Archive for May, 2016

This week I helped kickoff a special pre-conference seminar at the association of international educators (NAFSA) annual meeting. It was co-sponsored by both NAFSA and the Council for the Advancement and Support for Education (CASE) and it was about how individual institutions can “get their key constituents on the same page” with respect to their international objectives.

When higher education became a more competitive industry a number of years ago my staff and I at TCU understood that we would have to become much more sophisticated.  Institutions today once again face a similar challenge to become even more sophisticated now that they will have to compete in a rapidly changing global market.

What differentiates our institution in a global context?  What do we offer better than others? How will we know what our constituents are thinking, or how they are responding? What are they saying to others about us?

For a long time marketing people educated in business schools have talked about the 4 P’s… product, price, place and promotion. Promotion was their word for communication, and all four elements needed to be considered simultaneously for success. So we in strategic communication realized early on that if products (or programs), prices and places (total experiences) were to be communicated successfully we would have to think collaboratively with those who determined the first 3 of those 4 P’s.

Now that higher education is becoming a competitive “global” industry integrated marketing thinking and planning, the use of carefully selected new media platforms, and group process tools will still be essential for success. A critical mass of people will need to understand what makes each institution special, and they will need to help to tell the institution’s story. The use of task-forces, action teams, and focus groups are still the most effective way to first find out what constituents think and then get them fully engaged. And most especially in today’s new media world, communicators will need to know how people in each market segment within each country want to receive information from them.

The bottom line: As higher education becomes a global industry the ideas and tools of integrated marketing communication will be essential to get key constituents in each institution “on the same page” with respect to institutional objectives… and the many exciting opportunities.


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Extremely long security lines at US airports are driving airline customers nuts. Waits in excess of three hours are causing many to miss flights, forcing some to sleep on cots. The reasons vary from a recent dramatic decline in the number of TSA officers to an amazing increase in air travelers. Add this anger to the growing arrogance of most airlines and you have both government and private industry ignoring their customers’ well-being in order to advance their own interests and profits.

Whatever happened to the idea of focusing on superior customer service?  Whatever happened to the idea that the best reason to start a business is to make a great place for people to find meaning in their work and to make the customer experience the best ever?

Airport travelers today are so angry that they take out their frustrations on everyone from TSA agents to airline employees both on and off the airplane. So I ask: What is the point of a government agency that allows a predictable problem to escalate into a crisis, or a business that is unwilling to insure that their customers have the best possible experience and their employees feel proud of their company?

Admittedly, I have been in higher education most of my life. So I can be a bit naïve from time to time. But I really can imagine a business where profits, a great experience for customers, and a team of employees who love their work are balanced objectives! Of course, I can also imagine asking customers and employees to stretch a bit during periods of economic uncertainty. But I just can’t see the point of sacrificing a rewarding customer and employee  experience in order to produce huge company profits and executive salaries.

I recall a seminar I attended in Washington several years ago where a corporate CEO was asked if he was against all government regulation. At first he said, “Yes.”  But then he paused a minute and added, “But maybe we do need someone out there who keeps us from destroying ourselves!”

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Members of Fort Worth Sister Cities International recently visited Cuba. After 50 years of an American embargo they experienced a country that may soon witness rapid commercial development… a situation which poses many concerns about what could result.

While in Cuba the group met University of Havana Professor Carlos Alzugaray Treto who spent 35 years in the Cuban foreign service during those embargo years. In that role the ambassador saw human rights issues not only in Cuba, but in many other countries… including the US and some  of its allies. And he came to see trade between countries purely as win-win exchanges.

So on a recent trip to Fort Worth he remained optimistic about improved US-Cuba relations in matters of human rights and trade. And he also saw commercial development in Cuba as happening one step at a time, enabling traditional Cuban cultural values to be retained.

While buildings are crumbling in many areas of Cuban cities, the question  will be whether to restore them or build modern ones. Will streets end up lined with fast food joints or traditional Cuban bars and eateries? And while more hotels certainly are needed, how many must model traditional Cuban architecture for the culture to be reinforced?

