Friday, May 31, 2013

Privacy in an age when privacy is gone

As employees, people do not want to be branded with your logo. They would rather see themselves as different, special and unique.

In fact the more you throw the brand (or even the word "brand") in someone's face the more they will rebel.

People don't want to be branded in a lot of ways.

We don't like relationship labels...religious labels...neighborhood labels...class labels...gender labels...any kind of labels.

Because there's always an exception to the rule. 

Because we need to preserve our privacy. Meaning, that gray space between our secret inner selves and the glaring harsh light of the outside world and how people judge us and label us.

In a world where privacy is functionally over - and let us be clear that it absolutely is - how do we attain and maintain privacy? Regain it?

The only way, I think, is to make the personal choice to respect it.

Just because you can see something, know something, doesn't mean you should.

Let people have their space - don't try to label and capture every aspect of them. As an example, if you are a job recruiter, this means leave their social media alone. But it also has broader implications, when you consider the "real person" behind a leader of celebrity figure. And obviously there is a lot more to be said.

I am all for branding in the sense that we clarify who we are and what we offer to the world in terms of personality, products and services. But there is a serious line there that we should not cross.

In a free society it is important that people have their space.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Wrong People Are In Charge Of Your Brand

"One of our main criteria for joining the team was -- you could not be a jerk." - Anon.

Branding is always a marketing exercise, but its first and primary goal is the recruitment and retention of high-performing employees through continuous organizational development. 
  • The brand tells you what kind of leader is right -- because the leader sets the vision for the rest to follow.
  • The brand tells you what kind of planning will work -- because it's not just a matter of allocating resources but of institutionalizing processes that will work in the culture.
  • The brand tells you what kind of person can actually earn you money, based not just on skill but also on the customer's preferences. For example, some brand consultancies take the academic approach while others are more design-oriented. Both are "accurate" but it's the customer's preference that determines which is chosen.
  • The brand tells you what kind of person is needed to support the revenue-generators. The human resources team, the accountants, the IT professionals, and so on do not work in a vaccuum. They do work in a team where a certain kind of behavior is accepted. 
  • Finally, the brand tells you what kind of advertising, marketing, social media, sales, and PR campaigns make sense for this unique organization. If you know the organization well enough, you can filter out a good campaign from a bad one in about five seconds. 
The first step in branding is on-boarding new employees. Two corporate handbooks are out there and popular now: Valve and Netflix. Zappos has an entire corporate culture section of its website. (Last I heard, which was a while back, they will also pay you $2,000 to quit.) Southwest has an extremely influential Culture Committee.

All of these efforts go to the basics of the brand. Which is "everything," true. But at the end of the day the brand is how your employees behave. Not the logo, not the vision or mission statement, or the tagline or the business strategy or any document. It is what they do.

If you want to strengthen your brand, start with training in leadership, management, organizational development, and communication first. After that, the rest will follow.

* As always, all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

That Yawning Gap Between Leadership Books And Reality

I am not here to lecture anyone. 
But it is hard to understand how there can be so much good advice about leadership flying around, and yet there is such utter cluelessness about basic common sense.
Like how to treat people when you meet them. How about saying: Hello? How are you? How's the weather out there?
Or how to delegate an assignment.
Or how to not scream at your subordinates and throw books.
I was grateful today that my friend and colleague Jeri Richardson took the time to speak about leadership. Things like this.
She came over and shared basic principles of leadership. More than that, she shared her personal experiences.
Jeri told us how to get results, how she's done it over a period of decades:
* Modeling leadership behavior
* Focusing on underlying business needs 
* Dealing with the customer as a human being
...and so much more.
It was all good stuff. But I found myself wondering as she talked, how is it and why is it that so many people I know over the years -- across companies and agencies alike -- have had to manage around their leaders? Rather than the leadership lighting the way?
Is this not what leaders are paid to do? 
It is great that there are people as strong as Jeri is, as tolerant and patient with the foibles of the workplace. 
And we all should learn to lead by example. 
But at the same time, isn't it time for some sort of leadership metric? 
Instead of talking a lot about how much we value our people, or not talking a lot because we are not sure we're perfect, or instead of focusing so much on the work that we miss the human factor altogether --
I would suggest we pay as much attention to leadership and management during work hours as we do in training seminars and reading leadership books and articles.
That leadership become in itself a technical specialty. 
That emotional intelligence -- the core of leadership -- be recognized for what it is.
Not a "soft" meaning "unimportant" skill. But the essence of what leadership is.
That's my hope, anyway. Because in the workplace, the only person who can tell you very clearly what has to be done is the leader. It's the one thing that cannot be delegated down.
I only wish we could institutionalize that kind of secret sauce.
It's an essential ingredient to any high-functioning workplace.

* As always, all opinions are my own.

Monday, May 27, 2013

What The Most Valuable Brands Have In Common: They Are Boring

There is nothing a creative person likes more than to create a brand. And that is great when there’s a new brand to be built. But when the brand becomes familiar and established, it can be financial suicide to take it apart. Here’s why boring brands are more valuable:

1. You remember their name.
2. Knowing the name makes them sound legitimate.
3. Familiarity generates loyalty by default.
4. Consistency simplifies choice.
5. Fewer choices reduce stress.

