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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Advice for the incoming Communicator-In-Chief?

With just a few days left before the presidential election it's time to consider one of the most important tasks facing the President-Elect: taking on the role of Communicator-In-Chief.

Barack Obama and John McCain have revealed different styles, attributes and messages in a tough campaign.

How either Obama or McCain presents himself in their victory speeches, during the transition and at the inaugural speech will make a big difference in how a new admistration will be able to lead and govern. Its difficult to imagine a time when more Americans will be scrutinizing every word, nuance and gesture of a president-elect

Given what we know how do you see the communications challenges facing the winner? What advice would you give? Should they stick to what got them here, or adjust and adapt their communication strategy, tactics and tone? And what about the loser? Will boilerplate congratulations and pledges of bi-partisanship suffice, or is something more and different required in these times?

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Monday, October 27, 2008

PRSA Conference Comments

Detroit, October 26. Bob Lutz, vice chairman of General Motors, argued for PR over advertising (although he admittedly spends millions on advertising). He pushed for more assertive messaging that "says something" and does not get watered down by all internal efforts to be careful. He also touted the GM blog as perhaps the best and fastest way to tell the GM story and continue the conversation on any one issue.

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Shouting Fire in a Crowded Theater

As all parties try to find responsiblity for the current economic mess, we are bound to see a great deal of finger pointing - some in the right direction, some misguided.

TV financial host Jim Cramer went far off the deep end regarding AIG when he implored his viewers: "We should hound them in the supermarket, we should hound them in the ball park, we should hound them everywhere they are. We should make fun of them and we should point fingers at them and we should tell them that you have no shame."

Rather rapidly, new AIG CEO Edward Libby responded on a Wall St. Journal blog.

"Those comments are outrageous. I demand they be retracted and that you apologize to AIG's employees. It is one thing to criticize the executive leadership of AIG - that's fair commentary. But it is way out of bounds to incite people to confront and harass other AIG employees - hard-working, dedicated people who are running good businesses and are committed to our success.
The employees of AIG did not cause this mess, but they are paying for it - in diminished 401K savings and in some job losses as we sell companies to repay the Federal loan. The irony is that AIG employees did not cause the problem, but they will solve it. For that they deserve our praise and our gratitude."

While we do not know enough about what really happened at AIG, or what continues to occur as the firm rapidly draws on the Federal loans, Libby acted quickly and appropriately for his employees and shareholders.

Cramer makes his living by pushing the envelope and going for the outrageous. Like many others in the media space, there is a very strong temptation to say anything without thinking or fact checking. We encourage clients and citizens to utilize the current tools-whether it is a blog, web posting, posting on the site, or even appearing on the Cramer show-to counter what is not supported by facts.

If Cramer had just made his comments about AIG management, he might have been on safe ground. But verbally indicting all of the individuals in a company is not justified.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Temperament and Body Language

Not since Nixon v Kennedy have we seen so much discussion about body language and temperament as in the Obama v McCain contest.

The recent Time Magazine cover on temperment in President and candidates reinforces the points. Is it a smile or a condescending grim? Is it anger or righteous indignation. Many of our friends and acquaintances have talked about who seems more "presidential" than policy differences.

What have you been picking up? Is it the American flag lapel pin? Is it the age v. youth? Before we shift the discussion to what the next President must do in the first 90 days, tell us what you make of the "temperament" issue.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The corporate view: is blogging really a tool?

The explosion of blogging is an indicator of growing official interest in social media by major corporations. Consider the annual survey of Fortune 500 companies by the Center for Marketing Research at The University of Massachusetts which shows that 49% of them use social networking, up from 27% in 2007; 45% use online video, up from 24% in 2007; 39% use blogging, up from 19% in 2007; and 23% do not use any social media tools, down from 43% in 2007.

The 2008 update of the annual Gartner report called the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies states that corporate blogging has zoomed past what they call the initial peak of inflated expectations and subsequent trough of disillusionment, and is now on its slope of enlightenment toward mainstream corporate adoption in the next 2 to 5 years. We take this to mean that corporate blogging is about to go serious.

The full UMass study and a summary can be accessed at

How do we react to all these studies? It is one thing to have your own Facebook or LinkedIn page; it is another to present yourself as a corporate face in the wild of the blogosphere and social media networking sites. Do these stats resonate with your experience?

Consistency of messaging across multiple media platforms and communications applications, and recognition that the news media now trolls blogs and social media postings for leads looking for information, inconsistencies and mistakes requires a higher level of communications awareness across the enterprise than before.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Passing the Red Faced, Smell Test

If you have never heard the term before, this means you are in a crisis double whammy. Most PR and Crisis experts recommend that if an action, project or activity will cause embarrassment, then think twice before going ahead. Ditto, if the aroma alone would cause some repercussions.

When it both stinks and produces a red face, then the simple advice is to stay away. If we had been asked, we would have recommended to the unnamed insurance company that it should not go ahead with a corporate retreat just days after the U.S. taxpayers were put on the hook for a humongous loan. The Congressional hearing, news and blogosphere comments and the parody on Saturday Night Live were all highly predictable. The answer that the money had already been committed was a non-starter.

A new day has dawned for any private sector business that is under increased government scrutiny. Think of the five senses and the fact that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. If you are only red faced to a small group of stakeholders, maybe that is a risk worth taking. For example, sometimes a corporate action that is favorable toward employees will not please investors. But when any two of the five senses are involved it is time get the reputation management folks to sit down with the business people.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sticky Messages: What sticks and what you wish would go away

We are always advising clients that in the interconnected world message consistency makes a difference. What you say to the media, to analysts, to shareholders, to consumers- may have different facts and relevant proof points-but must be consistent in themes and overall framework.

As we are watching the Presidential debates and the growing number of negative ads, we see a disconnect between the debate hall decorum, and the political ads and stump speeches at candidate rallies. The off-center stage attacks are different from what the candidates are saying to each other before the town halls and moderators.

We will see if this works in politics. It usually does not work in the corporate, association, and public sector arenas. Reporters, bloggers, activists and class action attorneys will seize upon inconsistencies.

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