Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Personal Disaster Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Penelope Trunk's Brilliant But Dangerous Personal Brand


Penelope Trunk has written extensively about her own history of abuse,  institutionalization, depression, getting fired, and more.  But her latest blog went a lot further. In it we read about her experience with domestic violence: how during one of their fights, her husband shoved her to the floor as her six-year-old watched.


Penelope Trunk is a hugely successful personal brand. She writes articles about career development mingled with anecdotes about her crazy personal life. Her problems are her props.


Yet beneath the surface, underneath all the unpredictability and self-destructiveness and rebuilding, there is a certain consistency. Even manipulation. She knows her audience’s hot buttons, and she pushes them. If it’s Penelope’s blog, you know that one week you will read about her starting a goat cheese company, and the next week about homeschooling her sons, and then the third week about getting shoved to the floor. Her blogs are just – like that. Which is why she gets so many comments, and I think so much press. (Or maybe it’s that her advice is pretty useful.)


Penelope Trunk is also, hands-down, the best writer I have ever come across. She has the gift; she is beyond gifted. I don’t know if it’s the Asperger’s Syndrome that makes her as honest, but endearingly puzzled at the things other people take for granted – like social boundaries and inhibitions. It might be the child abuse. Whatever it is, I can’t stop reading.


I don’t agree with everything Penelope says; in fact her views, no matter how well-researched, are often infuriating and offensive to me. She tells women not to report sexual harassment, and argues that Veteran’s Day should be “cancelled.”


After the Veteran’s Day blog, I decided to stop reading (I work for the federal government and that one particularly got to me; of course I only represent myself here.) But I went back. Because Penelope, unlike most writers, has no veneer. She doesn’t shy away from complexity, she doesn’t exaggerate it. She simply presents it. She lives it. Right in front of you.


Penelope Trunk is a brand. But she is very, very messed up as a person. I worry one day they will find her dead. Forgive me for bringing marketing into this conversation, but what makes her so valuable– so relevant for this day and age as we learn our way around social media and how to make money from it – is that she so consistently lives her life on the edge, on the ledge, in front of all of us.


Lots of people lack ego. Lots of people do research and share strong, but unpopular opinions. But what makes her so worthwhile, if she could get her act together just a little more – is that she has the personal brand ingredients that few can aspire to:


1)   Authenticity and originality

2)   A born entertainer

3)   A moral cause

4)   Focus

5)   Lack of ego


Most important, Penelope Trunk is both both unpredictable and utterly consistent.


So this is the dilemma: The best brands, using buzz-worthiness as the metric, are people whose lives are perpetually, but predictably, out of control:


·      Amy Winehouse

·      Britney Spears

·      Charlie Sheen

·      Elizabeth Taylor

·      Eminem

·      Kim Kardashian

·      Marilyn Monroe

·      Michael Jackson


All of these personal brands live (or lived) unpredictable personal lives. And they share them: Penelope Trunk tweeted about her miscarriage, and caused an uproar. The excitement, and the controversy, is why we watch them. And, like Penelope Trunk, when their lives get stable they will be boring, and we will stop.


The smartest thing a personal brand (the manager or the person themselves) can do is isolate the internal consistency behind the brand, and then engage in creating an evolving story that hooks the audience on the next installment. A great example of this is Britney Spears, who went from bizarrely shaving her head in 2007 to Femme Fatale this year. A bad one is the painful public breakdown of Charlie Sheen.


To brand well, you do have to be healthy. Unpredictable might work for a time, but without any checks and balances, there’s only one way that can end. And while some people might want to go down in the history books as brilliant but tragic, the greater victory is to stay alive – dancing, as they say, on the head of a pin.



Image source here 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Branding for Generation Z: Making the Most of Our Time On The Planet

“Till The World Ends” (Britney Spears). “Give Me Everything Tonight” (Pitbull). Catchy songs with a message – the future is uncertain. Live for today. Enjoy.

Washingtonian Magazine this week spotlights burned-out out private school kids. They and their parents alike are going nuts trying to keep those transcripts pure for the Ivy League. Educators and psychologists, confronted with their pervasive stress, are asking the question, Why? Let kids enjoy the time they have. They’re only young once.

I read this and thought, and let’s be honest – the economy isn’t exactly going to welcome these kids with open arms. What is the craziness around all this unnecessary busywork? Why does every kid have to be a 4.0, mountain-climbing bassist in an obscure rock band who volunteers 80 hours a week to be considered good enough?

Facebook has helped me to enjoy life more. At first I hated it. It’s just seemed so – open. I think I opened and closed my account twice before I figured out how to use it in a way I could be comfortable with. Now, it’s my real family and friends on there. It was fun to joke about turning the big 4-0. I like seeing my high school friends’ kids’ pictures. It’s nice just to savor the moment, and know that it is fleeting.

