Friday, October 21, 2016

Branding & The Office Of Enterprise Risk

Branding and reputation are integrally related. The one is built on the other. And when your organization operates in an "at risk" way for an extended period of time, you can be sure that both will falter.

How can you prevent such a crisis from occurring? Thinking from a branding point of view, you want to make sure that your organization has someone in charge of constantly keeping watch over its reputation.

UPS teaches us this principle neatly in its new television commercial. It states:
"Everything your customer sees tells a story."

As a private individual, you've lived this a thousand times. When you argue, you close the door and make sure nobody else is around. For your story is told not by you, but by the people who witness you, in your orbit.

We all know this and yet somehow, incomprehensibly, it appears that many businesses do not operate by this principle. Their actions speak louder than their words, and as a result the customer experience is miserable. For example:
  • They Tweet at the customer about the latest "improvements," "happenings" and "updates," but don't offer clear, well-researched answers to the customer's most frequently asked questions.
  • They do not offer a consistent promise or experience, so that the customer feels jittery and anxious about whether it will be good or bad to deal with them that day. The store, or website, is difficult to navigate. The product quality is uneven. Their service level seems to be excellent one day and terrible the next.
  • They talk about how important people are, how people are "everything" to them, but they overwork and underpay employees, sell inferior products or services, and they don't refund a dissatisfied customer's money easily.
  • They have a CEO, a CFO, a COO and CIO and maybe a CMO - but there is no Chief Brand Officer in charge of the overall brand image and customer experience.
If I were to walk into your organization today, would it seem like a country at war with itself, or like a finely tuned, well-calibrated orchestra?

Don't ask your executives that question. Ask the people who work for and with you. Ask the people who interact with you. Ask your customers. (Or just observe them and record what you see.)

Notice as you do this that there is no neat line between the different types of "stakeholders" you serve. In a typical wheel chart showing such a schema, these groups are neatly divided from one another--e.g. customer, media, employee, etc.

Rather, your stakeholders (also known as "audience segments") tend to cross over from one category into another. Today's customer is tomorrow's employee. That employee may leave the company and be a partner of some kind in the future.

Or maybe they will be a competitor. What weaknesses might they use against you?

People talk, and when they talk it's often about the "little things." You therefore want to make sure that you control the image of your organization -- preferably by doing the right thing! -- at all times.

But since we live in the real world, and people don't always do the right thing it is important to remedy risky situations as soon as they crop up.

This is why every organization should have an Office of Enterprise Risk.

"Risk" from a branding standpoint -- stated in its most minimal terms -- is anything about the functioning of your business that, left unchecked, has the potential to harm your reputation.

As you do this, it's important to avoid a common misconception. Because often people think that having a good image literally means telling a positive story, hiring employees who will accept unquestioningly everything you say, etc. etc. and so on.

Nothing could be further than the truth.

Having a good image means understanding from the get-go that it is literally impossible to have a good image unless you are constantly on guard for, and correcting, the problems that arise in the normal course of business.

To establish an Office of Enterprise Risk:
  • Designate someone to serve as your Chief of Reputation Risk. This is not the Chief Brand Officer, but rather an individual who heads up an Office of Enterprise Risk. "Enterprise risk" includes cybersecurity, product quality, accounting best practices, physical facility hazard management, and so on.
  • Explicitly empower employees to tell you when something is wrong.
  • Offer a real way that employees, customers or other stakeholders can report problems anonymously.
  • Establish a reputation council, comprised of the risk officers heading up each unique type of organizational risk. It should convene regularly and investigate and responds to the reports that come in -- referring the issue to the appropriate party when necessary (e.g., sometimes reports involve the need for legal counsel). At times it might be necessary to hire an outside entity to conduct the investigation.
  • Report out regularly, and publicly, on the activities of the reputation watch-guard and council, including a quantitative report at the end of the year that describes the number and types of incidents reported and actions taken.
The notion that "someone is always watching" may be frightening, but it is also an unavoidable fact. Ignoring this fact poses a risk to the organization's reputation. And without a strong reputation, obviously, marketing and branding efforts will inevitably fall flat.

