Brevity takes time

In a world of instant communications people often want to understand the shortcuts. 

How can you drive great results faster, with less effort?

The truth is – for the most part -  you can’t.  You get what you put into it.

Effort shows. 

Your investment of valuable time let’s people know you care.

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter." Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters, 1657

How often have you received a long, confusing, rambling email about something important? It’s a missed opportunity.

If something is actually important, invest the time.

Ironically, brevity takes time.

Comms: It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it

The Wisdom of Crowds has always been a concept that concerned me.  The behavior and knowledge of “crowds” too often resembles the Stupidity of the Flock.

image

There are often benefits to the Crowd, but in a connected world, this groupthink often results in the mass adoption of falsehoods with no basis in fact.

There’s a lot of this behavior in discussions about communications.

Let’s take email as an example.  I was at an event where the ‘wisdom of the crowd” was that email was at best dying and at worst dead.  However, some precision questioning on this topic found that email was still the most used way to communicate.  People proclaiming the death of email didn’t actually measure whether it was working or not.  It was a hunch – at best.

Now don’t worry I’m not going to try and mount a defense of email.  Email may or may not work for your communications. That’s not the point.  The point is that today, more than anytime in the past, we have access to data that helps us to gain insight into what’s working and what’s not.  Reading it on Twitter doesn’t count as insight.

Before you take a position on the effectiveness of a tool or channel, measure it.  If you’re not measuring it, how can you tell?  Your gut?

Secondly, once you’re measuring a tool or channel, invest time and care in how you execute.  Too many communications today are lazy, sloppy and unimaginative.  Yet people blame the tool without honestly looking at the execution.  Too many templates and not enough energy in experimenting with new approaches, with design, with creating something that might be compelling or engaging. Experiment and measure.  See what happens, then start to form a thesis or a opinion.

Thirdly think about multiple tools and channels.  Think about how people prefer to consume information – or better again ask them.

Do yourself a favor. Before jumping on the latest bandwagon, develop your own opinion.  Your boss will thank you for it.

Great communications requires great measurement…

I recently attended an internal communications event. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to meet and hear from other communicators. You’ll always pick something up.

This particular event included a panel with four internal communications practitioners.  They each covered a range of topics from what was working best for their organizations, to using social channels with internal audiences.

The moderator’s last question addressed that most notorious of topics for communicators everywhere – measurement. 

Here were the responses…

Panelist 1 (PR agency): “Well with our client <name redacted> we’re buying access to employees on Facebook.”

My take: OK.  That’s a tactic and many companies are investing in Facebook to engage their employees.  But it’s not really measurement….

Panelist 2 (In-house private mid-sized company): “Our company is just too small to measure communications.”

My take: Eh.  Your company is too small to measure communications but big enough to pay the salary of a full time communications person? How do you justify your existence if you’re not measuring your work?

Panelist 3 (In-house large national company): “Well we’ve a big team that looks after measurement but I don’t really get involved in it.”

My take: Where do I even start with that?  So the company is measuring communications but the communications person never asks to see the results? Oh my….

Panelist 4 (In-house high profile (relatively new) public technology company): “Well our company is all about data.  We’re a completely data driven company.  But to be honest, I don’t use data to measure internal communications. I know what’s working and what isn’t”

My take: Sorry I can’t even address that one…

I sat there quietly.  I’m not sure if I was rocking back and forth in my chair, but I could have been.  I was trying to work out how I could respectfully address just how ridiculous, misleading and wrong these answers were.

I did, respectfully.

But here’s the thing.  The experience worries me about the communications profession.

How, in the 21st century, can a communicator not measure the impact of their work?  How do they get budget? How do they make decisions on the right tools, channels and content to use?  Do they stick their finger in the air?

Back in the early 1990s where there was little or no digital tools or channels, we measured communications.

Today, everything is digital.  Data is everywhere. It’s not expensive. It’s not complex – unless you consider using a search engine complex. How can you not measure the outputs and outcomes of your communications?