My friend posted a picture the other day of herself playing Uno with her kid. It is so nice. It’s just…peaceful. I think about it and I wish that I were so relaxed.

Yesterday we had a family lunch at our usual place. In the past we hurried up – “Where’s the menu?” “Gotta go!” But this time we just kind of…didn’t. I took some really bad pictures with my aging Droid. Maybe it’s the reflective time of year – the Jewish New Year is coming. I am not sure. But we just sat, talked, ate those fattening but delicious Chinese noodles they put on the table, and ordered a really bad cake at the end. And laughed at how bad it was.

“Speed kills,” an executive said recently at work. What a good saying.

Bringing it back to branding, especially for Generation Z (kids born between 1992-2010) - the children of Generation Xers like me.

Most of the brand advice I see about these kids, born and raised on brands, has to do with how sophisticated they are. They’re born brand creators with zero brand loyalty who use numerous technologies simultaneously to express themselves in hyper-individualistic ways.

But more potent advice has to do with slowing down. These are kids who use technology fast – in fact they are notoriously overstimulated – which is why deep down they want to take their time much more. Already in 2004, Gen Y started the trend (and was immediately named Gen Z, prematurely). Today parents are talking about letting their kids find their own way in life, and homeschooling - getting out of the rat race early, and defining your own race - is at the forefront of this movement.

Gen Z is the generation of Suri Cruise and the Brangelina kids. As Marie Claire magazine points out, though they may seem pampered and acquisitive they actually, deep down, want and need the gift of slowness:

“Experts point out many difficulties Gen Z face are redeemable, simply by parents committing to switching off TVs and computers to talk to children and spend time together in an unstructured way. Several told marie claire the greatest gift would be bringing back family dinners, where children could learn, among other things, vital life lesson skills, such as conversation, waiting until others have finished, serving others first and deferring gratification.

For any audience, building a successful brand has never been about rushing around, doing lots of different things, showing activity and quantity and volume. Racing around is for insecure people. People who feel better when they can look at a long list of communication activities and say, “I did that!”

No. Building a brand, like building a good life, is about proceeding thoughtfully. Sometimes that means moving fast, and other times it means slowing down. You have to be mindful about what you’re doing. Focus on a few things that make a difference. Talk about the message till you get it right.

I can see the desire for slowness in pop culture and I can hear it when I listen to today’s kids. Underneath all the talk about "apps," they’re tired of all the rushing and they’re sick of all the pressure. They just want to hang out with their friends, make a lot of money (they still think kind of magically about this) and have a meaningful life too. The brands that can package all these gratifying wishes together will win them over for life.


Image source here

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Working on Federal Communicators Network this weekend

Blogging completely impossible right now...working on FCN stuff. 

When I read more about the origins of FCN in 1996 - Al Gore's "Reinventing Government" initiative - it made me even more determined to pick up the baton and help bring this organization into the future.

Because "Reinventing Government" is EXACTLY the same thing as Gov 2.0.

The text below is a cut & paste from that link:

"The Federal Communicators Network 
In April 1996, Vice President Gore asked the National Performance Review (now the National Parnership for Reinventing Government) to organize a network of editors of publications directed toward front-line federal employees. The Vice President's vision was to reach federal workers with important reinvention messages, promote a climate in which reinvention can flourish, and create a grass-roots demand to break down agency barriers to reinvention.

Since that time, the Federal Communicators Network has expanded to comprise more than 500 writers, editors, public affairs specialists, Internet/Intranet coordinators, and other communicators eager to spread the message of effective government to federal employees and share stories of reinvention challenges and successes." 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Intelligent PR is never propaganda.

Communicators spend a lot of time working on getting the message right. To an extent that is a good thing. For in the day-to-day of organizational life, the message can sometimes get lost in the weeds. It is important to align and focus everyone, from leaders on down, on communicating what matters most.


When it comes to the brand, there is nothing more important than communication. “Build it and they will come” is bogus. You’ve got to say the right thing, at the right time, just to build buzz. And then protect your buzz from a blooper caught on Facebook that can bring you down. Caution is natural, necessary and appropriate.


But despite all this, regardless of the benefits of coordinated messaging, most brands don’t know how to use a brand playbook well. They either follow it too religiously (“Have I provided you excellent customer service today?”); implement it incorrectly (“Qwikster”); or ignore it altogether and just make things up as they go along (Sears).


Branding is confusing to a lot of people. But when it comes to brand communication, only one rule, if broken, can destroy you: Never, never peddle propaganda. You can openly:


* sell a fantasy (Ralph Lauren, Porsche)


* create community (Facebook, Harley-Davidson)


* offer some objective functional advantage (OXO, Dyson, Wal-Mart)


But you can never, ever lie or mislead or manipulate to make your case. And that is where too many brand leaders eventually fall into a trap made of their own success. They start to think that if they say enough things that other people want to hear, they will generate positive news coverage, and this will render them successful.