Think about it from a strategic point of view. Proactively managing your reputation is a smart investment. Rather than waiting for a crisis to blow up in your face -- an expensive, chaotic proposition that will inevitably take you away from your core business -- invest in preventive maintenance in advance.

Having an Office of Enterprise Risk supports your reputation, and your brand, by engaging trained professionals to monitor and mitigate the most common presenting risks. When they work together, in concert with your Chief Branding Officer, you can communicate in a credible and consistent way about unavoidable issues.

Think about risk -- in advance -- then mitigate it. Don't live in fear of surprises.

That makes you a company people trust, and ultimately that they vastly prefer to do business with.


All opinions my own. Cover photo by Ben Stephenson via Flickr (Creative Commons). Color wheel image by Pete Linforth via Pixabay (Public Domain).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Communication Is Love

I was in a meeting this morning and it seemed to go well. I think this is because we were all getting along today. Seems to me that most meetings go well or badly because of this.

Communication is love. I think about that as a parent. Sometimes I yell at my kids and they say, I can't hear you when you're yelling at me. In the past I would respond, Don't worry if I'm yelling, just do as I say. Now I know that was the wrong answer. I should have said, I'm sorry, I'll take a few minutes to calm down.

Communication is love. When you're in the Starbucks and that barista who is always rude, is rude again, you don't want to go back there. Conversely there is a Starbucks I go to, which I prefer, where the barista says hello and asks me how my low-carb diet is going. I do like to hang out there.

Communication is love. Do you know why I like to shop in Trader Joe's? Because they play music from my teenage years, the '80s. And when I hear I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls I remember laying in front of the TV on the floor and watching music videos all day. I remember Sundays, and no pressure and no errands to do. I am ecstatic.

Communication is love. I applied to the MBA program at the University of the People, which is accredited and "free." (They charge a small application fee and testing fees per class.) To which my husband said, What do you need another degree for, you have a PhD, and the girls are still in school. To which I replied, don't bother me, I don't have an MBA and I write about marketing, and the cost is truly minimal. Later I overheard him talking to my older one, saying with great pride, you can do anything you set your mind to, young lady, Mommy is going for an MBA after all these years.

Before "The Accountant" started playing at the movie theater, they ran the preview for Will Smith's upcoming movie, "Collateral Beauty." Will Smith is one of those people who can make a very bad-sounding movie actually work and in this film he is grief-stricken, writing letters to Time, Love and Death. Keira Knightley plays love and she says something to him like, "Love is all there is in this world, and when you understand that maybe you can start living again."

We undervalue communication so much. We can't admit how important it is, how badly we need it, how we feel starved without connection -- to ourselves, to each other, and yes, to some sort of meaning over and above all of that.

I think about those times when I've flown into a rage and regret them. My mother used to say, You have a tongue like a sword.

Wars are won and lost not by the sword, but through genuine love and its absence.


All opinions my own. Photo by via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How To Tell A Leader From A Fraud

This guy was talking nonstop.

I was sitting there trying to read but he would just not shut up. It got so bad I had to take a photo as if in protest.

(Yes, that's my photo and I've covered the faces in it so as not to imply anything about a random individual who just happened to be sitting near me in a coffee shop.)

The exchange between this man and his companions had something to do with a business deal.
  • "I know some people." 
  • "Sure, we can make that happen." 
  • "Let me put a few numbers together and get back to you." 
Not knowing anything at all, I could tell that this pitch was one gigantic snow job. When someone is really good at what they do, and can deliver, they don't have to say much of anything.

Last night I saw the movie The Accountant, with Ben Affleck. This movie is not to everybody's taste, but I liked it a lot because of how Affleck portrays an autistic man--Christian Wolff--a genius--whose father taught him to function in real life.

More than function. Dad taught his son to be a leader: to defend himself, to take care of his family, to live by a moral code.

In the movie Wolff says very little. As the character is a genius Affleck is equally a genius at his craft, and through the use of this minimal dialogue he telegraphs an important message: leaders are skilled, leaders are trained, and leaders act.

Fakers talk.

I am reminded of my childhood years, growing up in New Jersey (that's me on the right) when my mother used to take me to Shop-Rite to get my hair cut.

There was a small cheap ladies' salon in the back of the strip mall where the grocery store was. To my mother's thinking, the haircut wasn't worth it unless the lady gave me a real chop.

