Back from research leave

This Canada Day marked my return from a year’s research leave. It has been a good year- I moved into a new home, got involved in the federal election, made a bunch of great new friends, and wrote most of a new book on social media in Canada. I also became pescetarian and mindfully started on the path to fitness.

I am looking forward to coming back to McMaster as director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program for a three-year term, until 2019. I love teaching and being part of the university community. I love the rhythm and cadence of university life and the excitement that students feel at the prospect of learning and growing. I love research and discovery – both from the personal perspective of gaining a new understanding of the world, but also because  research and the enlightenment it brings help to transform our communities for the better.

The MCM is a wonderful community of practitioners who learn from one another. I count our faculty among the learners as well, because when twenty very bright, leading communicators from across Canada get together in a room to discuss and debate the theories and practices of management, strategy, marketing, and communications, even the top experts become facilitators. What a joy for all involved.

If you have been thinking about an MBA, you should consider the MCM. We offer the course courses of the MBA in a format that works with your schedule and busy life. It really is an “MBA for creative people.”

The fact that the MCM is offered to you by McMaster University in partnership with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, opens a whole world of experience for you in the United States!

If you’re interested in the MCM, do send me a note and we can chat about the program and your application to join the 2016-17 cohort, which starts in October.

We have extended our application deadline to August 15, 2016.



Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 5: building relationships in social media

In yesterday’s post, I discussed how public relations became more strategic, as it evolved into a two-way symmetrical model, focused on building relationships between organizations and their publics. Today, I will  discuss how social media has changed the landscape and evolved PR strategy from a two-way symmetrical model to a two-way dialogical model.

Social media has changed public relations by changing the way information flows.

The two-way symmetrical model was based on the gatekeeping model privileged by the structure of most mass communication organizations: well-paid and highly trained experts create content that is then sent through well-defined channels to subscribers. The gatekeepers are the editors, publishers, etc. who hold the final say on whether something is released into the channel. Strategic PR in the two-way symmetrical model involved understanding the dynamics of the mass communications channels (audiences, internal editorial structures, etc.) and forging relationships with the right experts to get the message out. Controlling and the shaping the message were key. At the heart of this is a linear communication model:

Content producer —> editor —> channel —> receiver

Feedback is limited to structured forums such as letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc.

Social media has shattered this model by introducing the concept of user-generated content. It also introduced instant feedback into the structure. That made the PR conversation more dialogical and interpersonal, rather than structured and linear. In a dialogical, interpersonal model feedback is constant, like in a conversation.

This means that the organizational relationships that a PR pro has to manage are being communicated in a way that more closely resembles how individuals communicate and build relationships – interactively and with multiple streams of continuous information at the same time (i.e. in interpersonal communication, you pay quite a bit of attention to language, non-verbal, context, etc.).

This means that to be strategic, PR pros now have to think of their organizations as individuals – people who are forging relationships with individual members of priority publics. Managing those relationships for the mutual benefit of the organization and the individuals with whom it has relationships is how PR adds value now.  This means that it has organization-wide influence: marketing, internal communications, HR, financial and investor communications, etc.

For PR pros, this means understanding how business works and developing a set of professional languages, models and metrics that make and demonstrate the case for the strategic value of public relations to the core business development objectives. This is at the heart of what we teach in the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program.

PR’s strategic importance is in knowing how to make organizations personal and interpersonal, in an organized and consistent fashion.


A tribute to Terry Flynn, my dear colleague and PR mentor

Today, my colleague Terry Flynn, co-founder (with Maria Russell) of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program (of which I am director), was interviewed for the McMaster Daily News today. The piece listed his recent achievements and focused on his opinions on the unfolding crises in journalism in the Leslie Roberts, Amanda Lang and Jian Ghomeshi situations.

First, allow me to congratulate my esteemed colleague his recent achievements. Terry was recently:

  •  The first Canadian to ever be elected to the board of trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society — the leading global association of chief communications officers — and
  • Named a board member of the prestigious Institute for Public Relations.
  • Named one of the Top 50 Social Media Marketing Influencers on Twitter by Vocus Research, a global communications research company.

Terry has been an inspiration, mentor and friend to me over the last seven years that I have known him. He has opened the world of PR scholarship and practice to me, by trusting me with his baby – the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program and introducing me to his international network of public relations and communications management colleagues, both professional and academic.

I am proud to know him and owe him a lot. He’s a constant inspiration and support to me.

Applications OPEN for the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program 2015-16

As program director, I am pleased to announce that applications to our extraordinary Master of Communications Management program are now open!

The MCM program offered in partnership between McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business and Dept of Communication Studies and Multimedia and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

The MCM program combines four core MBA courses with four core strategic communications management courses.

