Archive for July, 2010

From my early days as a graduate student I have studied the nature and impact of various media.  It quickly became apparent that each medium inherently had a specific set of natural characteristics that literally determines how to use it for maximum impact.

For example, merely using print makes you aware it is a rational medium.  Structure is critical, and the basic “essay style” quickly reveals itself as the most natural way to approach it.  Thus, you almost instinctively build your communication with a beginnning, a body, and a conclusion.  The beginning is a preview of what’s to come, the body is an explained list of key points, and the conclusion is a brief summary. Ignoring all this usually results in content that rambles.

Using television rapidly reveals that it does not “like” detail. On television too many facts become boring. It was a hard lesson for me to learn. In my early days I produced a lot of television, and for a long time I could not figure out why my programs were not a big success.  As I experimented with the medium, however, I discovered that television “likes” to draw you into dramatic experiences. It is a picture medium, and the more dramatic the situations the better. My mistake was using print-style thinking when producing an image-based medium.

But, what about the internet?  This “new” medium brings both images and print together on the same screen. And it also provides opportunities to search for as much content as each user desires. It is a multi-media, engaging medium, influenced by both print and television. Thus, one learns by using it that internet images should be both dramatic and concise, and that text should be lean and concise.

I have even felt “the pull” of the nature of the internet when writing this blog. The longer I write the more it seems to be “telling me” to stay lean in the use of my language, develop my content logically, and above all, be concise.

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Higher education is an industry experiencing a “sea change.”  With governments all over the world changing roles; and competition for students, money and reputation going global; advancement professionals are becoming central to the future of their institutions everywhere.

And CASE is leading the way with it’s annual international Summit for Advancement Leaders. It’s aim is not to cover the usual “how-to” topics, but rather to focus on the big issues changing our industry, and their implications for the future of advancement.  This year the Summit in New York City more than met my expectations.

The opening session set a high bar. CASE president, John Lippincott, skillfully led a panel of cutting edge presidents through a discussion framed around the standard SWOT analysis topics of strengths, weaknesses, opportunites and threats. Presidents Lawrence Bacow (Tufts), Alice Gast (Lehigh) and Richard McCormick (Rutgers) set the tone for the rest of the conference with their imaginative and perceptive analysis of the road ahead.

In spite of the economy, attendance was up this year, and 40 presidents joined their senior advancement people for this adventure in ideas.  This certainly helped to set the desired high level leadership tone for the entire two-days.  You certainly will not want to miss the Summit next July in Chicago!

I led a session on my new book, Learning to Love the Politics: How to Develop Support for Advancement, with Mike Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke.  I was encouraged by a large attendance and the feedback that institutional politics is a really big issue everywhere. We sold all of the books we had at the signing event, and so I am certain to be writing more on this topics in the months ahead. 

Advancement is indeed front and center in more and more institutions all around the world.  The good news is that there will be strong opportunities in all of the advancement professions for years to come. The big challenge, however, is that we will have to be far more sophisticated than ever before in order to be successful.

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In “Lesson 8” some weeks ago I mentioned I had a new book coming out, to be published soon by CASE Books.


Well, that moment is arriving this weekend at the CASE Annual Leadership Summit in New York City.  A new book is an exciting time for authors, but it’s also a bit frightening!!

Alarming thoughts can come to mind:  Theses words were written nine months ago, will I still agree with myself?  I can’t say I was just kidding, can I?  Words feel so final when they appear in print!  Have I given credit where credit is due? My ideas come from countless interactions over time. How do I know where they came from? Yikes! And the worst thought of all: What if nobody cares?

This book is also about “Lessons Learned.” It is the result of reflecting on more than 40 years in higher education, as a professor, academic administrator, consultant  and advancement professional.  So I think I am pretty safe about the ideas. Whether they are helpful or not is up to you to decide.  Afterall, I did survive this moment three times earlier.  Surely I will again.  Won’t I?

