Gave guest lecture on social media in crisis and reputation

Last night I gave a lecture in Heather Pullen’s class on “Issues and Crisis Management” taught in the Continuing Education public relations diploma program at McMaster University. What was supposed to be a one hour lecture turned into  a full three-hour workshop – mostly because of the students who were completely engaged and full of questions. Heather has done a great job preparing them. What a great instructor she is.

I spoke about the definition of “reputation” and “trust.” We drilled down to gain a cognitive and social understanding of those phenomena. Then we went through a definition of four major social media tool did a SWOT for each one. We talked about how each one could both lead to a crisis and how each one could be used in a crisis. We also talked about the importance of video for the future and how it should be shot to be authentic and credible during a crisis.

I was very pleased to meet all the students, some of who have been my students in the past or whose paths I have crossed in the community of practitioners.

It was a great evening. I look forward to my next invitation to speak to Heather Pullen’s class.



Gave keynote speech at the Golden Horseshoe IABC AGM

Last night, I was honoured to give the keynote address to the Annual General Meeting of the International Association of Business Communicators on the topic of “Communications 2.0: How social media has changed the way we do our jobs.”It was a great night, full of lively and productive discussion.

After a delicious barbecue which featured one of my favourite things in the world: corn on the cob, I took the podium and spoke about how social media is affecting the practice of professional communication and how it is offering an opportunity for professional communicators to take their seat at the senior management table.

In the very lively ensuing conversation, we talked a lot about how professional communicators can take hold of the social media function in their organizations and use it to justify communications as a core management function. Social media is a whole organization function that impacts each of the brand, reputation and relationships of an organization. The challenge faced by many organizations is twofold:

  • How apply the principles of strategic management to social media management;
  • How to create necessary and sufficient KPIs, benchmarks and metrics accurately measure the cost, impact and return on investment
  • How to set up a measurement program for your organization on a small budget
We discussed these ideas in detail. I discussed two quick case studies on organizations using and monetizing social media effectively. I had some suggestions about how to achieve these three goals. We had to cut the discussion off after an hour. After that I stayed on and chatted with attendees for another hour.
What a great night. A big thank you to Robert Plant and Victoria Miecznikowski for inviting me to speak and coordinating my participation in the event. Finally, a big thank you to wonderfully articulate audience – interacting with you was an absolute pleasure. I look forward to our next occasion to connect and share best practices and strategies.
Dr. Alex Sévigny addressing the IABC AGM (Photo: Krista Bennett)
The crowd at the IABC AGM listening to Dr. Alex Sévigny (photo: Krista Bennett)

MCM June residency begins today!

I am very pleased to welcome all current MCM students to our June residency. Summer is an exciting time in the Master of Communications Management since it is time for elective courses – two for first year MCM students  and one for second years, who also take an advanced research methods course that will lead them into doing their capstone projects.

For first year students, the summer marks the first time that they get to take electives. Electives are a chance for MCM students to explore topics that interest them. This summer we are offering two courses:

  • “Reputation and Branding,” professor: Dr. Laurence Mussio of McMaster University.
  • “Negotiation: Theory and Practice,” professor: Dr. Neil Katz of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University.

Both of these courses combine theory and practical knowledge, with a focus on communications as a high-level strategic management function. Students learn using the case study method and work on real-world problems, while applying theoretical and ethical concepts.

The capstone project is the last part of the MCM – a work of professional research, a professional project or an academic paper that serves as a culminating moment for two years of personal and professional transformation that the MCM represents. This year, expert research pedagogue, Dr. Philip Savage, will teach the course and guide the students through ethics approval (if their research involves human subjects) and then to a preliminary proposal, before handing them off to their capstone advisors – professional or academic faculty in the MCM – who then provide subject matter expertise to guide the students in the completion of the project. Many of the capstone projects result in publishable pieces of work which add to the repository of Canadian professional communication knowledge.

Needless to say, any MCM residency is a chance to connect and reconnect with like-minded practitioners and leading professional communicators from across Canada. It is also a chance for current MCM students to join the powerful network of MCM alumni who are climbing the organizational ladder and making waves in the profession all over Canada.

