C-SPAN Might Make You A Smarter Citizen

January 19th, 2017

TV

My mom asked me how she might ensure she is watching and reading the most objective news. I asked her to list the sources that provide her information. Media outlets that tend to reinforce her political views dominated her list. Understanding this is the first step for her and others. People often label as “objective” the news that leans toward their positions.

My first recommendation for my mom was to watch and read a news outlet known for providing points-of-view vastly different from her opinions. This could provide balance. She crinkled her face and implied watching that particular outlet would be the equivalent of forcing yourself to eat a meal you detested.

My second recommendation was the better one: Watch C-SPAN. Watching President Obama’s last news conference as president reinforced my advice. I didn’t watch the news conference live. I watched it in its entirety later on c-span.org.

C-SPAN offers us the option of viewing the news without filters. You can hear the questions that people are answering. You can hear complete answers instead of soundbites. After a news conference, we don’t need to hear analysis from talking heads. Take it from a former television reporter: Many journalists are not smarter than us. They often aren’t better educated. You don’t need talking heads to help you understand what you just heard.

Yes, many issues are complex. Perhaps you don’t fully understand the issue. Maybe you are skeptical the answers you hear reflect truth or facts. Then engage in your own form of fact checking.

In addition, you learn a lot watching an unfiltered version of the news. You can hear all the words and answers and not only the ones that journalists or talking heads determined are most important.

True, hearing talking heads who mostly agree with you might make you feel better about controversies in our society. But that path won’t necessarily make you smarter. Be strong enough to challenge your own ideologies.

You just might want to turn C-SPAN off before the station starts taking phone calls. That’s when you might again hear talking heads … not from the networks but from your neighbors.

Noticing Sunsets And Mountains

January 13th, 2017

We’ve been listening more frequently to 1940s music on satellite radio. This surprises us. We’re not even fans of what artists produced in the 1990s. But the sounds of what our grandparents’ listened to suddenly captivate our ears.

Most strikingly, this music is relaxing. It doesn’t fuel our adrenaline while driving and that’s OK. Slowing down, actually enjoying the drive and more frequently noticing sunsets and passing mountains are pleasant alternatives to a world of smartphones constantly demanding our attention.

We recognize some of the musicians such as the great Louis Armstrong. We’re familiar with the Andrews Sisters or is it the Andrew Sisters? We couldn’t discuss them without peeking at Wikipedia. Ironically, much of the music sounds similar, ironic because we’ve characterized much of today’s tunes in a similar fashion. Some of the lyrics make us laugh and understand how language changes with generations. One song appears to happily discuss jerks in a car. Another song delves into a detailed discussion about chicken.

The music naturally leads us to daydream about those who listened in the 1940s, a decade we so often define by a generation experiencing world war. We travel through a subconscious time warp and better understand why rock and roll dealt such a shock to the system.

Except for our distaste for what the 90s offered and the nostalgia we feel for the 80s, we won’t proclaim one decade’s tunes superior to another. But different decades take us different places on different paces.

Good, Bad And Ugly Of President-Elect Trump’s News Conference

January 11th, 2017

trump

The Good

  • Delivery. President-elect Donald Trump speaks with confidence. He talks conversationally with reporters the same way he might talk with friends or strangers he just met. Generally, he doesn’t memorize lines. He fluctuates his voice and uses his hands for emphasis, giving his delivery an extra punch.
  • Stories. To reiterate his efforts to avoid conflicts of interest in business, Trump shared a story of a friend who recently offered him a $2 billion deal which he turned down.
  • Preparation. He was prepared to handle questions about conflicts of interest and the Trump Organization. He brought a second person to the podium to detail the steps he is taking to avoid these conflicts of interest.
  • Props. To demonstrate his efforts to avoid conflicts of interest, a table stacked with folders of documents was by his side. Props and similar visuals are an excellent way to drive home key messages.

The Bad

  • Soundbites. You should consider soundbites and quotes that stand out and help audiences relate to complicated issues. But some of Trump’s soundbites went too far. He said, “I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” Describing his incoming administration, he said, “It’s a movement like the world has never seen before.” Such over-the-top statements can erode credibility.

The President-elect also said, “Obamacare is a complete and total disaster.” This is not true. Healthcare reform has provided health care to more than 20 million people. The New York Times reported health care costs are rising at a slower rate under health care reform. People continue to sign up for health care under the Affordable Care Act. These are not the elements of a disaster. These are the elements of a public policy that needs fixing. But calling health care reform a “complete and total disaster” reinforces politics as usual where each side insists on viewing policy as black or white or in extremes. Real life includes large shades of gray.