Program Structure: The academic program provides the participant with core courses in key areas

Communications Management Core:
(4 required courses; 12 credits)
Management Core:
(4 required courses, 12 credits)
  • MCM 711 Organizational Public Relations
  • MCM 712 Public Relations Research
  • MCM 714 Strategic Public Relations Management
  • MCM 715 Applied Ethics in Communications Management
  • MCM 721 Strategic Management
  • MCM 722 Financial Reporting and Management Accounting
  • MCM 723 Managerial Finance
  • MCM 724 Marketing Management
(2-3 courses; 6-9 credits)
Capstone Project or Thesis:
(3-credit project or 6-credit thesis)
  • MCM 731 Reputation and Brand Management
  • MCM 732 Communication Frontiers: Social Media
  • MCM 735 Negotiation: Theory and Practice
  • MCM 741 Crisis Communications
  • MCM 742 Social Media and Mobility: Strategy and Management

 *This is a small sample of potential electives

  • Students have the choice to a professional capstone project (equivalent to one course) and three electives, or will write a scholarly thesis (equal to two courses) and take two electives.

The MCM faculty are an extraordinary group of business and communications professors from McMaster and Syracuse Universities. As well, we bring together top talent from the private sector to teach in the program – our practitioner instructors all work in the c-suite or are successful entrepreneurs.

The MCM program provides you the tools, the learning and the success-mentality to be become a manager, entrerpeneur or college/university instructor in the rapidly growing field of communications!

Apply to take the MCM program – where communications and business meet!


Drucker’s “Managing Oneself” applied to communications management

I was recently perusing the archives of the Harvard Business Review and came across a classic piece by management theorists Peter Drucker, On Managing Oneself [pdf].

Even though it was written in 1999, before the social media and mobility revolution took off,  this chapter from his prescient book, Management Challenges for the 21st Century, seems more relevant than ever.

His main point is that to build a life of excellence at work and at home, you should ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my strengths?
  • How do I work?
  • Where do I belong?
  • What can I contribute?

The answers to these questions are neither simple nor intuitive for many. We are trained, especially as communications managers, to think in terms of our job description and our role as implementers.

Here are my interpretations of how Drucker’s questions could be applied to communications management:

  • Strengths. We define our strengths in terms of how we match the job we are supposed to do, rather than for our profound understanding of the organization’s story and how that story is related to brand, relationships, reputation and trust.
  • Work. We define our productivity in terms of how good we are at the tactical implementation of someone else’s ideas. Communications managers are often the only people in an organization who have a true “whole organization” perspective on how a management decision will resonate, internally to the organization and externally in the public. Think of BP, where legal was consulted instead of communications – it took over 60 days for BP to communicate with the public and that communication, delivered in the form of full-page ads in major newspapers, was written in legalese.
  • Belonging. We accept the idea that we belong in a service role, implementing and publicizing ideas we had no part in developing – ideas that were developed by the senior executive team. Communications managers, having the “whole organization” perspective, should be providing counsel on the strategic management decisions being made – simple errors that can have negative impact on trust can thus be averted. Think of the guest workers decision at Royal Bank in 2013.
  • Contributions. We judge our contributions in terms of efficacy instead of strategy. When communications managers set up metrics programs, it is important to remember that you should be measuring “measurable strategic objectives” and not “tactical outputs”. Metrics do tell the story of your work to colleagues and managers, but only if they are well-chosen. Many of the old metrics used by communications managers are oriented towards output, which is only a measure of tactical efficacy (eg. number of press releases, tweets, newspaper mentions, etc.), not strategic thinking.


@McMasterMCM Winter Residency – A great success!

Last thursday, the Winter Residency of the @McMasterMCM program – a resounding success.

We had a record number of 42 students registered across years 1 and 2 of the program. Our students came from all over Canada: every province except New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI. We also had students from Mexico and Oman! We had students from the many different fields of communications management: public relations, journalism, marketing, government relations and fundraising. This diversity means that we are able to gather a cohort full of communications leaders in one room – our conversations are broad ranging and deep; faculty and students as much from one another as we teach in class.

The MCM is also famous for our prestigious guest speaker series.

Each residency, we have a gala evening at the Hamilton Club on the Saturday night. Last week, our @McMasterMCM Winter Gala was a huge success, with Jonathan Harris, Managing Partner, InfoMart (Postmedia) as our keynote. He gave a provocative speech on the future of journalism which roused one of the most animated question periods that we have ever had at one of our gala events. Faculty and students engaged our guest speaker in a lively conversation about content marketing, digital branding and the future of news.


On Wednesday, we had our @McMasterMCM Technical Luncheon, featuring Katie Paine, President, Paine Publishing. She delivered a superb luncheon lecture, “Measurement in the Age of Context”, which led to a wonderful question period afterward. As you can see in the photo below, she even wore her Google Glass device during the whole presentation!

We also innovated during this residency, expanding on our partnership with CPRS Hamilton to offer a workshop by Katie Paine, entitled, “How to Build a Best in Class Measurement Program”. We had over 40 CPRS, IABC and non-affiliated professionals attend the three-hour workshop, which was a incredibly successful. Katie took the time to ask the members about their specific organizational measurement challenges and then provided advice from her books: “Measure What Matters” and “Measuring the Networked NonProfit”. The session was so useful that the participants didn’t want it to end, after three hours. This was the first such partnership meeting with CPRS, part of our ongoing efforts to open the MCM up to the community of practitioners!

All in all, an excellent residency was had by all. To get a taste of how much fun we had together, you can peruse our photos through our flickr stream below…