Residency is an opportunity for me to reconnect with MCM students, faculty and alumni, whose friendship and support I cherish and enjoy. We really are doing something special in the MCM. I feel fortunate to be part of it.


A Successful CPRS 2012 for the MCM

The McMaster-Syracuse MCM made waves at Currents 2012, as professional communicators from across Canada gathered to learn, debate and network at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria’s inner harbor.

Our Master of Communications Management alumni were well represented by senior Canadian Public Relations Society members, Colleen Killingsworth, MCM, APR, ABC, FCPRS and Heather Pullen, MCM, APR, both played key roles in the conference: Colleen as National Education Council Chair and Heather as a panel moderator.

I attended, as MCM Program Director, as did Dr. Terry Flynn, as MCM Lead Professor. I spent most of the conference at the MCM booth, meeting many great people and getting more and more excited about the brilliant future of professional communication and communications management in Canada. I was thrilled to see a great deal of interest in the MCM program, which veteran professional communicator, Mr. Derek Pieters, APR, FCPRS has called “the gold standard” in communications education in Canada. It is particularly encouraging to see our MCM graduates succeeding in boosting their careers across Canada.

Terry participated in the panel discussion moderated by Heather Pullen on “How to Overcome a Disclosure Dilemma – A Framework for Building Trust and Managing Expectations in Times of Uncertainty.” Also participating were Dr. Josh Greenberg, associate professor of communications at Carleton University and Jeff Valentin, APR, MBA, vice-president, communications, Hamilton Health Sciences. They had a very lively discussion based on a crisis that occurred at a private health clinic in Ottawa where several patients were exposed to HIV  and hepatitis. The discussion took off from there and the hour flew by.

I must say that since taking over as MCM Program Director from my colleague and program founder, Dr. Terry Flynn in January 2012, I have been very pleased to see interest in the program growing steadily. It has also been very gratifying to hear from so many practitioners across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and even farther places such as Brazil, Nigeria and Argentina, that the MCM is considered the market-leading credential in professional communications management in Canada.

As has been our tradition for the past several years, the MCM program sponsored the annual Diana and Charles Tisdall Lecture in Public Relations Education at this year’s CPRS Conference. The invited speaker was Mr. Lyndsay Gordon, President and CEO of HSBC Canada. He gave a very thoughtful lecture on how the world of finance has always been dependent on reputation and branding to build trust and credibility among customers and business partners. He discussed the fact that communications has become a central component of banking since the crisis that began in 2008 that saw the fall of such giants as JP Morgan in the United States and Northern Rock in the United Kingdom. In an answer to a question posed by Victor Vrsnik of SPIRE Communications, Mr. Gordon expressed the thought that, within five years, most financial institutions would restructure their governing boards to include a Vice-President Communications. He said it was inevitable. I agree.

As the world becomes more profoundly interconnected through digital media, smart phones, smart televisions and other wired devices, one can only see the importance of communications management expanding as a core organizational function that requires a seat at the executive decision-making table.  That means massive opportunity for professional communicators to advance in senior management roles. What that also means is that professional communicators need to invest in an education that covers the beachfront of cutting edge communication and public relations theory, research methods, social media management, law and ethics, reputation and branding, coupled with core business knowledge in marketing management, strategic management, organizational behavior, financial management and accounting.

The MCM was designed to provide this education, and it is working for the students and alumni of the program. I am so very proud to serve as academic director for a program in whose mission I believe so strongly.

A final concert at year’s end

I went to the final concert of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert season last night. What a great night – guest soloist James Ehnes was splendid, playing Beethoven. He filled Hamilton Place with beautiful threads of sounds, woven around the hall. It really felt as though we were entangled in a web of sound that brought with it a flood of thoughts and memories. His music was a bit of a revelation for me.