  • Defensiveness. When talking about Russia and Vladimir Putin, he said, “Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.” The election is over. Trump shouldn’t continue to debate his qualifications compared to Hillary Clinton.

Trump raised questions about the accuracy of some reporting. This is fine. He also praised some media. However, he continued to mock the mainstream media. Attacking the media in general will please your supporters but not win over others.

  • Sarcasm. Trump sometimes addressed members of the media with sarcasm. Sarcasm might work on TV when you can hear him and see his body language. But sarcasm often doesn’t work in print. People who might read his sarcastic comments might misinterpret them.
  • Nastiness. Reporters can be nasty. However, they cannot force you to be nasty. Trump engages in verbal jousting with reporters, sometimes being condescending toward certain media outlets.
  • Evasiveness. The media asked some questions up to three times because they didn’t feel Trump fully answered the question the first two times. For example, he didn’t answer a question about how negative reports about Russia would impact his relationship with Putin. He didn’t answer if he will undo steps President Obama took to punish the Russians. He also offered no details on his plan to replace health care reform.
  • Speculation. He speculated about how certain information got out to the public and the media. Stick to the facts. Stick to what you know. Don’t speculate.

The Ugly

  • Social media. A reporter asked him about his Tweet earlier in the day that read, “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Nazi Germany is responsible for the murders of more than six million people. Such comparisons are very inappropriate.

Lowering Standards of Genuine Friendship and Personal Communication

January 4th, 2017

We watched a film called Snowpiercer, one of a handful of movies portraying a morally corrupt future where the privileged live a lifestyle of absurdity and rule over what remains of the populace and humanity once bent on self-destruction. For us, films such as The Hunger Games and the Divergent trilogy fall into this genre.

For a while, we have been reluctant to automatically dismiss such stories as merely dark science fiction where a hero among the disenfranchised rises up to lead a revolt against the arrogance in power. Especially as Americans, it is difficult for us to imagine a reality when we fall susceptible to one line of obedient thinking that borders on a form of government mind control.

However certain aspects of today’s society offer glimpses of how disconnected we can become from each other. Ironically, social media, in our view, plays a significant role. While social media provides an important voice for people, organizations and social causes, it also appears to lower the standard of genuine friendship and personal communication. Couples sit at restaurant tables fixated on smartphones instead of each other. People walk across parking lots focused on those small screens instead of the vehicles swirling around them. Walk into a waiting lobby and roughly half those in the room are lost in an electronic world originating elsewhere.

Combine this with neighbors who don’t consider welcoming the new people who moved in next door. There are the emails and phone calls that inexplicably go unanswered. Others turn the concept of scheduling a simple meeting into a complex endeavor. While we passionately complain about our politicians, their red tape and bureaucratic lives, they may actually be a public reflection of how so many of us live our lives.

Arguing that all this is leading us to a path of some entity gaining monolithic control over us would be a melodramatic exaggeration. But everyday routines offer us flashes of lost community, with individual thinking falling prey to a world of templates. For this reason, we recommend exercises such as taking time away from smartphones or actually meeting with friends and family instead of replacing such experiences with a click of a mouse. Look up and witness the world around you instead of the one from afar reaching you through a handheld device. Technology is wonderful and allows new worlds of communication. Technology also can harden humanity, ensuring we remain inside our own boxes with little need or desire to reach out. When society walls itself off, it can become vulnerable to concepts normally reserved only for science fiction films.

How Companies Can Cut Through Clutter With A Stronger HR Voice

November 30th, 2016

Employee Communications

Effective HR communications is a lot of things. It’s often behind the first impression your company gives to recruits and new employees (the welcome mat) or the door that closes on the way out on their last day of work. HR communications is also a platform for employee engagement. HR communications can help humanize the company by being that helping hand to help navigate through work life. People want to work for a company that cares for its employees and HR communications can be the string to tie all of the pieces together. Having an HR communications plan in place is key to harnessing all the people-oriented programs companies have to offer their employees.

Without effective HR communications, it can be like the “Wild West” where every HR team sends out their own communications whenever they want (often with inconsistent style and content full of jargon). Those messages can get lost in the shuffle, unseen by employees. An overarching HR communications strategy that aligns with company priorities creates a more holistic approach to HR programs, helping their messages cut through the clutter with a stronger voice.

