogging” or “twittering”—then you are a fool. I’m sorry but it’s true. I’m not saying that we should all jump on the bandwagon of the latest buzzword or technology that gets thrown out there. I’m actually saying the opposite. We need to investigate the latest tools to the best of our abilities and decide how they impact our own worlds. The blogging movement was never about blogging in the first place—it’s about a new way to share, connect, collaborate, discuss, debate, and ideate.” (Logic + Emotion)

Our challenge is to learn how to play within both this traditional model and as participants in a newer, looser, more reactive online environment. We’re no longer the refs in the conversation game: we’re not even linesmen. We either learn how to dribble, pass, lateral or shoot – or we go home.

[tags] conversation architect [/tags]

(Crossposted to SoSaidThe.Org)

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Corporate personality: business can (heart) online communities

01/10/07

Corporations have no problem establishing an identity in the online world: where they have a problem is maintaining a believable “corporate personality” that helps moderate the ups and downs of public perception and criticism in such a responsive and rapid environment.

At the moment, corporations cheat in their outward communications. Their real world and online brand identity is well established through advertising, marketing and community outreach. If you believe you are dealing with a responsive and responsible organization, that’s likely the result of extensive planning – detailed call scripts, employee communications manuals, automated responses to online contact forms, and regular refresher meetings for salespeople and marketers.

Any perception of personality or individuality from a corporation usually flows from an oversized personality in the C-Suite. Traditionally, the arrival of a new voice in the executive offices has meant a breath of fresh air throughout the organization. Mandates are renewed, clear and action-oriented visions are developed, and employees are (hopefully) energized. If the new executive is also a strong communicator, their arrival can improve perception of the company’s products, performance and staff in financial markets and in the marketplace.

The work of that executive as a spokesperson and corporate representative doesn’t equal a corporate personality, however. When a strong communicator leaves (Jack Welch) or is forced out (Robert Nardelli), the corporation’s public identity is often weakened despite their work.

These are the corporations that receive a mixed reception from customers – both online and in the real world. Michael Dell may be a personable and well-spoken executive, but it’s obvious that his customer care staff have irritated some influential bloggers. Local consumer reporters can find no end of dissatisfied customers with a gripe against regional and national telephone, cable, utilitiy, airline or electronics firms.

The key to a consistent and reliable online identity – one that will weather trashings in online forums and sniping from bloggers, an identity that will instinctively know how to deal with negative comment threads and critical YouTube CGM – is a corporation that has worked hard to build a corporate personality to help guide every employee in the organization.

This means all the units in a corporation that touch the customer or the outside world have learned to listen, speak and act with a common personality.

This doesn’t mean homogeneous messaging, strict protocols or highly controlled communications. Instead, it means a workforce that has been trained to apply a common set of principles and behaviours when dealing with customers, suppliers, and stakeholders.

It’s not necessarily about the social media catchall (and trite) phrases: transparency, community, conversation. Instead, it’s about responsiveness in communications, open recognition of failings (and of successes) and the willingness to give employees free(er) rein in their area of responsibility.

Front desk managers at hotels have the ability to comp rooms or offer upgrades; phone reps can actually acknowledge that mistakes have been made with your order; managers know that they can speak about their area of expertise in public.

It’s the freedom to act in micro situations – a form of corporate behaviour that influences individuals, not organizations or communities.

It’s these individual actions that often trip up corporate attempts to play in the social media sandbox – planted comments on corporate blogs; anonymous postings on message groups; rewrites that provoke clashes with the wiki overlords; knee jerk reactions to leaked corporate videos appearing on YouTube.

It’s the sort of philosophy Herb Kelleher put in place at Southwest.

Ask yourself, as a public relations pro or a marketer: when you heard that Southwest was going to let A&E film a reality television series AT THE GATE, did you think it was utter genius or outright stupidity?

That’s the sort of corporate personality that will have to develop as CGM and social media continue to merge with “traditional” media. It’s the corporate confidence that employees are trained well enough to let it all hang out, with a camera rolling.

BTW – I stole the term “corporate personality” from Kevin Dugan, who used it on an episode of the Dallas Marketing Zoo.

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I’ll take PotPourri for $400, Alex

01/01/07

Survey bias, pimping to kids, GTD, music promo and local journalism – talk about a potpourri of topics!

“What it takes to be a [local] journalist” – from the Boston [Lincolnshire] Standard.

Fantastic Getting Things Done templates for the Moleskine notebook.

