Archive for July, 2014

As I wrote about crisis communication over the years I found myself saying early on that you must “look like you know what you are doing.” I did not mean this superficially. Rather, I meant it as an observation about how difficult it is to look confident and sound completely informed when all hell is breaking loose around you. This certainly has been a big challenge for the U.S president. And the 24/7 breaking news environment has not been forgiving.

White House responses this week to crises in the Middle East and Ukraine had me once again reviewing my crisis management “lessons learned.” Here are some of my thoughts:

1. Timing is everything. Getting all the facts together under media deadline pressure is more difficult than it looks. But speaking out too late can also allow someone else to seize the moment and put you on the defensive. There are no set rules here to follow. Experience certainly helps. But an overall predisposition to lengthy analysis can be a liability and make you look tentative.

2. Achieve a balance between looking confident and being willing to listen. Make an early statement to establish visible leadership.  Then quickly prepare a plan to take charge of the total situation. Tell them what you know. And then tell them how you will quickly find out what you don’t. Never announce an action that you don’t take.

3. Avoid direct confrontation. Confrontation allows your adversary to take the higher ground and put you on the defensive. Once there, it’s a difficult position to change. Establish your own solid ground by concentrating on making your positive and compressive plan of action look more thorough and credible.

4. Try to anticipate crises.  If it’s possible to anticipate a crisis long before it occurs you may be able to inoculate the situation by putting the matter on the public agenda yourself.  This is called issues management, a practice that includes producing a set of initiatives to systematically manage the situation before it is a problem.

5. Clearly list the other side’s errors. But be careful. After you have taken charge, presenting a concise list of the other side’s flaws can work. But avoid negative rants, and focus on facts. Attacking too soon and too often will make you look too defensive. Remember that over time some of your attacks may lose credibility with the public.

The U.S. president has the reputation of taking his time to analyze each difficult situation before deciding what to do.  While his inclination to be thorough is laudatory, he also has a tendency to wait too long to take charge. And even then, his announcements can sound more like a confrontation than a game plan for taking charge of the total situation.

In the final analysis, success depends on making good judgements about timing and substance. This is a talent that is fine-tuned with practice and experience. The communication dimensions of leadership are many, and the sophistication required for success is too often underestimated.

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Each year the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education’s Summit for Leaders in Institutional Advancement focuses on the big issues facing education… most especially higher education. This week much of the CASE Summit addressed the coming changes that will likely transform the entire industry.

General sessions featured panels of university presidents, association CEO’s, professors, advancement professionals, as well as a corporation head, a digital media executive, a journalist, and a department of education administrator. Collectively they explored what the future might look like for education.

In a nutshell, they reviewed the consequences of universal government cutbacks, a revolution in digital technology, and rapid globalization… all happening simultaneously. The bottom line: Everything changes, from curricula and teaching methods to how money is raised and where students go to learn.

Education advancement areas include fundraising, alumni relations, marketing, communication, government relations, and sometimes enrollment management and student affairs. Many of the changes that will both threaten institutions and provide exciting opportunities are in these areas. Underlying all of the Summit’s discussions were these questions: What should advancement professionals do to prepare their institutions and constituents for these changes? What opportunities will they have to lead the way? And what should they do to prepare themselves?

As mentioned in a previous post I am writing a book that addresses these issues and questions. It is scheduled for release at next year’s CASE Summit. Between now and then I will be reporting here on my progress.


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Much of my recent work has been around the theme: “How media revolutions change everything!” I have been revisiting Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “the medium is the message,” the idea that the appearance of a new dominant medium changes how everything functions in significant ways.

The implication here is that this ability of a dominant medium to force dramatic psychic and social changes is a more powerful message than its’ content. My experience suggests that this is initially true. But I also think that eventually the status of that medium’s content can also become a real matter of concern.

In today’s digital world the issue now is how to deal with an overwhelming hourly stream of fragmented information which produces clutter and confusion with little or no context for understanding.

For example, in my industry of higher education, a major transition is underway driven by government cut-backs and complicated by the economic forces of globalization. 24/7 media report “breaking news”headlines of student loan problems, rapidly increasing tuition and fees, sexual misconduct, executive salaries, and much more. But there is little or no context for understanding the complexity of the problems and the efforts being made to solve them.

The truth is… finding ways to provide context in today’s digital world will have to fall to those in strategic communication and institutional marketing. While these professionals use the same digital media tools, they can use a variety of them simultaneously… including more content-friendly publications and magazines, executive speeches, and face-to-face meetings and events. Media campaigns can be developed that identify priority issues, and then use broader briefing points and  multiple media platforms. The reality is that if strategic communicators don’t make this happen, who will?

The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) is holding its’ Annual Summit for Leaders in Advancement in New York.  CASE is the largest institution-based education association in the world. The basic purpose of the Summit is to focus on the content issues that all professionals advancing institutions should be addressing with their constituents.

The bottom line is that media revolutions do change people and institutions. As for education, the coming sea-change is a game-changer, and everyone in advancement must take responsibility to make sure their institution is prepared. Now is the time to add context and content.


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Much of my summer is being spent writing my fourth book about advancing academic institutions. This time my motivation has been the major changes speeding our way in education, and how far-reaching they are likely to become.

On the one hand, governments are changing their roles and funding levels in significant ways. And at the very same time education, and most especially higher education, is also becoming a global industry. All this happening simultaneously is certain to become a major, possibly even revolutionary, game-changer.

When I also take into account that the digital technology revolution is already changing how teaching and learning are being delivered, I realize that everyone inside and outside the academy will be affected. Both how we deliver education and how we communicate institutions will be dramatically different tomorrow.

University presidents, deans, faculty members, students, everyone in advancement professions, as well as alumni, key donors, and anyone else supporting the academy, should therefore already be preparing  for a completely different marketplace. Student enrollment patterns will become more global. Faculty will have new and intriguing international opportunities. And foreign institutions will suddenly be offering your corporate partners and foundations visibility and business opportunities in very interesting places.

My book will be my contribution to preparing for these changes. What lies ahead looks very scary, I must say. But on second thought, this new day could also be very exciting!  The book is scheduled for release mid-way through 2015.

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