Management Consulting, public relations, social media, Strategy

The Two Most Powerful Words in Strategic Communications?

(Other than “Payment Received” 😉 )

Many, many moons ago, when I was svelter around the waist and with less gray in my beard, I wanted to be an EMT. (emergency medical technician… you know, a dude in an ambulance) My interest developed after taking a first responder class in college, and I wanted to carry on my studies, possibly even working my way through school as an EMT.

(Thankfully, I passed the class but didn’t go on with becoming an EMT. It was fascinating and fun, but not for me.)

One of the first, and most important lessons I learned as an EMT were that the two most important words to an EMT were “It Depends.”

As my instructors drilled into my brain repeatedly throughout class, it was difficult understanding with certainty what was happening to a patient, because symptoms for a problem (i.e. a stroke) could manifest one way in one person, and a slightly different way in another person. Just enough to leave you wondering for sure what the problem was.

(There you go, you’ve just spared yourself 6 months of EMT classwork. You’re welcome. 😉 )

So what does this have to do with business, communications and social media?

I’m glad you asked.

Businesses, like people, are multifaceted. Large or small, Fortune 100 or Mom-and-Pop shops, they are all different entities mostly looking for the same goal – profit. Some consultants want to tell you that all businesses should act like the small, family-owned business, listening attentively to each customer. While that works for the small business, it’s harder to change the culture ingrained into larger companies into acting like a small business.

That doesn’t mean that larger businesses shouldn’t engage in social media. Hell, many large companies have great social programs. It does mean that each company has a different way to achieve social media nirvana, locating what works for them. It means that cookie cutter social media programs won’t necessarily work. You don’t just add water, mix and cook at 400 degrees for a successful program or strategy.

Each company, large or small, single people (athletes and celebrities?) or Japanese Zaibatsu conglomerates, needs to sit down and assess their communications and interaction goals, work on a pre-program audit – looking at their needs, the audiences they want to reach, how best to interact with those audiences. Developing lists of Twitter handles to engage with that make sense (why would a college need to interact with a 30-something professional, non-alumni with no kids? Is there a reason? There might be. What would it be? NOTE: I work at a university, and this is just an example that popped in my head and is not indicative of anything in that university’s strategy)

In short, you need to do your research. Do your homework! Conduct your communications, social media and other audits, ask questions. Make sure any social media company you work with knows how to do this, ask for definable and measurable goals.

Will the same social media strategy that works so well for Dell work for you? Remember…

“It Depends”

CEO Chat, Game Changers, Management Consulting, public relations, Strategy

Authenticity – A Discussion

Note: This is an edited transcript of one of a number of ongoing Google Wave exchanges between Will Reichard of CrossCut Communications and Benson Hendrix, author of, a blog about public relations, strategy and new media. It is being cross-posted on both sites.

Will: One of the blog ideas I had was about “authenticity”–the importance of a unique voice in an online identity. Being authentic requires courage, self-awareness and practice. Benson, what are some of your favorite examples of authenticity in action in the online realm?

Benson: In addition to the three attributes you named for authenticity, I would add patience and mindfulness, an ability to not only listen to what people are telling you, but to really hear and absorb their words, mulling them over before responding.

One of the first examples that comes to mind for me is Richard Edelman, of the mega-PR firm Edelman Public Relations. While some of the moves his company have made in the online realm have been very questionable (anyone remember “Walmarting Across America?”) Edelman himself seems willing to be authentic and upfront on his own blog.

Dell is always one of my go-to examples for what is right in the online sphere. In addition to selling over $6 million through Twitter (reported naturally enough, on Twitter) Dell has really worked hard to change their image from going through “Dell Hell” to seeking out people with Dell problems and actively engaging them to help fix their problems – I know, I was one of them a few years back. Lionel Menchaca, Richard Binhammer and the rest of the Dell outreach team have done a great job.

Other examples of authenticity online include Bob Lutz at G.M. and the Fastlane Blog, and Scott Monty on the other side of the street at Ford. Both are doing interesting things online to get people excited about their products.

In the PR world, I also like following Richard Laermer and Peter Shankman. Each one has developed a social media presence that is truly a part of themselves, it’s not phony or perceived as a sham.

For smaller companies, or companies that have a one person commanding presence that stands out when you think of that company (Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca) it’s almost easier to use online tools and social media to develop your business presence around that outstanding person, since the two companies are linked already.