I forgive my mother today, I really do. My point goes back to leadership, and talk. Focusing on the image rather than reality.

Cutting off 4 inches when a trim will do.

Fakes tend to spend a lot of time talking, or controlling talk, to create the image of success. They do this by:
  • Bombarding the company with one-way, top-down communications that don't really say anything. Restricting what people say and write, overtly or covertly. 
  • Cultivating a culture of "yes-men," and women--and marginalizing, silencing, and eventually eliminating from the organization anyone who might make them look bad. 
  • Resorting to pat answers, talking points, rehearsed scripts and even lying outright when questions arise about how well the organization has actually done under their leadership. 
To support the talk they do things like:
  • Starting new initiatives when the "old" ones were just fine, but had the name-stamp of their predecessor. 
  • Making everybody document, document, document "success" through irrelevant and extensive "metrics"--or worse yet, cutting corners so that the "metrics" make them look like they've achieved something real. 
To sum it up: A real leader steers the ship. They spend their time getting stuff done. A fraud focuses solely on "optics."

If you really understand what branding is, you know that brand success is 97% great product, and 3% image and fluff.

Incompetent leaders reverse these proportions.


All opinions my own. Photo by Mike via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

It's OK to enjoy marketing.

Working in Washington DC you can easily develop a sort of dour attitude about the seemingly "superficial" delights of shopping.

Let's be honest: We pride ourselves on being "policy" people, wonks. There are a lot of PhDs, JDs, MBAs, MDs, and pretty much every other acronym you can think of around here. We live to work hard, study up, and maybe go hiking on the weekend.

As a result, again let's just face it, the folks around here are not the best-dressed people in the country. Maybe the clothes themselves are expensive, but they tend to be highly utilitarian, very serious, and we don't like frivolous people. To illustrate I snapped the pic below (cropped the faces out so as not to embarrass anyone).

Contrast this image with...well pretty much any random person in New York.

In New York, looking seriously good is nothing less than a requirement. (Photo by Helen Alfvegren via Flickr/Creative Commons) And I think you could say the same about places like Miami or LA as well.

...and, back to DC:

Living here for so long I've gotten out of touch with my passion for fashion. But that part of me is slowly coming back again.

I think it's because I had a little bit of time off recently, and spent it not writing constantly, but hanging around at the mall. And watching a few of the latest episodes of Shark Tank--the one show my entire family seems to like.

Doing this I realized that not everything in life has to be so serious. We marketers sometimes put our own profession down....I'm not sure why that is, maybe some of us have seen unethical stuff or realized that the world has much bigger problems than launching a new brand of skateboards.

I feel a stirring in me. I'm going back to a time of my youth that was full of excitement, when I literally papered the walls of my room with tear-outs from the pages of Vogue.

"All good things in moderation," they say.

Enjoy your life. Enjoy yourself, whatever your passion may be.


All opinions my own. Photo by Oleksii Leonov via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Monday, October 10, 2016

When You're Afraid To Do What Is Right

There has never been a time in my life when I've not been afraid. Like most people I am fond of having relationships and a livelihood and when you stand up for your principles it is easy to jeopardize those.

Theoretically of course you can tell yourself that doing the right thing is just the right thing to do and not to be afraid. Or that G-d is in charge, so serve Him and don't fear others.

But when you're in the situation itself, and everyone else seems to be "going along with the program," things get a little bit tougher. You stack up the pain of being a bystander to bad behavior, or a victim of it, with the fear of being punished for acting.

And the things you see can get pretty bad. Like the other day, on social media, a video was circulating strictly of men punching women right in the face. A short rat-a-tat-tat of clips punctuated by the guys saying things like, "you want to be treated like a man? HERE."

I had a friend at work who used to say--and when she said this she was not joking--that "no good deed goes unpunished" in the realm of the working world.

This same friend also told me that executives are hired specifically for the amount of dirt their bosses can threaten them with: "This is how they keep their people in line."

She mentioned an executive with a proclivity for beating his wife. "They" apparently knew about it. The woman burst in on my friend's home one night, well past midnight, badly bruised on her face.

My friend, who was no stranger to men behaving badly on the job and getting away with it, held her hand and wiped her face off.

