Archive for August, 2010

This week the president of an association I am currently working with enthusiastically declared: “I am amazed. Our integrated marketing initiative is actually transforming this organization!”

Over the years the program heads in this association had created isolated silos. Most worked in the same building, yet each developed and promoted new initiatives independently. They did little market research, very little multi-platform communication planning, and felt no need to advance an integrated brand identity for the entire association.  They complained about getting little “promotion” support, which they  believed was the main problem when a program was not working well. 

Now, this president is amazed at how integration is bringing about productive organizational change. Whether or not integrated marketing truly is “transforming” really depends of how you define transform. There is little doubt, however, that with strong visionary leadership, organizations can evolve from their founding mission toward a bigger vision, so long as that vision is both realistic and inspiring. And this evolution can certainly be nurtured, facilitated, and accelerated though the professional use of integrated group processes.

Task forces, with sub-groups focused on special needs, can be very effective in getting key people on the same message page and moving the institution forward. Research and other action teams can assess market needs and identify competitive strengths. Focus groups can fine-tune the brand and set simple guidelines for the effective use of logos and design.

Eventually the result is a critical mass of energized opinion leaders on an accelerated “train” now headed toward a more exciting destination. And when that train starts moving, all the travelers on it begin to feel positive change and a new sense of personal and professional satisfaction.

Those skeptics left standing on the platform either jump on board at the last minute, or are simply left behind.  Many just become “dead wood,” and eventually a different kind of management problem. Others merely head off in a different direction, which in the long run will turn out to be good for them, and for the organization.  

Oh, and I should add that this president also said: “Several months ago I would have never believed this could happen. This is truly exciting!”

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Events this week caused me to reflect on the many crises I have been involved with handling over the years. I was amused to remember how some close colleagues would observe how “cool” I remained under fire!

The fact is, I was always terrified!

But it was pure fear that caused me to study crisis communication and management when there was no crisis. I decided to write about it, and to work it into my teaching as a way of making sure I learned the material. This allowed me to develop a step-by-step guide for handling whatever might come my way. True, each crisis is unique. But it is also true that the steps for handling them will remain very much the same.

This lesson also holds true for most other aspects of our work… including developing brand clarity, writing important proposals, giving major presentations, and even designing group process for integrated planning.

Bottom line: Always do your homework.  Your never can over-prepare. Then when the drama begins, you just follow your step-by-step plan. Magically, you will look like you know what you’re doing, and that will make you effective even when deep inside you are terrified!

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I was reminded of this essential lesson this week during a float trip down the Snake River in Wyoming.

Besides being a skilled river pilot, our guide was immersed in the unique authenticity of his, and now our, surroundings. He told us about the dramatically changing geology, endless plant life, the trees, the incredible variety of wildlife, the countless number of birds– including the majestic bald eagle, and  how a culture and a unique set of values evolved around river life. This young man was a total product of this very unique and special land and he could explain it all with passion and authenticity. He clarified the brand identity of the Snake River for us.

Organizations are much like this river. Most originated and have evolved around a very special set of unique factors. They develop a culture and a set of values, and have unique characteristics and strengths that literally define the direction they must go.

Their founding missions address an unmet need and then evolve into a culture, with a set of values, which in turn attract and influence special types of people. This mission can be guided through change with relevant visions, but organizations cannot be made into something they are not.

For example, I have found that those academic leaders who have tried to remake their institution into their own idea about what a university should be, invaribly fail. The dynamics of institutions take on a life of their own. 

Brand identities therefore must be authentic. They must be grounded in the founding mission and culture of their specific institution. They should incorporate an inspiring vision for an exciting future, but that vision must stay true to the unique character, culture, strengths  and values of the founding mission of the institution.  

Just like the Snake River, institutions take on a life of their own, and shape the people who inhabit them.

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This week, I happend to see the wonderful PBS three-part documentary about the career of Secretary of State, George Schultz. Besides serving as a professor at MIT, dean of the University of Chicago Business School, and Secretary of Labor, Treasury and State, historians are likely to report that Mr. Schultz was the most effective statesman of our time.

When asked about lessons learned, George Schultz flatly stated: “It all begins with ideas. Without them you get lost.”

True, he was a Republican because he believed in limited government and free markets. But he also believed that once in government the aim is not partisian success, but rather to simply find the best ideas that will help solve complicated problems. 

As I struggled to understand how to transform institutions, I found myself pleading with my colleagues to back away from immediately jumping into tactics and try to see what we do first as “a way of thinking.”  Over time I came to see my work as an “adventure in ideas,” and a personal search for the best ones.  

It’s the best ideas that shape the big picture and inform the selection of  the most effective tactics.  In fact, for me that is what justifies the description “professional.” 

It’s not difficult to think up new “stuff” to do. Anyone can do that. How many times has someone come to you with a tactic they want you to implement, but that you know will just not work?  What makes us professionals is the experience and analytical tools that we bring to the selection of the best set of tactics for each situation and market segment.

Indeed, it all begins with ideas.  Without them, you get lost!

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