Cultural and spatial bias could be affecting your survey results – if you use a Likert scale (disagree to agree) – reports new research summarized by the BPS Research Digest.

“Selling to aspirational six year olds” – h/t to Trevor Cook

“Kids aspire to be older than they are at whatever age because, early in life, they recognize their position on the lower rungs of the social ladder. Hence retailers, like Borders, design spaces that encode both aspiration to older, more autonomous identities and distance from younger, undesirable selves.

Any savvy package designer knows that a child’s product, if it is to have any chance on the market, must appear to appeal to the age group just older than the intended end-user. Something intended for a six-year-old boy will probably not do well if a six-year-old is pictured on it—better an eight-year-old.

Making such appeals directly to a child is, historically speaking, new and revolutionary. The recognition and appeasement of the child’s point of view in commercial contexts began in the ’30s and marked a change not only in marketing and merchandising, but in parent-child relations as well. The child’s view now must be acknowledged, addressed and satisfied in many arenas of social life. For a parent to do otherwise is to set themselves up as morally suspect.” (In These Times)

How brand communicators can learn from the music industry – h/t and further discussion at Get Shouty.

[tags] Moleskine, GTD, mGTD, productivity, survey, Likert scale, youth marketing, public opinion research [/tags]

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Government communications: a multi-stage career

10/30/06

[fade to studio] Hello. My name is Colin McKay. I’m an evangelist for government communications. You may remember me from such popular posts as Government Communications is interesting, dammit! and Government Communications doesn’t suck: I mean it. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to spend a few minutes with us.

We’ll return to this afternoon’s movie, Office Space, in a moment.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the tale of Peter, Samir and Michael: wasting countless hours in a cubicle punching keys can be a mind-numbing and soul-destroying exercise. Unless you have an inspiring vision, that is.

Just like Brian, the waiter at Chotchkie’s. His personal vision was excellence: being the best damn lunchtime waiter at an industrial park franchise quick serve restaurant.

You have a vision. You have an interest in learning and personal enrichment. Either that, or you secretly harbour a dream that marketing and public relations blogs have hidden links to illegal mp3s and other naughty things.

The hidden advantage to a career as a communicator or marketer in the government is the opportunity for progression and growth. Think of the government as a network of agencies and consultancies, separated by areas of practice.

Each department, agency or commission is a stand-alone unit, but can draw upon the same shared pool of qualified employees. In effect, winning a competition (or job search) as a government communicator or marketer demonstrates that you’re equally qualified for similar jobs in other government organizations.

It’s like Omnicom or WPP, but with much more transparent hiring processes and far less reliance on personal relationships for career advancement.

Sure, there are obstacles like any large organization. Your career can grind to a halt because you jumped on the wrong coat-tails or found yourself at the wrong end of a re-organization. The financial rewards aren’t as great: they likely plateau earlier than most high achievers’ salaries in the private sector.

Most other organziations, though, won’t let you jump from a multi-year career specializing in speechwriting to a position in social marketing; from intensive stakeholder relations to social marketing on health causes.

The key to such a flexible and rewarding career is curiousity: only with an active interest in professional growth and a willingness to experiment can you mold a career that’s challenging and rewarding.

That’s true for a career in any organization, but I happen to think the job market in government communications is fluid (or cannibalistic) enough to encourage movement and experimentation.

Now, back to the show. [Fade to Lawrence explaining the difference between Federal and Minimum Security Prison]

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Government communications is interesting, dammit!

10/12/06

Following up on my previous post –  Government communications doesn’t suck, I mean it – I’d like to discuss the wide range of subjects and topics that could draw your attention as a government communicator. After all, government work doesn’t mean professional or personal stagnation.

Implied in the debate between employment at an agency (seizing the brass ring) or a corporate (seizing the brass retirement watch) office is the promise of greater opportunities for creative expression on a much larger variety of files.

Agency acolytes will swear up and down that their day is a virtuous cycle of inspiration, creation and implementation – with some client meetings thrown in. Corporate types will argue that continuous exposure to one portfolio of products, services or brands is an opportunity to learn the corporate experience in and out, from product inception to integrated marketing planning to yearly bonus payouts.

Unfortunately, there are no yearly bonuses for the average public relations, marketing or communications type working in government.

Argument 2: Intellectual stimulation doesn’t require a cool office space.

Money aside, opportunity abounds in the government to work on files that interest you, files that will challenge your skills as a communicator while stimulating your mind. The key is to remember that the government is not a monolithic organization, it’s more like General Electric: plenty of little subsidiaries that do weird experiments and have offices in strange places – but are still market dominant. Here are some examples:

Risk communications: transportation departments, accident investigation boards, food inspection agencies, nuclear regulatory agencies, defense organizations.

