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Archive for the ‘Public Affairs’ Category

It’s clear that Democrats will have to prove that the current president is incompetent. They got a great start on that last night. Michelle made that case, and Bernie made the best speech of his life.

But the campaign must also beware of too much drab. Looking too drab and sounding so has it’s limitations when developing a complete strategic communication initiative. And establishing the right tone can be a really tricky proposition.

In this election, Americans must also clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel. They must hear about a bold new vision for the future… and plans for how a new White House can be organized to make that a reality.

Admittedly, it’s a big communication challenge to accomplish both... make the gloom story clear, and at the same time show what the wonderful new day ahead will look like.

Maybe much of this will be accomplished by end of the week? 

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Dictatorships happen across the world when small and isolated groups of people feel ignored by their government. This includes people in forgotten cities and neighborhoods, those stuck in hidden poverty, many minority groups, and even some disgruntled highly educated people.

Authoritarians play to these groups first by causing social divisions and chaos… and then by presenting themselves as the “one person” who can fix things.  

It’s true that democracies don’t reward every competent person. There are winners and losers. Even so it is really surprising to see just how many “successful appearing” people reach the point where they are willing to offer their complete loyalty to an authoritarian in exchange for an impressive title and imagined prestige.

It’s important for them (and us) to realize that authoritarians never want to keep experts too close. They are too threatening. Authoritarians only want loyalty… which they demand, but rarely offer in return.   

You can be sure that America’s founders rejected authoritarian rule. But they also feared that democracy might not guarantee a stable government. So they designed our “electoral college” so wiser individuals would be able to prevent unqualified people from winning national elections. Of course, the founders had no way of knowing that many years later a digital media revolution would produce the kind of chaos and confusion that would completely change the game.

Today’s digital media can either unite… or divide and energize hostilities. Thus, they provide perfect tools for autocrats. And once authoritarians experience even a little power, they generally will not peacefully give it up!  

Multi-talented historian and journalist Anne Applebaum describes the worldwide consequences of all this in her new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. Anne was born in America, lived and wrote for a while in England, and now lives in Poland. Her book is must reading for all who worry about the loss of democracy.

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As a professor of strategic communication I have written about marketing politics and the communication issues related to effective governance. As an analyst, I have blamed both parties for polarizing and paralyzing congress, and the president for endlessly tweeting with self-serving lies and exaggerations that confuse the world.  

Personally, I have been conservative when it comes to fiscal matters, but find many social programs necessary for a democracy. And I think that regulations that protect the public health are critically important. A leaner more efficient government also makes sense to me, but this must be achieved with great care. Campaigning can be partisan, but governance cannot. It must be more pragmatic.

This administration has taught us that reducing the size of government cannot be abrupt, mindless and partisan. But I have come to believe that government can be leaner and more efficient. Eliminating positions can be done very carefully, as can eliminating programs or departments. Adding and merging programs can be done just as carefully, with every effort made to find important places for current talented and experienced professionals. Only experienced people should be recruited for important cabinet positions, and all of this can happen so everyone can work from the same policy message page. Achieving all this will be the big challenge for a new administration.

In the final analysis, a new America will require a leaner, efficiently restructured administration. It will also require a well-staffed, talented, and totally professional communication support organization. “Marketing A New America” will be the topic of my next post. Stay tuned.

 

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Changes resulting from the recent media revolutions, will be permanent. Prepare yourself for a world of confusion… produced by both domestic and foreign conspiracy crazies, disagreeing experts, lies that will begin to sound true, some 24/7 news media enjoying too much commercial success, and digital media platforms that are only as ethical as their users.

From a political perspective, Francis Fukuyama, Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford, writes in a recent Foreign Affairs article that the factors responsible for successful pandemic responses have been “a competent state apparatus, a government that citizens trust, and effective leaders.” The problem is that some democracies have performed well, while others have not. And the same is true for autocracies… some have done well, others have not.

The fact is that the future may not resemble the present. Some economies may not recover. Too many people have lost their livelihoods. Too many governments have not been able to afford needed bailouts. And too many autocrats have taken advantage of the need for central leadership and have put themselves permanently in charge.

As for the United States, the lack of early pandemic action, inconsistent healthcare, simultaneous political and cultural crises, and reelection-obsessed national leadership, has put the country in one hell-of-a mess. And the president’s 4th of July divisive, angry, and totally ignorant of American history rhetoric could be the last straw for many Americans.

I am encouraged that many established scholars and prize-winning journalists think it’s not too late for new leadership to turn the tide. It will require positive, democratic, and visionary ideas, shouted far and wide, using every old and new media platform, to restore both domestic and foreign trust in a united America.

