Archive for June, 2012

The longer I work in the strategic communication field the more I find credibility in a kind of “you are what you eat” theory of how media affects us.

When print was the dominant medium in society, using it caused people to become more rational and structured in their thinking…or so it seemed to me and Marshall McLuhan. But when television became the dominant medium, using it caused people to take on more of its characteristics, and they became more emotional, fragmented, less rational, and more impatient.  With TV came less detail and more drama. Indeed, TV even changed the way we arranged the furniture in our living rooms, thereby changing how our families interacted… or how they didn’t!

Now the new digital media revolution is changing the world once more, and all the basic questions about social and psychic effects are being asked still again. How is it affecting how we think and learn?  Has it again changed behavior patterns in families, and is that good or bad? 

How about politics and government?  How much is media to blame for the extreme polarization we now have in our political campaigns, and in our legislatures?  What impact have these new media platforms had on how governments operate, and on who has the power?

What about the news?  In this new environment how do we know what is fact, and what is not?  What happened to the editors that checked the facts and demanded multiple sources before news was published?  Do 24/7 cable news channels, bloggers, website aggregators, citizen journalists, and social media users merely generate information clutter and create more confusion about what is really gone on?   

What impact has economic cutbacks had on how international events and crises are covered and reported?  Who is really reporting this news, and how is it distributed?  Why does it seem that all of the network and freelance reporters herd to crisis locations, thus leaving the rest of the world unreported? 

How has social media changed the ways nation’s conduct diplomacy?  What is “public diplomacy,” and why is it so important in today’s information cluttered environment?  What can we expect as more and more people inside closed societies find out about how people live in other parts of the world?

And what impact has all this had on institutional religion, on education at all levels, and on every organization–public and private, profit and nonprofit–trying to be understood with relentless data implosion going on all around them?    

Today’s reality is that each person now must become his or her own media editor?  The fact is that we can regulate our choices so as to receive only information we like, or we can achieve a more balanced diet.  It’s now up to each of us to decide.

But does this mean that to have intelligent consumers of media in the future we must introduce  media literacy education in our schools?  And if so, how and where?

These are the fundamental questions I will address this fall with some of the brightest Honors College students we have at TCU. And I will use this new media to bring experts and great thinkers into the classroom from various locations to collaborate with us. Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss the “breaking news!”

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Since writing a book about internal institutional politics, I have had many conversations with colleagues probing their deep inner feelings about their work environment and the people they must deal with in order to get the job done. Many of these feelings are subconscious, but they can come to the surface in heart-to-heart conversations.

For example, one executive told me about the guilt he felt when he had to admit to himself that the incredible talent of a subordinate was threatening to him.  The executive was not proud when he confronted the reality that he actually was preventing a person on his staff from having contact with other executives in the organization, and was not approving his participation in external projects. “It’s this guy’s job to put me out front, not for him to steal the limelight,” was the executive’s attitude. But, of course, he was only setting up a barrier that was holding back the career of a very talented professional.

Another person admitted in a conversation that he was fighting the feeling that he was really hoping a colleague who was getting attention for his talent would ultimately fail. This person had excuses for his feeling such as, “this person is getting too big for his britches.”  But the truth of the matter is that this is a classic case of professional jealously.  And the harm done was negative “office talk” about a professional’s genuine achievements. This situation is what reinforces the classic, “you can’t be a profit in your own land,” reality.

Another person admitted that she was doing things to impede a colleague’s recognition because she just didn’t like him. Questioning revealed this to be a common case of personality conflict.  “He makes me mad every time he opens his mouth,” was one observation.  Another was, “when he walks into the room he makes my skin crawl!”  Sometimes a person’s style is a problem for the entire office. But more often than not it is a problem between two people, and the behavior of one of them can become destructive to the well-being of the other.

Truthfully, it’s not unusual to feel unhappy about co-workers’ successes and to have difficulty celebrating their achievements.  Whatever good happens to them can feel like a setback to us. It’s a common feeling that is rarely admitted, and rarely dealt with directly. 

Indeed, most of us are in denial about our feelings, and make up excuses for them if we must. We simply conclude that the person is a selfish corporate climber, or an elitist social climber, or just a plain ego driven maniac.  “He thinks it’s all about him,” is what we say. But the truth often is that he (or she) is merely trying to advance his ideas and exercise a sincere passion he feels for making a difference.

My little book “Learning to Love the Politics,” attempts to look at leadership styles and typical barriers to individual advancement and support, and to propose some ways to deal with them. This book is mostly about university politics, but many of the situations are universal. Internal politics are in fact the big barriers to professional  achievement everywhere, and many people never have realized that they can work hard and actually be penalized for it.