I realize that, on the whole, we communicators aren’t mad about numbers, or data and analysis, but today this is central to your job.  Central to understanding the people you’re communicating with. Central to understanding what’s working and what’s not working – where to invest valuable time and resources and where not to invest.

Not measuring communications isn’t a failing or a missed opportunity. Not measuring communications is gross negligence.

If you don’t know about measurement then research it on the web.

Start with Katie Paine or the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications.

If you want some food for thought listen to this great podcast from the FIR Podcast Network on ROI and measurement.

Measurement isn’t just about justifying your existence, it’s about learning, doing a better job, driving better results. It’s simply a non-negotiable.

If you say it’s dead, it’s probably not.

As Jim Diamond sang in the 80s, I should have known better. 

And I did. 

When I heard about Robert Phillips’ plans for a book titled: Trust Me, PR is Dead, I knew I’d disagree with the central premise. 

Social media’s overuse of the word ‘dead’ to describe a profession or service has always annoyed me.  It betrays poor judgment and a lack of realism. The reality is never that simple.  Not in the real world.

However, I also believe that a healthy mind, is a challenged mind, and perhaps Mr. Phillips would impart some radically new thinking that would make me question my beliefs.

So, not only did I buy his book, I supported the fund raising* for it and signed up months before the book was even finished.

I was planning to review the book here.  (30,000 foot summary: there’s some mildly interesting content, I actually agree that businesses (and PR firms) need to change their behavior. However, much of the thinking in the book is flawed in the extreme.)

But then I listened to Shel Holtz’s review and realized there was no need.  Shel has done a great job addressing the book’s flaws – and not to ruin the ending he recommends not buying the book.

You can listen to Shel’s review here.

image

*One small comment on this crowd funding thing.  I have to say that I found the whole process annoying in the extreme.  To pay for something up front is one thing, but to be constantly bombarded with emails promoting progress on the book and also asking you to support other book projects is another.  Next time I’ll wait for the publication.

PSA: Objectives, Strategies & Tactics…

There’s a surprising amount of confusion out there about the differences between an objective, a strategy and a tactic. I’m amazed how often I see tactics mixed up with strategies in plans and proposals.

As part of my on boarding process when I started my first PR job back in the early 1990s, they provided a simple but effective way of remembering the differences:

Objective – a description of the end result:

  • I want to go to Ireland for a vacation starting on Monday

Strategy – how the objective will be achieved:

  • I’m going to travel by plane – it’s faster than going by sea

Tactics – specific actions to be taken:

  • Check expedia.com for the best flight prices
  • Book a room in the Shelbourne hotel in Dublin
  • Hire a car for the trip from Avis

Book Review: It’s an issue Jim, but not as we know it

Last October I read an interview with Eric Dezenhall on the changing dynamics of issues management that piqued my attention.

Dezenhall, who was promoting his new book: “Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal”, was incredibly pragmatic about how the combination of technological and social trends have changed the nature of a crisis.  Furthermore, he believes that the idea that there is a magic PR potion that can solve any reputational issue is nonsense:

"Most crises are not resolved through rhetoric. They are resolved through operations. What’s more ethical, doing what Exxon did and recognize after Valdez that the PR war was over—and then they spent 25 years investing in double-hulled ships and radically overhauling their safety procedures, and they’ve never had a major incident since—or do you do what BP did and spend half a billion dollars saying you’re a wind and solar company?"

I finally got to read Glass Jaw over the break and I’d recommend it.

In a world where the physical and virtual book shelves are filled with Harry Potter-esque tales of social media hocus pocus, Dezenhall provides a pragmatic, real-world view of how the world has changed and reputational risk has changed along with it.

 

For me, a good business book combines opinion, insight and knowledge that ultimately combine to provoke the reader to think. That doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with the author throughout – and there are some elements of his thesis that merit future discussion – but on the whole it’s a recommended read, if only to challenge you to think harder about how you approach issues management.

