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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cisco Flips-Out

You may have seen the recent news that the Flip video camera is being discontinued by Cisco Systems. The camera – unique when it first came out as a high definition video device – was killed by smart phones.
Consumers basically said why have separate devices when one device can do everything from simple telephone calls, to taking still photos and video, and even now serve as a credit card remote device?

While I understand Cisco’s business decision, as a media trainer and communications coach, I’m bummed. This device has been one of the great advances in training since the advance of video tape. The flip technology allows our trainers to basically point, shoot and playback in a flash.

Some clients still want to see a bulky “broadcast” camera, but most of the time, the flip is all you need.

The Flip was so successful for its brief life that it has become a generic term like Kleenex. We often say, “Do you mind if I use my ‘flip’ to record this interview.” I was looking forward to the next gen Flips, with easier editing and better sound. But alas, smart phones have sent the camera to an early demise. Sure, there are competing products on the market place but I fear that once the Flip goes away, the other manufacturers will lose their love for the device.

Will you miss the flip?

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Burson Marsteller CEO Mark Penn hits the nail on the head when comparing King George the VI's speech therapist Lionel Logue (as portrayed by Geoffrey Rush in the Oscar-winning movie "The King’s Speech") with advising a CEO. http://bit.ly/eSgAk4.

Success in PR and/or communications training, Penn says, is all about a special relationship that is based on "trust, respect, a proven process, evidence-based advice and confidence." Penn goes on to say, "These are the same essential elements of advising a CEO….Lionel teaches the King a few lessons in humility and self-respect. However, he also teaches all of us who get a chance to advise influential people just how to form that special relationship."

The point strikes at the heart of our business at CommCore as communications consultants. Often we face senior executive clients who, like King George to Lionel, say they don’t need to do a deep dive into someone else's process. But if all we do is "train" our clients in the basic techniques of communications, are we truly serving their best interests?

As Penn notes, "Accomplished people don’t need advice in all parts of their life – but often they can use help in one or two critical areas that are holding them back or have become problematic." Most CEOs will only seek out that help if they form a bond with someone who will demand and get their attention, insist on proper process, and command mutual respect.

At CommCore we always counsel our senior executive clients of the importance of building strong relationships with their audience, be it the media, stakeholders or the public. Based on our experience, we also know that good communications or PR consultants have to communicate with their clients first before reaching a point of trust. Only then they can effectively teach their senior executive clients how to better communicate with others.

What has your experience been bonding with your C-level communications or PR clients?

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Homage to the Flip Video Camera

Friday, April 15, 2011

Associated Press and Reuters Fooled by “Yes Men” Again – Who Gets Hurt and How Much?

The activist group called the “Yes Men” has struck again –they’ve sent another phony press release, got it published and in more than one reputable place. They were able to fool established news agencies like Reuters, AP and Dow Jones. This latest incident involved a fake press release on phony General Electric letterhead announcing a tax refund donation to the U.S. federal government of $3.2 billion. The facts are that GE received no such refund and made no such donation. (see Reuters article) It would seem GE’s reputation is going to take a hit. And, now that the hoax was revealed as such, new reputational targets are added – the news agencies that let this one get through their truth filter.

So, that makes several targets hit and damaged – how much damage was done and what can they do about it?

Let’s start with GE. This is a very consumer-facing company even if much of its enormous enterprise serves the b-to-b markets. So, any suggestion that GE hasn’t paid its share of taxes is going to ding its public image. In this case, we believe that even after it is established that GE did not receive the tax refund, the damage is already done. In our estimation, the way you emerge from a charge like this is to listen, communicate the truth and provide context.

The news agencies shouldn’t let this be sorted out without being involved either. How did this get past them? How will they ensure that this doesn’t happen again? Why should readers have confidence that their fact checkers are competent or even on the job at all?

“Like any modern day issues management, this is where online listening plays a critically important role in determining your response” says Mark Bennett, Director at WCG, a leader in Public Relations and Online Communications.

We agree – listen to your constituents and be ready to engage.

What do you think? How much damage has been done to GE, AP, and Dow Jones? How should they respond? What would you tell them if you were their PR counsel?

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Social Media Headaches

It goes without saying that it is in your best interest to keep your personal life and your business life separate. But often times when the corporate world enters the social media arena the lines get blurred. At CommCore we encourage our clients to keep their message and their image consistent across all arenas.
These recent social media blunders serve as a reminder to keep your public image in line with your company’s brand and to stay true to your company’s message. Have you seen the video of, GoDaddy CEO, Bob Parsons’s hunting trip in Africa? He posted a link to his video on his Twitter account. Despite complaints, Parsons stands by his posting.
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his endorsement deal as the voice of the Aflac duck because of his insensitive tweets. As the tragedy was unfolding in Japan last month, Gottfried made a bad attempt at humor, posting several jokes about Japan. Aflac does 75% of its business in Japan and to maintain their brand image and message consistency it’s no surprise they fired Gottfried.
At the end of the day, your messages should consistently uphold your desired images . . . even on social media sites.
Do you have separate social media accounts for business and personal use? Do you think Parson’s should apologize for his video posting?

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Metaphorically Speaking

New York Times columnist David Brooks reminds us that the proper use of metaphors is critical to human understanding. "[B]eing aware of metaphors reminds you of the central role that poetic skills play in our thought. If much of our thinking is shaped and driven by metaphor, then the skilled thinker will be able to recognize patterns, blend patterns, apprehend the relationships and pursue unexpected likenesses." http://nyti.ms/dXP0o6.

