Archive for March, 2016

Two of my grandchildren are headed to college next year. Both applied to the university where I worked for almost 50 years. The cost there will total about $50,000 and so they will not likely attend. Even with a $20,000 dean’s award, an education there will now cost an additional $30,000 a year. It is an almost impossible situation for most middle class families, especially those with several children to educate.

During spring break I found myself  reflecting on what the future might have in store for my grandchildren, as well as for universities and middle class families. The plain truth is that universities have evolved to provide what families want… quality faculty, smaller classes, the best technology, and attractive facilities. And all this costs a lot of money:

(1) Everyone agrees that a high quality campus-based education requires top faculty, seasoned administrators, small classes, modern libraries, multi-media classrooms, and well-equipped laboratories. These are not frills. Cutting these without harming outcomes seems virtually impossible.

(2) And even the frills such as choices of comfortable living options, great food plans, high-end recreation and sports facilities, technology access and support, ongoing maintenance, professional police forces, and beautiful campus grounds, all have evolved to meet market expectations. They have become commonplace and are generally not regarded as luxuries.

(3) In addition, just keeping up with technology advances these days can break the bank. History teaches us that as soon as new media platforms appear they will be used.  And old ones never go away. This is the new media digital technology generation, and so providing all of it for today’s students is a given.

My spring break nightmare quickly became a fear that face-to-face education in a setting that meets market expectations is simply too costly to survive.

So will education move more on-line? Will teaching fall mostly to lower cost adjuncts? Will research scholars find their futures more often in “student-less” think tanks! And my worst nightmare… will our best traditional campus-based universities evolve into socially elite high cost country club schools?

Thankfully spring break is over. My dreams have been more pleasant. And once again I am a bit more confident we will find a better way.

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How can Putin’s words and deeds be interpreted? His rhetoric at home is about recapturing Russian prestige and pride. His actions in the middle east are making a statement about world leadership. At the same time Mr. Putin seems uncharacteristically interested in the US election. And Mr. Trump has on occasion suggested that he can get along with Putin.

Is Putin the Trump of Russia?  And what would their collaboration turn out to mean?

Russia has a rich cultural heritage. It’s history has been tumultuous, but its arts, music, ballet, theater, and literature are often acknowledged to be world-class. The fall of the Soviet Union and the years following were a blow to Russian pride. News stories stressed the struggles of the Russian middle and lower classes, the dysfunction of government, the corruption of government sponsored entities, the questionable practices of wealthy business moguls, and the decline of international prestige.

The situation was ripe in Russia (as in today’s America and 1930’s Germany) for a leader promising a better life and a revision of national pride. Trump promises to restore a stronger version of American exceptionalism. And Putin promises to restore his own brand of Russian exceptionalism. It’s easy to see the appeal. But it’s also difficult to see how powerful promises without “how-to” substance will work.

It seems to me that this is a critical question for our time:  How can we know that the leader who makes inspirational promises is legitimate, honest, transparent, substantive, and honorable… and not manipulative, dishonest, secretive, and self-serving?

Unfortunately, the lesson of the new media world we have yet to learn is how to tell the difference!

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As the political campaign enters the next stage the “media  consequence” question for us now is how many of the lies, attacks, and outrageous remarks we endured in the past will we remember as the candidates very likely will begin to sound more reasonable?

In previous posts I have discussed how ‘lies begin to sound true” and “imploding information produces confusion” in this new media world. Consumers are left having no idea what to believe. Now, as we move ahead we must add still another troubling media consequence: extremely short memories!

Political candidates, institutional critics, and social cause advocates have learned that they can get attention, receive ongoing news coverage, and attract large audiences just by making outrageous statements that include elements of conflict and light  entertainment. Then, once celebrity status is established these same people can change their tone, sound more reasonable, and gradually put distressed people more at ease. The consequence is that we can never be exactly sure of what we are getting in a leader… be it in governments, institutions, or causes. This memory loss and leadership uncertainty stage is what we are entering now in the current political campaign.

Only a society that can fact-check for truthfulness, strong  character and integrity early in the process will be able to trust the people they elect. The problem is that we have not yet learned how to do this in this age of ongoing media revolutions.

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Not too long ago if someone made an outrageous remark about an organization I probably would have advised officials not to respond. To do so inevitably would give credibility to that person, put the organization’s spokesperson on the defensive, and unintentionally confirm the situation as controversial. Not responding would usually mean that the whole thing would just go away.

But in today’s media climate not responding can lead to unanticipated problems. For example, there is no doubt that today’s social media combined with the voracious appetite of 24/7 news very likely can lead to lies sounding true… at least true enough to seriously damage reputations.

And when a political party decides to attack the government as a whole, block everything a president does, object to every domestic and foreign policy, and reject every economic initiative, there also can be unintended consequences. In addition to creating gridlock and nothing getting done, a mean-spirited polarizing approach can also lead large numbers of people to view the attackers themselves as a huge part of the problem.

So in a new media world lies can begin to sound true,  attackers can eventually become part of the problem, and simple promises of a better life by someone outside the system can become very attractive. Feelings emerge that social progress has become hopelessly gridlocked, and very soon there is too much support and momentum for the outside person to be stopped. In other words, the desire for happy days “trumps” any demands for details about action plans.

The news media also plays a role here. Events and public  pronouncements that stand out and grab public attention are clearly news. When such stories have next day follow-up potential they are really good for business, i.e. ratings and headlines. The unintended consequence, however, is that the person able to generate grabber headlines gets what amounts to free publicity, and often a lot of it over extended periods of time. Eventually this adds up to establishing emerging leader credibility.

Similar conditions existed in Germany in the 1930’s. People had become disenchanted with government, the jobs economy was weak, international prestige was suffering, and conditions were ripe for promises of a better life. An unlikely individual emerged with that promise, as well as an additional one to restore the public’s pride in the superiority of all things German. By the time enough people saw what was actually happening it was too late to stop it.

Does all this mean that the news media has a responsibility to step in very soon and demand on-the-spot proof for comments that seem less than truthful? Or does it mean that many other organizations and schools need to accept the critically important responsibility of teaching masses of citizens about  today’s media dynamics and consequences?

For now, however, it may be that we can only cross our fingers. If we actually do elect a president based more on promises than substance, let’s all hope it all works out anyway!




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We live in a world where communication breakdown is rampant. Polarized ideologies and outrageous political campaign claims have created confusion and consumer frustration. Can legitimate institutions and individuals ever be understood in an environment such as this? It may seem complicated and time-consuming at first, but there is a set of communication initiatives that when used over time can cut through information clutter.

This set of communication power tools is called Integrated Marketing Communication, or IMC. “Integration” in strategic communication has two basic dimensions: The first is the simultaneous use of a variety of media platforms carefully selected for each target market to significantly ramp up the frequency and intensity of messages. The second is to use group dynamics techniques to bring opinion leaders together to clarify competitive advantage, get constituents on the same page with respect to brand identity, and to organize and facilitate aggressive and on-going media “buzz,” and word-of-mouth support.

Bringing basic “marketing” ideas into strategic communication establishes that to communicate them successfully, programs, products, prices, ways to connect, and on-location experiences, all need to meet real consumer needs. To make sure this happens the primary communicator  must be a major and active player in the entire strategic planning process.

When all of these pieces are in place, Integrated Marketing Communication will provide a powerful set of communication tools that can clarify authentic messages and cut through the bewildering information clutter of this new digital media world.

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