Will: Great points, Benson, and I love the idea of quiet consideration before responding–I really think it helps to discover what’s authentic in what one is about to say. I’m also put in mind of your blog post on “swinging back” — namely, that the authentic response is the right one, not just the one that convention dictates is “correct.” Which is another way of saying, textbooks are great, but at some point, you have to leave the crutches behind.

Which brings me back to the idea of courage as a prerequisite for authenticity. And this is especially an issue in social media, don’t you think? You’re operating at high speeds without a net (pun intended).

Here in New Mexico (though with a reach that goes way beyond), I enjoy watching Lee Stranahan in this regard ( Lee has a unique voice and rarely pulls his punches. It’s not always easy for him, but it’s also a big part of the reason he’s as widely successful as he is.

Benson: Yeah, it’s definitely OK for people to leave the crutches behind and start experimenting with new ideas. And you’re right that courage is needed, not just in authenticity but also in dealing with authority. If you’re unwilling to discuss your concerns with your boss, or you are left in a “need to know” basis, then you will always find yourself in a situation where you have to defensively respond to what’s going on while you try to figure out what’s going on. And you can’t build trust or any kind of authentic value doing that.

Will: Great point–with all the discussion about the role of communications in the C Suite–the “at the table” discussion–maybe we should talk about educating one’s organization on the value of authenticity. As a student of management, I’d have to say this is a great case of “getting what you reward.” Look at JFK, who told his Cabinet he didn’t want a bunch of “yes men.” And yet, that’s very, very difficult to create where there is any imbalance of power (and JFK suffered from that). An organization’s leaders have to (for lack of a better word) institutionalize that attitude.

If you’re looking for truth-to-power types, it’s important to make authenticity a part of the interview process, both for the interviewee and for the organization.  You might create some scenarios and ask the interviewee about them. Better yet, when you call his or her references (and you always should), ask them about it. In any case, managers need to build this into their process to avoid groupthink and ensure communications that are thought through and genuine. You have to hold up people who practiced authenticity and let everyone see that not only was that spirit tolerated, it is in fact rewarded. This can be really tough to do! Authenticity isn’t necessarily a comfortable solution.

Readers: What do you think? What role does authenticity play in communications? What examples have you seen?

CEO Chat, Management Consulting

CEO Chat: Coaches and General Manager’s – Which are You?

This past week, my beloved Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) ran headlong into a miracle this week. After four years of delving into mediocrity, the Bills fired their head coach and promoted their defensive coordinator to interim head coach.

As a Bills fan, I’m greatly relieved that the team showed the guts to get rid of their leader halfway through the season and start the hunt for a new coach earlier than the rest of the NFL. (Of course that means this season is pretty much over, but Bills fans knew that back after week 1)

Another question raised was, “Will the Bills get a real football general manager (GM) as well, hire one person to be the coach/GM, or keep the current pseudo-GM?” Since 2005, the Bills haven’t had a real GM, the person who is responsible for putting the team together, and the product on the field has shown it.

While only time will tell for the Bills, today I want to talk about the differences between “GM’s” and “coaches” in the business world.  Each has their benefits and weaknesses to developing your “team.” (For lack of a better word)



General Managers

These are the guys who hire the players (and coaches) for the team. They put the pieces in place, and figure out how to best use each person’s strength to compensate for other’s weaknesses. They are also responsible for going out and scouting which players in college and free agency can make the organization better.  Instead of creating a situation to make the sum of the parts greater than the whole, they see each of the parts and how they can be more than the whole.

In a perfect world, they trust that the people they hire know how to do their jobs without too much prodding.


These are the guys who lead the team, develop the game plan and calculate how the team will best work together.  They take the pieces that the general manager give them and put them together in a way that will maximize their chances for success.

They try to create a situation where the sum of the team’s parts is greater than the whole.

Again, in that perfect world we all want, they trust the people they lead and believe that they can finesse the best possible outcome from their team.


But Benson, I hear you saying, what about the dual-rolled “Coach/GM”? Can’t they provide the best possible outcome for you?  True, but to be honest, outside of a rare few people (in the NFL you know who they are, Mike Holmgren, Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan) most fall short when trying to fulfill both roles. Whether the responsibilities for each are too much, or they lack one of the two necessary skill sets they fall short at one while usually crashing at the other.  In the NFL you too often see coaches wanting both positions – feeling that if they have to lead the group, they should be able to pick who they lead. However, this is more of an excuse to not develop a strong working relationship with the person selecting the team, there’s not the communication and trust between the two to work together for the best results possible.