Google, Samsung, Apple, and Amazon don't try to reinvent themselves every six months. They simply focus on doing what they do: serve the customer, to make more money -- which is in the end the object of business and what every marketer should be focused on as well.

Neat: Predicted Brand Stock Index, and Now It's Here

It was only a matter of time before somebody did this. I'm just wondering what took so long.
  • August 12, 2007, I wrote: "I have a major, major idea for Young & Rubicam: They should start a brand index mutual fund based on their Brand Asset Valuator ( The fund should tie to current strong and emerging brands."
  • May 23, 2013, FutureBrand posts: "The FutureBrand Index is a real-time global stock market for brands offering a predictive view of brand strength. ....The resulting share prices create a real-time Index of the top 50 global future brands called the FBF50. As with all markets, the ranking is constantly changing as share prices rise and fall based on trading activity."
Here is a link to the FutureBrand site where you can sign up to trade. Not sure when it launched, but it looks amazing, and glad that somebody picked this idea up.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

5 Ways To Respond To The Critics: Lessons from McDonald's CEO

Superficially McDonald's and the government are different. But when you get closer they have at least one thing in common: an enormous, diverse customer base, many of whom rely on the institution for daily subsistence.
Normally the government is very cautious about responding to its critics. The reasons are infinite and familiar: many different interests at play - the need to speak in unison - the wild and provocative nature of some of the attacks - the impossibility of answering every one.
Plus there is this sense that to play defense is to lose. You don't want to get into mudslinging. (And add to that the fact that some back-and-forthing has to do with ongoing investigations, or confidential material that simply cannot be shared.)
All of this is why the speech by Don Johnson, CEO of McDonald's at the company's annual meeting was so refreshing. According to a report in, "Nutrition Critics Get No Apology From McDonald's CEO At Annual Meeting," (May 24, 2013) Johnson aggressively took apart their comments point by point.
Here are some key takeaways perhaps applicable to other contexts:
1. Validate Accurate Criticism: A corporate responsibility group said McDonald's was promoting obesity. Johnson in effect validated that this used to be true.
2. Show Improvement: Johnson pointed out the healthier menu options now available to increase choice.
3. Never Apologize For Your Mission: The McDonald's also said clearly that the brand is about "fun," and that it's not a bad thing to let kids enjoy junky food every now and then. (Score one for simple rationality -- it makes your critics look like ridiculous duds.)
4. Point Out Attempts To Manipulate Your Story: In response to charges that McDonald's directly aimed to exploit communities of color by marketing to them, Johnson said, point blank: "McDonald's is not the brand that you describe." Period.
5. Establish a connection with your critics: Johnson noted that he grew up in a low-income housing project in Chicago. The underlying message: I am one of you - I would not betray you. While this could backfire, it's effective if it's perceived as sincere - a way of breaching the gap between the corporate boardroom and its corporate accountability critics.
The bottom line is, large organizations should avoid excessive timidity about corporate messaging. It's OK to be "human" - nobody is perfect - and most people understand that at times "mistakes were made." While of course you can't defend wrongdoing, avoiding public remarks entirely is never a solution. Rather, admit it and go on.
The rest of the time, when the criticism involves a large area of gray, it is important to stand up for yourself. Talk about your efforts to improve, and never apologize for being who you are.

* All opinions, as always, are my own.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Radical Transparency Is Common Sense

I think it's very hard, when you're at the center of a scandal, to know what to do. Frankly, you're freaking out.

And it is at that unfortunate time that people pile on you. So you get a lawyer. And you do as you are told: plead the Fifth or go silent. 

Which may keep your hide out of jail. But also damages your reputation forever.

Had you been investing in your credibility all along this may not have happened. You would have your ear to the ground. You would sniff out the slightest hint if a problem. You would banish it right away.

You would do many things on the positive side too. To make sure people know that you are on your game, on your guard and no bullshit allowed.

Like with scandals, people get heart attacks and cancer and we don't totally know why. But we know what habits are associated with disease. High stress, processed food, no sleep and little exercise - e.g. the typical person's life. We have to take active steps to avoid and hopefully reverse these.

It's the same with reputation.

Angelina Jolie just got a double mastectomy. She has the gene for cancer. A little pain and ugliness now means a lifetime of - well, living! - with her family, humanitarian work and career after that.

We do not want to go to the negative places. But we have to. When something could possibly go wrong, prevent it by talking about the complexities of reality. Give more information instead of less and make it meaningful, understandable and engaging.

An ongoing conversation is less likely to end in reputation disaster. Once you're a known quantity, people can relate and are less likely to judge you.

If you screw up, say so too. It makes you human. (We are a forgiving people! We like nothing more than to forgive!)

The absolute worst thing a leader can do, in my mind, is to make a habit of clamming up. Quiet leaders generate suspicion, especially when they work in controversial fields. It's like - hey, what are they up to? - even when they're just getting a cup of joe.

The human mind gravitates toward simplicity, story and drama. Tell yours first or you risk having others fit you into their own script. 

One you can never control.