Without effective HR communications, it can be like the “Wild West” where every HR team sends out their own communications whenever they want (often with inconsistent style and content full of jargon). Those messages can get lost in the shuffle, unseen by employees. An overarching HR communications strategy that aligns with company priorities creates a more holistic approach to HR programs, helping their messages cut through the clutter with a stronger voice.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when developing an HR communications strategy:

  1. Establish an HR brand that complements the company brand. Communications should have a consistent look and feel for materials so they are easily recognizable as coming from HR. This also includes consistent key messages to build connections and connect the dots for associates about why this matters or why they should care.
  2. Build synergy with other corporate initiatives. Look for opportunities to integrate key HR messages into companywide communications tools as well as regular meetings and events where appropriate.
  3. Arm leaders with key HR messages. Managers need to be able to explain key programs or updates to their teams. Employees often look to their managers for HR-related information.
  4. Lose the jargon. Many HR programs like benefits and compensation are ripe with industry lingo. It can be tough to increase employees’ understanding and value perception of what the company offers when this information can be tedious. Look for ways to make it more interesting. For example, use storytelling with real employees showing how they use a benefit. Make it visual with video and infographics to explain key points.
  5. Centralize HR communications on the intranet or external site. People want their HR info — especially benefits and compensation information — when they want it, not necessarily when you send it out. That’s why it’s essential to give them easy access to this information. Family members are a secondary audience who are often involved in benefits decisions. Making this information readily available at home is helpful with this in mind.
  6. Think like an employee to guide how you develop your HR communications — and organize your information accordingly. I think of it as the employee life cycle. What are all the major touch points in this life cycle — from recruitment to onboarding to retirement? Communications should be targeted to employees in each stage of the life cycle. Similarly, arrange information according to these stages on the intranet and/or external website.
  7. Meet regularly with each area of HR from benefits and compensation to organizational development. This not only helps when creating a communications strategy for the year but also with ongoing communications or to stay in the loop when new opportunities arise.
  8. Tap into employees to “beta test” your communications. Create an ongoing “focus group” of key employees at different levels you can lean on for input on communications before you send them out. Does the messaging and look and feel resonate with them? What could be more clear? Do they have ideas or do they hear questions from other employees that need to be addressed?

8 Video Production Lessons From Donald Trump’s Video

November 21st, 2016
YouTube Preview Image

No matter your opinion about Donald Trump and the controversies surrounding him, business leaders can learn the following eight video production lessons from the short video he released about his transition into The White House.

  1. Use video. Video is one of the most personal forms of communication. Unlike an email full of text, video relays a person’s personality, allowing business leaders to more effectively relay their key messages to target audiences. Caution: This approach will generally backfire if business leaders display poor or distracting body language or struggle to read a teleprompter.
  2. Speak with passion. President-elect Trump spoke with passion. Communicating through video often will fail if business leaders speak as if they missed their afternoon naps. Executives who excel at making money sometimes struggle with appearing natural on camera. If this is the case, find someone else to deliver the messages.
  3. Provide simple headlines. Generally, Trump focused on some of the same messages he hammered away at during his campaign. The political analysts and Americans at their dining room tables will debate if he avoided his most contentious positions. This is an important debate because business leaders who avoid their audiences’ most glaring questions risk losing credibility. However, Trump kept things simple, which also has its advantages. Videos are more for providing headlines than sharing an encyclopedia worth of words.
  4. Include more visuals. Keeping someone on camera during an entire video normally risks lulling an audience to sleep. If business leaders are compelling and fascinating figures, you might be able to get away with keeping the key figure on camera the entire time. However, it’s usually best to include visuals to support what someone is saying to help keep everyone’s attention.
  5. Include graphics. The video includes simple graphics to reinforce his messages. Caution: Wordsmiths too often try to bloat graphics with a flood of words, crowding a screen. Graphics should reinforce the message, not include the entire message.
  6. Include a link. The description under Trump’s YouTube video does not include a link where viewers can receive additional information about his messages. Because videos often deliver only headlines, adding a link in the description helps viewers try to ascertain additional details.
  7. Keep it short. Unlike many others, we don’t believe all effective videos must be short. Check out YouTube and you’ll realize trending videos are frequently very long. However, because Trump’s target audience for this video is so vast, keeping it short makes sense.
  8. Offer updates. The president-elect offered future updates. More businesses should view a video as more than an isolated, one-time project. They should view video as the first installment in a series of important messages. One of the best ways to build a loyal audience is to create the expectation that more is to come. So stay tuned!