A law enforcement officer stands up against an operation that crossed the line. Career over.

Journalists who ask too many questions endanger themselves as well. Sometimes they get killed.

You would have to be crazy not to be afraid. (Honestly, if there is no G-d, then fighting a corrupt system tends to be illogical from the standpoint of self-preservation.)

So it's hard to say what makes a person get up and fight back against corruption. For me --I'm a Pisces, a fish--the dirty waters make me feel like I am gasping for air. I cannot breathe unless somehow I swim against that tide.

This is not to give you advice. Standing up and being heard is dangerous.

Accordingly, no matter how you activate your conscience, you can be sure that this will always come with a healthy dose of fear.


All opinions my own. Photo by loveiswritten via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Sunday, October 9, 2016

That Time I Found The “Romance” Novel

In my family we did not talk about sex. Sex was dirty. Dirty people did dirty things. And we were religious, therefore not dirty.

But the grownups all had ways of talking about sex, without — you know — really talking about it.

For example, once I found a very explicit novel inside our bathroom, on the closed-up storage shelf on the right side of the toilet seat, next to the extra roll of t.p.

Now you probably know that porn itself is X-rated. And so the concept of a highly “descriptive” novel — even with all the hot and heavy writing involved — well it doesn’t seem to add up.

I totally get that. I do. But you have to remember that I grew up in a half-Chasidish, half-Litvak, fully Orthodox-yeshivish home where even the sight of a National Geographic cover was considered wildly sexual.

So how did I find the “romance” novel?

Usually in the bathroom, in that place next to the spare roll of t.p., there was a Newsweek. I sometimes would open up the magazine to read a particularly promising article, only to find the pages stuck together by wads of snot.

So I avoided actually looking there for things to read.

But one time I did need more toilet paper, and so I opened it.

There sat a very different kind of reading material.

The cover said “The Story of Q,” and I knew right away.

Of course I opened up the book and started flipping through the pages. No snot there.

I remember the shock that coursed through my body, that feeling of having seen something you didn’t want to know about. That feeling that you somehow could not escape knowing it. Even before your hands ever touched the paper, before your eyes fixed on the glossy skin of the title.

It was the secret of your home, the gartel belt between private and public.

I can’t explain what I felt back then. Maybe it was relief. There is normalcy in my world after all. I am not living on some kind of Eunuch planet, with people who don’t feel or experience a passion for life.

Sex is an aspect of that passion, but in my world it was virtuous to keep it completely repressed. Underground.

I think of that day today, as I watch all the crazy hullabaloo that has descended upon this presidential election.

The fact of the matter is, over the past twenty years or so, political correctness has taken hold. Speech police and all.

Things that were considered ordinary in the 1990s, like calling someone “piggy,” is now an occasion for wrath.

Meanwhile, the most important issues for a nation — security, the economy, healthcare, housing and education — these go un-discussed, go into the ground.

All we can talk about is micro-aggressions, that this one pointed to that one’s “pee-pee.”

Look: You can’t judge the present by the past.

If somebody steps up and wants to lead — if their actions speak louder than their words, and if they are sorry for the bad things they’ve said and done before — then that’s good enough for me.

Angels can live only in heaven.


All opinions my own.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Movie Review: "Mendy"

I had low hopes for this movie but was instantly shocked at just how good it was. "Mendy" isn't a movie for everyone, but if you are familiar with the Chasidish community and Williamsburg in particular, you will instantly recognize what is going on here and why it matters. I've been out of New York for about fifteen years now, and what's happening in this movie post-dates me; I've only read about it from a distance. What we are looking at is the "Off The Derech" situation, where a young person in a very religious community has somehow fallen from grace. In this case the problem is that Mendy is heterosexual (!) which may not seem like a trespass to ordinary people but in the ultra-insular sphere of Williamsburg, any display of sexuality is considered gross, taboo and strictly forbidden.

What's so great about this movie, and what earns it five stars in my book, is that the characters are so finely drawn. Unlike most depictions of religion in Hollywood (with the exception of Christian independent film), "Mendy" doesn't portray a religious upbringing or a religious community as "bad." As Mendy himself says, in so many words, you have to look at the world in shades of gray and not in black and white, and the film successfully does this. Instead of preaching about the right way to live by having a single character espouse it, the film shows us a small group of complicated people, some better, some worse, but all of them trying to get by.