The road to propaganda is paved with public opinion polls. If the leader is strong enough to resist them initially, eventually it gets harder and harder to do so.


I believe that leaders are made more than they are born. That somewhere along the path of painful life, they make a discovery of their inner North Star – and of the compass G-d gave them to find it.


The leadership capacity gets them to a point, which is positive. Yet when they reach a certain level of leadership success, paradoxically, they begin to get insulated from the compass. They get swamped with advisers, briefings, talking points, media coaches, teleprompters, photo shoots, wardrobe consultants. They start attending executive seminars where all they see are other executives. They live by “minute-by-minute” schedules where every interaction is scripted.


When you spend so much time overthinking your every word, you stop being yourself. The self that your audience wants. The self that they are paying money for. The brand that they have invested in.


I was reminded of this today when I watched the President addressing the United Nations General Assembly. (Full disclosure and disclaimer: I work for the government but all opinions are my own. Additionally, this is a blog about communication principles and not a political commentary or endorsement.)


As I watched the President speak, I knew that I was watching an expression of authenticity. It was the President on his way toward the North Star.


Was it a coincidence that he used words relating to honesty quite a bit, as he stressed America’s commitment to “a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine”?


“Let’s be honest with ourselves….a small country of less than eight million people (Israel) look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off the map. The Jewish people carry…fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. Israel deserves recognition….and friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth.”


There it was. As they say, fair and balanced. And when the President spoke his own truth, I found that I trusted what he was saying, and I wanted to watch more.


In the end, the President of the United States is not only the Commander in Chief. He or she is also the Chief Communicator. And we look to them to communicate American values of fairness, freedom, democracy and the right to self-defense when necessary. Before the entire world when called for.


When I watched that clip I sat back in my chair, speechless. On every level – as an American, as a Jew, as a humanist who really and truly wants peace. As a communicator, too. Because the President today reinforced what is for me the cardinal principal of public relations, a principle I know to be real and true:


Intelligent PR is never propaganda. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Patagonia's smart branding: "Stop buying me new"


Talk about being true to your brand values.

According to a September 13 blog post by SageAdvice, Patagonia is now encouraging its customers to buy items used - not new - through its eBay storefront.

Of course, eBay is all excited about the concept of retail brands selling things through its online storefront.

But what marketers are excited about is the concept of a brand that is so true to its values, that it will actually do things that will almost certainly reduce its bottom line.

I remember debating other brand consultants about - could the company survive while featuring other vendors selling exactly the same stuff for less? Answer: YES! Because in the end, the only one you trust is Amazon.

In a similar way, I do think that Patagonia will succeed with this move, both in terms of its reputation (mission-action alignment) and in terms of the perceived quality of its product - "so good that I'd even buy it used."

Learn more about the Patagonia-eBay partnership and the Common Threads Initiative that powers it. Brilliant branding for a brighter future.

Truth vs. Propaganda, Part 2: A Brief Selection of Quotes

Below is a follow-up to yesterday's post regarding the upcoming visits of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the United Nations.

With deep respect for all peoples and an equally strong desire for peace.

- Dannielle Blumenthal


True Islam Preaches Coexistence

“God wanted to give Abraham a double blessing, through Ishmael and through Isaac, and ordered that Ishmael's descendents should live in the desert of Arabia and Isaac's in Canaan. The Qur'an recognizes the Land of Israel as the heritage of the Jews and it explains that, before the Last Judgment, Jews will return to dwell there. This prophecy has already been fulfilled.”

"Both the Jewish and Islamic Scriptures teach that God, through His chosen servant Moses, decided to free the offspring of Jacob from slavery in Egypt and to constitute them as heirs of the Promised Land. Whoever claims that Jewish sovereignty over the Land of Israel is something new and rooted in human politics denies divine revelation and divine prophecy as explicitly expressed in our Holy Books (the Bible and Qur'an)."

