Archive for February, 2015

Cities cannot escape media revolutions, especially when those revolutions bring new technologies that intensify, multiply and expand both messages and relationships.

Neighborhood problems are exposed more dramatically. Poverty is more difficult to ignore. Frustrations of minorities come more to the surface. Management issues are scrutinized more consistently. News coverage changes from daily events reporting to intensive issues investigation. And these same new technologies help extend a city’s story far beyond its borders.

These dramatic changes in how individuals and communities communicate have had both good and bad consequences. The very technology that has the potential to bring people and neighborhoods together has often magnified their problems and exacerbated divisions. And while communities of interest can come together on-line, such virtual communities are often not geographically aligned and end up stimulating conflicts.

What seems to differentiate cities from nations, however, is that mayors and city managers tend to be less political and more pragmatic in dealing with these new problems. Issues related to neighborhoods, poverty, immigrants, water, energy, air quality, climate change, etc., are real and urgent but have little to do with political ideology or religion.

This reality has led some analysts to imagine groups of city managers and mayors from around the world meeting on a regular basis to address our recent and violent international problems. For example, the current crisis of immigrants joining ISIS and other extremists to bring terror to the world has become basically a city problem. Is it therefore not reasonable to think that groups of city leaders meeting from around the world might be able to find pragmatic solutions?

In short, countries have national identities, histories and borders to be concerned about. And world organizations get caught up in those politics. But cities have immediate problems to solve, and invariably address them pragmatically. Therefore, maybe cities really can lead the way to more effective international problem-solving.

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Horrible atrocities are now multiplying from North Africa to the Middle East to Europe at warp speed. Has the time now come to focus on communicating that this is more of a world problem than a regional one… and that it will take the entire world coming together to do something about it?

If you have ever experienced the power of integrated communication, seen self-fulfilling prophesy work, and understand that repetitive persistence is effective, you might be able to imagine some communication initiatives worth trying.

I have been amazed to discover just how many individuals and organizations consider themselves to be working in the area of “foreign policy.” Over this past year I have been connecting to a group in Washington called Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). I expected that most members would be working in government. But I was surprised to learn that members come from countless NGO’s, associations, embassies, think-tanks, international monetary organizations, lobby groups, as well as from many different branches of government.

Gary Barnabo, president of YPFP, explains that “diplomacy is no longer just about governments and countries. It is about people and networks.”  That approach to people-to-people communication is usually called public diplomacy. And so as I thought more about this diverse group all working in foreign policy and having a common interest in public diplomacy, I wondered about the possibilities of their collectively addressing terrorism.

For example, as a public service project, would it be possible for many of the larger and well established of these organizations and government agencies to collectively adopt a set of common themes? Those themes would call for urgent world-wide action against terrorism and make clear that the only way to end this cancer once and for all is for the leading governments and organizations of the world to take the responsibility to get it done.

Armed with the right message themes it should be possible to flood the universe with them using a large-scale, carefully planned, multi-platform media campaign that is coordinated and implemented by these participating organizations and agencies. The key to success is sticking with the campaign and same simple themes until world leaders are moved to make the decisions necessary to fulfill the prophesy.

I have seen this work for individual institutions. And what works for them should also work for foreign policy projects where integrated communication and collaborative planning is possible. To be sure, it always takes talented leadership and endless persistence. But where there’s a will, there usually is a way.

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Some media experts argue that print cannot survive the digital revolution. They point out that books are too cumbersome and print in general is not efficient enough. They argue that new media does everything print can do, and with much more speed and efficiency. Why would anyone want to take the time to produce clumsy printed materials?

There are several reasons to challenge this argument:

1. In the entire history of communication no medium has ever gone completely away.

2. When a new medium becomes dominant, the other media platforms just change roles.

3. These new roles usually are based on their inherent strengths. And print has at least two inherent strengths.

First, print is effective for delivering clarity, structure, logic and brevity. These characteristics have already influenced the development of a concise and structured writing style for maximum effectiveness on the Internet.

Second, printed materials can be held in your hand and can function as a tangible and lasting symbol of a program or institution. Brochures, pamphlets, flyers, etc. will therefore continue to occupy an important place in the total mix of media options. When used properly they “physically” display an institution’s differentiating identity and competitive advantage. They have a long “shelf life” and reinforce credibility through their permanence.

The tangible and more permanent nature of print encourages day-to-day journalists to find time to write books. Even reporters who write for digital media outlets write printed books in order to advance their visibility and reputation. The permanent nature of printed books establishes authors as experts.

In fact, many people who abandoned books are reconsidering their decision. They have rediscovered that curling up in the corner with a “real” book allows them to escape into a private world of their own. Somehow new media experiences are not quite the same. This is especially true for lovers of fiction and poetry.

For readers of nonfiction a printed book can seem easier to work through, to underline, and to flip pages back and forth in order to reread portions. Admittedly all of this is possible with e-books. Even so, many readers have found e-books to be more cumbersome.

Increasing numbers of readers are also admitting they download the electronic version and if they like it they also buy the real book. If true, this is unanticipated good news for the publishing industry!

So is print going away? I think not. Rather it will be fine-tuned around its strengths and become a more precisely defined tool in an ever-expanding media toolbox.

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The world seems to be coming apart with a new crisis every day in some part of the world. When you think about all of them collectively you can get a bit despondent. Is there any hope for survival, let alone progress?

Once in a while you might hear the advice that if you want to produce change you should manufacture a crisis! Crises create urgency and tend to pull people together with a new determination to take action. Crisis managers always ask how they can make something good from adversity, and it is often possible.

The recent terrorist attack on the French publication Charlie Hebdo is an interesting case in point. No one could ever argue that these senseless assassinations were a good thing. But the resulting visibility actually rallied more world-wide support for freedom of speech than one could have ever predicted. The result clearly was counter-productive to the terrorists’ cause and provides a new opportunity for communicators to use this situation to advance the cause of freedom.

The situation in Jordan this week may have provided still another unwanted opportunity to produce change. The horrible assassination of the Jordanian pilot may have triggered the needed public determination to persuade and activate the already formed coalition of nations to stop this cancer called ISIS once and for all. A widespread awareness that this problem is the Middle East’s problem to solve has been present for a while. But this event could finally be the necessary catalyst to motivate serious action.

The role of government, news media, and NGO communicators around the world now should be to siege this moment and make the most it. Multi-platform strategic  communication initiatives are the most effective when they can capitalize on an urgent and emotional event so as to keep that sense of urgency alive.

I must say it never seems ethical or even wise to create a crisis in order to produce change. That can backfire. But when you have a crisis handed to you, you certainly need to see it as an opportunity. And communicators have the perfect tools to help people see this opportunity, and then to keep them focused on the positive change possibilities.


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