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Perspective on Objectivity

On any summer Wednesday afternoon in the late 1970’s in my home town, chances are there would be a white 10-speed bike parked outside the library.

Honestly, it was there often on other days, but on Wednesdays the new issues of Time and Newsweek hit the periodical racks. How it started, or why, is unknown, but it became a ritual to read each magazine from cover to cover comparing the coverage of one publication to the other regarding the major world events.

At home we had the Star Tribune and ABC News with Peter Jennings after dinner. My world view was shaped by “objective” journalism. Certainly inherent biases shaped what stories were reported, with a generally Western/First world perspective, but no one would have been confused about the basic facts – especially coverage regarding science – advancements, exploration and new understanding of our world.

People had a handful of choices for information, and not nearly enough time to gather and wade through data independently, so we were kept close to this relatively objective center.

Today, “news” gets generated by countless sources of often unknown origins. “Objective” journalism, and frankly objective science, is still quite near that center – where hard facts and scientific inquiry preside.

However, the perspectives of the audiences have been moving steadily away from that center, in all directions, since the Internet made it possible for anyone to tap a few keys and generate an audience. To examine this briefly from two opposing angles, consider those on the furthest left and right ends of the political spectrum.

The right accuses media (and academia) of being “liberal.” If absolutely objective reporting remains near the center of the spectrum, all media would be decidedly somewhere to the left for those furthest to the ideological right.

Meanwhile, the ultra-left accuses traditional media of being conservative or even fascist. Again, from this position on the spectrum, the center seems very far to the right.

In both cases, there becomes more need to see alignment of beliefs in order to see something identified from that perspective as truth. For decades, perhaps a century, journalism students have been taught to sequester our “beliefs” and pursue facts. To attempt to remain objective and gather information from both sides of an argument was respected.

One can safely say that the vast majority of “news” on social media does not come from classically trained journalists.

Even objective measures of bastions of broadcast journalism, like ABC News, would quickly reveal how far each broadcast lies from “hard news” journalism. In any 30 minute broadcast today, after 6-7 minutes of commercials, 3-4 minutes of teases for stories, at least 2 minutes of rehash to “contextualize” today’s news, and solid 4 minutes of “feel good” snapshots of human interest, on average only about 12 minutes remain for actual news. Half of that is weather.

So what? Why do business communicators need to care? Most of us are not selling consumer products anyway.

The unfortunate reality for the professional communicator becomes the challenge of persuading audiences, within business channels, that the messages of the organization you serve are “true.” The problem goes beyond convincing those folks that your facts are accurate and that you have the credibility to have those messages respected.

The issue has more to do with facing the necessities of taking an audience through the persuasion process: from awareness to opinion, allowing for only minimal belief regarding the issue we wish to address and generate action. Now people seem saturated with beliefs, not to mention contempt for other world views, that the blinders of personal life are more likely to interfere with consumption of information at work.

Whether a communication person needs to influence employees, customers or members of another stakeholder group, many of the audience members will have had their biases magnified by social media. So, now, in addition to everything else we need to know about those audiences, it would help to understand their views on what constitutes “fact,” or other necessities of validation. Without this knowledge, we will be lucky to get very far past generating awareness, much less shaping opinion, belief or action.

The reality, unfortunately, is that audiences are also beyond the point of saturation on surveys and other market research tactics which could provide that insight, even if budget and time allowed for the gathering of this important data.

Perhaps it will be enough to at least bear this challenge in mind when developing communication. At least until we have a better understanding of the subject.


Fake palms, Parrotheads, and Ribbons

Just for fun, I put on my Parrothead gear and went out to the Mall of America (MOA) for the official ribbon cutting of the newest Margaritaville Cafe. Getting there early gave me a chance to observe the organized vs. organic nature of a 21st century “press” event.









In the picture above, you can see MOA Senior Vice President of Marketing and Business Development (And 2009 Grad of the MBC Program), Jill Renslow, give her official welcome of the restaurant. Note the crowd of tropically clad heads? These are members of the MinneSomeplace Parrothead club, who had been invited and moments before herded to the front of the crowd. The people they displaced were decidedly more corporate looking. Also note that the two people who appear to be on stage with Jill are actually on very high stilts in front of the stage.

