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Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

The DFW World Affairs Council will soon host a by-invitation webinar with four prominent ambassadors on how to revitalize and modernize American diplomacy and the U.S. Foreign Service. Below is my contribution to the agenda.

In four short months COVID-19 created a situation where public health, many businesses, education, government, and relationships around the world will need to be rethought and reactivated. 

Here are some questions related to diplomacy that must be answered:

  1. Looking ahead, what will be the proper role of U.S. diplomacy? Messaging will be critical. Diplomacy helps determine a nation’s brand-identity. Therefore should a media-savvy, strategic communication plan be a part of very early thinking?
  2. So will diplomacy’s primary role be to… explain the current administration’s policies; explain the basic “idea of America;” champion democracy everywhere; collect intelligence and do research; help resolve international issues; or to establish a strong presence in critically important countries with a professional staff that does all of these things? In other words, what are the specific action steps necessary to modernize diplomacy?
  3. Will “public diplomacy” have an important role to play in this modernization? Should the many international nonprofit organizations be involved in the planning? Should coordinating public diplomacy remain a part of the state department? If so, how should it be funded and structured? If not, do we need to establish a separate entity, much like the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA)?
  4. Will there be an important role for higher education to play? If so, how? 

We currently have a state department significantly reduced in size and influence, and a president who thinks he is all we need. If diplomacy should once again become an important part of American global leadership, we will need a complete change in thinking at the top.

And, reactivating many universities after the current pandemic will necessarily include reconnecting with international partners and relationships. Therefore, in many cases experts in all aspects of global leadership, cross-cultural understanding, education, media literacy, strategic communication, healthcare, energy, water, conservation, poverty, climate change, sciences, humanities, arts, engineering, politics, government, city management, and more, might already be in place.

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Here is a list of comments from an interesting conversation with two lifelong Republicans:

  1. Many of Trump’s actions have helped business: Eliminating environmental restrictions and reduced taxes.
  2. An increase in overall number of jobs happened on his watch.
  3. The economy is doing well overall.
  4. He reduced the number of immigrants, who have been taking our jobs.
  5. He also increased what NATO allies pay for their membership.
  6. As lifelong Republicans, we see no reason to change now.
  7. As for ethical issues, every president has carried lots of baggage. This one is no different.
  8. Every politician that made it to the presidency did so because God had a plan for them. This president supports “right to life,” and speaks in support of Evangelical groups.
  9. But, admittedly, we hate his tweets.

For the above reasons, these Republicans found it easy to overlook:

  1. Asking foreign countries to help with his re-election.
  2. Treating his staff as a dictator would.
  3. Delaying aid to a foreign country that was specifically approved by Congress.
  4. Lying constantly, even when it is not necessary.
  5. Making comments every day that further divide the country.
  6. Increasing the country’s deficit without concern.
  7. Personally profiting from the presidency.
  8. Denying scientific findings about the ravages of climate change.
  9. Declaring that only he can fix the world.  

After winning a hard-fought revolution against a monarch the last thing our founding fathers would want is an autocrat in the White House.  So no matter your politics… and even more than agreeing on impeachment, maybe what we all really need right now is a president who will make good things happen at home and abroad, and never cozy up to dictators.

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With or without impeachment, activating the growing number of Americans disgusted with today’s Washington will require a pragmatic strategic communication plan… one that leads with bold themes and slogans.

Many analysts think that in 2016 Mr. Trump simply stumbled into a new media environment created by a game-changing digital technology revolution. Surprisingly, he discovered that the more outrageous his remarks the more headlines news organizations would just hand him. And it also allowed him to make outrageous promises to people who felt angry and ignored.

Today “populism” and “nationalism” are gaining influence around the world in much the same way. Populism favors ordinary people over power elites, and nationalism favors citizens over foreigners. So extremists propose to redistribute wealth and limit immigration…. and they also use outrageous language to produce daily headlines, and eventually gain support from citizens who feel ignored.

So how can this apply to winning back a mostly invisible American majority?

First, replace the misunderstood “democratic socialism” term with “democratic capitalism,” and repeat it incessantly. Second, propose easy to describe pragmatic solutions to real world problems, including immigration. Third, invite input from everyone… and use digital media to collect it. Fourth, referencing this input, formulate, a bold vision for a whole new values-based America, drowning out social media noise with bold slogans and themes that command big headlines every day.

I believe a strong strategic communication plan with bold themes and slogans can win in 2020. Otherwise, both political parties will soon destroy each other and put an autocrat in charge for a very long time.

