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Your Brand Is No Good If It's Rotten Inside

Awhile back we were looking at real estate. At one place they had a batch of chocolate chip cookies on the counter.

Those cookies smelled so good. Steam rose out of them. They were warm to the touch. I took three.

The place was not otherwise appealing to me. It had narrow spindly stairs, it was too far from mass transit, and the area was sterile.

Staging the entry got me in the door. But the nuts and bolts were all wrong.

Often we visit Florida. I love the Sunshine State. But once there, some troubling observations.

--The lady working in the hotel gift shop can't recommend an activity because "I can't afford anything around here." 

--The guy scrubbing the stairwell on his hands and knees with a brush.

--The rich hotel guest berating the desk clerk. The clerk apologizes profusely. Then curses the guest when she walks away.

--The man in the touristy place who can't wait to be served till we take a photo. Who says to me, impatiently, "My money comes first."

--The multitudinous cabs with signs atop them advertising "clubs," each one with a different name and each one with another young woman's made-up face. Young but with old and troubled eyes.

--The stares at my husband's yarmulke and the occasional comment about us being Jewish, on the street or on the bus. 

--The little bitty takeout meals wrapped in huge Styrofoam trays and plastic bags. I imagine a river choking.

What is the real Florida, for a tourist, for me? It is the beaches and the sun and the sweet air, of course. But it is also poverty, exploitation, class and other divisions, and waste.

The brand of a place is only to a very small extent determined by advertising. Maybe that is what gets you in. But once you are there, you are continually making a shopping decision: Should  I stay here, live here, buy here, return? 

The answer to these questions has to do with management. Not ads and not leadership which is radically overemphasized.

The truth is that leaders have a very limited amount of personal political capital even in the best of times. One wrong gamble and they're like a car badly dented.

On the other hand management is a series of intertwined processes that form the basis of the organization's functioning. 

And when the brand - its promise and its values - is operationalized, it becomes a self regulating feature of the community. This is to say that we do not wait for leaders to constantly articulate and enforce it. We make rules that shore it up and we are accountable to them on our own.

The brand promise does not have to be sheer perfection. But it has to match inside and out. If you stage a homey home, the home should be cozy and its immediate community should not be built sterile.

Similarly if you promise an area of natural and human-made beauty, you should promote a beautiful experience for all who are there - respect for self, other and the environment.

Branding is a management function.

* All opinions my own.

We Need An Enemy

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was a Hasid, a mystic, who sought in the forest holiness.

His thinking could be considered existential psychology. He knew that humans are prone to despair. He offered   pragmatic self-help techniques like meditation, music, and direct personal dialogue with G-d.

Along the way Breslov left a body of insightful writings about human nature. 

He taught: Man (humanity) is perpetually at war. If not with an external enemy, then on the inside, with himself or herself.

Think about what this means, really.

We not only ARE at war against something all the time.

Rather, we NEED to have an enemy.

In politics it's well-known that the quickest way to galvanize people is to invent a crisis.

But the need is really deeper than that.

If you want to win a PR war, sell a product or change a culture (all of this is marketing) you have to understand the fighting nature of a person. Of the group. 

We are always and forever at war. We want to vanquish the enemy -- whoever they are and whatever they may be. We don't care; it's biological!

The smart leader recognizes that fighting spirit, validates it and unleashes it toward a worthy cause.

If you use that fighting energy for the wrong thing, in the short term you may win till people catch on to you. 

That is why marketers (of every stripe) find their products sell temporarily, but over time customers walk away in disdain, disloyalty, distrust. 

Why? Over and above the failure to deliver on a "brand promise" -- they haven't made it a war of good versus evil, truthfully. And if they do, it's a superficial, short-term sell at best, or worse hypocritical.

Marketing is a war that mirrors day-to-day existence and has a parallel in the human brain. 

It is up to the marketer to not only take sides, but to create them. 

Ideally in a way that truly results in weakening (if not killing altogether) some fundamental injustice.

* All opinions my own.

5 PR Lessons Inspired By War

"Game of Thrones" image via ShmoesKnow; Seasons 1-3 available at

We do not often talk about it this way, but PR is actually (postmodern) warfare. Here are some concepts to keep in mind:

1. The "spoils of war" are primarily credibility and only secondarily whatever tactical objective you seek. Always focus on gaining and keeping credibility. 