10 PR Lessons From President’s First News Conference Since Trump’s Election

November 14th, 2016

Public Relations

President Obama’s first news conference since the election of Donald Trump offers more than additional fodder for a nation divided politically. Business leaders should study the news conference for lessons on how to navigate tough questioning during difficult times and about competitors.

  1. Focus on key messages. Critics of President-elect Donald Trump fear a drastic turn in America’s relationships with other countries. However President Obama argued the United States will maintain core relationships with other countries and he expects a certain level of continuity. This point of view is a key message to quell anxiety among the public.
  2. Explain it simply. When a reporter asked about the future of the Democratic Party, President Obama did not delve into information overload. He recommended the party go through reflection while maintaining inclusiveness and not wavering on its core beliefs and principles.
  3. Avoid lingo. When discussing the Democratic Party’s defeat, the president did not take the tone of a political science professor. Instead he pointed out the importance of politicians showing up and competing everywhere.
  4. Share stories. When discussing the importance of campaigning everywhere, President Obama shared his own story of success in Iowa and how he repeatedly visited the state.
  5. Localize. The president explained political movements are not confined to the federal government. He touched on differences people can strive for at lower levels of government such as city councils and boards of education.
  6. Don’t memorize lines. When speaking to reporters, President Obama appeared to talk with them the same way he might discuss similar questions with friends and family.
  7. Use your hands. Business leaders often ask us if they should keep their hands still when speaking. Our answer is “no” unless someone normally speaks with little movement. Using your hands when speaking often relays the passion you might feel about a particular point. Anytime the president raises his hands when speaking, listen to the throng of still cameras clicking away.
  8. Don’t get defensive. The president’s party lost the election. President-elect Trump might reverse some of President Obama’s achievements. Reporters asked tough questions. However he never turned defensive.
  9. Avoid no comment. Reporters asked the president if he still believes the president-elect is not qualified for the position and if Trump’s temperament is ill-suited for the office. In a perfectly transparent world, President Obama would have answered those questions directly. He didn’t. On the other hand, he didn’t avoid answering such questions all together. He argued The White House will change a person and what people say when governing is often different from what people say when campaigning. Providing some information and insight is better than responding with “no comment.” In addition, when a reporter asked the president to comment on one of President-elect Trump’s appointments, President Obama argued it would not be appropriate for him to comment on every appointment. Explaining why you won’t comment is better than simply not commenting.
  10. Provide substantive soundbites. To reduce the notion that Americans might quickly see a dramatic and quick turn in public policy, the president said such change in government is not like a speedboat and is instead more similar to an ocean liner. Such a soundbite is an effective way to communicate a very complex subject matter.

 

10 Things I Miss Most About Covering Election Nights As A Reporter

November 8th, 2016

Media Relations:  10 Things I Miss Most About Covering Election Nights

  • Technical problems we all secretly predicted
  • Watching the carefully thought out newsroom election night game plan quickly disintegrate
  • Being assigned to a new candidate at the last second after conducting weeks of research on another one
  • Wondering what genius decided to assign several crews to work under tight deadlines on the same laptop editor
  • Watching normally cordial co-workers turn on each other when things really start to fall apart
  • Trying to be first on air with a winning candidate only to learn the station has no plans to take me live until next week
  • The growing whispers that the others stations whipped us
  • Trying to figure out how to get 20 employees at a hotel convention room back to the station in only two vehicles
  • Feeling lucky no one chose me to stake out until 1am the big losing candidate hiding behind a closed door
  • Getting a memo in my mailbox praising the night’s efforts as if all went perfectly as planned

Disney’s 14 PR Lessons To Help Make Businesses The Happiest Ones On Earth

October 27th, 2016

mickey

 

We recently visited Walt Disney World in Florida. You don’t need a billion-dollar budget for your business to put some similar ideas in place:

  • Sweat the small stuff. Details separate companies from competition. In Dinoland at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, tiny dinosaur toys sat on a ledge above where families waited in line to meet Goofy and Pluto. At the Starbucks in Epcot, the barista added chocolate drizzle to drinks in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
  • Provide convenience. We didn’t rent a car. From buses to trams to monorails, an extensive infrastructure provided us easy access and transportation to Disney parks throughout the day and night. People with fun personalities, one who provided tidbits of behind-the-scenes information, drove modern buses which showed Disney shorts and movies on monitors above seats.
  • Communicate well. A Disney employee put a smile on her face and struck a friendly tone even when telling people they couldn’t venture into roped-off areas or stand in spaces reserved for oncoming foot traffic. When we stood in line to take pictures with characters, employees warned us when those characters would take short breaks so no one panicked. Security sparked friendly conversations when checking bags at park entrances.
  • Don’t be cheap. Tickets for Disney parks are not inexpensive. However, elaborate shows and fireworks displays are some of several reasons you feel the ticket prices are well worth it.
  • Share stories. Disney doesn’t miss opportunities to weave stories of Walt’s inspirational influence or, while we stood waiting in line, share information with us on screens about legendary animators.
  • Be flexible. When families posed with famous Disney characters, professional photographers gladly shot additional stills with your smartphones even if doing so might mean you wouldn’t buy their professional shots. And photographers and their teams didn’t hurry us along. They allowed families sufficient time for different poses and interaction with Mickey, Minnie and Goofy.
  • Don’t engage in high-pressure sales. At Epcot, a face painter proactively told us where we might find a similar service the next day. He didn’t try to sell us on immediately spending our money.
  • Cross promote. While we shopped at Disney Springs, Star Wars and Marvel stores drew us in. An employee standing at an entrance passionately congratulated customers who successfully lifted Thor’s hammer. While we ate dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom, the menu reminded us of Disney’s experience in Hawaii.
  • Hire brand advocates. We never heard Disney employees publicly complaining about their work, bosses or schedules. We didn’t witness them with disgruntled faces, finishing off cigarettes outside stores or restaurants. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, even employees sweeping the ground and pushing carts asked if they could help us find something. Other employees danced and sang along with shows at parks. Another employee offered us a fist bump.
  • Quickly address concerns without passing the buck. When one of our park entrance cards didn’t provide access into the Magic Kingdom, an employee raised his hand and someone within seconds walked over and quickly fixed the issue.
  • Tie into calendar events. During our visit, Disney’s Magic Kingdom held special, nighttime events tying into Halloween, allowing people to wear costumes and trick-or-treat for candy.
  • Deploy an awesome mobile app. The MyDisneyExperience app helped us navigate to rides and locations. The app showed us pictures taken of us by photographers at scenic locations. Also, the app let us signed up for Fast Passes, which helped us choose rides and times to essentially jump to the front of the line.
  • Be visual and interactive. A Magic Kingdom store called Crystal Arts selling hand-blown glass attracted a crowd inside with an employee demonstrating how to make the glass. At Magic Kingdom, A Pirate’s Adventure – Treasures of the Seven Seas provided us a map and sent us on a scavenger hunt to find “treasure” in Adventureland.
  • Know how to say goodbye. When leaving Disney parks, employees said goodbye with the same enthusiasm with which they said hello. They offered small compliments, said congratulations to those wearing branded birthday buttons and welcomed us back. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a row of employees wearing oversized Mickey Mouse gloves waved goodbye and offered high fives at closing time.

Presidential Debate’s 7 Lessons For Business Leaders

October 19th, 2016

debate

  1. Share stories. Hillary Clinton shared the story of a Las Vegas girl to relay the candidate’s position on immigration. Share personal stories to humanize and effectively illustrate your key messages especially when they are complex.
  2. Don’t pivot. When asked about information from leaked emails, Clinton awkwardly pivoted the focus of her answer to criticism about Russia. It’s OK to answer a question and bridge to a different key message, but doing so in a clunky fashion may appear that you’re trying too hard to change the subject. When the topic was about Donald Trump and women, he awkwardly pivoted to discussing the controversy surrounding Clinton’s emails as secretary of state. And when the moderator asked Clinton about ethical questions regarding the Clinton Foundation, she instead talked about the foundation’s accomplishments.
  3. Prepare sizzling soundbites. Clinton characterized Trump as a potential puppet of Russia’s leader. Don’t be nasty, but prepare ahead of time quotes or memorable soundbites to package your message. On two occasions, Clinton said Trump was hosting “Celebrity Apprentice” at the same time she was fighting the country’s enemies.
  4. Watch body language. We do not recommend that business leaders adopt Trump’s body language. Body language is often half the battle to effectively sharing your message
  5. Don’t attack the media. Trump referred to the media as corrupt. Criticizing the media in general may please your supporters, but it won’t effectively broaden your reach or conceal you from criticism.
  6. Don’t proactively bring attention to your controversies. Trump called Clinton “such a nasty woman” while he faces harsh criticism about his treatment of women. Some people might consider it a sizzling soundbite, but it’s not if it ultimately reinforces a negative image.
  7. Finish strong. The moderator gave both candidates the chance to end the debate by addressing the key messages of their choice. When reporters end interviews by asking if you want to add anything, take the opportunity to hit a home run.