*As always, all opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Start By Firing Executive Bullies

It is a very big leap from the thesis "fire unproductive workers" to the reality of evaluating true productivity. Some employees are productive but not in ways that are listed in their job description - such as those who simply boost the morale of everybody else. Example - Read about "Zach Galifianakis' Red Carpet Date"

Others do crap work that nobody else will do, that doesn't need to get done, but that the organization requires. They are productive in the sense that they create social stability.

Still others are eager to learn and contribute but make too many mistakes to really generate much in the way of results. They will generate results in the future, but not now.

So what about truly unproductive workers?

Perhaps we should consider seriously evaluating those at the top of the pay scale. If they are receiving a disproportionate share of salary they should be held accountable for generating disproportionately high results, productivity or outcomes.

Screenshot via Gawker.

Put simply, what that means is it should cost more to fire them than to have them on board.
Examples of highly productive executives are those who find ways to achieve results innovatively, cut costs, reduce duplication of effort, and eliminate unnecessary processes.

Some executives simply "coast" by, but they are highly productive anyway because their institutional value cannot be replaced and it would cost too much to figure out what they can tell you in five minutes. Or, they are highly networked and can leverage relationships to get things done. Again, a simple conversation that leads to a working relationship can save years of useless effort down the road.

Some people are paid a great deal of money and they are not only unproductive, but they actually detract from productivity. They don't add anything valuable to the organization. They insist on doing things in ways that waste time, effort and sap motivation. And unfortunately sometimes they abuse people in the workplace, leading otherwise highly productive workers to be sapped of morale and causing costly litigation for the organization down the road.

To my mind, if you're looking for ways to eliminate unproductive workers, it makes the most sense to start with highly paid workers that detract from the productivity of everybody else.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Comments On A Difficult Custody Case

Yesterday I read the following article, which has generated a firestorm of controversy, mostly anti-Chassidic. Been following the comments and adding my own., May 20, 2013
By Shulem Deen
Link here.

It's interesting to observe what happens when social media meets insular community. One thing is clear: people want transparency.

Below are my thoughts on reading the various threads. Bottom line: Nobody knows "the truth" except those who were there and information is more helpful than using gossip and hearsay to advance one's personal agenda.


Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal on May 22, 2013 at 6:27 am

Those who oppose the ruling and attack the judge are missing the bigger picture.

While it is true that the mother is entitled to be nonreligious, what is in the best interest OF THE CHILDREN?

The children have a right to be raised in a physically and psychologically SAFE environment.

* Physically = no beatings (“corporal punishment”) and no sexual abuse. Clearly the children were put in foster care for their physical safety. People other than the mother reported SOMETHING so the children were removed.

* Psychologically = In most of the United States, parents of varying observance level and even varying faiths is normal. In MONSEY, where the children will be living, consistency is CRITICAL.

Add to the potential psychological damage:

* The mother appears to be engaged in a physical relationship while engaged in divorce proceedings, with small children, with a member of the extended family (“one of the children’s cousins”).

* In ANY family court in America, I would imagine that a judge and/or psychologist would take issue with that.

The options here seem to range between bad and terrible.

–Forcing the children to live with an unstable, violent parent does not seem right.

–But neither does putting them into a situation where they will be told one thing (at the extreme) by the ENTIRE community, IMMERSED in religion – and then with mom, told the complete opposite and in the most hateful and angry way as would be natural after a divorce. Then ADD that she has apparently embarked on a course of action that is far outside the norms of the community.

The children would not have refuge anywhere, even in their minds…how can your most beloved life object, your mother/caregiver, also be the personification of evil? That is a cruelty they can not ever understand, but that a judge can.

This family’s personal tragedy has become fodder for hateful gossip about the father, the mother, the community, the judge, etc. etc. If people really cared as much as they said they did, they would apply the common sense test here.

Most important of all, it seems wrong to use their misery as an excuse for someone’s own personal vendetta, be it for or against the Chasidim. They have a right to live their life their way too. (Even if the insularity they created to protect themselves, has led to more harm than good.)
Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal on May 21, 2013 at 11:58 pm
Your comment is awaiting moderation.


Possibly original documents:

Posted By Shauli Gro’s
Excerpts from Kelly Myzner’s court transcripts.

.. With respect to which parent provides for the intellectual and emotional development of the children, the Mother was far more involved and vigilant in identifying the children’s special education needs and issues. She was integral in getting the children help they needed, except for not providing the private school with a copy of ******’* lEP, while the Father was more reserved or perhaps even in some level of denial about his sons’ issues, particularly ******. This Court believes that the Mother spearheaded the campaign to obtain services for ******, and that while the Father was present for the administration of the services, he was much more passive. The testimony of the forensic evaluator regarding the Father’s attention deficit issues calls into questions whether the Father has the capacity to pursue treatment for ******’* needs, but this Court is convinced that overall, the Father has been a caring and responsible parent. The Mother, while the more tenacious parent in securing assistance for the children’s issues, seems to lack insight into how her own choices and conduct, i.e. residing with the children’s cousin in a romantic relationship, stating that she would not have the children observe religious rules in her home, affects the children’s emotional health.