The portrayal of the Israeli drug smuggler was frightening and I could easily imagine this scheme playing out across the lives of many young people who exist in an underworld where drugs and prostitution have become ordinary. It was laughable and sadly recognizable when the Israeli and the Chasidim needed to get their business done before Shabbos, as illegal as their business was. Like - they didn't see any contradiction there, nothing to even talk about.

My favorite scene of all, and the one that makes the entire show worth watching all by itself, is the Shabbos dinner where the excommunicated Chasidim (Satmar and Lubavitch alike), the transvestites, and OTDers sit around and trade cholent, challah, gefilte fish and insults.

I can't help but note how frequently Black people are characterized as the spiritual soul of a Jewish movie, and this one was no exception, as Bianca saves Mendy from a life of "constantly playing a part" by putting him in touch with his body and his self. Oddly, the body is the very thing that ultra-Orthodox Judaism cannot reconcile with spirituality...but it is the key to bringing Mendy back.

Really an amazing movie, again not for everyone, but I found it profound and disturbing and beautiful.

All opinions my own.

i4i (Bible Rapper)

I have a sixth sense for up and coming talent: was one of the first bloggers at GovLoop, acquired by GovDelivery, just acquired for $153m. Spotted Chloe Valdary whose career is only just taking off. Lipa Schmeltzer landed Pepsi commercial. Get ready for i4i (Bible Rapper).

(All opinions my own.)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Government Communication Will Not Regulate Itself

I'm sure by now you've seen a headline attacking the amount of money the government spends each year on "public relations." These are coming from a report published by the Government Accountability Office just this week which noted that "public relations" experts employed by the government make about $500 million in total a year.

The study is misleading for a few reasons, which I've noted on my blog, but its central point is well-taken. We spend a lot of money reaching out to the public. Is that money well-spent?

Let's leave aside for the moment the issue of political communication, meaning words intended to convince you that everything is hunky-dory when it comes to the Administration's policies, staff, and goals.

Let's not talk about foreign propaganda right now.

Forget the methodological vagueness of a report that on the one hand outlines numerous legitimate informational uses of government communication, but somehow only counts the dollars spent on communication that attempts to persuade.

Finally, forget the fact that the Department of Defense spends the lion's share of the money described in the study, so much so that it could really have been the subject of a report all by itself.

Is the government spending wisely on the straightforward stuff - what most of us would call "plain vanilla," highly acceptable forms of communication, like creating forms and then telling you where to find them?

The answer to that question, unfortunately, is no.

For at least 5 reasons.

1) Overwhelmingly, it is not career communicators who lead the communication function. Rather, these positions are often given to political appointees, or to professionals whose experience - while impressive - is not geared to the kind of work communicators do.

2) The government has not clearly defined or systematized the career specializations associated with its own communication. There are numerous job series into which communicators may fall - not just "public affairs specialist" but also "writer-editor," "management and program analyst," "correspondence analyst," "technical writer-editor," "web content specialist," and so on.

3) There is no accredited Bachelor's or Master's degree program specifically geared toward training people to serve as government communicators. There is no career development path recognized by the government that is specifically aimed at government communicators.

4) The government has not defined what communication is, what a communication program should look like, or who should be doing the communicating. It further does not spell out agencies' communication authorities as based on their appropriations for the year. Some have a recognized need to market their products and services to the public (for example, to prevent fraud) - others do not. And in the United States, there is no annual plan or strategy for government communication, as there is for example in the UK.

5) Finally, from a procurement (contracting) perspective there are no clear and universally defined "buckets" to encompass all forms of communication and how they are defined. There is no independent authority in the government whose job it is to regularly audit communication spending. This is necessary not only because the government tends to overspend or spend inappropriately on some campaigns, but also because it underspends or spends in a non-strategic way on others.

They say "what isn't measured isn't managed." With all the self congratulation that goes on in Washington, the pet projects, and the general bloat that happens when money is available so freely and unguardedly - self regulation is not going to happen.

