Archive for May, 2012

This week I found myself discussing with a colleague the significance of calling on important people in areas of interest just to get to know them.  Sometimes you get a new special insight. Other times you will pick up important information about new developments.  And often this contact will lead to others that can be helpful later on.  We readily agreed that making the effort to get out and get to know key people never turns out to be a waste of time. And before you know it you have a network with which today’s new media will allow you to stay in touch.

Many years ago fundraisers demonstrated for me the power of third-party contacts.  It’s a matter of everyday practice for them to realize that they might not be the best person to call on a given donor for a particular gift.  Rather, a third-party that knows you both very well is likely to make a more effective ask. And so you equip your third-party with talking points and a proposal to make the call with you, or in some cases for you. 

This is not rocket science, but I have found this approach often can also work for news reporters, foundation heads, government officials, legislators, business leaders, and virtually anyone from whom you might one day need help. 

It’s a great tactic for advancing the brand as well.  It’s even possible to ask many of these people a few basic research questions to take back their feedback, or to ask for word-of-mouth support for a special project, event or your entire institution.

These networks can also often lead to productive partnerships.  A great partnership is one where just the association brings you and your organization instant expanded visibility and prestige.  Nothing is more effective than the right  third-party partner. But also, nothing is worse than the wrong partner… one that no one ever heard of or is a rung or two down on the brand reputation scale.

The truth is… it’s all about relationships. The more key people you get to know the more effective you can be in everything you undertake. It’s just as simple as that.

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My primary contribution to higher education and the nonprofit world has been to adapt core concepts of integrated marketing to be used as planning tools to strengthen the effectiveness of strategic communicators.  And so I frequently get asked: “Do these ideas apply to just any organization, including businesses?”  And my answer clearly is always, “Yes.”

But as a matter of clarity let me first point out that I still find people defining marketing as selling. It is not. To understand my formula you must see marketing as a way of thinking. And I also find people in the field defining the term “integrated marketing” differently than do I. So there seems to be no uniform definition. 

What follows, then, is my hard “lessons learned” fundamental formula, the core concepts that I think define IMC as a way of thinking. And the formula applies to all organizations, sometimes with transformational results:

1. The very first principle of IMC: Simultaneously consider product, price, distribution methods, and communication tactics, as a fundamental way of thinking about communication strategy. A weak product that is priced and/or distributed poorly cannot be communicated effectively. This  is equally true in the nonprofit, commercial, and public service sectors.

2. Treat the corporate brand as your most important product.  Brand attraction is what establishes trust and builds confidence  in the integrity of your entire enterprise.  It incorporates assumptions about core values and reliability.

3. Also concentrate on sub-brand clarification for the key product/program and service divisions of the organization. Sub-brands should position divisions appropriately to their function, but also advance the overall brand identity.  This requires a relentless passion about carefully crafted and compelling words, as well as creative and consistent design.

4. An essential ingredient is a firm belief in the power of group dynamics. Only “bad” meetings are a waste of time.  Task forces and small groups should be used to mobilize the troops, getting key people on the same page inspired to help tell the story inside and out.  Action teams composed of the best available writers, designers, and strategic thinkers should  be used to implement key reputation defining initiatives.

5. Select multi-platform media tactics based on individual audience and target market preferences.  Then launch these tactics simultaneously to converge intensively on each target.   This is the only way to break through the confusing information clutter of today’s digital media world.

6. Always prefer interactive media. Feedback and response over time is the only way to achieve any level of understanding. Comprehensive surveys can mislead.  But today’s interactive communication is a form of market research that keeps everyone current about what works and what doesn’t.

In the final analysis, integrated marketing brings a broader way of thinking and planning to the profession of strategic communication. Simply put, incorporating this “value-added” subject matter better qualifies strategic communication professionals to function more impressively as a member of the top executive team.

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Last week I met with a group of visiting educators on campus to help us review our graduate program in the Schieffer School of Journalism.  They ask me bluntly: What should be the “value added” benefit of a graduate program in journalism and strategic communication?

I confidently told them I thought that the “value added” of a professional school’s graduate program in these fields should be to help the students learn how to deal with the surprising and sometimes frightening workplace realities confronted by professional communicators in all organizations… all of those things we never get to cover adequately in lower level tactics and professional practice courses.

I also stressed that it is likely that these students will need to take more courses related to the topics they will be communicating. i.e. business, politics, international affairs, education, recent history, etc., and to become more exposed to how academic research in the various communication disciplines informs the practical world.  

But my list of the key “value-added” topics related to working in and with organizations includes to learn to think more critically, to manage complex issues, to make strategic plans that actually work in rapidly changing daily turmoil, to negotiate skillfully, to solve difficult problems, to lead innovative teams, to deal with corporate lawyers and management consultants, to manage and inspire creative people, to conduct really productive meetings, to make politically sensitive presentations, to deal with time-consuming and ever-present personnel problems, to make priority budget decisions in a competitive situation, and how to initiate research that actually  informs today’s critical decisions. But the most important topic of all is organizational politics–learning how to deal with the inevitable organizational barriers that can prevent you from doing what you now know how to do!!

Internal politics present problems everywhere.  The students may have actually learned something about politics in kindergarten and elementary school, but chances are they have forgotten all they knew!  And unless they were in that very rare undergraduate program, they didn’t get the refresher course.  So, a graduate program is a perfect place to address the specific workplace realities that communicators inevitably will confront head-on.