"The Qur'an relates the words by which Moses ordered the Israelites to conquer the Land:"
"And [remember] when Moses said to his people: 'O my people, call in remembrance the favour of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the peoples. O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.'" [Qur'an 5:20-21]

- Maulana Shaykh Prof. Abdul Hadi Palazzi Head Imam of Italy, “Tell the Children The Truth”

Propaganda as a Palestinian Political Tool

“Do not pay attention to what I say to the media, the television or public appearances. Pay attention only to the written instructions that you receive from me." - Yasser Arafat, addressing his people at a public event, July 2001

"I am ready to kill for the sake of my cause; wouldn't I lie for it?" - Yasser Arafat

Anti-Semitism and the Palestinian Cause

“The meaning of Arab unity is the liquidation of Israel.” - Egyptian Prime Minister Nasser, 1965

"I declare a holy war, my Moslem brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!” - Radio broadcast to Palestinians by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini, on Israel’s independence in 1948

"Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Americans who are like them."
- Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, member of the Palestinian Fatwa Council

Jewish People Did Not Steal The Land of Israel

“In most cases the lands were acquired (without force)” - 1937 testimony by Haj-amin al Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem, regarding the purchase of land in Israel by the Jewish people, without force - here

“Nazareth is forlorn .... Jericho the accursed lies a moldering ruin today, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago: Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Savior's presence.” - Mark Twain, “The Innocents Abroad,” (upon visiting Israel in 1867), cited in Katz

“In the twelve and a half centuries between the Arab conquest in the seventh century and the beginnings of the Jewish return in the 1880's, Palestine was laid waste. Its ancient canal and irrigation systems were destroyed and the wondrous fertility of which the Bible spoke vanished into desert and desolation.” - Carl Hermann Voss, "The Palestine Problem Today, Israel and Its Neighbors" (Boston, 1953), p. 13, cited by Katz

The Political Purpose of Keeping Palestinians as Refugees

"Since 1948 it is we who demanded the return of the refugees... while it is we who made them leave.... We brought disaster upon ... Arab refugees, by inviting them and bringing pressure to bear upon them to leave.... We have rendered them dispossessed.... We have accustomed them to begging.... We have participated in lowering their moral and social level.... Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson, and throwing bombs upon ... men, women and children--all this in the service of political purposes...."
- Khaled Al-Azm, Syria's Prime Minister after the 1948 war

“The masses of the Palestinian people are only the advance-guard of the Arab nation … a plan for rousing world opinion in stages, as it would not be able to understand or accept a war by a hundred million Arabs against a small state.’” - El Muswar (Egyptian Journal), December 1968, cited here

“In general, one can say that Arab governments regarded the destruction of the State of Israel as a more pressing matter than the welfare of the Palestinian refugees. Palestinian bitterness and anger had to be kept alive. … this could best be done by ensuring that a great many Palestinians Arabs continued to live under sub-normal conditions, the victims of hunger and poverty." - Terence Prittie and Bernard Dineen. The Double Exodus: A Study of Arab and Jewish Refugees in the Middle East. S.l: s.n, 1974, cited here

"The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die. - Ralph Galloway, former director in Jordan of U.N. Aid to the Palestinians, quoted here and here

“Israeli refusal to take back the refugees, leaving them in misery, would turn world opinion and perhaps western governments against the Jewish state on humanitarian grounds. Israeli agreement to take back all or many of the refugees would result in the political and demographic destabilization of the Jewish state, with clear military implications. All of Israel’s leaders appreciated this: The refugees had become a ‘political weapon against the Jews’.” - Benny Morris, the Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited

"There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity....The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel." - Zuheir Muhsin, late Military Department head of the PLO and member of its Executive Council (Dutch daily Trouw, March 1977)

"Since 1948 Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner.... they have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal."
- King Hussein of Jordan, 1960

"Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of one percent of the landmass. But that's too much for the Arabs.....No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough." - from "Myths of the Middle East", Joseph Farah, Arab-American editor and journalist, WorldNetDaily.Com, 11 October 2000

"After the Palestinian state wins recognition from most of the nations of the world, as expected, the Israeli presence on Palestinian lands will become illegal and we will fight this with weapons.."
- Farouk Radoumi, head of the PLO's diplomatic desk, in PA newspaper, AL HAYAT AL-JADEEDA, October 15, l998

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Propaganda Peace Leads to a Terrorist State


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is headed to the United Nations this week to request full U.N. membership for the Palestinian people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking too. Both are supposed to address the U.N. General Assembly on September 23.

The move by Mr. Abbas is being portrayed as the work of a “frustrated” statesman selflessly trying to care for his people in the face of a powerful colonizer that refuses to give any ground - literally. It is natural to sympathize with a victim and Mr. Abbas is playing directly to this human tendency.

The speech does carry one small risk. The world might find out the truth about the Palestinians’ desire to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. People may start to objectively examine the countless acts of terrorism, historical and recent, that have been carried out by them and “on their behalf.” And then it might make more sense why Israel does things like physically defend its land, its people, and its right to exist. Because as much as people sympathize with a victim, they also understand that no normal country will willingly commit suicide.

In his presentation to the U.N., Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to rely on a fact-based communication strategy. In his words, “To have peace we must have mutual respect - we cannot build peace on a foundation of lies.”