..This Court cannot conceive of how the Mother would think it would be beneficial to her children, who have been raised in a very strict religious manner, to see her living out-of-wedlock..
If the Mother were to ignore the rules and requirements that the children are forced to follow to remain in their current community and school while with the children, it could lead to catastrophic consequences for children who are already clearly struggling with a multitude of issues.

..If she is no longer religious, she may change the children’s conservative attire and grooming, change her appearance when she is with the children, permit the child children to view television and access the internet and permit the children to violate the rules of the Sabbath and the kosher dietary restrictions, all strictly prohibited in the world of Hasidic Judaism.

Given all of the facts and circumstances in this case, the Court awards the Father custody of the children, as joint custody is not possible “because of the antagonistic relationship between the parties.” Chamberlain v. Chamberlain, 24 A.D.3d 589,591, 808 N.Y.S.2d 352 (2dDept. 2005). The Father must keep the Mother informed of his decisions, and shall endeavor toPage: 29 of 32 include her in the decision making process to best of his ability. The Court recognizes that the children are extremely bonded to their mother, and that two of the children expressed that they did not want to live with their father. Despite the children’s expressed wishes, the Court finds that the children are to commence residing with the Father as soon as the Father secures a residence in Rockland County, preferably in the’ former marital home as the Mother expressed her intentions to leave that residence. Given the Mother’s actions in this case, which served to alienate the children from the Father, the Court finds that the children’s time with the Mother should not be extended at this juncture. Perhaps as the relationship improves between the Father and children after a period of time of the children residing with the Father, additional time with the Mother may be appropriate. Further, the Father shall provide the Mother with the rules of conduct that the children’s school requires the children to follow for their continued attendance. The Mother is directed to ensure that the children follow those rules whenever possible when the children are in her care. Indig v. Indig, 90 A.D.3d 1050, 934 N.Y.S.2d 843 (2d Dept. 2011

Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal on May 21, 2013 at 7:57 pm

This whole spectacle is so sad. Jew vs. Jew.

Post the public information so that we can see what was said.

If the judge did the wrong thing then investigate that.

But don’t use a marriage gone wrong as an excuse to rail for or against G-d, Judaism, men, women, or the moon.

We have not learned anything from all these years in Golus unfortunately…it does not help to spread hatred.

Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal on May 21, 2013 at 1:26 pm

Before saying anything I want to comment that any child who has been assaulted or sexually abused by a parent should immediately be removed from that parent no questions asked.

Having said that – there are two sides to every story and I would like to see the public record too. While everybody reading this is familiar with religious extremism by Satmar, and they are extreme and crazy  (look at Weberman’s victim, look at Deborah Feldman’s experience) her side of the story doesn’t ring true completely.

For example, she says she changed her views on religion AFTER splitting up rather than BEFORE. Usually a breakup is the culmination of a lot of fighting, negativity, etc.

Also, and I don’t know the law on this, she did choose a community that is very insular and different than the rest of the world. It is more than confusing to take a child out of that world – it can be shattering. I was Modern Orthodox and basically gave it up for being Conservadox, and that was extremely tough on my family. To go from Chasidish to secular is much more extreme.

Instead of scapegoating Satmar (doesn’t that seem a little too easy) how about people look at the facts, go by the facts, and try to do right by everyone here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

(Someone just read this and made a billion dollars.)

There is a converging body of thought suggesting that the workplace of the future will not wait for leaders to find experts   - hierarchy is old school and so is matrix management - too slow, too complicated, impossible to administer.
Rather we will assemble "flash mobs" of talent as a job needs to be done, then dissolve them afterward.
"In the traditional company -- and agency -- structure, multiple layers of personnel exist for a purpose that often amounts to moving information around...Under the emerging new approach, "what you see happen over and over that you just don't have those middle layers"..."What happens when you release information [is that] people on an individual level create their own networks outside their offices," said Karina Homme, senior director of social enterprise transformation at "People can now create communities around their interest areas."
In the new world it will be the networkers who survive.
The litmus test for success will be 360 peer feedback.
"Just about every company has its own version of a 360 degree feedback process. Nevertheless, Vineet saw several problems with HCLT’s off-the-shelf approach. First, it didn’t focus explicitly on how managers were impacting those in the value zone. Second, employees fearful of retaliation often pulled their punches when reviewing their supervisor. And third, the fact that feedback could only come from one’s immediate colleagues tended to reinforce long-standing organization silos. Today, HCLT employees are able to rate the performance of any manager whose decisions impact their work lives, and to do so anonymously."
I would not be surprised if eventually there were a website that followed you across the span of your whole career (possibly appended to LinkedIn) where people who had worked with you, and whose identities could be verified, then rated your skills and expertise. Like your avatar.
(Someone just read this and made a billion dollars.)
The other thing is that people who are proficient and engaged on networks like Yammer, GovLoop, etc. are going to be the ones called to join project teams.