2. Offense wins, defense loses, unless the defense is extremely sympathetic. Normally people identify with the winner. Attacking the defense is a show of weakness and should be avoided.

3. In a confrontation, accommodation is defeat. Physical and symbolic shows of strength are critical. 

4. Honor beats treachery, but skilled treachery frequently displays itself as honor. Be ready with documentation.

5. When you're dead, lie down and take the hit. Then take ownership of defeat by embracing and then coopting the other side. 

In the end, in PR, what matters is always control of the message. You must own your own story, guard and defend it. That narrative is the key to the castle.

* All opinions my own.

On The Verge of A Major Breakthrough (New Slideshare Presentation - June 23, 2013)

Just posted this new presentation at SlideShare, but the gist of it is this.
A lot of us are stovepiped right now in functions that seem disparate: knowledge management, employee engagement, internal social networking, organizational development, human capital, knowledge management, project management, communication and branding. 
In the very near future, sometime between 1-3 years, I foresee that all of these disciplines will converge into one overarching function -- something like "enabling employees to drive maximum value for the organization, while enriching their knowledge and social networks, with minimum hassle." (We need a shorter title.)
We will need to put them together in order to adapt to an extremely rapidly-changing marketplace where the brand is the organizing principle for a very fluid group of people, geographically distributed yet tightly knit.
We will see that the neglected discipline of internal communication becomes the linchpin for all of these functions, not so much directing it as facilitating an efficient working relationship between them.
The key difference between this vision of the workplace and today's early models for social networking & collaboration: The architecting of community is intentional and brand-centric, and the brand radiates from the inside out. Productivity is the outcome, but a carefully developed and sustained corporate culture is the beginning.
Whether you're into branding or not, you might find the presentation useful.
Related reading: Employees First, Customers Second by Vineet Nayar and also see Prof. Gary Hamel's Also see this World Bank case study using Jive, one of a variety of products trying to capitalize on this new way of working (no endorsement expressed or implied).

Paranoia, Self Destroyer

People are scared that they can't speak freely anymore. Or as freely, which is just as bad but more subtle.

I have actually had people tell me on the phone, "I can't say what I am thinking out loud," i.e. because "they" are listening and you work for government. (I always say, "they know me already," i.e. that I am a free thinker, yes, but not a subversive.)

Colleagues have said, "Don't tell anyone, but my family likes Sarah Palin." (I like Sarah Palin and admire public servants from every side of the spectrum. One of my best friends is a super-liberal-progressive Democrat. And if you are curious, I am a libertarian.)

In discussions, there comments where people take the time to say," Don't accuse me of being unpatriotic." (I always apologize if I gave that impression.)

Of course they are scared.

Remember that remark about the "vast right-wing conspiracy?" (There are always remarks about conspiracies.)

There are daily scary headlines about the "surveillance state" and such.

Jokes on the Tonight Show.


The TV news the other day reported on how government employees are being encouraged to report on their colleagues.

And of course there is the issue of freedom of the press: The Associated Press. James Rosen, Sharyl Attkisson. Conspiracy theories about the deaths of Andrew Breitbart and Michael Hastings.

I am a simple person, I'll admit. But I know that in the absence of data, superstition and fear run wild. It is an evolutionary response.

I know that government gets embarrassed easily and communicating technical information is hard, especially when some key data can't be shared. 

But is it too simple to suggest that the government create a "Rumor Central" bulletin board? Where the public can submit their questions and get a response when the volume gets high enough?

The TSA has done a great job with their blog addressing public concerns when controversial security measures were implemented. Why can't the entire government do the same? (Why did DHS buy all that ammunition awhile back?) I would like to better understand and I am a sympathetic audience, having worked there for many years.

In fact every government agency I know of is full of very good and dedicated people who actually do care about doing a good job with integrity. This is the vast majority.

While it's true we should not legitimize purely hostile views by giving them a platform, I think most people (including government employees) are simple like me. They just want the facts, they request an explanation.

And the truth is, sometimes as they say, "mistakes were made." Even doozies. The more upfront you are the more people can handle it.

In the rush to get the work of government done, particularly in lean budgetary times, we are prone to forget the basics.  Including the fact that simply addressing people's concerns - building that trust and rapport - is one of our most important jobs of all.

* All opinions my own.