Below, you can see all the important people being led by RadioMargaritaville DJ, JD Spradlin, in a margarita toast to the opening. In addition to flying Spradlin in from his Orlando studio, the firm had a number of other corporate folks from warmer climates on hand.









Other than those costs, the PR team appears to have forked out tickets for free margaritas (at 10:30 a.m.) for the very happy Parrotheads, who filled the restaurant in moments and started ordering lunch. Okay, not right away, there were drinks flowing.


As an old time PR guy, the one thing missing at the moment of the ribbon cutting was any real sign of the press. There was a corporate photographer working his way around, but he could have been working for either the mall or the restaurant.

But, do we really need the “press” there with a core of Buffett fans who you can see had their phones poised to document the whole thing. And frankly, I officially joined the press corps on this junket – posting to my Facebook and now this blog post. Spradlin specifically asked us to tag him and link to his site after we had our pictures taken with him.

Yes, the media are literally in our pockets, and as long as we follow through with links, like I have here, the system works.

Fins Up!


The Intersection of Policy and Communication

With a little reflection, anyone who pays attention to the national news can recall a situation in which the federal, state or municipal government enacted a law that seemed unenforceable, ridiculous, unconstitutional, or all of the above. One might wonder how or why someone would have proposed the policy in the first place.

Consider that perhaps the “purpose” of the proposed legislation was never for the law to get enacted. What if the sole purpose was to generate what author Murray Edelman considers “Constructing the Political Spectacle.” For instance, Edelman suggests that sometimes in politics a “problem” is created because someone has a vested interest in seeing a “solution” implemented (i.e. – getting government to buy surplus ice makers for villages in the arctic). Or a “solution” is proposed to create a “problem” or simply to generate attention, without the expectation of the solution being implemented.

Basically he says some neatly constructed documents exist not to change government, but to call attention to the legislator, or some underlying agenda.

So, if the purpose of the proposed policy is not fulfilled in ratification, but in the furor its proposal causes, is the proposal actually legislation, or communication that supports building walls of smoke and mirrors for other purposes? Political gain. Diversion from other issues. Creating or diminishing the validity of unregulated positions or perceptions.

Let’s play with two ridiculous extremes. Two members of Congress on opposite sides of the aisle find themselves similarly ignored by the media, and both have sights set on future elections. In order to get attention, one proposes legislation to ban every device in the country that “uses chemicals, air or mechanical force to propel a projectile faster than 400 feet per second.” That’s a roundabout way of banning all guns, but bringing many other tools along for the ride. The media immediately reads between the lines and goes into a frenzy.

The second elected official seizes the opportunity to get her own coverage by cobbling together a bill overnight and holding a press conference before proposing legislation that would require every person with a social security number to provide “proof of ownership of a personal protection device,” as well as requiring such proof in order to get a social security number – in other words, prove your child owns a gun in order to get a number. More media buzz, and now both officials are getting plenty of attention within this “spectacle.”

Both bills would be completely unenforceable if enacted into law, but the originators don’t care. The purpose was attention.

This becomes scary when the occasional spectacular policy inexplicably gets through the process. There have been a number of completely unenforceable laws enacted in various states and cities in the last year that earned national attention.

Meanwhile, other people are managing to generate similar media attention by merely suggesting outlandish proposals. Often such veiled communication attempts to leverage deep emotions, like fear and loathing. This is powerful and often successful strategy when used as a political weapon.

With great power comes great responsibility. Hopefully, everyone using this ploy will be capable of following through on the responsibility part, because communicating an idea is only the beginning.



It’s all about who you know (or knew)

Not to be left out of the mainstream of popular culture, I got a quick tutorial on Pokémon GO from my niece and shortly set out to download the app for myself for a test drive. It seemed like a pretty cool way to leverage GoogleMaps, at least.

I expected the price to be a few bucks, but it was free. After the download, in order to open the game, it requires registration using a G-mail account. After a few moments of angst about the assumption that everyone has one of these account, I started thinking about the necessary partnership the game makers would need to have with Google to support this. (Yes – more interested in the business structure than “finding them all.”)

A quick Google search (where else) brought me some interesting information from Android Headlines. The article outlines the pedigree of Niantic Labs (Creators of the game), as having once been a Google division, but having rolled out a few years ago.

This data got me thinking back to watching my niece play this free game that appeared to not have any ads. The media keep citing big dollars associated with the app… so, where is the revenue generation.