What do you do when your boss is actually threatened by your talent?  How do you get support from division heads who want to run their own show in every way?  How do you deal with the various leadership styles to be found from top to bottom in all organizations?  How do you get branding standards successfully  implemented?  Most importantly, how do you get widespread support for what you know how to do?  And the list goes on…

And one more point:  The line between journalism and strategic communication is blurring more and more every day.  Our graduates will work one day writing speeches in the White House and the next day in a news organization. They will use the same multi-platform communication tactics, and the best among them will strive to find and report truth no matter what side of the communication business they are on at the time. A properly shaped graduate program therefore is the perfect place to bridge the traditional divide between the disciplines and explore the full potential of a savvy, well-educated communication professional.

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In preparing for a speech I will be giving in June about the future of university advancement I have become  acutely aware once again of the degree to which those of us in marketing, communication, alumni relations, fund-raising, and government affairs will find ourselves facing incredible challenges. But that said, these challenges will also present once-in-a-career amazing opportunities.

With state governments cutting back in the U.S. and  governments around the world changing their roles, it’s more and more clear everyday that increased responsibility for helping to chart the future success of educational institutions everywhere will be placed squarely at the feet of advancement officers. The good news is that we will have better paid, predominately placed executive positions. The scary news, however, is that we will have to be far more sophisticated in everything we do.

So far, the rough draft of my speech argues that marketing as “a way of thinking” will have to influence and possibly change all areas of advancement. Brand clarification, multi-platform interactive communication, and internal support mobilization must be a part of what everyone does everyday.  Alumni relations will need to provide a “portal” to lifetime  educational and social connections for entire families, and fundraisers will have to find interactive, creative ways to maintain key donor loyalty for the long-term. And all of this must work effectively in an industry that is rapidly becoming global, with changing student migration patterns and fundraisers roaming all over the world with new and imaginative cases for support. 

The fact is that donors with formerly local only interests are now becoming global in their businesses and outlook. And foundations and corporations that have also been largely local or regional operations are now thinking differently about their world and influence.

For many of us in advancement it has been challenging enough to deal with internal silos and traditional academic attitudes about our work.  Getting everyone on board and accepting an active role in telling a unified identity clarifying story has been difficult enough.  But now the game is changing again!  Developing a total culture of philanthropy, and an appreciation of marketing as a legitimate and respectable way of thinking, will simply be essential to institutional global success. 

Make no mistake, there is clear evidence that forward-thinking institutions are already gearing up all over the world to meet these challenges.  Past superiority is certainly no guarantee of future success in this new world.  So the basic message of my speech in June will be:  Don’t let your short-term problems (or even successes!) cause you to miss the simple fact that everything is changing right before your eyes!

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Since I spent much of my career communicating and marketing universities I think its time I weigh in on this current topic of polarizing political discourse: Is college worth the cost?  What is its value to individuals, and to society? 

My basic answer: For anyone who has even a slight inclination toward wanting a college education it is more than worth the cost.  That may mean it’s not literally for everyone.  But it does mean it should be accessible to anyone.

So what about its cost?  The hallmark of American higher education is our diversity of institutions.  We have private, public, large and small.  We have research, professional, liberal arts, technical and career based. We have church related and secular. We have high, medium and low-cost, with financial aid available for those with need, and scholarships for those with talent.  

The challenge is for people everywhere, both rich and poor, to have the information and help they need to find the right place for them.

The problem arrises when people assume that if they can’t afford any university they choose then all of higher education costs too much.  Higher education, like everything else, is priced relative to its cost of delivery. But also like everything else, if one shops around there is always one at acceptable quality within affordable reach.

This polarized political environment we have today tends to over simplify the situation. You are asked to either see a college education as an investment in the future, the economy, and the development of future taxpayers; or as something that just costs too much, may not be worth your time and money, and is the fault of greedy educators.

Its true too many people accept high dollar loans to attend high tuition schools. But there is no need to do that if the payoff cannot be seen upfront. Based on my 45 years in higher education I say “choose college,” but go forward only with a sensible financial plan, and attend one that suits your realistic academic abilities and interests. 

And don’t listen to today’s extreme rhetoric. If you do you could end up missing the joy of a life time… the joy of making the world of ideas a permanent part of your life.  And you could also be giving up your best opportunity to change that world that now seems so dysfunctional.

How in the world can anyone see that drastic budget cuts, teacher layoffs, and demonizing criticism can solve anything facing a society that desperately needs to grow new leadership, and, yes, expand its taxpayer base?  It simply isn’t true that most universities are poorly managed.  Like any other enterprise, of course, some are wasteful. But I can tell you as a longtime insider, and as a fairly experienced outside consultant, most institutions have recently gone through exhaustive internal assessments, and as a result they are now better managed than many businesses.

It’s really a “no brainer!” For an individual, a college education is the best path to a richer, fuller life… and a much better chance at financial success. And as for society, universities expand their local economies; produce future leaders who grow the larger economy; cultivate wealthier taxpayers; facilitate the discoveries that result in new products, services and a better quality of life; and ensure American competitiveness around the world.  

We already have the best higher education system in the world. Do we really want to cut it apart and demean it at the very time we need it the most?

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