As you would expect, Glass Jaw presents a pretty grim picture for people responsible for the positive image and reputation of their employer or client. The emergence of social media and the associated culture of overreaction, coupled with the changes we’re seeing more broadly in society are combining to create a difficult issues environment.

It’s interesting to note that PR people aren’t exactly helping themselves or their colleagues either. I completely echo the author’s sentiment that you can’t work in issues management and not have a ‘deep empathy’ for people fighting a reputational issue.

This makes it all the more surprising to see the rise of the ‘self-invented pundit class that declares the controversy to have been mismanaged’.

He acknowledges that ‘in most crises, there are things that could have been done better, and reflection is constructive. Most high stakes situations include experimental actions – some effective, some not – and we do our best to make more good decisions than bad ones’.

Let me digress from the book for a moment. Having spent a lot of time dealing with a wide array of issues – large and small – I really don’t have any time for the ill-informed armchair pontification that accompanies a reputational issue. Anyone who has been embroiled in a real issue knows that it’s complex, challenging and often surprising. To think that someone sitting comfortably in their pajamas with no knowledge beyond what they’re reading on Twitter – and often not even that level of knowledge – can judge someone’s work is just wrong. In my opinion these ‘pundits’ are the PR profession’s equivalent of ambulance chasers.

Back to the book.

While the author does paint a great picture of the changes taking place that impact how effectively you can manage an issue, there are some things I don’t agree with.

For example, Dezenhall believes that ‘social media is of marginal value and often a disaster’ in crisis management. I both agree and disagree with him. I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decide when and more importantly when not to engage in social media, but I don’t agree it’s not a tool or channel that can help in the right circumstance – of course correctly identifying that timing and circumstance is the key.

He also believes there is no ‘trust bank’ and that commitments like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) while worthwhile, do not inoculate against controversy. I agree that operating responsibly doesn’t give you a ‘get out of jail free’ card, but I’d also point out that if a company is committed to shared value, operating responsibly and meeting its commitments, it inherently reduces risk through more responsible decision making which in turn will aid organizational recovery.

There is always a risk when you’re reading a book about how the world of crisis communications is changing that you’ll finish it having lost all hope.

But there is hope. The world has changed. We deal with more issues today than ever before. Every issue is different, every issue has different dynamics,  we no longer have the luxury of a simple cookie cutter approach to successfully addressing an issue. Instead we must evaluate each issue on its own merits and act accordingly – in the knowledge that success is not guaranteed.

Glass Jaw is a welcome addition to this discussion. Just don’t be too depressed reading it. It’s not that bad :).

The truth teller

If you follow social media – and this probably relates more to blogs and Twitter than the other channels – you know there’s a lot of opinions on marketing and PR out there. 

Now, on the whole, this is a good thing, but at the same time, there’s often a lack of good, honest discussion of some of these opinions and memes.

So when someone provides a contrarian view on one of the sacred cows, it’s always worth a listen.

Designer Stefan Sagmeister addresses the question of “storytelling”…

You are not a storyteller – Stefan Sagmeister @ FITC from FITC on Vimeo.

Source: Darren Barefoot.

FIR766: Enterprise Social

As a regular listener to For Immediate Release – hosted by Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz, I was listening to Monday’s episode which included an interesting discussion on Enterprise Social.  As a guy who works on the Microsoft Office PR team – which of course includes Yammer – this is a subject close to my heart.  I started writing a comment on their Google Plus community, but it was very long, so rather than annoy other members of the community I thought I’d paste the comment here and just provide a link.

Neville/Shel:

Interesting piece on Enterprise Social adoption (Disclaimer I work on the Microsoft Office PR team – which includes Yammer but I am also a long time FIR listener Smile). 

I’m not sure it’s a surprise that adoption rates of enterprise social are slower than ‘consumer social’ (or perhaps just social media?).  As you know the formal deployment of technology in a business is often slower for a multitude of reasons.