This is not about political ideology. It’s about having experienced and competent government leadership, supported by the nation’s best talent… and all guided by a political party that has it’s ethical head on straight!!!

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Before I retired as Vice Chancellor I spent several years working as an advocate for higher education in Washington. I also met regularly with a group interested in exploring the potential of public diplomacy and “soft power” to improve our country’s standing in the world.  

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in his new book Exercise of Power, discusses how we often need “soft power” more than military (hard) power. And in a recent interview with Rachel Maddow he explained that when the United States Information Agency (USIA) was abolished as a downsizing move of the Clinton administration, the responsibility for public diplomacy/soft power was given to the Department of State, where the necessary staff and budget to support it was also reduced. He further explained that programs designed to explain America to the world, such as the Voice of America (VOA) and other media initiatives, were also weakened.

As the second world war was ending, leaders from the U.S., the UK, and Russia met to imagine the peace-keeping potential of a world bank, an international monetary fund, and a “united nations” organization… and American leadership was seen as critical to making these organizations work. They all have had their ups and downs over the years, and many think that the eventual loss of the USIA made this kind of “soft-power” leadership even more difficult. And to make matters worse, the Trump administration has been taking steps to eliminate all of our nation’s soft-power leadership gains.

Regaining global leadership will require a new administration to organize the collaborations necessary to deal with the most critical international issues… and then to furnish the strategic communication and digital media talent and technology necessary to make those collaborations visible all over the world.  

In other words, what we need now is a full-speed, soft-power assault!

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Walter Cronkite…  once celebrated as “the most trusted man in America.”  What would Walter say about being called “the enemy of the people,” or say about”fake news” claims?

Is journalism the enemy of the people? Of course not. Is news ever fake? Very rarely. But in today’s constant clutter of information, journalism has indeed changed… in both positive and negative ways.  

  1. It’s important to recognize that many journalists are committed to finding and reporting the truth.
  2. Professional journalists traditionally have tried to maintain a “balance” between opposing ideas.
  3. But the 24/7 digital/social media revolution has permanently upset this balance.
  4. First, the “enemy of the people” charge has actually increased the number of readers, listeners, and viewers, making many large media organizations significantly more profitable.
  5. The result has been an increase in ads, beautiful anchors, star reporters, clever opinion writers… with their headlines mostly determined by politicians, government officials, sports heroes, and Hollywood celebrities.

Two solutions to consider: 1. Find local and national journalists and news media organizations you can trust… learn from their expertise and choose your actions accordingly. 2. Support core media literacy education in public schools, colleges, and community groups. As always, truth is best found in wisely led education. 

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The Dynamics of Credibility… essential in a crisis.

  1. A record of telling the truth.
  2. A background of consistent moral character.
  3. A record of explaining exactly what happened when there is troubling news.
  4. A record of admitting errors, and a willingness to apologize.
  5. Respect for worthy adversaries.

Effective Leadership Communication… essential at all times.

  1. Always tell the truth.
  2. Apologize after making a mistake, or neglecting to act sooner.
  3. Include and acknowledge top experts when planning, and incorporate their recommendations.
  4. In a crisis, unify the public by delivering truthful status reports, asking for whatever sacrifice is necessary, and promising that with their help the future will be better than ever.
  5. Collaborate with a highly professional communication staff and/or group, and with their help use mainstream and social media platforms each day to keep the public fully informed.

Leaders with a history of autocratic behaviors and questionable moral character will not have the credibility necessary to unite people. Rather, their need to attack those with different opinions will inevitably lead to greater divisions and dangerous conflicts. 

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Fixing our broken nation will require a new president with a much more “democratic” leadership style.

The new president will need to bring back experienced professionals in the state department, the justice department, the FBI, the CIA, and other government departments and institutions, along with a commitment that they are there to bring their best judgement to solving the nation’s problems. International treaties and alliances will also need to be renegotiated with many countries, especially Russia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and China.

But just as important… the new president will need to establish a very high level and modern strategic communication department in the White House, with all the talent and media tools necessary to bring people together around the founding ideas of this unique nation.

Elements of a Modern Strategic Communication Plan

Understanding the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is absolutely necessary: For example, these ideas are central:

“…all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness… whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

And these documents also demonstrate the concern the founders had about the danger of foreign influence, and the autocratic control of a king.

The Importance of Identity Messaging

While fixing domestic policy, foreign relationships, and daily operations is critically important, the American public will very quickly need to learn about a well thought out process for developing new national identity language and nationwide participation in real problem-solving.