We can look to the "plain language" movement (there was a law signed in 2010 requiring its use) for some traction. But its limitation is that it leaves the "superstructure" unchallenged - garbage in, garbage out.

Someone has to write the rules, and enforce them.

In the world we live in -- fraught as it is with ignorance, hate, and mischief -- the government can never go wrong investing in communication best practices. The problem, however, is that this very powerful tool has for too long operated under the radar.

A more disciplined approach-- a standardized approach -- to planning, monitoring and reporting on government communication is what's needed.


All opinions are my own. Photo by Ben Chun via Flickr (Creative Commons)

About "Parnassah"

It's weird how ideas get embedded in your subconscious. The younger you are the more I think this is likely to happen, because your brain is not developed enough to think critically.
Such was the case, I think, with the Jewish term "parnassah," meaning "to earn a living," as it was used in my orbit.
Keep in mind as you read this that I grew up in an unusual world, with parents who were "intermarried." Both are Orthodox Jewish, but my mom is Ashkenazic and my dad Chasidish.
If you don't know what that means, to simplify and overgeneralize:
  • Ashkenazim, being Talmudically oriented, are "by the book" -- a rule is a rule, regardless of the bigger picture.
  • Chasidim, being Rebbe-oriented, are "by the heart" -- the ends justify the means, even if you have to break a rule to get there.
Obviously culture is not something you can argue about, even though everybody (not just Ashkenaz or Chasidic but Sephardic, Israeli, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and every combination and variation thereof) thinks that they are "right."

But I wanted to talk about "parnassah" and some related terms as they became an axis of conflict in my family of origin.

Particularly in my mother's parents' (may they rest in peace) home, we used to debate ethical issues surrounding "parnassah" with my grandparents expressing anger that people would use "earning a living" as an excuse for behaving in ways that were rude, bad for the family, unethical and even downright illegal. (Like Chasidim abusing government welfare programs.)

But from my father's parents' point of view (may they rest in peace), non-Jews were frequently anti-Semitic and did unscrupulous things, including abusing the law, to hurt Jews. (My Zayde was a military officer in Romania before the Holocaust and was put into a labor camp where he hid Jews beneath the freezing hay). There were other things too that happened after the war, anti-Semitic things my Zayde would not want me to talk about. He was able to overcome them by the grace of G-d. But I think my Zayde would have cast a skeptical eye upon the argument that law is equally applied to everyone.

There's the rub. Ashkenazim like living in the American, secular world, and they believe in fighting for a fairer legal system. Chasidim believe that the system is inherently biased against Jews. They don't like living in a secular world, but they do what they have to do to survive. They will partner with non-Jews, but they are deeply conscious of the memory of the six million (the Holocaust). It is never a partnership of trust.

I grew up in both worlds and have a foot in both worlds. I understand how Chasidim think, and I understand how Ashkenazim do as well. I tend to be one of those people who wants to work within the system for change, but I also understand that behind closed doors people absolutely hate Jews, and that is true whether they are on the left or the right of the political spectrum.

You still have to follow the law. If it is anti-Semitic, we have to say so; if we can't live within a system of law that's biased against Jews, we have to go to a country where the laws don't operate against us.

I tend to think that Ashkenazic Jews like being part of the non-Jewish world so very much, that they are afraid to call anti-Semitism out for what it is.


All opinions my own.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Recruiting A Marketer? 5 Mistakes To Avoid

1. Showing Contempt for the Consumer:
The best marketers are the ones who are in touch with your audience. So look for people who genuinely like the kind of people who buy your product - or who you're trying to reach. You can have the "best," "most qualified" candidate in the world, but if they think they're better than your customer, don't bother.

2. Screening for Industry Experience: You are trying to break the mold. Why are you looking for people who were born and raised on that mold? Who think the same way as everybody else does? Who don’t dare to question the conventional wisdom? Your subject matter experts are not marketers; the creatives can consult them when such expertise is needed. So stop looking for the same people everybody knows from the trade shows. Start looking where nobody dares to go, for people who can connect with your customer in ways nobody from your industry has ever dared to before.