Social marketing: health departments, social services agencies, public health organizations, overseas development departments.

Public opinion research: statistical agencies, every communications and marketing shop in the government, what we call “central agencies” (PCO, White House, OMB, Whitehall).

Rural outreach: agricultural departments, commodity marketing boards, fisheries departments.

International marketing: industry or commerce departments, departments of external or foreign affairs, export financing organizations

Science communications: research organizations, space agencies, departments responsible for natural resources (Department of the Interior), forestry agencies, fisheries departments.

Crisis communications: accident investigation boards, public safety departments, defense organizations, defense organizations, airport authorities.

Investor relations/financial communications: budget offices, departments of finance, management boards, banking regulators, national banks, financial monitoring agencies.

Notice how I didn’t cover any of the communications or marketing jobs that could be expected of politically-appointed staff? That’s a whole other world to be considered!

Next argument to be covered: government communications can be a multi-stage career, not a life sentence.

Shoutout to InsidePr for discussing government communications this week.

[tags] government communicator, agency, communicator [/tags]

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Government communications doesn’t suck. I mean it.

10/07/06

Agency vs. Corporate. One is more flexible. One is better paying. One offers a greater variety of projects for new associates. The other likely has a better health plan. I’m here, folks, to argue for another employer for young public relations and marketing types: the government.

Yes, it can be tradition-bound. Yes, your friends likely do not think it’s cool. Chances are, one of your managers will be wearing a short-sleeved shirt – in winter. Your business cards are certainly boring. There will be no fancy lunches …

Still, there are very good reasons to give some thought to working in government communications.

(This is the first of an irregular series meant to argue for a career as a government communicator – written by a government communicator.)

Argument 1: Variety is the spice of life.

I often hear the agency vs. corporate argument framed as a choice between creative opportunity and stifled imagination. My impression is that government communications is subject to an even more cocked eye.

Truth is, the apparently generic job of government communicator can touch upon all of the following tasks during a career. Or in one month:

  • Media analyst
  • Public opinion research analyst
  • Communications strategist
  • Speechwriter
  • Spokesperson
  • Policy analyst
  • Consultations expert
  • Publications project manager
  • Risk communicator
  • Internal communications
  • Senior counsel
  • Brand manager
  • E-communications specialist
  • Events manager
  • And many more …

These roles are available to the new graduate as well as the experienced communicator: while government demands hierarchy, it also produces learning plans, training funds and opportunities for growth.

Next argument to be covered: government work doesn’t mean professional or personal stagnation.

[tags] government communications, agency, communicator [/tags]

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Third Monday Social Media Meetup Tonight

09/25/06

A reminder for Ottawa-bound communicators: tonight’s the inaugural Third Monday social media meetup – featuring Shel Israel. And one of these days I’ll make it to the Throng get-together in Toronto.

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The Back of Napkin Diagram as Communications Tool

08/02/06

I carry around a Moleskine notebook for two reasons: because I’m pretentious, and because I like drawing pictures. At the very least, I like waving my hands around while speaking, trying to communicate the visual idea map that is plainly obvious to my eyes – but often unseen by my colleagues. Dave Gray of XPLANE fame spoke to Sean Wise about how to better communicate your fundamental business concepts – in this case focusing on the development of a back of napkin diagram (BoND) to help entrepreneurs sell their ideas to venture capitalists.

” … A good BoND can also assist with employee recruitment, team alignment, sales and technology build outs. [venture capitalist Rick] Segal comments, that “As the prospective client, employee, or VC engages, both parties can use the drawing as a central reference point. It’s a very useful tool that is often overlooked in favour of mountains of text laden painful power point slides.” …

“Visual diagrams can serve as a powerful ‘platform for conversations.’ They help people focus their attention and understand new ideas better and faster. Better understanding leads to better decisions, which leads to better business results,” said [Dave] Gray.” (Globe and Mail)

At the very least, any communicator with an inclination towards visual thinking should start off by diagramming their problem and possible solutions – I absolutely detest strategies that are clearly derived from a linear train of thought first detailed in a series of PowerPoint slides. If you frame your problem using a linear technology, usually, you’ll come up with a linear argument. That will mask the uncertainties and mixed priorities communicators often face – on their issues, from their management, from their clients and certainly from the public.