While I don’t know who pays whom what, there are certainly valuable assets being created through the imbedded connections between Niantic Labs product and Google. Playing the game automatically generates new data about mobile activity for Google which could be applied both as aggregated data for market trends, but also as more precisely targeted promotion through Google’s paid channels.

None of these integrated streams of value exchange – free games for users in return for data, which is sold or traded to marketers – could have been created without the original network and connections between Google and the former employees running Niantic. This represents only part of the relationship equation, because an entirely different set of people had to link in order to bring the Pikachu and friends to a handheld theater near you.

Moral of the story – it’s always good to be networking, but don’t forget to maintain the relationships you already have.


Timing, substance and cookie crumbs

In considering opposites in competitive positioning regarding the current field of political candidates, the arguably blighted crop is certainly polarized. Finding direct comparisons in product or service marketing poses a challenge. Perhaps chiropractors and back surgeons fit the bill.

Regardless of parity, my musing turned to the how, what and when of launching a retort.

Current “best practice” in political realms appears to dictate immediacy. Personally, I like a good deep breath and bit of thought first – the difference between reacting and responding.

Some years ago I worked for a brilliant marketing person. In spite of that brilliance, we regularly found ourselves spending entire days preparing responses to breakfast table rumors, only to have those fables proved false by dinner. In pursuit of urgency, in a given month we often postponed a week’s worth of “important, not urgent” work.

So, what to do during that pause? As often seems to occur with these posts, my thoughts turn to audiences. Who will be impacted by any effort to sway perceptions? This tends to be the point where things devolve.

Too often, given polarizing content and equally disparate audiences, message makers either go too broad or become too pointed. In going too broad, there isn’t enough substance to persuade anyone from one opinion to another. When too pointed, those with deeply held beliefs (regardless of accuracy) brace themselves against what seems a personal attack rather than a persuasive argument.

Think of it like an Oreo® cookie. Broad messages hit the cookie like someone blowing on the outside. Pointed arguments, even those with needle-like precision, crumble and destroy the cookie shell.

Good messaging acknowledges that in order to get to the crème center where persuasion is possible, you might need an immersive (think milk) approach to soften resistance, or a less direct approach (think twisting the outsides) that uses leverage from a completely different angle to get inside.

Marketers often concern themselves primarily with timing and content, relegating the who and why to an afterthought. But timing and content should evolve from understanding your audience and knowing just the right amount of persuasive strategy needed to get to their soft spots.



Silly walks and the fractal brand

Having had the good fortune to be at a recent Schulze School of Entrepreneurship event featuring John Cleese, I was surprised to see people getting up and leaving about 20 minutes into the talk. .

Key word here is “talk.” This was not stand-up comedy or otherwise showcasing of Mr. Cleese as a comedian. . The Opus College of Business has sponsored a wide variety of speakers in the past decade, from Bill Gates to other important, but decidedly un-funny, pundits. . It’s not that the college is that stuffy, but more that it knows its audience. .

However, in Cleese, the organizers found someone with substantive credentials in both creativity and entrepreneurship. . He just happens to have become more widely known for silly walks and disparate frivolity. . In the context of academia, Cleese has earned deserved recognition and been a classroom fixture at multiple prestigious universities. . Note that these facts are nowhere to be found on his promotional web site. [link to .]

So, back to the sour-faced folks who walked out on Cleese. For them, there could be only one version of this impressively-sized man: Funny. . Not to say that his presentation to that point was inherently dry – it wasn’t. . It was, however, more like the sage on the stage, though the wisdom and occasionally offered amusing insight arrived via Basil Fawlty’s voice. .

Cleese knew clearly which hat he was wearing on that podium, but some of his audience members were not prepared for the idea that their perspective on the brand that preceded him was not the only one Cleese fosters. .

St.Thomas just launched its new branding, not to eliminate the fractalization of its many schools and colleges, but to provide structure to the common threads among those entities. . A strategic branding effort should pull together the threads of commonality into a well woven cord. . From this substantive structure, individual divisions can tie promotional efforts to a solid core.

This is easier to accomplish if you are a one-person brand, like Cleese, but still daunting. For St. Thomas, unifying the entire community around “All for the Common Good” will be challenging, if for no other reason than there is more than one brand champion to interpret the new guiding principles. .