3. Looking for a Drinking Buddy:
People tend to hire people they like and feel comfortable with. But the truth is, great marketers have a talent that makes them diametrically different from you and from most people. They may be highly introverted, even antisocial, picky and fussy and obsessed with their own ideas. Good! They are there to make you money - not to serve as your substitute therapist. Similarly, don’t mistake “drinking the Kool Aid” for cultural fit. You want a candidate who will work well with your team. But this is not the same as hiring a yes-person.

4. Falling Victim to Fear of Change: If you had all the answers already, you won't need any help, would you? The point of the marketer is precisely to bring in new ideas, new approaches, to overturn the applecart in your favor. But then they show up and you’re "just not comfortable" with what they're saying; "that's sacrilege," you proclaim. Don’t do that: Take advantage of the gift of their talent.

5. Overemphasis on Education: Let's be honest: MBA's are overrated. Sure you would "feel better" if your candidate were a “perfect package,” with many years of education and training precisely geared to marketing your product or service. The reality however is that you are better off with a real-world professional. This is a person who comes across, who delivers, and who doesn't lean on a puffed-up resume to do it. Meeting them in person is how you will know if they have the kind of experience that supersedes an ivory-tower degree. You can't find this out on the telephone or on Skype.


All opinions my own. Photo by Andrea Black via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

GAO's Confusing Conclusions About Federal Communications

This report just came out ( Here is some information provided that concerns me, because it is confusing at best and misleading at worst.
  • The GAO refers to “public affairs” series staff (GS-1035) as “public relations” staff. Employees who are employed as communicators, but not within this series, are not counted in the report. So by default all federal communicators are now PR folks. Which is not “bad” but is not what the public is expecting taxpayer money to be spent on either, because this sounds very close to “spin,” or propaganda.
  • The authors admit that they haven’t defined their terms. They use: “advertising” defined as either “community relations,” “image,” “messages intended to persuade”; public relations as “an effort to develop and disseminate information to explain the activities of and the issues facing an organization”; and “public communications” as “agency communications that are directed to the public.” (p. 4). 
  • There is no distinction made in the report between what federal employees do and what contractors do (e.g. information vs. advertising; education vs. persuasion). 
  • Most examples of “federal advertising and public relations activities” will be recognizable to federal communication experts as politically neutral and neutral in terms of providing information as versus persuasion, but the report never clarifies how it is that individuals who are supposedly employed to persuade are more likely to be disseminators of information. (p. 3)
  • The report’s authors concede that they’re not sure if they got the numbers on contract spending right (they only selected certain categories in the Federal Procurement Data System). The total is almost $1 billion in FY2015 alone (pp. 11-12), but given the methodology it is probably under-counted. It is not difficult to see that if you have very few empowered federal communicators, and you don’t coordinate communication across agencies or even departments, you’ll need to spend a lot of money to get the word out.
  • There are very few federal communicators, at least in the GS-1035 series. With ~5,000 employees across the federal government, GS-1035s only make up ~.3% of the total federal civilian workforce. However, the amount of spending on their salaries per year (~$500 million). That is a very click-worthy amount, but it’s also misleading.
  • The Department of Defense spends by far the most money on staff (2,123 in FY2014 and $160 million per year in salary on average), as well as contract obligations ($590,800 in FY2015); most of the remainder of the federal government pales in comparison. Again, it’s very easy to lump everybody in together, but the conclusion is inappropriate when you consider the average agency.

All opinions are my own.