In speaking to Wise, Gray set out the steps for working through your first back of napkin diagram:

1. First, be sure you are solving the right problem. … The best way to define a communication problem is to find the question you want to answer with the communication. Define communications goals as a question that the diagram will answer. …
2. Don’t worry about your drawing skills. If you know the subject, just draw what you know. …
3. Think about your story. … Remember, the BoND’s first job is to support a story, and help you have meaningful conversations on a subject you care about. If any part of the picture doesn’t support your story, maybe it doesn’t belong.
4. Minimize the number of elements. Research shows that people construct mental models in very predictable ways. When asked to diagram a system, the average person uses around six or seven visual elements to support their story. …
5. Edit ruthlessly, using your goal as a filter. …
6. Once you have a visual diagram that you like, ask yourself, “Is it replicable?” The answer is yes if: You can draw it on a whiteboard and tell the story in 10 minutes or less; You can teach someone else to draw the picture and tell the story.
7. Once you have something you like, test it on everyone you can — friends, family, your spouse, etc. …
8. Revise and update the BoND often — like a good relationship or a good wine, it will only improve over time. …” (Globe and Mail)

Look to the whole article for more detail or take a look at the XPLANE website.

You could do worse than subscribe to the two aggregate blogs produced by XPLANE: Xblog, which deals with information design issues, and Bblog, which deals with business issues. Or even Dave Gray’s blog.

Technorati:

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Getting a blog past corporate and legal

07/02/06

More and more corporate communicators are attending social media conferences – but the number of corporate blogs doesn’t seem to be growing.

Boris Mann over at Bryght has some hints to help sneak blogging onto your corporate servers:

” … there was no way that legal would allow the type of real-time, unconstrained interaction that tends to typify blogging today. I tried to brainstorm different ways of connecting with an enthusiast community without actually blogging. And so, a question blog. The basic concept is as follows:

• The community can post questions to a central site (e.g. ask.domain.com).

• Other community members can digg-style vote for questions to help select which ones should be answered first.

• A question moderator sifts through the highest rated questions and finds the appropriate internal folks to route the questions to.

• The internal people answer the questions, which then get routed to legal for review and approval.

• Any changes and updates are bounced back and forth with legal, until an approved version is agreed on

• The answer is posted (which of course goes into an RSS feed plus email notification); maybe the original submitter gets a prize of some kind.

• Key point: the posted answer clearly lists the name of the employee, good for tracking down at live events and conferences.” (Boris Mann)

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Long tail marketing: it’s not about the money, it’s about the idea

05/26/06

Roger Martin, business professor and consultant, speaks to the intersection of design and strategic planning – with surprising insight for marketers and communicators grappling with the rigour and market targeting demanded by a “long tail” economy:

DL: They were hired to produce the marketing material?

RM: Right, but the company was bankrupt and could hardly afford to spend anything. The dilemma for Barb and Bob was that this property would only appeal to somebody rich, with a certain kind of sensibility. If they produced a cheap brochure to save money, it wouldn’t be effective, because the only kind of people who would consider buying a property like this would be put off by a cheap-looking brochure. So they had a dilemma, but instead of saying, “Oh My God, we can’t do it, give us triple the production budget”, they said, “Oh, this is kind of cool.”

After thinking about the challenge for awhile, they realized that this wasn’t a broad-based marketing campaign, as there weren’t many people interested in a property like this. So they didn’t think of the usual four-color press run of 10,000 brochures – instead only 50 or 75 would suffice. And that insight transported them into the handmade category. They came up with the concept of an old photo album that your parents might have had at their cottage, with covers made out of birch bark and laced together with a leather thong. They made high-quality color photocopies of actual photos, and used those old-fashioned black corner pieces to mount them. They even decorated the cover with a real wild bird feather. The thing looked fantastic. They ended up winning all sorts of awards for it, and it came in perfectly on budget. Bob was all excited about how he had found the right feather and all these things.

To me that was the incredible a-ha moment, which is that Bob and Barb wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much if the clients had released the constraints. What made it so cool was the tough constraints and the need for coming up with some kind of creative resolution that was out-of-the box, something completely different that nobody else would have thought of.

DL: So it’s a completely different point of view [from business thinking] in terms of the approach to problem solving.

RM: Yes, but even one step before problem solving – the approach to the entire task, which is, “I’m not going to get bummed out by the constraints; I’m going to get invigorated!”

From an interview conducted on the fringes of the Strategy06 Conference.

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Hey client! Two minutes for looking so good, you handsome devil!