Enterprise social is often part of a broader company transformation – after all it enables people to work together in new ways. Telstra is an interesting example of that.

"It (Enterprise Social) has solicited a degree of honesty and openness. There’s occasionally a little bit of stuff that comes out, but I tell you I never jump in. It’s self-managing, because other people jump in.” David Thodey, CEO of Telstra. 

The majority of companies undertake initial pilots before taking the decision to deploy it more widely.  For example after an initial trial, UK retailer Tesco is now rolling out Enterprise Social to their 320,000 people.

Having said that, there is strong growth in the number of companies, teams and individuals using Enterprise Social. Although Yammer is only one of many enterprise social services, it is being used by over 500,000 organizations today. 

Shel’s point on the importance of app-based networks is a valid one, however I think you’ll find that most enterprise social providers already support apps so people can use them wherever they are – desktop, laptop, tablet and phone – and companies are putting serious effort into making it easier for employees to use it. Qantas is a good example:

As discussed on the show, greater integration of Enterprise Social with the tools people are using today will accelerate adoption and that’s why in Microsoft’s case (Ref: Disclaimer above) we’re integrating Yammer across Office 365, so you can use it with Outlook or collaborate on a document via Yammer etc.

Beyond the traditional benefits such as increased collaboration and productivity, the broad adoption of Enterprise Social enables a new set of intelligent tools and services that aid personal and group productivity.  Delve is a great example of this. It intelligently uses all the information and communications across your company to deliver the personalized information you need, where and when you need it.

Olso_dd_01

The real value of Enterprise Social is that it is helping people, teams and organizations to change how they work.  It’s something we call ‘’the ‘Responsive Org.  Adam Pisoni, co-founder of Yammer puts it well in this interview:

“Companies as they exist today were designed for the industrial revolution when most of the work was routine and repetitive …

“The world has become a giant network but companies have remained rigid hierarchies.”

“It’s not about the technology any more. There’s value in working differently. Tools like Yammer don’t work unless you change the way you work.”

Red Robin is just one company that has transformed its business using Enterprise Social:

Yummer is particularly remarkable because it gave a voice to the "silent" front-line workers at Red Robin. Prior to Yammer, these employees would pass information up the company management chain, but they rarely received feedback about what was done with the information.

The good news for Enterprise Social is that more and more companies are using it to transform how they work and many are seeing real, tangible, business outcomes. 

Finally I can’t finish without referencing FIR podcast network member Rachel Miller’s fantastic Yammertime resource.

Great PR requires a little bravery

The explosion of data and analytics has created fantastic opportunities for marketers and PR pros to get better insights into the impact of their work.

While the benefits of measuring the results of an announcement or campaign are immediately obvious, the potential for data to inform future decision making has traditionally been more challenging.

The potential of data to provide insights and inform new approaches to communicating or engaging with people is pretty exciting.  Where before we based decisions exclusively on experience and perhaps a gut feeling, now you can test an idea, measure the impact and refine it – or never do it again Smile.

The potential to have quantifiable insight along with your experience and opinion is a powerful thing.  The downside is that to garner that insight you must try something new and in some cases that could be a calculated risk.  You may have to establish a baseline or measure impact, and that could potentially put you outside your comfort zone.

Of course personal and professional discomfort is one thing, the legions of online Monday morning quarterbacks just looking for the opportunity to dissect your work and question your professionalism and/or competence is another. 

However, these pundits rarely let knowledge or insight – into your objectives or even the actual results – get in the way of their opinion.  My advice is to ignore them.

The reality is that in today’s changing world we must trial and experiment new things.  Data gives us the potential to measure their effectiveness and thereby help us to be more successful in the future.

It may take a little bravery to take that first step, but if you do it thoughtfully, it can deliver real, tangible long term benefits.

I think it’s probably worth the risk and Albert Einstein would probably agree.