A Comment On "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport

Check out this interesting book, here, and discussion at GovLoop.
This is a very good example of someone making money off of intentionally controversial hype.
The author takes a nugget of truth and blows it up into advice that could seriously harm people.
The nugget of truth is that employers reward skill not passion. Passion in fact can get in the way of career success. Why? Because it blinds your judgment when you get emotional about the work.
The harmful part is that YOU cannot go to work without some form of motivation. Lots of things are motivating -- subsistence, engagement, meaning, control and empowerment (see Penelope Trunk's excellent blog post here).
Work about which you feel passionate is also motivating.
When I was young, I studied what I was passionate about - writing - and I have never, ever been sorry about that. I went to a college where I could create my own courses, shape my own major and eventually got a scholarship to study sociology, which is endlessly fascinating to me and turned into marketing.
My advice to young people is:
There is enough time to be practical later on - the marketplace will reward you for the things you are good at. But don't start out cynical and trying to "work it" just to make a buck. You will be miserable.

How Authorities & Experts Can Get Along

What are the rules for an effective working relationship between authorities (leaders and managers) and those with authoritative knowledge (technical experts)?

And the prompt for the question is that this traditionally decent relationship has deteriorated.

Reasons for that disconnect:

1. When younger more inexperienced people manage older experienced people

2. When politicals manage civil servants

3. When external factors prompt a rush to change established norms and safeguards

The step by step deterioration usually goes something like this:

1. Expert sees problem that leader or manager does not OR leader or manager makes unrealistic demands or does something inadvisable

2. Expert tries to bring it to leader or manager's attention

3. Expert is ignored

4. Expert blows whistle

5. Expert suffers retaliation

...and at that point it can easily tip over into an ugly, costly, public, drawn-out legal matter, fodder for the headlines.

From my own observation here are some things that authorities and authoritative experts can do to eliminate the disconnect:

All Parties:
1. Have respect for what the other person can do - these are different skill sets

2. Appreciate the pressure on the other person

3. Focus on fixing the problem, don't make it a power struggle

4. Insist on having a process, even if the process is to suspend process - minimize chaos and confusion

5. Make it a practice to consult formally or informally with third party experts outside the immediate work unit - don't fall into the insularity trap, where your world becomes the whole world

For leaders & managers:

* Call on the right person to do the right job - never work with an expert through an expert's boss and never randomly assign a task to someone who is expert in a very particular thing

* Give experts special projects - they actually like those, it's not a negative thing

* Verbalize to the expert how much you appreciate their skills in XYZ - and be very specific about those skills, experts hate phony b.s. talk and meaningless compliments; praise the in public

* Give them a wide swath of control over the work, their time, their personal space

* Don't turn experts into project managers, they are not administrative types and they are not team thinkers either

* Leave the expert alone unless you need them - do not take up their time needlessly; never micromanage

* Do not make a big deal about every little thing - know when to let things pass; avoid needless confrontation

* Treat the expert as a peer

* Never ask an expert to do something you know is wrong.

For experts:

* Respond to requests for help right away - pick up the phone, answer the email

* Work extremely hard and produce - don't just spin your wheels

* Do a great job at whatever THEY need - understand that there is political and cultural stuff going on all the time, and you are a part of that show - it's not always going to make sense to you

* Be proud of what you know, but keep the ego out of it - you're not the only expert in the world

* Tone down the language, e.g. be diplomatic

* Talk about evidence not opinion

* Offer solutions that can be implemented, not pie in the sky

* Make the authority look good where possible

* Say: I am going to speak truth to power - then say it respectfully (never mouth off)

* Never go along with wrongdoing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Marketing:Branding = Microphone:Fingerprint

Marketing consists of all activities associated with creating a customer for your product. So in business marketing is everything, really: "Business exists to create a customer" said Peter Drucker. It's like a microphone in that it builds awareness.

Branding is a subset of marketing, a meta-technique applied to all the assorted activities done in marketing's name. It's what makes you unique - your fingerprint. Branding is "the way we do things," "who we are," "our personality."

Branding is the long-term action of creating perceived value: adding value to your product over and above commodity.

Branding activities have less short-term ROI but they function as long-term insurance when the product is getting best up by the market.

You don't abandon your friends easily.

Think of marketing as generating positive attention for your product and branding as building a cushion underneath it. An insurance policy.

That cushion is that people want to buy from someone they know and trust - and that is a sense you build through branding.

You do both at the same time: Marketing and branding activities overlap and integrate.

The influence of branding is to integrate  disparate marketing activities into an overarching message. When activities are coordinated the message is more powerful.

Branding enhances marketing when the message is focused, differentiated, relevant, and consistent. And of course credible.

Marketing techniques typically include: advertising, PR, trade shows, social media, word of mouth, product placement and employee-focused or internal communication. It also includes research and development.

When you do marketing absent branding the message does not stick.

Example: Mouthwash

Branding activity: Create a personality around the mouthwash such that kids want to integrate into their daily lives and even pay double the price of generic.

Marketing activity: Get the mouthwash in front of kids in an appealing but safe way. Make it indispensable.

Ideally there is one person (a benevolent dictator) whose vision runs the whole show. That way the focus is truly singular.

* The above was originally posted as a response to a request to differentiate marketing and branding, posted on

Sunday, May 19, 2013

How To Lose An Interview In 30 Seconds Or Less

Interviews are a contact sport, where verbal sparring replaces fists. Don't ever walk into one unprepared. If you don't know what you're doing, you will get slaughtered.