Participation and Integration

Authenticity and transparency will be essential for lasting credibility. Therefore, effective communication will require the best thinking of extremely well-informed opinion leaders in the White House, government departments, civil-service institutions, cultural and educational institutions, local and global nonprofits, and citizen participation groups in every state. Their involvement, word-of-mouth enthusiasm, and the simultaneous use all media platforms, will generate the daily intensity and visibility necessary to unify and re-energize our beloved American experiment.

Thus, a new participation-oriented president, using today’s media to get the whole nation talking, may be all that’s needed to restore democracy… and also reestablish America’s leadership role in the world.  

 

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There is a role for everyone to play when it comes to handling situations like we have now. 

We have a spreading pandemic, millions out of work. and constitutionally protected protesters in the streets sometimes indistinguishable from looters and criminals. And in the background we also have a military-obsessed president who rejects science, eliminates public safety regulations, needlessly rounds-up immigrants, ignores obvious climate change, and divides the nation with his dictatorial pronouncements.

News media certainly have a role to play in this scenario. But real change will require the leaders of state and local governments, along with the leaders of federal and non-profit institutions, to use every media platform possible to communicate “save our democracy” themes every day. 

When FDR began his regular radio talks the entire country was in disarray. It was in the midst of a depression, political polarization, and disagreements about the danger to the U.S. of Nazi activities in Germany. He dealt with all this simultaneously by first adding infrastructure projects to give people work, and then gradually bringing them together by reinforcing traditional American values.

1. The White House. To deal effectively with today’s complicated issues, this or another president will have to develop truly meaningful action initiatives and communicate empathetic talking themes every day. These themes and actions must also demonstrate an ability to bring people together to collaborate on solutions.

2. The news business. Skillful journalism can and must clarify issues, suggest ideas, and report events. I have been impressed with New York Times opinion reporter Tom Friedman’s suggestion that Joe Biden appoint his cabinet now so that the voting public can see how our most serious issues will be addressed. But journalist Friedman can only suggest ideas, he cannot implement solutions.

2. Corporations and businesses. Recently my thinking has been influenced by Rebecca Henderson’s book, Re-imagining Capitalism. Today could be a real turning point. Businesses should now be able to be profitable while also  creatively advancing the welfare of their employees, supporting criminal justice movements, and promoting the powerful potential of corporate social responsibility.

3. Political parties. With so many issues causing violence and disruptive national divisions, this is a perfect time for the parties to explain the difference between campaigning on ideology and balance-of-power governance.

4. Think tanks. These institutions are home to intellectuals and officials not currently serving in government. They are perfectly positioned to provide the data necessary for smart problem-solving.

5. Local nonprofits.  These organizations have a special opportunity now to initiate creative projects that enable criminal justice collaborations and improvements.

6. International organizations. Incorporating unity-building themes and projects fit the purposes of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s). These include most professional associations, global banks, management consulting firms, and relief organizations.

7. Universities and colleges. Each president or chancellor should already be explaining the institution’s interest in community service, as well as its potential for helping to bring about cross-cultural understanding. Projects related to leadership development, problem-solving research, conflict management, terrorism, healthcare, climate change, energy, regulation, poverty, immigration, and more, all can help both the local community and world problem-solving

In summary, major crisis solutions must begin with an empathetic president and message themes so powerful that other leaders and organizations are motivated to echo them with their words and deeds. 

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In our 24/7 digital world, the daily implosion of information becomes a confusing mass of mush. When leaders are in conflict every day, as is happening with pandemic messaging and riots in cities, most of us throw up our hands and cry out for simple, transparent truth.

But a major theme of my writing over the years has been that media revolutions change everything… from families, to politics, to individuals, to education, to religion… and part of that change is overwhelming and confusing information noise.

For example, elimination of air and water pollution regulations, threats to eliminate health insurance without alternatives, tax cuts that favor the rich and big business, relief funds that don’t reach the most hurt, budget cuts in public education, quiet arrests and deportations of immigrants by ICE in major cities, verbal attacks on critics, tweets that can encourage violence, thoughtless abandonment of international agreements, inaccurate claims about virus tests, confusing timetables for vaccines, blatant science denials, many dismantled institutions, and the Voice of America becoming the voice of this administration, all of which add up to big daily doses of frightening noise. Very little truth can be found buried inside this kind of media mania.

Surprisingly, however, truth can be found beyond the daily news by simply seeing the “big picture.” It’s a very clear picture of a one-person-in-control autocracy.   

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