In this case, St. Thomas will need to develop and encourage multiple champions, even within each facet of the organization. Fortunately, the team deploying the new branding for the university created not only a detailed set of corporate identity guidelines, but also a plan for releasing and embracing the new identity materials. . Even as thorough as the team attempted to be, any effort of this magnitude will have a gremlin or two in a forgotten corner. .

Regardless of formally identified champions, the heavy lifting in a re-branding will require everyone that touches our widely varied stakeholders to grasp how the overarching branding impacts the nuances or our equally varied corners of the institution. . Hopefully we will be able to see that translation within the materials provided, and help our individual audiences to understand which face we are representing. Some of us may even find the new persona fits more tightly than the old, if we let go of the stained glass window for a while.

We will certainly soon see. Meanwhile, I’ll be practicing my silly walks.


It’s all about that space… no trouble.

I have been troubled by a dilemma for some time: When it comes to deciding whether to put a space between health & care when writing, there seem to be varied opinions. St. Thomas follows the two word standard, as do other organizations, such as 3M. Most seem to leave the question to a “follow the leader” approach.


According to the website “Grammarist”( ):

“Healthcare is on its way to becoming a one-word noun throughout the English-speaking world. The change is well underway in British publications, where healthcare already appears about three times as often as health care and is used as both a noun and an adjective. Many American and Canadian publications resist the change, meanwhile, and health care remains the more common form in North American newswriting, as well as in government and scholarly texts. In many cases—such as on health-related U.S. government websites—health care is the noun (e.g., “your health care is important”) and healthcare is the adjective (e.g., “find a healthcare professional”), but this is not consistently borne out, and both forms are widely used both ways. Many publications and websites seem to have no policy on this at all.

Short answer: Outside North America (Australia goes along with the U.K. on this one), use healthcare. In the U.S. and Canada, make it two words (unless you want to help speed the compounding process).”


So, within this loose context, it may come down to setting an organizational guide and sticking with it. At least that way, if the grammar police addendum is ever tacked on to an omnibus health care bill your firm will at least be completely right or completely wrong.


The unbearable rightness of being

I may be wrong, but “rightness” is a problem.

Not the rightness of being politically conservative (right) in relation to the liberal (left), although both groups suffer rightness issues.

Rightness difficulties begin with the ego, ideology or other constructs. Trouble arises when these foundations of a personality, organization or culture so completely embrace a world view in terms of non-facts (opinion, belief and “action”) that the humans involved can no longer become aware of any alternate perspective. These folks no longer resemble the horse with blinders which narrow focus to only what it can see ahead. In their case, the slats have been folded over the eyes completely, leaving the wearer to imagine only what was ahead in the mind already.

Whether this absolutism is driven by upbringing, faith, coercion, the media or other factors becomes immaterial. Persuasion of the righteous from one right to another represents a difficult, if not impossible thing.

So, how does any of this relate to communication?

We all deal with people insulated by rightness (only other people; never you or me). Whether rooted in insecurity or genuine narcissism, at some point it may cross our minds to take up the challenge of helping these zealots see a sliver of fault in their logic. That takes persuasion, which is a process.

The persuasion process ALWAYS begins with making the audience aware of the new or alternate information or perspective. This gets weighed by the audience member (no “S:” this is personal), who decides whether this information changes his or her opinion. Beliefs are much harder to dislodge (once you believe the world is round, making it flat again takes a really big hammer). Ultimately we want our new believer to do something: take action. These may be tiny, actual actions, like taking home a trial size tube of tooth paste, or more substantial or even esoteric, like stop blowing things up or out of proportion.

Sometimes, helping the audience become aware and ultimately believe that their rightness may be less than absolute will benefit them as well. For instance, when the intention of the actions of their rightness was to preserve the civil rights of one group, but their choice of action infringed on the civil rights of others, diminishing the persuasive value of the action and hurting an otherwise worthy cause.

My personal observation of the world, at least as depicted in traditional and social media, suggests that rightness is a growth industry. This may be tempered slightly by the overwhelming presence of cute cat videos, but both cause concern.

I may be wrong.


The pain of Inflamation

The increasing use of inflammatory speech and action to generate public attention in the current mass media, social and otherwise, is troubling.  Maybe I’m just too old school, but generating solid positive visibility through substantive news always seemed to work well at delivering consistent positive visibility.