There is no doubt about it, our unspoken feelings can be destructive. Getting them out in the open so we can deal with them is a major step toward organizational and individual progress.

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I got into a discussion with colleagues this week about the meaning of the word “integration” as it applies to all areas of university advancement. I explained my approach to the topic this way:

Integrated marketing is simultaneously considering product, pricing, program delivery, and communication so that communication can be effective.  It’s impossible to communicate a wrong product, or a product that is priced poorly and delivered inefficiently.

In fact, brand identify is often the primary product of an academic institution. It is what constituents are actually “buying.” And so integrated group processes become essential to clarify a differentiated brand identity and to stimulate essential word-of-mouth communication.

Integrated communication is using multi-platform media tactics simultaneously to converge intensively enough to cut through today’s media clutter. Effectiveness comes from using only the preferred media tactics of each market segment and age group.

Integrated planning usually results in using both “old” and new media, as print often still serves as the tangible “hold-in-your-hand” symbol of an institution or program while electronic tactics facilitate information searching  and two-way relationship building.  I think of integrated communication as “orchestrated” communication.

Integrated advancement then is the bringing together of all this with alumni relations, fund-raising, government relations, and student recruiting.  A task force composed of representatives of these areas can be used to make certain that the institution’s mission, vision, values, and how they come together in branding themes, are commonly understood.

Confusion and breakdown can also be avoided by implementing integrated advancement. For example, in both alumni relations and development there are tendencies to want a brand and logo for every event and program.  Campaign directors also often think a separate theme and logo are needed for fund-raising to be successful.  Yet, if everything an institution does is really to advance the overall brand, why would any of these activities need a separate identity?  Does this not work contrary to the cause?  Imaginative ways to enhance overall brand intensity can be found through integrated planning.

Ideas about how knowledge in one area can strengthen another are also uncovered through integrated planning. For example, how does what development officers know about building relationships with donors help people in communication with their news media constituents.  When the role of each is better understood by the other new ideas emerge that strengthen the whole.

Alumni relations professionals are beginning to expand their programs so as to function as a “portal” through which all alumni can access the total university for their lifetime.  Development operations are also looking to other advancement areas for help in addressing concerns about donor fatigue and loyalty. And marketing and communication practitioners are devising media platforms and strategies to help upgrade the effectiveness of the other advancement areas.

Integrated advancement therefore is simply using group processes and coordinated communication tactics to speak with one voice.  This results in a differentiated, competitive and effective brand identity. And it’s a compelling brand  identity that enables an institution to achieve its primary goal of academic distinction.

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I spent a half-day this week with the institutional advancement officers in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. In the past my impression had been that many state systems were in a constant search for clarity of role and identity. But this week I collaborated with a highly energized group of professionals, and as I reflected on our time together I came to see more clearly just how they might function effectively in this current environment of government cut-backs and public criticism.

1. Who better than a state system can put together an impressive case for state support of higher education, and then to represent it in the legislature with one voice and ongoing persistence? Who better can make an effective case for insuring diverse access, meeting workforce needs, stimulating economic development, researching new products, solving community problems, and much more?

2. Who better can lead the rethinking of core business plans? Cut-backs are likely to remain permanent to some degree. What will  be the new ratio of revenue sources?  What proportion will now have to come from tuition, philanthropy, federal government, state government, fees, etc.?  How can we insure the needed amounts from each source will be available?

3. Who better can coordinate the best professional development programs, and provide access to the best experts in the fields of philanthropy, alumni relations, marketing and communications?  A new level of sophistication will be required in all these areas to meet future revenue and admissions needs, and the system can make sure this is available to every member.

4. Who better can assess the impact of globalization on the institutions in the state and guide a planned response?  Both opportunities and threats will have to be taken into account as a part of core business rethinking.  Does it make sense to have programs abroad?  What is the likelihood of foreign institutions successfully rasing money and recruiting students in this region?  How should each institution respond? 

5. Who better can help clarify where and how institutions can cooperate, and yet compete at the same time. For example, where might institutional student recruiting, and therefore marketing and communication initiatives, overlap? Where might the same donors, foundations, and corporations be solicited by individual institutions?  And what are new and better ways to build donor loyalty and avoid back-to-back campaign donor fatigue?

6. And who better can facilitate making an “everyone on the same page” case for higher education to the general public?  In this age of negativity and skepticism a strategic communication initiative to clarify higher education’s overall brand identity is essential, and a state system can lead the way. Even if a system is not in a “political” position to launch such a public campaign, it might help and encourage an outside group or association to do so.

Indeed, there are many roles for state systems to play in these uncertain times.  It’s exciting to think of the possibilities!

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