Showing posts from September, 2009

A Declaration for Independence

I was in the airport, coming down the escalator, when I heard a loud THWACK.

Even if it was nothing, I couldn’t just ignore the sound. I am one of those people for whom the prospect of another 9/11 is more likelihood than remote possibility. So I scanned the area, slightly worried.

Fortunately, it didn’t indicate anything dangerous – no terrorist attack here. But the scene was still disturbing: A family meltdown, loud and carried on right in front of an entire Transportation Security Administration security line.

There, just beyond the escalator, on the right, was the mother. She was pulling the handles of a shopping bag apart and peering inside, her face gnarled in fury. In front of her was the daughter, looking up at mom with a combination of shock and fear on her face. I could see the child’s mouth forming a little O, and hear her piercing screams: “Mommy, Mommy, why did you do that?”

What I (and the rest of the TSA line apparently, judging from the stares and the disapproving comments…

Focus, guts, and great communication

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,” said Dr. Seuss, “nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

I agree with that. But as we all know, caring is not enough. You need discipline, dedication, and relentless focus too. And unfortunately, few organizations seem to have these qualities—especially the last one.

The link between focus and success is so obvious and well-established that it seems silly to get up on a soapbox about it. It’s as plain as the nose on your face - if you don’t define success, and you don’t do everything you can to achieve it, then you will by definition fail. Or more accurately, flail. Like a duck, flapping its wings and quacking, and going nowhere.

In an organizational context, a lack of focus goes together with a lack of shared performance measures that define success. In fact, there is a de-emphasis on metrics altogether; nobody likes to talk about that.

In the place of measures is anecdotal evidence, informal feedback, and an inward focus. You he…


A lot of things went through my mind this week when I learned that the President had been taped calling singer Kanye West what kids would call “a bad name.”

The first thing I thought was – this seems like just another Internet hoax.

Then I thought, well maybe he said it, but maybe he said it in private and somebody leaked the comment to the press.

After that I found myself very curious about what exactly had happened. So I went to the website where the audio was posted and listened for myself. Sure enough, there it was, the President on tape, saying that Mr. West was out of line for praising the singer Beyonce, who did not win a video music award, while simultaneously presenting it to the winner, Taylor Swift. And then I heard him actually use the “J” word. (You can look it up if you don’t know what that is.)

Now, that tape could have been doctored. But it was true. As it turns out, the President had indeed said the word, but that part of the interview was not supposed to be on the recor…

Why people don’t trust public affairs (and what we can do about it)

As someone who has watched so many public figures and respected organizations fall and fail after years and years of lying, I don’t trust official statements anymore. It’s a pretty sad thing and from what I can see on the Internet, it’s also a pretty common one.

At the same time, I have to confess that I consider myself a marketer. More specifically, I am a public affairs specialist working for the government, and in that capacity I have always advocated reaching out to the public in a way that is exciting, engaging, and that generates understanding, awareness of, and support for the mission. If we don’t do these things, the public will not know what to do when they encounter us, they will believe the falsehoods that are spread about us, and they will turn to alternative, less reliable sources of information to find out what they need to know about what we do.

So, unless G-d likes to play cosmic jokes, why does such a cynical person walk around in a spokesperson’s shoes?

I do believe tha…

When It's Good To Be “Undignified”

If you are a federal government communicator, chances are you have either participated in or witnessed a conversation inside government walls that goes something like this:

Program Manager: OK everyone, we're here to talk about Initiative X. We really want to get the word out about it. Everyone needs to know how important Initiative X is.

Communicator: That sounds exciting! There are lots of things we can do to get your message out.

Program Manager: Can you give me some examples?

Communicator: We can create a brochure, a web story, an article in the employee newsletter, posters, things like that.

Program Manager: That's all fine, but what can we do to really stand out?

Communicator: Well if you really want to get “out there,” we can do a social media campaign, blogs, Tweets, maybe even a Facebook page if the lawyers will approve...we can go out on the message boards and talk to people, really get to citizens where they live.

Program Manager: Hmmm. I don't know. A blog? That sound…

Shopping for the Truth

Everybody is fearful of losing their good image. This includes government agencies, politicians, businesses large and small, religious leaders, educators, and even individuals who have nothing to to sell or to lose. It is simply human nature that we all want to look good before our family, friends, stakeholders, customers, and so on.

Not only are people concerned about their own reputations, but they spend a fair amount of time looking into the reputations of the people they know and work with, the businesses they buy from, and the candidates they choose.

I don't know about other people, but personally, when I want to find out more about someone or something, the first place I head to is Google. I Google the name on the web, in the news, on the blogs, basically everywhere. And if I find too many negative stories, actually if I even find one negative mention, I start to get suspicious.

In fact, gauging other people's reputations is standard practice both online and in the real wor…