Thursday, September 27, 2012


They are better than solid employees who do a very good job. Those who care go many extra miles. They communicate their caring without talking about it.

For example, they are the individuals who provide that additional proof before the document goes out, that extra call to the client to ask if the meeting was effective, or who discover a research detail that ups the value of the content. They say “thank you” when they should and most others don't. They congratulate those who deserve it. They always put the firm first. They are dyed-in-the-wool team players. It all sounds like common sense, but there is nothing common about it.

Those who care often volunteer to do something to help others in the firm or lead a volunteer activity. They will pull out all the stops to do a deep dive on a client’s business, deeper than others, to demonstrate understanding beyond what a client would expect. When necessary, they will work nights and weekends to get the job done for the firm or a client. And they don’t brag about it; they just do it. They understand what true client satisfaction means.

Their caring can be contagious. By example, these special individuals teach others to care. In that respect they are among the most valued firm resources. They understand that caring is shared.

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 24, 2012

The High Five is Ours!

Did you know that the anniversary of the “high five” was coming up on October 2?

It may sound inconsequential — and probably is, by comparison to many other anniversaries, like your own or Independence Day. But think about it. It is one of the most popular non-verbal forms of communications, and it only started in the late 70’s. Isn’t that kind of amazing?

I bet people have been shaking their heads from side to side or up and down to say yes and no for centuries. Probably people have been waving goodbye for longer than that! And people shaking hands is, no doubt, a greeting that goes back to Methuselah. Of course, I am guessing, but you get the point. The “high five” is a lot newer than you might have expected.

According to Wikipedia, the first “high five” occurred between Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke of the Los Angeles Dodgers on October 2, 1977. After Baker hit his 30th home run, Burke was waiting for him “on deck” as he rounded the bases and thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. Baker said he reached up and hit Burke’s hand, because it seemed like “the thing to do.” And so the “high five” was born.

Another version of the origin story, from around the same time, involved players from the University of Louisville basketball team, where one player went to give another a “low five” and the other one said, “Why are we staying down low? We jump so high!” He raised his hand and the “high five” was born.

So there you have it. The custom of slapping palms together is a demonstration of optimism and enthusiasm. We are reaching for the stars. We are collaborating. We are touching — and in touch with — each other.

Most of all, the “high five” is a positive symbol that is contagious and one that America can claim as its own.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Employee Engagement at its Most Social

How do you reach current and potential customers with the most believable messages possible? You start a Social Media Ninja program — as Sprint has done – and base the entire platform on trust.

“We were looking for a way to engage our employees in a worthwhile customer outreach program, where they could freely discuss a range of Sprint benefits (or anything else, within reasonable limits), that creates positive relationships,” said Bill White, Sprint’s chief communications officer.

“So we started our Ninja Ambassador Program based on an inside/outside strategy,” White explained. “We began by training 50 volunteers; and today we have 3000 employee volunteers talking to people all over the world. Our Ambassadors can use whatever channels they want: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, community forums … whatever they choose,” he said.

“The employees receive a monthly editorial calendar with suggested conversational topics (e.g., we are the leading provider of assisted phone capabilities for the deaf and the blind). … From there on, we trust our employees to carry on the conversation; and it has been proven that that trust is deserved,” he reported. “They are communicating from the heart. And our audience is responding accordingly.”

Are there any rules? There must be boundaries beyond which one does not step. Here are some examples of the few rules that Sprint advocates:

--Don’t speculate

--Don’t talk about what you don’t know

--Don’t promise anything you can’t deliver

--Don’t talk about something that has not been announced

--Don’t participate in controversy

Does Sprint monitor all these conversations? White says only on a spot basis. I haven’t discovered how its apparent success is being measured. But there is no question that, when buying a product, most surveys demonstrate that people trust referrals from people they know or consumer opinions posted online. Such was recently noted in a recent Nielsen Study. Based on that Sprint appears to be on target.

