Archive for April, 2015

Many people in the US think of their country as exceptional. Individual freedom and justice is promised to all. But there were too many reports this week about rather dramatic exceptions to those values. Authenticity earns credibility, and without it people will not believe what you say. Here are some of those reports:

*Live coverage of riots in the streets about police brutality in Baltimore, with demonstrations and similar problems in other cities.

*Scenes of “mean-spirited” political polarization in congress and on the campaign trail.

*A TV documentary about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam showing mass killing by US soldiers.

*Video recollections on PBS of North Vietnam rolling into Saigon, the US pulling out, and the South Vietnamese losing their country.

*Reporter recollections of Richard Nixon promising a truce in Vietnam, but then following  with an invasion of Cambodia and riots in the US streets.

*Documentary coverage of students at Kent State University being gunned down as they demonstrated their war opposition.

*Reported perceptions that the US makes promises it does not keep and draws “red lines” that it does not enforce.

ISIS beheadings imagined next to those of the US Vietnam My Lai massacre create a rather serious credibility problem for the US. Images of Middle East dictators cracking down on citizens pictured next to those of US police brutality certainly do not reinforce values of freedom and justice.

In a new media 24/7 cable news environment both live and imagined images will either reinforce or contradict promises of “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Authenticity is what earns credibility. And credibility is essential for people to believe what you say about your values.


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Search NGO on Google and you find the following definition: “A non-governmental organization (NGO) is neither a part of government nor a conventional for-profit business. Usually set up by ordinary citizens, NGOs may be funded  by governments, foundations, businesses, or private persons.”

The term NGO, however, is used in different ways by different people. It’s true that many  simply see them as non-profit organizations. But most accounts suggest that the term was first used when the United Nations first appeared in the 1940’s and enabled the creation of certain international non-governmental organizations which focused on human rights, health, environment, development, and other organizations with more of an international mission than traditional U.S. nonprofits.

The number of NGOs in the world therefore depends on how you define the term. But a staggering number of them exist… and they all share a service mission, a separation from government, and a nonprofit status.

From a communication perspective, governments all have credibility problems with many of their audiences. They all have domestic and foreign policies defined by special interests. And many of their audiences are predetermined to misunderstand or disagree. NGOs on the other hand have an independence which enables  a bit more credibility and increases their likelihood of having some success solving complex problems.

This past year I learned about an organization called Young Professionals in Foreign Policy (YPFP). I was amazed to learn that it has thousands of members world-wide, and most of them do not work directly for governments. They work for NGOs. And they think of themselves as working everyday on foreign policy.

Because of their independence from government, their credibility, and their vast number, the potential of NGO’s to solve the world’s problems is enormous. Therefore, they are a very good career option for service-minded students, and for volunteers to give their support.


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My honors college class this spring has been exploring the topic “how media revolutions change everything.”  And next week we will consider the compelling and ever-changing topic of religion. In preparation for the class I made a list of just some of the issues:

1. Since television, and now digital media, how do people want to experience religion?

2. What has been the impact of new media on mainstream church attendance? How have worship services and Sunday school changed in those churches?

3. What accounts for the growth of on-line and broadcast religion? Of mega-churches?

4. Given the traditional concept of “separation of church and state” what accounts for the growth and aggressiveness of the religious right in politics?

5. What impact has 24/7 media reports about social issues such as racism, homelessness, and poverty had on religious people and church goers? How are they responding?

6. How have academic departments of religion and seminaries responded to media inspired changes in society?

7. How have religious institutions changed their approach to recruiting new members and building ongoing relationships with them.

8. How can a diverse democracy successfully deal with societies in the middle east and elsewhere  where religion and politics are one in the same thing?

Knowing the right questions and analyzing the underlying issues can provide much needed context for understanding situations and options. But just as with 24/7 “breaking” news and polarized political pronouncements, once again consumers of today’s media are on their own to separate facts from “malarkey.” And as confusing as it may be… we all are on our own to decide our responses and courses of action.


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Last week I had the pleasure of helping to welcome the new president of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) to Washington. CASE is the largest and most international of all education associations and it serves those who handle marketing, communication, fund-raising, alumni relations, and government affairs. She comes to her new responsibility from Melbourne, Australia. But she also has years of experience in the UK, Europe, and most of the rest of the world.

Reflecting on the future of education and what it will take to adapt to the challenges of a revolution in technology, major changes in government support, and the unavoidable forces of globalization, I became acutely aware that communication and media savvy leadership will be essential for every organization, not just CASE.

I also realized that for some time now I actually have already been writing about all this from the perspective of leaders, or more precisely what leaders need to know about why communication always breaks down and how media revolutions really do change everything.  Whether I was writing about governments and foreign policy, or about universities and globalization, I was always focusing on implications for leaders.

So I was able to welcome the new CASE president by telling her she is the right person at the right time. But I also suggested that all CASE members will need to assume new leadership roles because competition will become global, student markets will change, new money will have to be found, and everyone will have to be kept informed.

Realizing all this, I decided to adjust the theme and content of my blog site and posts to reflect the perspective that was already evolving… what leaders in all types of institutions need to know about communication and media.

Not only do leaders need to know why communication always breaks down and how to respond, but they need to know why brand identity is so important and how to use it. They need to know how internal communication becomes external, and how to deal with challenging political realities inside and out. They need to know how to run really productive  meetings, and build forward-looking innovative teams. And they need to know how to deal with the increasingly aggressive 24/7 news environment, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of various social media platforms.

Leadership is a much written about topic, to say the least. But not enough is written about its many complex and challenging communication and media dimensions. This blog will set out to fix that.

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Government and institutional communicators often find themselves dealing with a large number of issues at the same time. For example, dealing with issues such as poverty, race, class, jobs, education simultaneously can become overwhelming.

Sometimes, however, it can be possible to group issues such as these under a general  category? For example, the issues listed above could be grouped under a category such as “equal opportunity,” and then a communication campaign can be designed for that category. Simple category themes have a better chance of getting through to multiple audiences, and then compelling stories about those issues can be effective examples.

Experience teaches that effective communication requires simple primary themes or messages. Here’s another example. Issues such as water, hunger, food, global warming, etc. could be clustered under a simple theme such as “saving the planet.”  Priority audiences,  and the media preferences for each one, can then be identified for that theme. The key is to repeat the theme or category over and over, and to use compelling examples based on the underlying issues.

This approach may not fit every situation. But it can be an effective strategy for institutions and governments finding themselves overwhelmed with too many complex issues all at once.

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