A university is a different kind of organizaton, so I begin with a discussion about the nature of academic life and what kinds of leaders tend to end up in charge. What follows is an analysis of the typical political situations one encounters trying to get support for ideas and programs inside, as well as strategies and tactics to employ. Finally, I conclude that advancement and marketing officers must become internal teachers, so I show how to develop a “lesson plan” that can be used in small bites in meetings and office visits.

Some have looked at this material and suggested that people in nonprofits and even most business situations will profit from this read, noting that insitutitonal politics is a big issue everywhere.  I am convinced they are right.

So in the final analysis this book also tries to organize a “subject matter” that can be taught as a part of the curriculum in professional schools, or later on as a part of professional development.

This book just may become my focus for more thinking and writing in the coming weeks. Please do give it a read, and let me know what you think.

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Over the years I have come to believe that an organization’s brand is often its primary product. Executives think that what they need most is more program promotion but the real issue is to first clarify and intensify their brand appeal. 

In the case of universities, it’s true that most prospective students and parents are very interested in the quality of acadmic programs, and they are especially so if they know the student’s primary areas of interest. But I still suggest that much of their final choice will be based on the emotional satisfaction and pride they experience in associating with the institution’s overall identity.

I even found this brand power focus to be true when working with community organizations. For example, I was the chairman of the board of a community theatre a few years ago in a town with a number of other theaters. Here I became accutely aware that season ticket sales were often based on being associated with a particular theater. In many cases this was even more so than the desire to attend specific plays.  It was clear to me that each theater in this town had a unique brand identity defined in part by the decor of its physical home, the types of people who regularly attended, the style of favored productions, the nature of social opportunities, and even the personality of the managing director. Selling this theater was a matter of clarifying its overall brand appeal.

The examples are endless.  I am struck by the degree to which many people pick their professional association mostly based on brand identity.  Even though we are tempted to focus first on specific program benefits, I submit that the pride of associating with these particular people and with this particular organization is often the most compelling factor. Consciously or subconsciously I am asking: Is this the organization where I can complete my professional identity and achieve leadership recognition in my field?  So before selling memberships I will first want to focus on clarifying and fine-tuning the brand.

Usually organizations approach me primarily to help them promote their programs, services, and events.  But I now quickly turn the conversation to considering why someone would want to be associated with this organization in the first place, and what is the exact nature of the emotional satsisfaction they will feel?  In short, I tell them we first need to clarify your brand.

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Every week someone asks me why the Schieffer School of Journalism changed the name of  its’ program in advertising and public relations to strategic communication.  If you put this question to my academic colleagues you no doubt will get different answers.

But I always have been amazed at how we continually fail to convince the public to see our profession as we do.  This is especially true when we use the term “PR,” or so I think.  I have found that people inevitably want to see PR practitioners as the servants who will send out your press release, print your brochure, plan your party, and “spin” positive stories. 

And even though we are the very professionals that claim to be able to define and communicate institutional brand identites, we have been a total failure at successfully branding our own profession. 

As a consequence, I quickly found early in my career that when I used PR in my title most CEO’s would see me as they defined the term, not as Idid. I wanted to be seen as the professional communicator who understood all the tools in the communication tool box. My role was to view the world as a collection of market or audience segments, and to know the right combination of tools for each segment, and for each situation.

So when my colleagues would get into arguments about what was more powerful, advertising or public relations, and would even treat them as separate disciplines, I was certain we were again shooting ourselves in the foot!

But I learned through trial and error that when I stopped using PR and used the term strategic communication to describe my profession, things changed. Senior managers could accept me as the one professional on the team who could help them plan comprehensive communication programs, solve real problems, deal effectively with issues, and handle crises.

Later in my career I would also find that using both strategic communication and “marketing” to describe what what I do would work even better. 

True, using the word “marketing”  is also problematic at first. But unlike my experience with PR, in today’s highly competitive world,  executives are eventually able to see that both strategic communication and marketing are sophisticated, comprehensive, executive-level functions.

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