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 17, 2012

Communications as a Negative Force

As positive a force as communications is, every strategist knows — because history has provided ample evidence — that communications can also be employed as a negative force. Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mao Tse Tong and Joseph Stalin are well-known examples of leaders who effectively communicated messages that resulted in the deaths of millions and the destruction of cities and countries.

We are now in the throes of another example of negative communications, one that is also causing death and destruction … but it’s not emanating from the lips of a dictator. Rather, it is coming over the internet and has been crafted by a man who calls himself “Sam Bacile,” whom no one ever heard of before the protests erupted.

Bacile and a few rabid anti-Muslims — individuals who have no official U.S. standing at all — developed a film, “Muhammad’s Trial,” that the Associated Press described as “an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue of insults [including philandering and child abuse] described as revelations about Muhammad [Islam’s Prophet], whose obedient followers are presented as a cadre of goons.”

The trailer for the two-hour movie found its way to YouTube… and then all hell broke loose.

Protests led by ultra-conservative Muslims against this so-called “American film” have broken out in 20 countries. Our Libyan Ambassador and three of his aides were killed. While U.S. Administration officials suspect that the Libyan embassy violence was part of a terrorist plot that used the protests as a cover. This and subsequent — though less deadly — incidents in Cairo, Sydney and elsewhere were triggered by the perceived ridicule of Islam’s Prophet.

Here’s what baffles me. The film was not released by the U.S. government; therefore, no one officially sanctioned this film as representing the views of the U.S. So why would sensitive and sensible Muslims attribute this to anything more than the views of one or two individuals? Is it because freedom of speech exists only in the limited circumstances sanctioned by the government in many largely Muslim states … and therefore the assumption is that the film must have been approved by the U.S. government?

Modernity is filled with visual and written criticisms of many religions; yet protests do not ordinarily break out because of them. While the protests predominated in Arab countries where the Muslim population is vast, and free speech and freedom of the press may be issues, several Western countries with Muslim populations experienced protests as well, and freedom is not an issue.

The internet — at least via this example — has catapulted the power of any individual to an extreme. And audiences are sufficiently vulnerable. When employed for negative purposes, the crowd reaction is damn scary.

What can we do about it? Similar things happened via the negative depiction of Muhammad in Danish cartoons a few years ago. But this most recent expression of “piety” is far worse.

We want to sustain freedom of expression on the internet. There is an understanding gap here regarding a perception of American disrespect for the Muslim religion, which is officially untrue. We need to correct that. Is it through government and privately sponsored dialogue groups between our two cultures? Is it through email exchanges? Global conferences attended by both parties? Could books be written on mending the fences that are broadly disseminated in Muslim cultures. Perhaps webinars that address the problem and tender possible solutions. Is it too idealistic to hope that there is a responsibility among the leadership of the countries where the protests have taken place to communicate to their publics what is and is not official American policy, particularly among those who accept millions or billions in foreign aid? Further, are there legal options?

We may need a course in risk management on topical subjects on the internet. Whatever, we need big solutions here. This can’t happen again.

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 13, 2012

[Solar] Power to the People?

Finally, the beginnings of a great case study on solar power.

In a September 12 article in The New York Times, "Chain Stores Said to Lead Firms in Use of Sun Power," we learn that a significant number of giant retail stores, such as Walmart and Walgreens, which are large boxes with flat roofs, are turning those roofs into economic and environmental assets.

How so? They are installing solar panels — and, in some cases, wind turbines — to feed power to the stores.

This is great news for the growing number of “green” advocates in our country, which should be all of us. With plans to continue solar installations, the article notes that this strategy makes this segment of the retail sector leaders over most other industries. And with leadership comes responsibility.

It is clear from the article that economics is driving the new phenomenon, as costs of such installations have plummeted and fuel costs can be locked in. This story, along with all the other benefits, needs to be broadly told. In case they have not done so, and I have seen no indication otherwise, these leading stores should join together and create a communications campaign focusing on their new “green” drive, which will demonstrate that one can do well by doing good, and thereby encourage other businesses to act similarly.