05/23/06

rockettwomins.jpg

Is a public relations counsellor’s primary motivation to “make their client look good?” That was the point offered during a favoured podcast this week, and I found myself disagreeing quite animatedly with my car dashboard.

“Looking good” is certainly the goal for marketers, bzz agents, publicity agents, cosmetologists and Maurice Richard.

On a superficial level, PR counsellors are responsible for making sure their clients look good. A sustained and positive corporate, brand or personal image is always the desired result.

Nonetheless, an effective agency or in-house communicator should prepare their clients for any circumstance. That can include glowing puff pieces in the trades, a smooth quarterly call, and a glamorous product launch. It can also cover vital logistics delays, product recalls and labour unrest – not to mention marital discord.

The real test of the relationship formed between client and counsellor comes in those moments of pressure. Will a kowtowing desire for approbation (or a simplistic sense of politesse) prompt a communicator to minimize the challenges that will have to be faced before digging out of a negative public image? Or has the client been prepared, conditioned, warned that effective public relations sometimes means taking a couple of punches and living to see another day?

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Big pharma custom-orders medical journal articles?

12/14/05

Nice piece in the WSJ yesterday on the relationships between big pharma companies, researchers, medical writers and medical journals. Turns out scientists (and the big pharma companies that sponsor their research) sometimes turn to specialist medical writers to actually produce papers to be published in distinguished journals.

That isn’t much of a surprise to us communications professionals, who are called upon to ghostwrite materials everyday.

Luckily for us, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette ran most of the article today.

The WSJ rightly questions the relationship between pharma marketers, medical writers and academic researchers who seem too preoccupied to thoroughly vet a ghost-written article. To me, it’s not the process of preparing the document that seems suspicious: it’s the apparent willingness of participants to bow to big pharma’s marketing needs.

Some excerpts from the documents used to develop the reporting are avaliable at WSJ/OnlineToday.

BTW – the American Medical Writer Association seems to be torn about its own nomenclature :the AMWA Code of Ethics refers to biomedical communicators, not medical writers. I understand there may be a legitimate distinction between the terms, but I always thought a biomedical communicator is what Dr. Bones used when treating the crew of the old Star Trek.

Technorati: pharma ethics

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Government Spokesperson: “That wasn’t prevarication – it was mithering!”

10/19/05

James Rubin, the former State Department spokesperson, spoke to the Guardian about his new program on James Murdoch’s Sky News, and his experience as a government spokesperson. He …

    “…still believes the demands of 24-[hour] news can be distorting. “If government spokesmen don’t immediately comment, it does not mean that they are ‘taken by surprise’ or ‘caught off balance'”. The situation required him to remind reporters of that: “My job was to obtain the best possible coverage of the government by holding journalists accountable.”

    “… “Ninety-five per cent of my day was spent figuring out how to encourage reticent officials to let me say as much as possible,” he says, adding: “Most of what I did each day was explaining, analysing and persuading – not spinning, doing soundbites and intimidating journalists.”

On that note, I’ll point you to my post for the Global PR Blog Week 2.0: The complexities of government blogging in a dynamic policy environment.

Here’s just a tease:

    “If transparency, speed and forthright dialogue are the hallmarks of the Cluetrain economy, some may argue that government communicators have neither a clue nor a train schedule.”

Here’s the government blogging post in another format.

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There’s another government flack blogging

08/15/05

I think it’s great that there’s a new blog dedicated to government PR staff and their problems (Deep Background), but I have two problems:

– it’s anonymous, and:
– it’s hosted on Ragan’s website.

I can understand the anonymity, but with the range of blogging options available to anyone, why host your site on a PR firm’s server?

As a government communicator, that strikes me as an ethically dubious move. As a blogger, it just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Oh – and the comments are filtered. Nice touch.

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Academic dons and RSS

08/04/05

Here’s a question for you corporate communicators still sending stuff out by fax: if the freakin’ History Workshop Journal can have an RSS feed, why can’t your corporate web site do the same?

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Blogging as a component of a communications strategy

03/24/05

As more and more PR firms develop blogging “practices” and push blogging programs, I have to wonder: when we’re peddling the flavour of the month, are we taking into consideration the other entrees in the meal?

Are we pushing adoption of a tool that, while cool to communicators, does not fit well with our client’s existing communications strategy?

Are we taking the initiative to pitch them on an integrated communications strategy, including blogs, or just the new tool?

Even more importantly, are we pitching blogs as a cure-all, even though the technology may not be an appropriate channel to reach their customers, suppliers or stakeholders?

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Flacks-a-plenty!