All I want to say about this is figure out which role you better fill and stick with improving yourself at that. There will be time to develop the other side’s skills at another time when you already have a base of experience to build on.  And this way, at least you’ll be showing improvement and success to one of the other people who really matter – your boss.

This requires a truthful self-evaluation. Which of the above sounds more like you? Do you want to put the pieces in place to succeed and not micromanage them, or do you prefer the challenge of taking what you have in the office and kicking ass with that? Or am I totally off-base here?

Management Consulting, social media, Strategy

Heads Up Corps, Be Careful How You Blog…

Because starting May 26th, you could be arrested and thrown in the dock in the United Kingdom for misrepresenting your company as a consumer (Walmarting Across America comes to mind here).

The legislation is already in practice in Europe, the UK is just getting into the act a little (fashionably ?) late.  On one hand this can be good because it’s going to cut down on the amount of BS astroturfing that companies and their PR firms do.  It’s a kind-of enforced authenticity.

Is this a good thing?  Isn’t it better if people know that a company isn’t communicating authentically of their own accords?  The press, and other bloggers, are more than happy to shine a light on the astroturfing efforts of those corporations and PR firms.  Isn’t that the way it should be?  Online news organizations, like the newly created New Mexico Independent or well-established PR Watch, are sprouting up to watchdog various organizations and report the news without fear or favor (if not partisanship).

And another question I’d like to ask is, for activist groups throughout Great Britain – do these rules apply for them as well?  Will the same group of activists who misrepresent themselves as a greater number of people (think about the blogger equivalent of a phone bank calling talk radio shows to comment) be subject to the same rules and punishment?  Ad Age explains the law as applying to “Brand Owners” and Greenpeace, or the Sierra Club, or the Christian Coalition, or Wake Up Walmart are all brands and should be subject to those laws as well.  All things being fair and all that.

What this means is that companies and organizations should be authentic and true in their online communications.  A lesson to corporations, activists and PR firms around the world: if you represent themselves truthfully when dealing with online and social media communities, they can avoid a lot, if not almost all of, these kinds of problems.

It will be interesting to watch Great Britain in the upcoming months and see what happens.

Hat Tip: Ad Age

Management Consulting, public relations, Strategy

“We have met the enemy…”

.. “and s/he is us”

I was talking with a co-worker a couple of days ago about all of the great stuff I learned at the PRSA and CASE conferences. Our conversation, as it does sometimes, veered into the number of alumni/a/ae/aeiou/eieio who start trashing the university upon graduation, and how that has been affecting our brand. It’s almost as if, in addition to the degree, we give them a card that tells them they can start talking about all of the stuff they didn’t like about the institution.

I could have, and have at various times, gone into “evangelist mode” talking about the great things going on around campus, or the really cool research our profs are doing. My view is, when talking about the university, I tend to talk about good people (students, staff, etc.) doing good work at a good school. My co-worker said that I was one of the rare exceptions, I graduated from the college I work at now, and I’m fired up about the school in general. (although not this fired up…)

Instead I started taking time to think about what our grads are saying. There’s the usual talk about the food or the facilities around campus (computer labs are always full, library’s not open 24-7) or that some of our faculty aren’t available at the necessary times or aren’t receptive to student concerns. These are all factors which have hurt the university’s brand, especially since we are not holding up our end of the bargain and addressing these students complaints when brought up. In the past we’ve tended to “shield up” when these concerns come to light and that is being reflected in the response of our alumni when they graduate. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of alumni out there who are proud graduates, and maybe this is nothing more than an expected percentage of students who were not happy with their experience in college.

Our uni. president mentioned this during his webcast last week to present his strategic plan for the next five years. One of the first things he addressed was openness and transparency with the public, our students and employees. This might be the opening our office is looking for to add blogging and more podcast/video work to our efforts. The key is going to be transparency, and if we can get everyone on board with facing our detractors and telling them what we are doing to improve the university, we might be able to reverse some of the negative feelings people have towards our university.

True? False? Indifferent? What do y’all think?