Customer comments and endorsements would be helpful. A few spokespersons from the environmental and the retail sector could lead the charge. A webinar and both traditional and social media programs telling the story to other businesses will provide an important service to them and also a customer and key opinion leader sales advantage for themselves. This is a great topic for tweeting. Reporting could also cover the issues businesses are curious about: more detail on costs, installation and maintenance problems, whether solar feeding provides sufficient power, customer appraisals, how the big box story can be translated to other sectors, etc. Finally, there should be a periodic progress report to keep these messages in front of target publics.

The story emphasizes that "turning the roof into an asset" is a shift in mindset for business leadership. Unfortunately, the story fails to point out that there is a major problem with the U.S. energy grid, which must be solved if other business sectors are to go in the same direction.

The old system of “one-way” power flow covering many parts of the U.S. is not sufficient to create a smart grid—the new paradigm of integrated systems offering two-way power flow, control and information sharing. Utilities need to adjust their view of the grid architecture to embrace distributed generation and work with other parties to create an optimized solution.

A large numbers of diverse and widely-scattered generation sources must be able to collaborate effectively with utilities to meet consumers’ and business’ current and future power needs.

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lies Can Make You Sick

I love the truth. It can be harsh or resolute, but it stands as a barricade against the goblins that dance with lies in your head.

If you tell the truth, you have clarity. You stand proud. You are stress-free. You never have to remember what you said because the truth is easy to recall.

Now comes a fascinating article by Chris Illiades, MD which proves my point —from another angle — about the importance of truth in communications. Dr. Illiades reports that lies affect more than reputation – they can also have a negative impact on our health and longevity. There is evidence, he says, that telling lies is associated with an increased risk of obesity, cancer, anxiety, depression and addiction; reduced work satisfaction, and poor relationships.

Lying is natural to humankind. No matter where in the world they live, for example, children all begin to tell lies at about the same age and for similar reasons (for example, to avoid getting into trouble). And history is filled with individuals — Bernie Madoff, Ted Bundy, Jason Blair...even Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, to name just a few — who have no problem lying and often get away with it for a while until the consequences hit.

In today's stressful and ever-changing business environment, trust is more elusive — and more essential — than ever before.

Nevertheless, I am not suggesting you be indiscreet. Sometimes it pays to delay the truth until the right moment. That can be done without lying. And then there is what I call a "smart white lie" that prevents hurt feelings. For instance, when your wife or significant other asks, "Does this outfit make me look fat?" the answer is rarely, if ever, “Yes.” (For more examples of “smart white lies,” check out "7 Times You Should Lie to a Woman," a column on the MadeMan website. It is written somewhat in jest. The site is a property of our client, Break Media.

As I have matured in the business world and in life in general, I have found that the answer always lies in the truth.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Everyone Likes a Compliment

Moving people to action — whether large groups of people, or just one individual — is at the core of a professional communicator’s responsibilities.   

Obviously, properly positioning the message is critical. It must be clear as a bell and sent through channels that people relate to.  While that might be TV, newspapers or the internet, that channel might also be … you.  How do you make sure you are getting across and penetrating the target?

Having a great disposition and a positive, confident outlook always helps.  We know that people respond to affability.  “Everyone likes a compliment,” wrote Abraham Lincoln to Thurlow Weed in 1865, as noted in Donald Phillips’ book, Lincoln on Leadership.  The passage says, “As a lawyer in Springfield the effect of his compliments on others provided a powerful motivational force in getting things accomplished.”

We all know that compliments sincerely and honestly given tend to put people in a good mood and make them more receptive and open-minded to ideas and thoughts that a communicator or leader would like them to consider.

Kind, deserving words and an encouraging demeanor can often reap important dividends.

Labels: , ,