As I interpret it these are the two key facts at work:

· Fact #1: The Palestinians and the Israelis do not currently have mutual respect because while Israel can live side-by-side with a peaceful Palestinian state, the reverse is not true. In the words of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, August 28, 2011: Don't order us to recognize a Jewish state. We won't accept it." Palestinian representative Maen Rashid Areikat adds that the new Palestinian state will be Jew-free (Or, in the words of the Nazis, “Judenrein”). How is that two-state solution going to work when the Palestinians don’t recognize Israel, and there will be no Jews in Palestine?

· Fact #2: The Palestinians and their supporters regularly use disinformation to build ideological support for the eventual physical destruction of Israel. Palestinian maps of Israel regularly omit Israel. The lies that are told about Israel are so numerous that entire websites are devoted to this subject. Here is one summary of some of the lies; I am not going to repeat the propaganda itself.

The great lie of the Palestinian cause is that it is about the Palestinians. It is not.

The truth is that the Palestinians are being used as human torpedoes. Their suffering is real, without question. They deserve recognition as a people. They have the right to determine their fate. Just like the Jewish people do. Just like America. Just like every other nation on earth.

But if Palestinian leaders and those who care for them truly wished to achieve all this, it would have been done ages ago. If they believed in the principle of mutual respect for other nations, including the Jewish state and the Jewish people, we would not have an issue right now.

The fact of the matter is, the so-called Palestinian cause is a convenient mask for a completely different cause: Jew-hatred. You can’t say that out loud because it sounds impolite. Plus, it requires a justification to make its extreme ends palatable, desirable, urgent.

The true cause underlying the Palestinian cause slipped out of the Palestinian leader’s mouth this week: The dream of a Jew-free Palestine, Israel, world. “Well, I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated, and we can contemplate these issues in the future.”

Again, to quote Prime Minister Netanyahu: “Any peace that is built on a foundation of lies ultimately collapses on the rocks of truth.”

The truth is that the so-called peace process has been fictional, for the Palestinians, all along. The Israelis, because they desperately want to survive, keep chasing the dream. Meanwhile, their “peace partners” are fully in the grip of the “Gaza Syndrome,” a “the pathological culture that celebrates brutal, wanton death.

It is the Gaza Syndrome that produced Hakim and Amjad Awad, the teenage killers who stabbed (warning: graphic) much of the Fogel family to death on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, March 11, 2011. In court, Hakim Awad smiled and gave a “V for Victory” sign as left the courthouse upon his conviction.

Of course he did. Hakim after all had the support of his family and community: “Both men (both killers) are affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) terror group and received significant assistance from family members and friends after the attack.” Oddly to the average Western observer, the response to the attack was quite joyous, with Palestinians happily distributing candy in the streets (see photo).

The official, so-called “moderate” Palestinian leadership didn’t seem all that perturbed either. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was quoted as saying that he “clearly and firmly denounces the terror attack, just as I have denounced crimes against Palestinians.”

In case you didn’t get the full meaning of that statement, Fayyad continues: “We categorically oppose violence and terror, regardless of the identity of the victims or the perpetrators.”

Get it? The strategy is to put Israel – a country defending its right to survive - on the same moral footing as the terrorists – a loosely connected community of killers who want to eradicate Jews, period.

The terrorist group Hamas was more forthright, refusing to condemn the hate crime at all. Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri stated: “We in Hamas completely support the resistance against settlers who murder and use crime and terror against the Palestinian people under the auspices of the Israeli occupation soldiers.”

Note how the haters of Israel use code words as propaganda to engender hatred of Israel.

· “Occupation” is supposed to make you think that Israel is holding the Palestinians hostage.

· “Apartheid state” is supposed to bring to mind racial guilt. To make you think that Israel is oppressing the Palestinians and taking all privilege for themselves – akin to South Africa pre-liberation.

· “Right of return” is an appropriation of Israel providing to Jewish people automatic citizenship in the Jewish homeland of Israel. Of course if all Palestinians return to Israel proper, the entire state will be dismantled.

As you watch the news unfold this week, think about the truth of the situation and sift it from the propaganda.

In the words of Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef, author of Son of Hamas:

“I was a prisoner of the Israelis when my eyes were opened to the fact that the Palestinian people were as oppressed by their own leaders as they were by Israel.

“It is my greatest hope that, in telling my own story, I will show my own people – Palestinian followers of Islam who have been used by corrupt regimes for hundreds of years – that the truth can set them free.”

“If I, the son of a terrorist organization dedicated to the extinction of Israel, can reach a point where I not only learned to love the Jewish people but risked my life for them, there is a light of hope.”

- Son of Hamas, p. 249, 247


Image source here

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brand Power: 2 Minutes That Will Change Your Life

A good video can be worth a thousand blogs. If it's short, so much the better. Here's an outstanding one from corporate communications firm Storia on the power of brand in a person's life - how it guides our choices. More videos on their site. (If you can't see it, click here.)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hidden Connection Between Political Rhetoric and Employee Communication

The most important communication advice you can give a leader:

Treat people like adults, not children. Don't follow the conventional
practice, which has the audience constantly receiving the equivalent
of baby-babble.

