Archive for December, 2015

What should be the communication objective of a political campaign? (1) Attract media attention with increasingly outrageous pronouncements hoping for some kind of temporary celebrity status? (2) Win a debate outright merely by repeating talking points which may or may not be true?  Or (3) informing citizens about the critical issues facing the country and giving them a chance to witness and evaluate various leadership styles? The best objective seems obvious to most of us. So what’s the problem?

What we have today is nothing more than a horserace with news media coverage based solely on popularity polls. And those polls are strongly influenced by how effective a candidate is at generating next-day news coverage.

Much of the news media will explain that they just report what the candidates say and do. And when pressed, many campaign staffers  will admit they have concluded that being outrageous is necessary in order to stay visible and keep the attention of the news media.

One broadcaster explained the situation as a tension today between the business and journalism sides of news. In other words, the business side just can’t resist responding to the natural audience appeal of aggressive conflict. And when a candidate like Trump exploits this situation over and over again we have a campaign system out of control and a real mess on our hands.

Even periodic fact-checking hasn’t changed the situation.  Eventually even the public gives up. Some drop out of the process altogether while others just pick a horse and hope the winner is smarter that he or she appears now.

The real loser, however, is the American citizen. Constant political attacks and name calling clearly make our country look silly. But what’s more, everyone at home and abroad is denied the opportunity to hear about thoughtful solutions and to evaluate each candidate as a potential national and world leader.

So who’s responsible for fixing the situation… the candidates or the news media? I believe they both need to take long look at themselves. They both need to make the obvious changes  appropriate for a nation that still wants to think of itself as a worthy democratic leader in a world that is becoming more hostile and insecure every day. This is not just child’s play or competition for ratings. This is serious business!

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Each year I find myself in deep contemplation about this thing we call Christmas spirit? Sometimes it seems like the best time of year. Other times it can seem overwhelming. This year I tried to be a bit more analytical and determine what year-round lessons there might be in all this for communicators.

First, the holiday challenges: Just when we want to feel the Christmas spirit and wax poetic about being with family and the joy of giving many people find themselves frustrated with the logistical complications of in-laws and merged families. Or they are finding themselves too far away from loved ones. Or they are overwhelmed  with too much commercialism too soon. Or they are feeling that family expectations are too high. Or they must suddenly give up family traditions because circumstances have changed. Or they are just suffering the mild depression and “blues” that always seem to come over so many people.

So how do people overcome these challenges? I believe those people who truly feel the spirit throughout the holiday season are able to awaken, renew and for the most part maintain their creative imagination. For these folks Christmas music fills the day with spirit. They constantly work at recalling joyful memories and traditions. They welcome private moments of personal peace. They seek out stories of hope that provide inspiration. And many have found ways to accept those spectacular decorations that go with longer periods of commercialism as pathways to prolonged enjoyment. In other words, don’t fight them… join them.

So what are the communication lessons? Simply put, creative ideas and innovative imagination are always compelling. The most powerful messages are best conveyed by telling compelling stories. Meaningful traditions are always powerful, and can be very effective at re-engaging people over time. Memories and related nostalgia will always recapture attention. Familiar music, be it simply college fight songs or reminders of nostalgic periods of time, always engages people. And dramatic and uplifting designs and events can always transport people beyond the burdens of the present.

And so I now wish for you the joyful spirit of Christmas… and the ability to believe that there really is a Santa Claus… and that reindeer really can fly!!

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Last week I attended a strategic planning meeting at the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Those attending described the organization as “the collaborative integration” of professionals in marketing and communication, fund-raising, alumni relations, government affairs… all focused on advancing education.

CASE has long been a truly international organization with offices currently in Washington, London, Singapore, and Mexico City… and now with growing activities in Africa. This planning exercise is taking a new look at the rapidly changing international education landscape.

The arrival of a new CASE president in Washington from Australia, and the appointment of a new international vice president based in London, has made this project particularly timely, relevant and exciting.

It was agreed early in the planning process that CASE’s basic aspirations are to be “bold, agile, and innovative.” And strategic goals were described as producing collaborative thought leaders; identifying, developing, and managing high potential talent; and engaging members worldwide in the planning discussions by making maximum use of technology.

I believe the daily work of these professionals positions them perfectly to scan the scene, recognize strong trends, keep constituents informed, and help their institutions determine the best way forward. In fact, I can see many of them assuming new leadership roles because finding new funding resources, adjusting brand identity, revising marketing plans, cultivating the help of international alumni and parents, and relating to governments in new ways, will be major challenges.

One CASE strategic goal that stood out to me is to act as “the voice of the industry.” This goal is especially relevant to my fellow professionals in marketing and communication. Indeed, we simply must prepare our external constituents (and in many cases even our top executives, administrators, faculty and students) to effectively address growing societal and political threats at home and abroad … as well as to identify and seize the many new and exciting opportunities that internationalization offers.

Just imagine the possibilities of a truly global education industry: Better cross-cultural understanding. Serious world problem solving using university experts. And the effective development of global leaders with a truly international perspective!

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What is the consequence of arguing against ideas or programs without providing alternative solutions? Simply put, you are leaving your audience hanging with the most constructive part of your message missing. Such an approach might gain support from sympathizers in the short run, but it is likely to prove insufficient in the end.

Republican legislators have spent the last several years objecting to the president’s initiatives and policies without offering specific alternative solutions. Now the new speaker of the house said this week that this will change. This new development is important, but for practical reasons it might be easier said than done.

While the politics of “no” leaves the communication loop incomplete and audiences ultimately unsatisfied, it still is much easier to rally people around their common dissatisfaction with a situation than it is to get them to agree on a solution.

This dilemma has also appeared in foreign policy matters. There was widespread support for the rhetoric to oust the Iraqi government, but there was no agreed upon plan to replace it. In Egypt it was easy to rally people against the government  but impossible to find agreement on who and what should replace it. The situation has been the same in Libya and elsewhere.

Now we are facing the same dilemma in Syria. Even if the US engineers the ouster of the current government, what will follow. What kind of government? Who will lead it? What will it cost? Who will pay?

This is both a political and communication reality. The lesson is that in the long run it is impossible to have success by only  objecting to the current state of affairs. In the short run it might seem to work, but over time it will become apparent that tearing down without a plan for what follows can leave entire nations in endless turmoil.

On this issue, political leaders with a truly international education might ultimately be our only best hope. This is because a global  education will feature multicultural forums for both the systematic nonpartisan examination of ideas and programs, and for finding pragmatic workable solutions.

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