The Power of Personal Storytelling

AseatAtTheTableParagraphIn the weeks leading up to the Summer Olympics, the media was awash with stories.  Special sections of newspapers overflowed with tales of the athletes’ journeys —  their sacrifices, their accomplishments and their hopes and dreams. Well produced video accompanied most of these stories, bringing the athletes, their coaches and families vividly to life on our televisions, tablets and smart phones.

The stories were deeply personal and each was unique.  I think it was storytelling at its best — they drew us in, helped us to understand not only the athletes, but perhaps ourselves as well.  While very few of us have dedicated our lives to breaking a world record, we can certainly relate to the rhythms of the athletes’ lives: missed opportunities, responding to setbacks, enduring defeat, encountering discrimination and overcoming obstacles, to name a few.

These stories allow us to relate to Olympic athletes, straight from our couches at home. In many ways, businesses try to do the same thing. They take a product or service that seems abstract, and try to fit it into our lives, hopefully in a meaningful way.

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In Transparency We Trust: The Importance Of Straight Talk From The Top

AseatAtTheTableParagraphIn the good old days (maybe 10 years ago or so), the role of an internal communications department was reasonably straightforward: to inspire employees by showcasing positive accomplishments, both the company’s and their own. But in 2016 with information flowing so incredibly freely — from traditional news media outlets, online publications, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – the onslaught of news has complicated the role of internal communications and made its work notably more difficult.

These days, internal communications has to inform and transmit a company’s mission and values to employees, as it always has, while also addressing the current demands for immediacy and transparency. These are new responsibilities that must be taken seriously; communications that are merely cheerleading will be met with great skepticism.

Compounding the challenge is a factor that has long frustrated PR practitioners, even before the digital revolution: bad news travels faster and is absorbed more readily than good news. (more…)

Talk Millennial to Me?

AseatAtTheTableParagraph Microsoft may know how to throw a party, but it’s apparently not so swift at talking about it.

In a singular email message addressed to the “BAE* Intern! <3” cohort, Microsoft managed to incorporate all of these phrases: “hella noms*,” “lots of dranks*,” “hell yes to getting lit* on a Monday night” and “Yammer* beer pong tables!” My 20-year-old college intern had to google “yammer beer pong tables” to decipher the email.

It was hard not to hear about this miscommunication. Microsoft is a legendary brand and with its recent acquisition of LinkedIn, the company is boldly reinventing itself, moving away from a traditional software company towards a cloud-based enterprise. (In fact, in releasing its latest quarterly results this week, Microsoft reported that sales of its Azure cloud computing service had more than doubled.)

Still, crafting an appropriate email can’t be solved in the cloud, (more…)

Wanted: Diversity in the (War) “Room Where It Happens”

AseatAtTheTableParagraph In one of the more memorable songs in “Hamilton,” the award winning Broadway musical, Aaron Burr, the show’s complicated anti-hero and narrator, sings of his desire to be “in the room where it happens.” Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison have cast Burr aside as they negotiate everything from fiscal policy to where to place the new nation’s capital, and he laments his lack of influence. He is both literally and metaphorically outside the room.

In political campaigns, choosing who gets to be “in the room” when communication strategy and messages are created is almost as important as who the candidate is (or what the issue is). Decision makers benefit enormously when as many diverse perspectives as possible are included in the process. Political campaigns, especially, capitalize on this integrated model. They synthesize minute-to-minute information by looking at different current events, polling, policy proposals and data from social media to create targeted messages for the candidate.

This kind of “war room” approach, so common in political life, can also serve as the nerve center of operations in corporate and government crisis management. It can be equally useful, as well, in day-to-day communication planning. Why shouldn’t you process and analyze all of the best thinking, data and information in order to make informed strategic decisions and the communication that follows? (more…)

Changing Hearts & Minds — The Value of Excessive Communication

AseatAtTheTableParagraph When working to change an organization’s culture and strategies, exactly what role should the C.E.O. play?

Years ago, a company I worked with wanted to roll out a new set of values and practices for the entire organization. Acceptance was needed and it was needed quickly. But it’s often really tough to alter a company’s internal culture. A.M. Rosenthal, who was the executive editor of The New York Times for more than two decades, once said that changing his huge newsroom’s habits and attitudes was like trying to steer an aircraft carrier with a paddle.

At the company I was working with, a board member told the C.E.O. that he should spend at least 60 percent of his time focused inside of the company; he needed to talk with employees at all levels, listening carefully to them and adapting. The message was clear — “communicate excessively.”

But given the demands on a C.E.O.’s time, spending the majority of his or her days inside the organization can be a very tall order. After all, there are clients to keep happy, as well as investors, regulators and other external audiences to win over. Moreover, in many organizations, internal and external communications do not necessarily work in tandem; they often compete for the chief executive’s time. (more…)

Communications Diagnosis Test: Is Your Business Sick Or Do You (Merely) Have a PR Problem? Take the Time to Find Out

AseatAtTheTableParagraph When confronted with a public relations problem, the question is always, is this a singular event or does it indicate a more systemic issue in the company? While working in-house, I would often have senior managers slip into my office to say, “Leah, we have a PR problem.” The first thing I had to consider was not only the issue at hand, but if there was an underlying problem and, if there was, how could we fix it. Along the way, we would also figure out how to talk about it.

Large businesses are often bound by habit, systems and processes. When a problem arises that could affect a company’s reputation, in addition to considering the different tactics that might be employed to avoid the hit to reputation, it’s vital, I think, to look at the underlying causes. (more…)