However, he also warns against being too metaphor-happy. Mixed metaphors are not only bad diction, he writes, they are also perceived as deceptive because they give the impression there is a lack of verifiable data to support them: "To be aware of the central role metaphors play is to be aware of how imprecise our most important thinking is. It's to be aware of the constant need to question metaphors with data — to separate the living from the dead ones, and the authentic metaphors that seek to illuminate the world from the tinny advertising and political metaphors that seek to manipulate it."

I guess Brooks' message to the messenger is to not ride too high on one's horse when being metaphorical; it's too easy to fall between two chairs. All kidding aside, it's a reminder to professional communicators that the liberal use of trite metaphors, analogies and stories for their own sake can be irrelevant and too clever by half. Good messaging makes sense to an audience by linking believable and relevant illustrations to strong data.

One of CommCore's cardinal rules about messaging is to combine "visual" data – pertinent stories, analogies, metaphors and 3rd party validations that illustrate a technical point so that it effectively resonates or "sticks" with your target audience. Like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's "60 Minutes" analogy in 2009 of the bank bailout to a house catching fire because you smoked in bed. If the house burns down, it's your problem Bernanke said. But if the embers spread and the neighborhood burns down, it's everybody's problem. First the fire needs to be put out, then we need to figure out the cause of the fire. Finally we may need to change the fire code.

With Brooks' caveat in mind, when you pick a metaphor make sure it's on point and also know when you need to say: "It's just a metaphor."

What has your experience been with stories, metaphors and analogies in corporate or technical communications?

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Providing Decent Dissent

Executives must allow and accept criticism from above and below. Only then can they lead effectively, improve themselves and build on success. As a recent article in Chief Executive Magazine points out, many leaders don’t hear, permit or even recognize good constructive criticism.

But let's look at it from another point of view -that of the executive coach. At CommCore we believe that coaches have an obligation to provide “decent dissent," and we have a role to play in getting the executive to "see" the world through the eyes of his/her audience. In other words, it is not enough for a coach to rattle off a list of observed flaws, present generic techniques and leave the executive to take the advice or dismiss it to their peril. A good coach deftly opens the executive's eyes to the realities and offers specific, tailored ways to address and overcome deficiencies.

Some may argue that it is entirely up to the executive, and some are simply un-coachable - that some will never "see" the real world. We believe that while most leaders may fear knowing the truth, they ultimately want to and make adjustments accordingly. It just takes the right approach. That’s the real art of coaching. Build a rapport and trust. Gain their confidence. Show them the safety in taking some risk and of seeing the operations from other perspectives. They don't necessarily have to star on Undercover Boss; just accept a bit of decent dissent.

Do you agree that at least part of the obligation to make an executive allow dissent falls on the coach? What examples have you observed of coaches handling "blind" leaders well or poorly?

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Media and Presentation Training FAQs

With 25 years of communications consulting under our belt at CommCore, we get a lot of the same questions about the need for executive media or presentation training. Our top questions:

Q: Our CEO has been conducting media interviews and making public appearances for years. He doesn’t think he needs any training. What do I say to get him agree to brush up on his skills?

A: Tell him people who are at the top of their profession stay there because they practice. Top tier actors have coaches. No. 1-ranked athletes have coaches. Successful politicians have coaches. (http://bit.ly/gyJvYn). Communications skills are generally viewed as one of the top attributes of a strong leader, especially in the realm of "difficult conversations." (http://bit.ly/elxG3j). Anyone who is really good at what they do is always looking to learn one more thing that will keep them at the top of their game. Just about every executive we have media or presentation-trained who walked in reluctantly has walked out afterward saying they were glad they did it.

Q: Do we really need to schedule our executive team for a half day or a full day of media or presentation training?

A: Ideally, yes. But if reality intrudes, a lot can get done in an hour or two, particularly if they have had prior media or presentation training. The longer session allows for actual teaching, learning how to use take-away tools, and more on-camera practice and critique. The second rehearsal is really when the lessons sink in. The shorter, brush up session really only works for "drill-and-grill" preparation for a particular interview on a particular subject.

Q: Do I really need on-camera practice and critique? I won’t be doing any broadcast interviews or speeches.

A: Seeing and hearing yourself is an essential part of communications training. For example, even if you will be conducting a telephone interview with a print reporter or radio station, your posture affects how you sound. Uhms and aahs bore live audiences, and in the case of an interview, distract the questioner from noting your salient points. During a speech, non-verbal appearance is as important – if not more important – than what you say. And on-camera practice and critique demonstrate to you how you have improved in one training session. We strongly advise on-camera training.

Q: Our spokesperson has her message points down. Do we really need to spend time working with her on messaging during the media or presentation training?

A: There are messages, and then there are messages. For credibility and the answer to the 5 Ws some message are the critical data and information that a reporter needs. What often occurs during a training session is the development of the anecdotes, stories and analogies that are bound to be the quotes and/or frame the story. Part of good communications training involves "translating" your messaging and data points into informative, illustrative, "visual" sound bites that resonate with your audience while addressing the issues they care about.

Q: A reporter will recognize when I’ve been media trained. Won’t that harm my credibility?

A: No, to the contrary. Reporters want a spokesperson who is articulate, knows his/her stuff and can help a reporter with their story.

What questions do you get most often about media and presentation training, and how do you respond?

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