I have found that great musical performances open paths for you through the confusion forest of your thoughts – somehow lighting the way through the dark branches over to a place where you sense that a though a solution lies somewhere near for you to find. I think that for me, that is the purpose of art… to lead us to a new place of inspiration and discovery. Indeed, when we rarely meet someone who inspires us, that is what they do for us: they open a window in our mind that lets us transcend ourselves and achieve beyond what we imagined possible for ourselves before.

This has been quite the academic and professional year for me, full of extraordinary trials and challenges. This concert was an interesting, reflective part of its end… Come July a new year begins. Only June to go…


Co-Led Five Sessions at a Library Leadership Institute at the University of Hong Kong

I just came back from Hong Kong, where I co-presented, with McMaster University Chief Librarian Jeff Trzeciak, five workshops at the 10th Annual Hong Kong University Library Leaderships Institute. The institute was a smashing success, under the leadership of organizer, Peter Sidorko, University Librarian at the University of Hong Kong.

Jeff and I presented on the following topics:

  • Transforming Traditional Organizations
  • Developing Blended Library Services
  • Going Online with Library Instruction
  • Developing New Media Services
  • New Models of Collaborative Research Support

The collaboration between us worked really well. Jeff brought his extensive experience as a change agent and successful library manager to the table. I brought a communications management perspective, as well as my take on organizational change management.

I was very impressed with the quality of the workshops. The Institute participants, who were librarians from across Asia, were dynamic, engaged and enthusiastic participants. They came from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and Mainland China. The diversity of the group was a real strength, since it meant that each breakout session got people talking across both institutional and ethnic cultures. It was very exciting to be part of it.

While I was in Hong Kong, Jeff and I also met with members of the Hong Kong Chapter of the McMaster Alumni Association. I was so very pleased to see dynamic, successful and heartfelt people representing McMaster as our alumni. It warmed my heart to see what fond memories they had of their times at McMaster and how much they believe in McMaster.

The cultural events we attended were also great. We attended Institute dinners in Port Stanley and on Victoria Peak, which had a spectacular view of the city. In fact, there was a beautiful light show as the buildings were lit up in synchrony with a musical score – similar to the fireworks shows of the old Symphony of Fire, but with strobing lights up and down giant skyscrapers.

All in all, this was an extraordinary trip. Not only was Hong Kong as beautiful and exciting as I remember it to be from my last trip, but I felt as though my life has been enriched by all the new people that I met and worked with there.

What more can one ask of a lecture trip?

The view from my hotel room window in the misty morning.


Running a dotmocracy exercise at the Institute.


Having a glass of wine in cafe in Port Stanley after a long day of presentations.


Another view from my hotel room on a sunny afternoon.


The bay and boardwalk at Port Stanley.


Standing outside the Jade Market.



A Successful MCM February Residency!

Last week, I hosted my first Master of Communications Management ( residency as Program Director. It was a chance for me and our new program assistant, Janice Peltier, to have our initiation as the new management team. The residency went very well!

Residency is a very special time in the MCM calendar. It is a period of five days when the students come together from across Canada at McMaster’s beautiful Ron Joyce Executive Education Centre for five days of intense learning, networking and relationship-building. Residency is truly a hot-house environment for ideas and problem-solving. Students gain as much confidence from one another’s professional stories as they do during class through case studies.

Students are immersed in the world of business, management, communication theory and public relations strategy for five full days of learning and friendship. They form friendships that last a lifetime – friendships which often result in long-standing and mutually-beneficial professional relationships. Instructors also come to campus for a week of intense teaching.

MCM instructors are either leading academic thinkers or cutting edge practitioners, who apply the latest pedagogical techniques to support the many different learning styles and needs of post-graduate, professional learners. Students develop close ties with faculty, who are then available for advice and counsel throughout the rest of the term through McMaster’s proprietary asynchronous on-line learning environment. MCM is truly a community of leaders – students, faculty and alumni – who are mutually supportive.

For February Residency 2012, our instructors were:

  • Dave Scholz, Vice-President, Leger Marketing
  • Al Seaman, Professional Accountant and Professor of Business
  • Michael Meath, President, Strategic Communications, LLC
  • Peter Vilks, Former CEO and Professor of Business
Quite the team.

The McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management is a very special degree.  It is really an MBA that has been catered for professional communicators, who want to take their careers to the next level, however they define that level. It’s more appropriate than an MBA for because we’ve catered the courses to meet the special requirements of the professional communicator, whose organizational role is unique. Blending core MBA courses with cutting edge communications and public relations research, strategy and technique make the MCM Canada’s premier management degree for communicators.

Many students who have a few years of work experience in communications (we require a minimum of 3 years work experience) take the program because they want to make the move into management in their organizations. Our students have ranged in age from 25 to 60 and the administrative team does its best to build a cohesive cohort each year that will work well together for maximum mutual learning and benefit.

MCM is truly a special degree. I accepted to become Program Director because I believe that communications management is becoming more and more important as an organization executive function and I am convinced MCM is the premier tool for professional communicators to get into the executive suite and take their seat at the senior decision-making tool.

With the advent of social media and integrated marketing communications, communications is becoming central to management, as the examples of Apple Inc and other communications-savvy companies have proven. I am convinced that winning organizations recognize that communications should be part of decision-making from the get-go, rather than a unit that is told to implement ideas from on-high.

We designed the MCM to create a unique blended business and communications degree that will enable communicators to speak the language of the executive suite and take their seat at the decision-making table.

I want MCM to become synonymous with “vice-president communications,” or “chief communications officer.” It’s working – our alumni are already experiencing success and promotion within their organizations. I invite you to check out our MCM Facebook Page to read their profiles and testimonials.

MCM Financial Management ClassProfessor

Professor Al Seaman explains a financial management point during MCM February Residency.

My new year’s resolutions for 2012

Last year I was both ambitious and deep with my resolutions. I was trying to make some positive changes in my lifestyle and I largely turned a corner. This year’s resolutions are more practical:

1. Fitness. For me this means swimming at least twice a week as well as doing 20-30 minutes of calisthenics (push-ups, crunches, one-arm row) or weights. It also means getting my weight down to a muscular 156 lb and sustaining it. Today, I weigh 174lbs.

2. Academic writing. While 2011 was a year of progress and change (i.e. founding JPC, taking over as program director of MCM, etc.), I am aiming to make 2012 a year of consolidation of those changes. That means writing several book chapters and journal articles, as all academics do. It also means writing two books: Understanding Public Relations in Canada (Oxford UP), and a second on social media theory and management.

3. Creative writing. 2011 was the year of writing 100 life-loves. This year I will get back to creative writing by throwing myself into the project I started last year, but abandoned: “Hamilton Tales”, a serial novel about the life and times of some fictional people’s lives and how they intertwine, set in my home city of Hamilton, Ontario. I will be posting these to the blog for your enjoyment and criticism.

4. Playing the piano. This was a complete failure in 2011. Life just got completely away from me. I will return to this in 2012, however, hopefully building a sustainable discipline.

5. Prayer and meditation. I want to make quiet contemplation a daily part of my life. I find such peace in prayer and meditation, such calm and perspective on what can otherwise sometimes be a mad and unstable world.

6. Home life. While I already do alright here, I sometime put cooking at home and healthy eating on the back burner. This year I will endeavour not to do this. I will also endeavour to beautify my home and garden. I feel this resolution is very important to the success of the others.

Well, there you have it. I will tell you how I did a year from now. I wish you strength and discipline as you seek to keep your resolutions in 2012.

How I did with my 2011 new year’s resolutions: a journey of growth towards principled living

Last year, I had an ambitious list of new year’s resolutions. Here’s a recap and a report on how I did:

1. Get fit and lose weight. Partial success – I got fit for a part of the year, but then a stressful term and many preoccupations caught up to me and I gained it back again! So I am at 172 now, exactly where I was at this time last year.

2. Organise my time to get two books written. Half-Success. Well, I got one done! Understanding Human Communication, 2nd Edition came out. I am still working on the other one: Understanding Public Relations in Canada, and thinking about yet another on the topic of social media philosophy and strategy.