Yet too often, instead of leaders telling people the raw, hard-hitting
information they need to know in order to help the company earn more
money (or the country recover from a slump), they take the easy way
out and the audience gets pap.

This is not to say that soft talk has no place in leader-led
communication - it does. But a steady diet of dessert eventually gives
everyone a bellyache.

When you're on the outside looking in, it is hard to understand how
anyone could be so shortsighted that they dumb things down for a
grown-up audience. But on the inside there are millions of excuses.
All of them come down to one thing: Really straight communication is
an "I lose, you win" proposition - there is nothing in it for the
communicator who tells it like he or she sees it.

If you are the one sitting opposite an executive and advising them
what to do, you are faced with a difficult challenge. By telling them
to speak openly and honestly (of course, with some polish and
diplomacy), you are pushing them to risk their livelihood. It is their
name, their reputation, their business card on the line. And even if
they were to take the risk, around them is a sea of people just
waiting for a moment of vulnerability - so that they can take
advantage. What is the guarantee they will come out on top?

Of course, the answer is - there are no guarantees. Further, only a
handful of communicators are good enough executive coaches to help a
skittish, vulnerable leader change their self-protective orientation
toward employees or the public. Not to mention sufficiently skilled
organizational development coaches that they can change a climate
where traditional corporate-talk rules the day regardless of the

At the end of the day, opening up is a matter of trust; it can be a
mistake to take that step in an unforgiving and distorting world; and
new jobs are hard to come by these days. The way that I think about it
is - short-term vs. long-term. In the short-term if you do a soft-shoe
you may get away with it for awhile. In the long-term, people will
catch on and stop trusting you. And when you do the dance of not being
fully honest, people will read it in your body language; they will
hear it in your tone; they will see it in your eyes. You can't keep up
the facade for long.

If you are a communicator and you need to convince an executive to
change, take a page from Roger Ailes' playbook ("You Are The
Message"): hold up the TV camera, the microphone, the mirror. When
they see the way they come across, they will realize for themselves
whether they are off-track or on. What they do with that information
is ultimately up to them.

Good luck!

Branding as a Predictive Investment Tool

I can tell you right now that the new Sarah Jessica Parker film will flop. It is out of line with her brand - everybody's bright, klutzy, fashion-obsessed, perpetually romantic yet commitment-phobic best friend.

Same goes for the "Kardashian Kollection" at Sears. KK (uncomfortably close to the hate brand) is uninspired trash, only interesting because of the reality show brand and the reality that none of them would set foot in Sears without a massive payoff.

Meanwhile, Sears is about appliances. Its heritage is good old Americana. There is no reason to buy anything resembling clothing at this store unless you are on your way to pick up a washer-dryer.

You don't need a crystal ball to tell you these gazillion-dollar deals are worthless or worse (negative to brand equity.) All you need is a basic understanding of the concept: Add value to a commodity by creating the perception of superiority, in a very specific way.

Predictive brand analysis can be done in lots of ways. But the most basic, important and free is to use your brain objectively. If you are known to be an alcoholic, don't promote vodka!

Here are just a few random brand-based predictions for success/failure right now:

1. Ann Taylor feat. Demi Moore - fail. Demi Moore doesn't dress like that in real life...she is a cougar. Should have gone with Kate Winslet - classy clothes for intelligent women.

2. Kia Soul feat. the 3 rats - success. The brand, the image, the music, the price and the target market match perfectly.

3. CW's "Ringer" feat. Sarah Michelle Gellar - fail. Sarah is not Buffy the Vampire Slayer anymore. The mood now is Snooki. (Abercrombie & Fitch bet wrong on The Situation too.)

4. Merrell shoes - feat. In "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" - success. The mood of the moment now is low-key, rugged survival. They've got it.

5. Two and a Half Men - minus Charlie Sheen - fail. Not gonna happen. To my mind, that show was literally about Charlie Sheen, not even an invented persona, but the actual person and his inner demons.

If you get used to thinking about companies, projects, products and people from the perspective of brand, it is not only easier to make decisions, but you can actually predict how things will shake out down the road.

Maybe not immediately, but eventually you will see that the brand wins out.

Try it and post a comment about what happens.

Have a good evening everyone, and good luck!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Those who tell and those who don't (on the importance of 9/11 as a brand)

On Friday we commemorated 9/11 at work. It was a big event and coordinated among dozens.

Any event is hard to plan and this was no exception. But it was successful - the people involved took it seriously, knocked themselves out, and with G-d's help they delivered.