03/11/05

Welcome to another government communicator who is carefully treading into the blogging world – Washington Flack.

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Putting words into politician’s mouths

12/09/04

Bit of a tempest in a teapot during the Tuesday sitting of Canada’s Senate. One enterprising Tory Senator noticed that some of his Liberal colleagues had read speeches in to the Senate support of legislation that were nearly identical to speeches previously read in the House of Commons – a transgression of Senate rules.

A short debate ensued about creativity and propriety ensued, but I found this excerpt from Senator Anne cools‘ argument on the issue interesting:

    “There is now arising in many parliamentary quarters great concern about the number of speeches — especially canned speeches — that are being written by other people for members. It is a huge concern.

    I expect, as a member of Parliament and a senator here, that if a senator rises and speaks, he owns that which he is saying — in other words, that speech is a product of his or her efforts. We must discern exactly what the parliamentary position is on these practices that have grown like Topsy, where it is immediately evident that those speeches were written in distant places because most often they do not even reflect the language of Parliament. Quite often, the grammatical structure is in the passive tense.

    …This is a broad question. It has a larger consequence than we comprehend. What it means is that government, by having thousands of people churning out these speeches, can be making in each chamber many speeches in a day. This means, of course, that the natural proceedings in Parliament are not moving along at a very natural pace.

    … I would submit to honourable senators that the government, with all its resources and all its speech writers grinding them out and holding them in cans, can load and weight the system in its favour.” (Senate Hansard)

Hey, all you government communicators! Isn’t it nice to be appreciated?

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CMOs and “surrogate metrics”

12/01/04

A joint study on the growing role of chief marketing officers, conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Association of National Advertisers, doesn’t exactly break new ground. It is, however, a good summary piece, and has a really catchy title:”Making the Perfect Marketer.”

I was intrigued by their use of the term “surrogate metrics” to examine how marketers (and by extension, communicators) try to wedge their (relatively) thin performance measurements onto shelves full of quant measurements produced by operational divisions.

    “Although these forms of measurement may be valid to the tasks at hand, we surmise they have not been adequately explained and “sold in” to other senior executives, who typically come from backgrounds with different rigors. Among marketers themselves, there is a lingering, if fading, fear that too much “science” might dampen the “art” of marketing.

    Some marketing chiefs value unbridled creativity and innovation over multivariate regression models that isolate the incremental consumption delivered by a new program or ad execution. Although this communication gap involving metrics is understandable, given the novelty of the CMO position relative to other officer positions, it appears to be contributing to the diminished status of CMOs in many companies.”

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Scientists are sentitive people!

10/21/04

While some scientists may be lacking people skills, a stained labcoat and corrective lenses should not prompt PR folk to discount their work and strongly-held positions when developing a pitch and communications materials.

Some scientists working for one US government agency have begun to speak out about what they see as unwarranted revisions and spin by senior officials and public affairs staffers:

    “Political appointees have regularly revised news releases on climate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, altering headlines and opening paragraphs to play down the continuing global warming trend.

    The changes are often subtle, but they consistently shift the meaning of statements away from a sense that things are growing warmer in unusual ways.

    The pattern has appeared in reports from other agencies as well.

    Several sets of drafts and final press releases from NOAA on temperature trends were provided to The Times by government employees who said they were dismayed by the practice.

    On Aug. 14, 2003, a news release summarizing July temperature patterns began as a draft with this headline: “NOAA reports record and near-record July heat in the West, cooler than average in the East, global temperature much warmer than average.”

    When it emerged from NOAA headquarters, it read: “NOAA reports cooler, wetter than average in the East, hot in the West.” (NYT)

Now, in this case dedicated scientists believe their findings are being undersold and misidentified. Usually, they find the media is too eager to zoom in on the sensational aspects of otherwise serious public interest science – like the study If You Drop It, Should You Eat It? Scientists Weigh In on the 5-Second Rule or An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces.

Some scientists, however, see popular reknown as key to communicating their findings and their personal agendas. Think David Suzuki or Stephen Hawking – people who developed a personal brand while pursuing scientific goals. For others, popularity is a product of their academic strengths – their professional research and publication output is directly reflected in their Googlerank.

As for those communicators and scientists who need help translating esoteric concepts into popular analogies? Earlier this year, the Pfizer Journal (sure, a bit of self-interest for the firm there, but still interesting) ran an entire issue examining The Story of Science: Health Care and the Media

Up here in Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has prepared a very useful primer: Communicating Science to the Public: A Handbook for Researchers

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