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Dissent in America:

  1. Dissent in America is patriotic when it springs from a true love of country and expresses a sincere desire to make it better. In fact, this kind of dissent was basic to America’s founding.
  2. But dissent becomes dangerous and often un-American when it is cruel, produces social division, disregards its potential to incite violence, and appeals to deep feelings of hate.

Intent is what separated the president’s approach to rallying his base from the four dissenting freshmen legislators. One approach was hateful and divisive, and the other was distinctly American. One reflected a country that was made for immigrants, and the other chose to ignore it.

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My previous blog post pointed out that news media are really businesses. I follow-up here by suggesting that the entire topic should be dealt with in newspapers and on television as important public interest news.

Stories about big changes in major media organizations, the inside workings of biased news organizations, profiles of extreme talk show hosts and writers, sources of domestic fake-news, social media as weapons, foreign government generated fake-news, and much more, are all sources of potential audience-grabbing news stories.

Some news organizations already have media reporters. Brian Stelter at CNN is one of the few with high visibility. His program on Sunday mornings reports inside news about organizations, people and places, and also deals with the hot issues of the week.

Beyond reporting news media news stories, it is also in their self-interest for news organizations to invest heavily in media education. For them, promoting media literacy should simply be seen as essential immediate and long-term audience development.

 

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It’s not fake news. But it is a business.

Television cannot resist making drama, and newspapers cannot resist writing provocative headlines. After all, they both must deliver audiences to their advertisers.

Both newspaper and TV news organizations develop journalists and anchors with star power because it’s good for business. Both are attracted to covering the outrageous over the mundane because it’s good for business. Tweets become attention-getting headlines and are also good for business. And a government in chaos and out-of-control is certainly good for the news business.

When NBC producers designed their approach to the recent debates, they clearly had the nature of their visual medium in mind.. After all, TV likes drama, and the colors, set design, use of music, staging, and even the anchor’s introductions and questions were written with this medium’s power in mind. Some pundits even thought the program resembled a game show! But however you saw it, it certainly was good for the TV news business.

Bottom line: It’s difficult to imagine how news media organizations will fix things for us anytime soon… especially when the daily headlines are so good for their businesses.

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As the democratic candidates for president get in line, it is refreshing to see diversity in race, gender, and religion. It is also refreshing to see intelligent young people getting interested in politics. They really do seem to represent the diversity of America.

Most have done their homework, have impressive backgrounds, are good speakers, and have a lot of stored up enthusiasm and energy to display in the many months ahead. And if you listen to their words, and are moved by their upbeat tone, you will likely conclude that any one of them will make a great leader of something.

But recent television and social media revolutions, combined with hard lessons from the 2016 election, have already changed the requirements for winning in 2020. Looking strong on television, in social media, and in person is now basic. And simply being photogenic does not help. In fact, “too pretty” today can actually be counterproductive. What works best in a “hard-hitter” world are leaders who can look both really strong and sincerely empathetic at the same time.

Here is what all this will mean in 2020:

(1)  A physical presence and “look” of strength will be necessary to match Mr. Trump’s towering, loud-mouth, arrogance. This strength need not come from height, weight, or gender. Rather it can come from posture, facial expression, attitude, tone, rock solid self-confidence, and overall body language.

(2)  An unwavering strength of character must also be obvious from past and current behaviors in order to counter Trump’s lies, exaggerations, cruelty, bully tactics, lack of ethics, autocratic behaviors, and name calling.

Therefore, a picture image of both personal strength and empathy is the bottom-line prerequisite for winning in 2020. This will matter more than gender, age, race, or even rally generated excitement. And a deep understanding of issues, a clear vision for the future, and fully explained commitments, must underlie everything.

Before you support any candidate you should ask these questions: Overall, is this person strong enough to win? Can he or she handle any crisis, in any place, at any time, with clear strategic thinking? And when in the oval office, will I once again be very proud of my United States of America?

Make no mistake, it will take a rare blend of unflappable personal strength and second-nature empathy to pull all this off. And just liking a candidate will not be enough. If this current crop of candidates remains an indicator, by 2020 you will probably still like most of them.

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Much of my work in the past was helping institutions become better understood. My first task was to clarify each institution’s founding purpose, to show how that differentiated it from others, and to explore how that difference might be its competitive advantage. Simply put, “who are you,” was my first focus group question?

The “who are you” question led me to founding purpose-inspired answers such as “we are all about service to the community,” or, “we develop the talent of each and every student,” or, “we will immerse you in American history,” and the answer almost always also included a set of values. In other words, how they went about their work was as important as what they did. I found that this was also true about the founding purpose of the United States of America.