3. Keep a clean driving record. Yay! Success! I kept this one!

4. Take an advanced driving course. I just didn’t have time. Life caught up to me. I do have plans to eventually acquire a sports car, so this one will eventually come true, I guess. I learned this year, that this is really a back-burner issue.

5. Take at least one real vacation. Again, life caught up to me. I have never been busier or more stressed than I was in the last six months. Well, at least since my tenure year – that was pretty stressful.

6. Enjoy nature. Yay! Success! I got out for a quite a good number of walks, particularly in the first six months of 2011.

7. Pray and meditate more. A mixed result. I have definitely prayed and meditated more. But I have also had moments of complete self-absorption and dark anxiety, which weren’t in the spirit of this resolution.

8. Make more time for art and culture. Again, a mixed result. I have been to symphony more than ever before, but haven’t really been to the opera or the ballet, both of which I love.

9. Play the piano more. This wasn’t successful. I haven’t played much at all. Feel a little sad about this one.

10. Take life a little less seriously. Well, I think that while I haven’t really succeeded in doing this, in trying to, I learned something about myself. That is that I think taking life less seriously is heavily tied to prayer and meditation.

All in all, this year of resolutions was mixed. I think it was mixed because many of the resolutions I made would have been completely life-changing had I been successful. I have discovered that it takes time and dedication to change your life. It also means a fundamental and basic change in perspective. What this requires is not a change in the rules that you impose on yourself in your life, but rather a change in the principles that guide you.

What I have discovered is that one of of the most difficult things to do is to find the first principles which are at the root of your behaviour and your perceptions. Are you motivated by love? Do you want to build a good life filled with good things? Do you want to be a constructive and supportive force for good in the lives of others?

We can quibble over definitions of the Good, but the fact is that the Good is something we understand in context, given the people we are dealing with and the situations that they are in. That is where wisdom comes in – you have to understand and empathize with others, as well as have a connection with the history of human experience, feelings and stories to really be able to establish what is Good in a given circumstance.

What is most important is to make sure that your principles are always point you away from nihilism, selfishness, insecurity, cynicism and destructive thinking. Your principles should push you – stubbornly and relentlessly – toward the Good.

If you calibrate your principles this way, you will find the Good Life. Even if it takes you a long time and some errors along the way.

I will post a new set of resolutions for 2012 on New Year’s Day.

Merry Christmas everyone.


Gave a talk on social media metrics at #OHASM11

Today I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon at the Ontario Hospital Association Social Media Conference at the Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto.

What a great group of communications leaders. There were a couple of speakers before me. Lee Aase from the Mayo Clinic Centre for Social Media, gave a great workshop on a sequence of case studies of physician engagement and media relations that his team has used social media for: very impressive. After that, Manuel Gitterman from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health gave a fascinating talk – using a well-conceived prezi – on the ways in which CAMH is engaging with social media. I was particularly impressed with their experiments in serious gaming and their use of Google Maps. Very progressive.

Needless to say, these were hard acts to follow.

I presented on how social media measurement is a part of institutional “social media hygiene,” that is to say that measurement should be a part of every social media communication strategy. I also talked about how many of the assumptions that corporate and institutional communicators have made are changing with social media: we are moving quickly to an oral culture. This move to an oral culture means that we need to develop metrics, KPIs and benchmarks that make sense for professional communicators and showcase the value of the practice to executives and institutional decision-makers.

You can check out the tweets during and about my presentation here. To follow the conference tweets in general, do a twitter search for #ohasm10 which is the conference hashtag. I kept my tweet deck live tweets going during the presentation, so the talk had an interactive component – lots of fun!

It was super to see two of our McMaster Master of Communications Management Program (MCM) students present: Cheryl Evans from Grand River Hospital in Kitchener-Waterloo and Anne Marie Males from the Scarborough Hospital.

It was great to go out for drinks afterward and continue the discussion. What a great event – hats off to the Ontario Hospital Association!

Giving a social media metrics talk at #OHASM11 Photo: @CarlosRizo



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