Here are 10 tips to help you keep your reputation alive, even during the most brutal of Q&A sessions:

1. Know your subject matter cold. There is no such thing as "winging it." Study up. Get coached. Read. This should be happening far out in advance of the interview, because for the 24-48 hours beforehand you won't be able to retain any information by "crashing." If you are very knowledgeable and not just dancing around the facts, people will get that from the ease with which you speak (note they probably won't be able to follow the subtleties nor will they really care).

2. Know the interviewer or reporter. Everything is online nowadays. Study the kinds of questions they tend to ask, the articles they write, their point of view and interests, their interactive style, everything you can know you should know. Know who they are writing for. Know what their interests and equities are. Take their ideas seriously. You may disagree, but that doesn't mean you should ignore.

3. Know the context or environment. Go there early. Get comfortable. Look around you. Test the microphone. Mechanical difficulties make you look like an idiot, even if it's not your fault. Stand close to the camera, away from the camera, sit high and sit low. This is not vanity. This is practicality.

4. Dress intentionally. Look at your outfit. Don't wear weird ties with patterns that will glow or reflect. Wear appropriate clothes in flattering colors. Be extremely harsh and objective about this. Sometimes fashionable is good, sometimes classic is good. Note you don't have to be thin. You do have to wear clothes that fit. Some will judge the interview based solely on how you look.

5. Lower your voice and slow down. If your voice is high-pitched, nasal, or you talk too fast, the viewer will get turned off. You can get a vocal coach, you can get your best friend. A bad voice can ruin anybody's day.

6. Look at the host or the camera. The other day I watched an interview where the guest looked down at her notes. It was terrible. She seemed ill-prepared, untrustworthy, and lacking in confidence. She lost, totally. Don't do that. Smile. Laugh. Be at ease. You're fantastic! You aren't going to die. This is a moment to remember - you're on stage. If you can't handle being on stage, get off and let someone else handle it.

7. Don't talk off-mic. This is an easy mistake to make. The interviewer wants you to say something unguarded, controversial, and headline-grabbing. They ask you a question before or after the interview. It's supposed to be tangential to the story. It ends up leading the story.

8. Don't lose your cool. It's the interviewer's job to provoke you and sometimes to distort things. Don't be provoked. The only time you should act angry is when you're trying to send a message that is based on known fact. I cannot emphasize enough that you should only make statements based on what you absolutely 100% know to be true. If you do not know, do not say.

9. Don't disrespect, dismiss or invalidate the host or the question. If you are being asked to explain something that is of serious concern to the audience, and you do any of these things, it shows that you are arrogant and out of touch. If you are asked a purposefully combative question, simply call attention to the fact that the question is purposefully combative. For example: "I understand that you are trying to ask me a controversial question, but the reality is XYZ." Don't blame someone else. Don't deflect. Don't run away with your body language or with your words. Simply walk into the challenge and walk out the other side.

10. If you are wrong, admit it. This does not make you look bad. This makes you look honest. You don't have to beat yourself up. You should simply and objectively hold yourself accountable. If you find yourself going down a bad road - maybe you're talking too much or saying the wrong thing - simply stop. Of course, don't dwell on or end with negativity. State what you are doing to improve, increase, enhance the quality of your work and results.

Messaging, Helpful and Not

A response to someone's comment about the Sunday talk shows, and learning nothing from them:
  • Messaging is useful when it helps the subject matter expert (SME) put their response in context rather than having the interviewer create the context for them. SMEs need to have that power because otherwise they are at the mercy of everyone else's agenda, axe to grind, point of view, ideology, etc.
  • Messaging is not useful when it is used to distort or suppress the truth or to propagandize. Not only don't those techniques work, but they have the opposite effect of destroying the speaker's credibility.
  • Over the past 10-15 years or so, coinciding with the rise of branding as a "mass" tool (meaning that everyone "gets" it and uses it for their own gain) -- we have seen the rise of phony marketing speak as a substitute for actual substantive responses to questions. Like others, I find it completely frustrating to watch a TV interview and feel that the speaker is somehow trying to hide, evade, manipulate, project an image, etc.
The solution to all this is not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Dense jargon, words with no framing or anchor or context, and simple avoidance would be the result. Rather communicators really have to up their game and understand that the audience to whom they speak is every bit as smart as them, maybe smarter.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Crises Always Hit At The Level Of The Brand

Screenshot via - Free Educational Resources for Government Lesson Planning

It's a common mistake when it comes to crisis thinking. You see the situation nearsightedly. From a single instance outward, rather than from the outside in.

Consider government. You may think that one agency has little to do with another, and you may be right. But when a crisis hits, every agency becomes the same.

This is because crises always hit at the level of the brand. In the eyes of the American public, the brand is the government in its totality - the collective mush of the legislative, the executive, and the judicial; the civil servants and the "politicals" alike.

Thus a crisis response that is partial cannot ever be effective. Because the brand in its totality is "government" - all of it.

This is easy to see when you think of brands in the private sector. But it's difficult when your brand is not a "brand" in the traditional, fast-moving-consumer-goods sense. 

Nevertheless, it's the reality that people nowadays think in terms of branding. Unless you respond to an issue at the level where the brand resides, your response is ineffective.