When it was over and we clapped for them it was a genuine acknowledgment. And the leader immediately responded by saying - don't thank me, it could not have happened without them. He meant it.

There was one person in the room who worked so hard, who jumped in so many times to fix things, who took it so much to heart that I thought she deserved an award all her own. I tried to tell her so. But she said, "No no no it's not about me. It's done now. I'm just glad."

My friend is not a spotlight-seeker. But in this world, it is only the spotlight-seekers who get ahead. It is only the ones who pick up a microphone who get the attention, the kudos, the reward.

In the aftermath of 9/11, it was the fact that people talked about its significance, its meaning, and turned it into a rallying cry - yes, a brand - that led to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (I work there and am not representing them here; all opinions my own).

Whether you agree with everything it does or not, DHS clearly represents the response to many people shouting into the microphone: "Do something." The "something" is to unify the stovepipes - "connect the dots" - so that all parties are working together to avert another attack and prepare for recovery in case there is one.

At the same time, there are those who try to use "9/11" for the wrong reasons. People who pick up the microphone to serve themselves.

Also last Friday, ironically a day when we affirm our steadfast commitment to stop terrorists, hundreds of Egyptians carried out a terrorist attack at the Israeli embassy in Cairo with a curiously delayed response by the Egyptian authorities. They broke through the security wall, burst into the lobby, tossed documents out the balcony window, and burned the Israeli flag, terrorizing the ambassador and his staff, who had to be evacuated. On Twitter, the response was quick and celebratory: The evil "occupying" Jews had once again received their due.

Does everybody hate Israel and the Jewish people, and wish us harm? Of course not. But it's the ones who pick up the microphone who are listened to. They promote lies and hatred and the response is anti-Semitism, confrontations, physical violence and ultimately, terrorism. What is the line between a peaceful protest opposing a Israel's policies, and physically storming the doors of a college campus' Jewish student association, banging on the doors as if to break them down and attack those inside? Answer: none.

There is a saying that "words hurt." Words can kill. Yet words can heal, too. But you have to open your mouth and use them.

I didn't see any Tweets from Israel responding to the joyful celebration of an attack on the Cairo embassy. Surely the nation was too busy focusing on what mattered - getting the ambassador and his staff to safety. In this the country is like my hardworking, quiet friend. She does the work, avoids the microphone, and goes home pleased at the reality of her effort. She doesn't need outside affirmation. In fact Israel is famously averse to hasbara, public relations. Not only because they're about action, not talk, but because it is a bedrock of Israeli culture to battle ideas out in public regarding ethics and morality. Israelis, and I think Jewish people in general, are famous for disagreeing long and loud when it comes to these matters. We do not believe in groupthink or "toeing the line" - it is burned into our brains to follow our conscience.

Sadly, this is exactly why Israel is at a disadvantage when it comes to nation-branding. They are not into "messaging" and gaming the social media system. They are about facts. But facts are not enough anymore. You have to capture people's emotions.

One thing that might help Israel more, and for that matter DHS or any entity charged with doing unpopular things for the sake of security, would be to show more emotion about the devastating impact when security is breached.

For example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not often let down his emotional guard. He presents himself as strong, almost defiant (others call it "hawkish") but his leadership comes from enormous personal sacrifice. He saw his older brother, Yoni, killed as he led a daring counterterrorist mission to save more than 100 Israelis taken hostage in 1976, in the operation known as the Raid On Entebbe. Yoni was killed after Israel, and its neighbors (including Egypt) tried diplomacy to get the hostages out - and diplomacy failed utterly.

Netanyahu cried when he spoke before the Israeli Knesset (Congress) in 2006 about the impact of his brother's death on his own life. But if you notice, he did not focus on himself, but rather on the suffering of other people, other parents specifically, who saw their own sons killed in needless wars driven by pointless hate:

"The death of a brother, whose life was cut short in its prime, is a traumatic event by all accounts. It diverted the course of my life to its current direction. But the grief of a bereaved brother, as painful or heartrending as it may be, can not be compared to the great suffering borne by parents who are forced to bury their son. We can only hope that these parents, who sacrificed the greatest possible thing, can take comfort in the fact that the story of their son and his brave friends in Entebbe reverberates with the bravery of all of Israel's fallen sons."

Today, 10 years to the day after radical Islamic hatred took the lives of thousands of Americans on September 11, 2001, the same exact hatred took the lives of 77 American soldiers and wounded several Afghan civilians in Afghanistan, from a Taliban bombing of an American base in Afghanistan. Just like the haters of Israel (who are really the haters of all Jewish people), they pick up the microphone to justify their crime as self-defense against an occupying force: "American colonialism has shed the blood of tens of thousands of miserable and innocent Afghans."