The Truth About Religion At Work

We live in a time of terrible strife. This is not the fault of religion. It is the fault of religious fundamentalists and in particular those who use religion to gain power and money.
I want to talk about my own personal experiences with religion at work. This is not to argue in favor of religion, against religion, to subtly proselytize etc. etc. If anything I would like to show that it's complicated.
Oddly for a Jew I find my most influential religious teachers have been Muslims at work. How about that? I started covering my hair for awhile when I saw a devout Muslim woman on her way to work, praying. I confronted my workaholism when a Muslim employee inquired about the logic of sending emails at 3 a.m. I learned about what really matters at work when a Muslim colleague offered money to help another colleague who was struck with terrible personal luck. (Nobody else lifted a finger.)
How about that?
A long time ago another colleague of mine, a Christian, started a weekly prayer service in a room they made available at work. It was actually called "Wednesday's Word" (interestingly, today is Wednesday). No I never went, because as a Jew I'm not allowed to go. But I remember how she had this beautiful poster of an angel against a blue sky. The bubble of the lettering. She had a boring job, but her eyes lit up to talk about faith.
It's funny. Once I went to Chop't with a different peer at the same agency and we had a three-hour debate about Jesus. Or, at least it felt like three hours because time just seemed to stop altogether that day. At the end of the conversation, she just had to walk out the elevator and let it close. On that subject we could find no beginning, nor reach a logical end.
I think my atheist and agnostic colleagues are some of the most respectful people around when it comes to religion. Or maybe they feel sorry for me. But never once have they engaged me in any kind of debate over whether G-d exists.
Of course I've worked with Jewish colleagues. I'm not sure exactly what it is that we share in common half the time, since our backgrounds are usually so different. But if there is any cultural characteristic about us that stands out, I'd say we'll argue over principles till our dying breath. Not only do we seem to have strong opinions, but we strongly disagree even more than average people seem to. (You haven't lived until you've argued as to whether cholent is more of a Jewish heritage food than sushi.)
My best friend of all time, at work, has retired. She is Jewish by lineage but introduced me to Buddhism, to the Dalai Lama. I can still remember her handing me Becoming Enlightened. The whole philosophy of it, the ideas - I remember thinking "this is an amazing system," and though I frankly couldn't absorb all of it in depth, the central points made so much sense to me: We are all suffering here. What matters is compassion for one another.
Of course religion is a personal matter, and in fact one of the great things about the United States is that we separate church and state. Including prohibiting discrimination based on someone's beliefs.
But there is a difference between "prohibiting discrimination based on religion" and "omitting religion altogether." I get that it is a hot-button issue, but all the same so are a lot of things that make us unique. And we don't lose any of them by walking in the door of the workplace.
I count myself enriched by the great diversity of my colleagues.
Photo by Matthew Fearnley via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

You Can Choose It Or You Can Run Away

"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"


"Tell me how you learned to be a leader."

"It isn't something I chose."

"But how did you learn what to do?"

"Like everything else, it's trial and error."

"Did you take some kind of training class?"


"No really, tell me."

"I am telling you. You learn by screwing up."

"Yeah, but everybody says that."

"Look, they say that because it's true."

"Well did you ever feel like giving up, then?"

"All the time. Constantly."

"You mean right now?"

"Are you kidding? If I could retire and paint watercolors all day, of course I would."

"I don't understand. So it's a money thing?"

"Well of course."

"So you've gotten this good as a survival skill."


"I don't know."

"What do you mean, you don't know."

"I mean, Dannielle, that I can't tell you."

"Surely you must have something more you can give me. Help me, I'm trying to learn."

"I really can't."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean there is no answer. You just keep going, that's all."

"But you could have chosen another path."


"But you didn't."

"You either choose it or you run away. That's it."

"That's it?"

"Do or do not, like Yoda said. There is no other way."


All opinions my own. Photo by thinkpublic via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Future of News: Social Media on a Mobile Device

By and large Americans in 2016 do not often read carefully researched investigative stories in print newspapers to find out what is going on: That's only about 1 in 5 (20%) of us, says the Pew Research Institute. The rest put on the TV (57%) or go online (38%), to websites and/or social media. About a quarter (25%) mainly hear about stuff from the radio.

When you break down the numbers by age, an even clearer picture emerges: Young people, more than any other age group, often head to the Internet first (50%), while those age 65 and over by default switch on the TV (85%).

Television and online news sites are both controlled by content producers - although anyone with an Internet connection can stand up the latter. But what about social media as a source of news? Turns out that 18% of adults often tune in to the latter in order to find out what is going on - 62% say they do so generally.

Finally, when people turn to a screen to get their news, they are increasingly likely to do so on a mobile device rather than a desktop computer. Since 2013, the percentage of adults who "often" use a handheld jumped from 21% to 36%.

What does all of this mean to you? If you want to influence what people are thinking, you should find ways to leverage traditional news sources by quoting and/or analyzing them on social media sites. Commentary should be short and sweet, visuals compelling, and the headline is your most important communication tool of all.


All opinions my own. Photo by Laura Bittner via Flickr (Creative Commons)