I have been referencing the Constitution when writing about long-held American values. But the Declaration of Independence is clearly the best “founding purpose” document. And it declares our nation’s independence in the context of unifying values such as human rights, the rule of law, and the complete rejection of monarchical rule.

Additionally, the Constitution promises freedom of speech, religion, and the press. But when angry and polarizing speech results in tribalism and chaos, the Declaration of Independence is there to remind us about our unifying values. Never totally selfish. Never an autocracy.

Both the letter and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence assume the election of leaders with high ideals and strong character. And since we now live in a time of background checks for important positions, should we not be able to expect political parties and precinct chairs to require some level of character qualification before putting candidates on the ballot?

And should we not be able to expect political parties and political action committees (PAC’s) to have professional codes of conduct to guide the work of their communicators… i.e. political statements will be factual, promises will be doable, and personal attacks will not be tolerated?

Yes, I know. You think I am hallucinating! But if citizens and journalists scream long and loud enough about integrity in politics, maybe mobilized public pressure can eventually do some good.

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Thankfully, during this holiday season many of us have been able to see and hear news stories about hometown generosity all over America. But at the same time we have also been learning that this presidency is now under as many as 17 criminal investigations.

Yes, we are hearing about… local charities collecting toys and bicycles for children in need, churches gathering canned goods for ailing elderly people, agencies feeding the homeless and others who cannot afford a good holiday meal, and the man who each year hands out hundred-dollar bills to a wide range of people in desperate need. Compassion in America is not dead.

But in Washington we are also continuing to hear about… presidential criminal investigations, more associates headed to prison, more cabinet officials leaving the White House over ethics violations, extreme deregulation putting public health at risk, threats of a president ordered government shut-down over a billion dollar border wall that few people want, continued support of a Saudi leader in spite of evidence that he oversaw the murder of a Washington Post reporter, reports that the Trump family’s political interests have always been tied to advancing their businesses, foreign and U.S. officials booking people and events at Trump properties in Washington and around the world, and more. And while all this is causing chaos in the country, the president is leaving town for a two-week golf vacation at his resort in Florida.

However, signs of serious anxiety in the White House are appearing. Angry tweets and personal attacks by the President are multiplying. And even some of his close friends are suggesting that he might be worried that the end could be coming soon.

So this holiday season might actually be an ideal time to reflect on solutions. For example, what kind of president does this young country need? One who creates mindless chaos, calls his critics nasty names, and grabs all the power and wealth he can for himself? Or, one who works to insure equal opportunity and the rule of law for everyone at home, as well as for all those around the world who want to share those values?

One thing is certain: Sometime during 2019 and 2020 we will be forced to make up our mind.

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Recent media revolutions gave leaders powerful new media tools. Businesses, social services, NGOs, museums, arts organizations, universities, schools, governments, and causes everywhere, all can now reach their audiences directly and powerfully. But these same revolutions also changed how their audiences receive information, making successful communication even more complicated.

So with chaos and division continuing in American society, I decided it is time to review some of the communication challenges today’s leaders are facing:

  • Communication break down is inevitable. People simply hear what they want.
  • There are new and powerful media tools available, but choosing the best ones for each audience is complicated, and requires constant feedback.
  • At the same time, consumers are learning that many of these tools are proving to be time wasters, potentially isolating, and sometimes even psychologically harmful.
  • So speaking to public groups and appearing on television continues to be important. And each has its own performance requirement.
  • Speaking in public requires projecting vitality. Talking on television requires a more conversational tone. And social media platforms require clear and concise writing.
  • To get through to overloaded audiences, messages must be simple… and examples must be emotionally compelling.
  • And the deluge of messages, news stories, and competitor attacks, tends to give charges of “fake news” an air of credibility.
  • Therefore, issues and crises become difficult to manage. Getting facts out quickly and repeating them often, is a must.
  • A reputation-defining institutional identity must become an often repeated central message.
  • Innovation and bold creative initiatives help achieve visibility.
  • Today’s audiences want their hope restored. Forward-looking ideas and values are essential.
  • Good relationships with key journalists are important, especially when dealing with issues and crises.
  • Managing groups skillfully is necessary to get everyone “on the same page.” Word-of-mouth support still makes all the difference.
  • Partnerships and allies with shared interests are powerful forces for rebuilding credibility.
  • Dealing with internal politics to build team support is mandatory… especially now.

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