The great gift of the Internet is that the average person now has a microphone. Even if you consider yourself quiet, uninterested in the spotlight, non-self-promotional, and so on - it is important that you use that microphone to speak. There are enough people out there using the microphone for bad things - extremists, haters, exploiters. Be one of the people who uses it for truth. You can do it, and the world needs to hear from you.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The 5 Tenets of Personal Branding (Just Ask Madonna)

Madonna has not done everything right in her career. But when she started out, she had the magic.

Unlike any other musical artist of her time, Madonna understood that singing a song successfully has nothing to do with musical prowess. Nor is it about stirring emotion. It is not even about showing off as an entertainer.

Rather, in the age of branding, successful singing is about building a personal brand that translates out of singing into just about any other realm where the brand fits. That personal brand is established by telling a good story.

MTV was born in 1981 – I remember raptly watching “Video Killed The Radio Star” when it debuted – and Madonna’s 1984 “Borderline” debut took the art of the video beyond standing on a stage singing. She exemplified what it meant to be a video music star – a star in general – a great personal brand.

“Borderline” tells the story (fictional, but it feels authentic) of Madonna as a newly discovered star, torn between ruthless ambition and love. With this and her other early videos, Madonna established the tenets of personal branding:

·       Be authentic without oversharing and always maintain control - Madonna obviously does this by putting herself out there, while always holding something back – she weaves a spell and draws you into it.

·       Change frequently enough to keep the audience interested, but weave a core theme throughout the various faces of the brand – Madonna has clearly evolved her persona repeatedly throughout more than two decades.

·       Represent something unique and different that also has roots in contemporary pop culture – in Madonna’s case a version of L.A. street style.

·       Experiment boldly and abandon what flops – I did not like every early video, and fast-forwarding to other projects there have been other bad moves – but she picks herself up and keeps going.

·       Incorporate spirituality or social good into the message – early on, with “Like a Prayer,” one could see Madonna’s religious faith clearly on display. She distinguished between the pretense of religion and the actuality of spirituality, particularly holding up the African-American community as a source of deep connection with G-d.

Madonna is endlessly interesting to me, even today, even after making bad movies and dubious fashion lines with her daughter. She is into Kabbalah, adopting disadvantaged children, and generally cares about the world.

Madonna is also deep. She was quoted on the news the other day, responding to Lady Gaga, and said something like: “I have no response because I don’t know if her obsession with me is profound or superficial.” Somebody who says things like that is careful with her words, respectful of her audience. Evolved.

Contrast Madonna with Britney Spears, a very pale version of Madonna. Britney, whose music I love and whose videos are artistic accomplishments in their own right, appears to me to be a young person with an interesting personal brand that has been created, commercialized, and exploited by many other people. I think she is incredibly talented, and that the brand that has been created for her works, but it is not hers. Unfortunately, she seems sheltered, lost and out of control of her own message. This was very clear to me watching this year’s Video Music Awards, when she appeared dazed and to be reading off the teleprompter.

And then there is Lady Gaga. At first I dismissed her as even more superficial than Britney Spears. But then I realized, first, that Britney is not superficial. She is tortured. But we don’t get to see that side of her – the complexity of her inner conflict – because it is kept hidden from the rest of the world, except when she explodes.

Similarly, Lady Gaga is also tortured, particularly about gender, relationships, etc. I remember reading an interview with her where she explained that she tended to get into bad relationships, and that she was afraid she would lose her creativity if she got close with someone. I don’t see that tension in her music or her videos at all. They are so elaborate, but so dead. “The wheel is turning,” but where is the hamster?

On the VMAs this year Lady Gaga appeared as her “alter ego,” a man, and she made Britney Spears very nervous onstage because she kept the joke going for too long (she tried to kiss her). It was clear to me, at that moment, that I was seeing something of the real Lady Gaga, something also hidden away, not used or referred to for the personal brand. And the omission of the complexity hurts her brand terribly, making her look much more superficial than she is.

And then she gave a short speech about sexuality – saying that whatever you are, you are fine. And I realized that Lady Gaga’s brand is about being “Born This Way,” but she never talks about it. Which is why her music, though brilliant in its way, is also such a letdown.

The bottom line for personal branding, as always, is that you have to find a balance between being real but also being interesting, unique, and in touch with your audience – and do all of this while maintaining sufficient control to commercialize the formula. Madonna can’t do it anymore, but there are others today who can – most notably reality stars like the Kardashians and Snooki.

The great thing about a personal brand is that nobody else can duplicate it. Products, services, processes and technologies all can be copied. Even culture can be copied. But a person’s unique sense of self can never be.

The bad thing is that a compelling personal brand is also fleeting, because it is tied to place and time. If you happen to have a good one, find the place where you can make the most use of it, and then go for it. Take that fifteen minutes of fame while you can.

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here