Screenshot via

Friday, May 17, 2013

Crises Are Always Predictable

There's this girl we know. Well actually, knew. Committed suicide by train. 

Saw that one coming a mile away.

It's not that I would have used the word "suicide." But "troubled" came into my brain whenever I thought of her. (Occasionally.)

A lifelong celebrity gossip hound, watcher of Donahue and then Oprah, raised in a world largely made up of women, I am highly attuned to drama. And talk of relationship crises. 

It is never a thing that comes by surprise.

I have studied politics, media and PR through the lens of branding for many years. It feels like my whole life.

One thing I've learned: Usually when the scandal does break, it breaks slowly. People don't see it for what it is at the time. It may even be out in the open.

And then suddenly it becomes "a thing."

The way to see crisis is not incidentally -- one thing at a time and not judged by order of magnitude. What you're looking for are patterns -- cracks in an otherwise clean facade.

Those little cracks, accepted as normal and repeated over time, become what we know later as dangerous crises.

The devil is in the details, and that's why you have to sweat them. Even if they seem unimportant at the time.

As always, all opinions are my own. Photo by me.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The 10 Key Components of Crisis Communication

The biggest mistake you can make with a crisis is not to expect one to happen in the first place.
Here are 10 elements that should be common to any crisis communication plan:
1. Transparency: Make information and documentation available as much as possible.
2. Accountability: Leadership "owns" the problem, apologies are made, and person/s responsible are disciplined.
3. Immediacy: There is very little pause between incoming questions and outgoing answers.
4. Rationality: There is no handwringing or drama but rather an objective provision of information.
5. Neutrality: Absence of ideological or other bias - only the truth matters.
6. Objective Third Party: Someone with no stake in the game is empowered to investigate and bring findings.
7. Accessibility: Firsthand witnesses and participants are made available to answer questions.
8. Legality: An attorney explains to the public what they have a right to know and what information may not be shared.
9. Interactivity: Genuine back-and-forthing between the institution and the inquiring minds who want to know.
10. Positivity: Negative situations are also teachable moments - therefore emphasize progress and the way forward.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

We Are So Addicted To The Idea That Consistency Is Linear

I am weird, yes and I took this photo through the windowpane of someone's trunk, in a parking lot.

The reason I took the photo was that the chart caught my attention. It is not the first time I've seen people literally carrying around these kind of diagram charts in their trunks.

Possibly people in the Washington, D.C. metro area carry these things around because they are wonky policy types or academics very frequently. Maybe they have briefings on the Hill that just can't wait. Or they're consultants who want to show a process in play.

Whatever the scenario I look at these charts and I have to laugh. Because my life is not linear, my mind is not linear and neither is the life or mind of anyone I know.

It is true that I try to break things down into repeatable steps. In fact this is a lot of what I do at work. But I have found over time that steps and processes do not work they way they look on paper. In reality people work in a completely non-linear fashion, for at least five reasons:

  • The linear types and the non-linear types have to work together, so you can't have straight linear.
  • Creativity has a logic but it is not linear, and you need creativity to innovate.
  • The world of networking and relationships relies often on "workarounds" to make abstract procedures work in a practical way. 
  • As leadership changes, work culture changes.
  • External factors like technology, the strategic environment, even the workstyle of new recruits influence the way existing procedures are implemented.
All of this matters for branding - a lot - because we tend to think of consistency as McDonald's hamburger patties coming out similarly each and every time.

The truth is branding nowadays must have inner consistency as often as outer. That is, the brand should "feel like" you even if it does not literally look or sound the same way every time.

The best conveyor of a brand is always the human being. And human beings are always quirky, unpredictable and imperfect - that's the very best part of us, and it's the part that great brands capture consistently. 

The very best exemplar of this kind of branding today? The Kardashians - who, if you really watch carefully, have this narrative formula down pat.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

So Talking Points Are Evil Now?

I get a call the other day: "How are you?"
"Honestly," I say, slumping down in my Metro seat, "I am exhausted."
And I am exhausted. I'm so exhausted I can't remember what exhausted means. Everybody I know is exhausted. We seem to be running at a faster and faster pace and accomplishing just about...the same as before we were so exhausted.
...back to the conversation. The reply: "Well I can understand that, what with all the talking points going back and forth there in DC."
There I am, shoulders down. Literally waves of tiredness flowing upon me. It is late on a Friday, and the work is not done. Higher volume, limited resources, limited time. So much more to go.
What do I do all day? Make sure the facts are right...get the facts right.
We confuse the outcomes with the tools.
When a patient dies on the operating table, we don't stop doing surgery. We do ask - was the surgery necessary? Doctor qualified? Environment sanitary? Were there complications?
When a car goes over a cliff we do not stop driving either. (Actually I know someone who did stop driving when her car hit a side rail on the Beltway, swirled around and round in the rain, and got totaled. But that was temporary till she could work through all the trauma and the fear.) We do not outlaw cars.
And if a person is kidnapped from a grocery store parking lot, do we shut down all the grocery stores or stop shopping? Or maybe parking lots are bad?
So I ask this question now. 
Why is it that every time there is a complex, sensitive issue or controversy, we veer away from the controversy itself and start questioning the need for standard communication tools?
Talking points are a critical piece of every communicator's knowledge base. Nobody should walk into a briefing without them.
Furthermore, if you're talking to the public in the early aftermath of a horrible and tragic incident, you will of course have to vet those talking points extensively - get everyone's input - and yes, of course you can have a dozen versions or more.
This post is not focused on any particular instance or incident. I'm not trying to secretly advocate a certain point of view. But I do want to call b.s. on the notion that professional communication is somehow suspect simply by the nature of its existence.
No matter what the polls say about trust in government - and it is at a historic low - we do take very seriously the content of our communication. What we say is carved in stone forever.
It's time we stop blaming surgery for malpractice, cars for car accidents, parking lots for kidnapping, and talking points for the content of the messaging.

