Archive for December, 2010

The field of journalism desperately needs a new lease on life in 2011. Otherwise, the public’s right to know the facts about what actually is going on in govenment and elsewhere in society is clearly at stake.

Besides higher education, I have been associated with public service broadcasting all of my professional life. Early on I was a program director and produced and hosted programs, and later became an active volunteer. I have a hands-on awareness of what motivates the nonprofit media sector, and its incredible potential to serve.

With the coming of cable, however, many people thought that public broadcasting was not likely to survive. After all, there were too many channels with too many choices, and all seemed commercially supportable. Besides, people were getting tired of the endless pledge-breaks and on-air fundraising now too common in nonprofit broadcasting, or so it seemed. 

But to me, the critical feature of “non profit” always was its focus on the cause rather than on a commercial profit for the organization itself. I never did have a problem with presenting a few tasteful commercial messages. 

But who would have predicted what is now happening to the commercial news business? Cable news is polarized and opinion-dominated, newspapers are losing subscribers and commercial viability, and traditional news network audiences are shrinking more and more every year. The biggest causualty of all in this drama is local news converage.

Interestingly enough, the Schieffer School of Journalism at TCU has had for many years a “community journalism” program which focused on small town newspapers. Who would have thought that what seemed totally “small town” then might actually be pointing the way to the future of the entire field?  This fact is that today the Schieffer School’s innovative community jounalism program has become multi-media platform in approach and is already ahead of the curve technologically.

It seems to me that the future of most fair-minded journalism just might be with the establishment of a multi-media platform-based “new” type organization. Such an organization would be a combined commercial/nonprofit operation with a variety of funding sources that are primarily focused on “the cause.” This organization would give ample promotion to commercial products and businesses, as well as to foundations and individuals. But rather than commercial profit, it would be driven mostly by the “cause orientation” more characteristic of the nonprofit sector.

Many today point to NPR as the best, most fair, news operation in contemporary journalism. Is it possible that with a slightly more flexible approach to commercial product and corporate underwriter recognition, support for high quality traditional journalism can be broadened and increased?

I believe multi-source funding like this could restore balanced news coverage on both the national and local levels.  Something like this is needed to assure the future of a high quality free press, as well as to revitalize the journalism profession overall. 

It is critically important that the best and brightest fair-minded thinkers in the nation continue to be attracted to this profession. It is the only way we can protect the public’s right to know in this time of overwhelming turmoil and global change. I suggest that a new kind of creatively financed nonprofit  organization just might be a viable solution.

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Public diplomacy is a topic I have discussed several times in my blog over the past few months. This is because I think doing a better job of it is critically important to our future as good and productive citizens of the world.

Simply put, public diplomacy for the U.S. is using integrated marketing and communication strategies and tactics to explain the “idea of America” directly to the citizens of other countries.

This week I had a thought-provoking conversation with a colleague who happens to be a Washington correspondent for one of the major Arab news networks. He has been living in the U.S. for ten years, and owns two cars and a house in the suburbs. Right up front he asked me: “How do you describe your idea of America?”

I responded by explaining the joy of living in freedom, and the superiority of a democratic form of government.  But he countered by saying that while this is true, these factors do not make the U.S. unique. Many other people feel they live a free life, and many governments practice some form of democracy. Then he abruptly and confidently asserted: “I believe there are three other factors that make the U.S. unique in the world,” and he startled me by proceeding to list and explain them! Obviously, he had been thinking about this for a long time. And I was impressed!

Here are his points, and his reasoning: 1. Individualism and self-reliance are fundamental. Most other societies see the family, or even a religious or social commitment, as far more important. 2. The admired role of the entrepreneur. Having an idea, finding the support to implement it, and taking the necessary risks, is not valued nearly as highly in most other societies. 3. Small government. Most people in other countries want more, rather than less, from their governments. While in this country we debate how much government we think we need, my colleague argued that all of us would agree that we prefer the least amount necessary to regulate greed and meet basic social and defense needs.  

There is no doubt that this conversation has had me thinking ever since. I must say that while I know my characterization of America was true, most of my factors did not really differentiate us from the rest of the world. However the three points, so clearly articulated by this Arab living in America, just might come close to doing so.

There is a big lesson to be learned from this conversation. Just what are the American values that truly differentiate us? My international colleague certainly has me thinking about this question all over again.

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This week I visited a former consulting client. I was asked to return to the institution to review and comment on the progress. We had restructured some of the operational units, put in place several planning groups to better integrate marketing and communication, and recommened new and traditional media initiatives.

Upon return I found that the new structure was working fairly well, but several of the reporting units are having their ups and downs. I also found that the use of an institution-wide taskforce to integrate marketing planning and implementation had gradually become only an email exchange.  But, on the positive side, a more coordinated and pervasive use of new and traditional media has been a grand success, and is still on the upswing.

I was also struck by the surprising discovery that one major unit, that several years ago was eager to cooperate with an overall integrated marketing  program, had completely gone off on its own. And in doing so, it alienated most everyone else in the organization. Not surprising was that all this happened with a change in leadership.

Sitting here reflecting on my visit has reminded me of the cyclical nature of most everything we do. Indeed, with a change in personnel, things sometimes really do suddenly take a nose dive. But I am also reminded that many times everything improves.

I am also recalling now how often over the years I have talked about these  institutional and personnel cycles in my seminars and classes. It’s a fact that entire institutions find themselves “on a roll,” only to peak and plateau at some point. For most institutions, this is a historical certainty. The question then becomes: Can current leadership re-energize itself, or will institutional and marketing progress have to wait for new leadership? Either way, another cycle starts all over again.

In many cases a new marketing campaign will generate a strong sense of forward movement, only to peak over time. Almost always you can track a campaign from initial audience awareness, to receiving the message, to acting on the message, to the feeling that the ad is getting old.  While it’s true that we get tired of our messages long before our audiences do, here too we are always working in up and down cycles.

What’s interesting is that while these cycles are so natural, we still seem to plan as if the roll we are on, or expect to get ourselves on, will last forever. My visit this week to a former client reminded me that we all need to step back, realize that cycles are natural and inevitable, and then take that reality into account in our strategic planning.

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Colleagues often ask me how to handle opinion leaders, department heads and executives who won’t cooperate with initiatives to integrate institutional marketing.

I tell them that the biggest mistake I made in my work was to think that I would have to convert the critics before I could move ahead with my planning.

Early in my work with academic institutions, I came head-to-head with a very influential business school dean who decided to be an outspoken critic of my efforts. Clearly, he wanted others to think that, under his leadership, his school could step out in prominence and bring the rest of the university along with it. My belief was, and still is, that an individual school or program can only become as prominent as its university, and that building a distinctive program (sub-brand) reputation can be most effectively accomplished by simultaneously advancing the overall institutional brand. 

Building distinctive sub-brands, which tie to consistent institutional brands, is what integrating marketing really means. It is accomplished with multi-platform communication, and orchestrated group dynamics.

The lesson I learned was that converting determined critics is often impossible. They can become even more vocal, and many actually enjoy putting you on the defensive. It took a long time, but I eventually learned that I could form a team of those who saw benefits in cooperating with me, and together we could move an integrated marketing program ahead.

The key is in harnessing the power of group dynamics: Use your team to get the branding messages into the internal environment.  And when that happens, even when important people are not on board, the train will begin to pull out from the station. Now, the institution is on its’ way!

Make no mistake, on a given day it can seem like it is all crashing down around you.  Give it several months, and then look back. You will be amazed at how far you’ve come.

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