Part of me aches when public voices literally threaten to do something, like block an unrelated event with a protest march, simply to generate public attention. Equally painful are the constant and escalating taunts, epithets and mocking of public figures in order to get airtime.  Not sure this works?  Note that Donald Trump has spent no money to date on campaign ads, but generates unmeasurable numbers of media impressions through constant news coverage.

In fairness, some measure of guilt goes to traditional media, since less of this would be highlighted and reverberated through social media channels if the professionals never covered it in the first place.  But here we are.

If media relations is the match that sparks the flame, the choice of how to use it is the practitioner’s – that’s strategy.

For some the “strategy” involves wandering around lighting and throwing matches. Most blow out before hitting the ground. A few stay lit and occasionally foster a small, confined blaze that burns out quickly before drawing much attention.

Others have watched the process long enough to play out the same game, but choose to wander in areas that catch fire more easily.  For these folks, an occasional grass fire scorches its way for a while, billowing some smoke and briefly calling attention to the flames, but often these fields are outside the view of the real audience.  So, those who are practiced in this method eventually stick to fields that are both conducive to flame and visible to their target.

Our friends who use inflammatory tactics know very well the best places to create highly visible blazes.  Because of this, the strategy evolves to creating the opportunity to toss out matches in those places, followed immediately with whatever potent fuel is available. No care or thought seems to be taken in what value or damage may be left in the aftermath; the focus is completely on kindling the largest fire while the attention has been turned that direction.  The problem with this approach, figuratively and in reality?  Sooner or later the damage goes beyond the terrain and blows back on the kindler.  Plus, the more you use this approach, the greater the need for extra fuel, and the more likely you (or the client, or both) get burned.

By far the most manageable strategic choice involves careful selection of where and how one strikes and applies a limited supply of matches. If there doesn’t seem to be a safe hearth in view of your target, consider building one (think Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade). Meanwhile, because building something like that takes time, bring your own kindling to an empty pit and build a framework that catches firmly, evenly and safely with one well-placed match. Monitor and manage the progress, fueling occasionally with slow burning elements, because the goal here is not a flash in the pan but a warm glow in a dark cold space. It will attract attention, not so much at a distance but from those who want to pay attention where you have chosen to be – the target audience, or the media that serve them.

I feel like having s’mores, how about you?


LinkedIn, if only you could facilitate that reconnection

LinkedIn graciously provides reminders of those people with whom you may want to reconnect.

I was caught off guard recently when the face that popped up as a suggestion was my friend Bruce Kramer. He would have gotten a chuckle out of the idea that LinkedIn wanted me to reach out to him, since we lost him to a very public battle with ALS last spring. You can read the book, We know how this ends.” by Bruce and Cathy Wurzer, to learn just how public it was. (Note that in doing a Google search for the book, all it took was “We Know” to make it the top suggestion.)

I recounted the story to my wife, who got a little misty when she recalled similar reminders from LinkedIn about her former boss, Paul Schmidt, who died a couple of years ago. Again, someone who would have seen the lighter side of irony in this automated suggestion.

I have been thinking about this corner of our digital footprint since then. Certainly there are profiles for many others that are no longer living. For some of those with whom they were linked, the appearance of a suggested connection may not be received with a wry smile, but could create unnecessary angst.

What’s the right thing to do in these situations? LinkedIn allows people to remove folks by gathering:

  1. The member’s name
  2. The URL to their LinkedIn profile
  3. Your relationship to them
  4. Member’s email address
  5. Date they passed away
  6. Link to obituary
  7. Company where they most recently workedPeople can barely get a handle on stewardship of their own presence in the ether, much less managing the reputation and visibility of those who are gone. This will become further complicated if someone manages to find a way to protect individual rights over their web presence, as I saw suggested recently.Meanwhile, for me, having Bruce pop up every so often brightens my day a little. So let him stay LinkedIn.
  8. Now that firms have generated corporate Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, who will assure the removal of those pages after a firm fails? Not sure how LinkedIn’s checklist translates to a defunct corporation.
  9. But who decides whether the person submitting the information has the right or authority to decide? What if one of my children wants the profile to stay and one doesn’t. (Or in my case, there would be two more that don’t care.)