* As always, all opinions are my own.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Bigger Government Is Not Necessarily Better Government

It took me a long time to figure out what my political views were. It happened through dialogue with friends. We all shared the same kinds of views:
* Socially, "live and let live"
* Results-oriented
* Process-wise, anti-bureaucracy
...and then it dawned on me that I am a Libertarian. 
I had a lot of trouble admitting this to myself. After all:
* The stereotype of a government worker is that you are all in favor of bloated, big government because it personally benefits you.
* The other problem is that there are some people who identify with libertarian views who seem quite nutty.
* Finally it seems like some kind of indictment of government to join a political party that seeks to shrink it.
But after a lot of thought I've realized that there is a kind of logic to my thinking.
* I've always been kind of a reformer in whatever social system I'm in. That's just my nature.
* I'm pretty passionate about the missions of the agencies where I've served - protecting vulnerable people from credit sharks - protecting the border - helping end extreme poverty around the world. I want the money to go to the mission and nowhere else unnecessarily.
* As a taxpayer and a steward of the taxpayer's money I feel a responsibility not to waste it. Those dollars are real!
* As a daughter I want my parents up in New York to be proud of me and not to see me as so many people view government workers stereotypically. Like we are vampires who somehow live off the dole.
* In a bigger way, like so many of us I am also descended from immigrants and there is no country like America, where we have so much freedom. It is a big honor to be chosen to serve.
It also seems to me that we are moving towards a system where strict allegiance to one political party or another is obsolete. What we want is to pick and choose the things we agree with, and discard those we don't.
For example, I agree with my Democratic friends on a lot of things - like righting inequality and helping the disempowered in particular. I also believe we are one world, and that what happens in one part of it is integrally connected with the others.
And my Republican friends make a lot of sense to me as well - the concept of letting business flourish, minimizing unnecessary regulation, keeping taxes low, protecting the Second Amendment. 
So what is the key takeaway here? Well for one thing, breaking the myth that government workers are all cut from a single cloth. And for another, breaking the myth that we all have to be in favor of big government in order to serve the government well. 
* Of course, as always all opinions are my own.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Remove these 5 stubborn obstacles to workflow

If everyone wants to work better-faster-cheaper why don't we?

Wrong answer: We lack staff, funding, tools, training.

Right answer: We can't talk about the real issues holding us back.

These fall into 5 categories of fear: political, social, psychological, economic, biological.

* Political - I will lose power, influence.
* Social - I will lose status, respect.
* Psychological - I will feel anxious, jealous, weak, stupid.
* Economic - I will lose work, my job.
* Biological - I will not survive.

When you want to make a change for the better, focus on addressing the underlying fears.

Get the technical objections out of the way, then approach influential people one at a time.

Find out what the drivers of change really are.

For many, it's a form of cost-benefit: The cost of not learning is greater than the benefit of keeping one's feet stuck firmly in the mud.

You can't force people to change. You can only convince them that efficiency is in their best interests.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Personal Branding (Good), Self-Promotion (Bad)

This is a followup to the earlier post about not hogging the spotlight, which is distinct from the very important personal branding activity that I would recommend for every professional, government or not. Some additional comments in response to a question received on that post--
1) Every professional should be accumulating things they can take credit for - titles, achievements, degrees, certificates, experiences - these are our trophies. A person won't be able to compete without them. I don't want people to confuse my recommendations on personal branding with thoughts on being a successful change agent.
2) As you get more experienced and go up in the ranks, the kinds of changes you want to introduce are subtler, broader and more sweeping. At that point you must let other people think it's their idea. Not just that -- you have to implant in them this evangelistic mission to motivate others themselves. Think about Starbucks -- it is not about Howard Schultz it's about the barista.
3) On internal satisfaction - when you get depressed about how nobody will take you seriously, think about how many inventors and great thinkers were laughed at, ignored, reviled and persecuted during their lives. Now imagine that you are as great as Freud. See how great you feel!!!
4) A special note for women - I have noticed that women tend to shy away from the spotlight and that men tend to hog it. Generally any dominant group tends to speak with a louder voice. I don't want anyone to interpret my advice as reaffirming passivity, shyness, or lack of self confidence. Rather my advice is to focus only on the goal and not on yourself. Moses was a humble guy with a speech impediment and G-d put him in charge.
5) The big message here - in government being a team player who doesn't promote themselves is a core value. In the private sector being self promotional is a given. While it's fine to be recognized for valid achievements you don't want to stick out as the person who is always drawing attention to themselves.