And beyond these physical development issues how can long-standing  Cuban cultural and artistic values be retained? In other words, what is an appropriate overall vision for Cuba’s future? Can standards be articulated which encourage appropriate modernization and yet ensure that traditional Cuban cultural features are preserved?

I suggest that a simple “marketing and communication blueprint” which everyone can understand will be required. It must clearly articulate, update, and authenticate a renewed national brand identity. Such a blueprint is much more than mere advertising.

A clear brand identity enables a national “self-fulfilling prophecy” to take place. It does so by constantly surrounding local citizens and the rest of the world with many media platforms… from TV to newspapers to posters to social media. To be effective the content must be clear messages and pictures about what Cuba stands for and believes about itself.

Achieving an “authentic” Cuban brand identity will require key opinion leaders from government, the arts, hotels, restaurants, education, human services, marketing, communication, etc. to meet together in small groups to brainstorm, clarify and take full “ownership” of an authentic Cuban brand. Similar groups can also work on the standards for commercial development and for preserving the culture.

I must add at this point that universities with strong programs in political science, international relations, public health, public administration, urban planning, marketing, media studies, communication, etc. can be vital resources to countries such as Cuba. Universities can provide research and expertise in everything from rebuilding institutions and businesses to addressing problems in climate change, poverty, hunger, energy, conservation, and much more.

Indeed, universities are strong soft power and public diplomacy forces… much the same as Sister Cities International.



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At the recent White House Correspondent’s Dinner President Obama mildly referenced the media’s inability to resist giving extreme candidates daily exposure and expressed his appreciation for those who have continued the struggle to cover the issues.

The problem is that when a critical mass of 24/7 cable outlets give daily exposure to outrageous attacks and name-calling traditional journalists  often end up getting dragged into the circus. They seem to fear looking like they are missing something and that if they don’t participate in the drama they will lose their audience the next day.

The digital media world has created such an appetite for fast-paced emotional news that even traditional journalists can feel forced to keep looking for the next attention-grabber. This can lead to beginning every newscast with shouting the words “breaking news,” or promising “new developments” in a story where there are none, or promoting an “exclusive” interview where  nothing important is learned. And then rapid-fire anchors combined with  fast-paced editing help reinforce the emotion.

Each day it can seem that more and more news outlets are moving away from facts-based reporting and more toward fast-paced entertainment. For many it can feel like it’s much more than just making information more interesting. Indeed, the new media world seems to be producing an audience that is more attracted to the drama of the moment than mind-expanding information?

The only answer I can see for society is more media literacy education. This can take place in schools, PTA’s, professional associations, civic groups, nonprofit organizations, the media itself, etc. Apparently digital media has the power to massage us into preferring emotional experiences over  educational ones. And if that’s the case it’s hard to fix a problem that much of the general public doesn’t even recognize.

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When communicating organizations or causes it’s difficult not to believe in complete transparency.

Back in the day when I was helping organizations with their strategic communication planning I often strived to implement a total transparency policy. Making all the data public just seemed like the right thing to do.

But when trying to explain the truth in complicated situations I quickly learned the hard way that adversaries and competitors alike can make almost any counter-argument sound credible when they have all the data they want at their finger tips. In fact, one colleague once quipped, “Give me all your numbers and I can show you how to defend any point of view!” And if that is true for organizations, what about political campaigns?

Some candidates may claim transparency, but in today’s 24/7 news media environment any effort to achieve it quickly goes out the window. The media’s appetite for a constant flow of attention grabbing statements fuels a widespread practice of carefully selecting facts, exaggerating them, and then finding new ones whether or not they are completely relevant. This then can easily slip into outright lying. Any attempt at transparency simply gives the competition too much to work with.

So maybe complete transparency is not what we really should ask from organizations or political campaigns. Maybe all we need is the truth and nothing but the truth… along with the evidence necessary to substantiate it!



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