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!



Harold Burson thinks the widening wealth gap is bad for business


Harold Burson presents to the 20th Anniversary Reunion of the Master of Science in Comms Mgt from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
Harold Burson presents to the 20th Anniversary Reunion of the Master of Science in Comms Mgt from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

Harold Burson, founder of Burson-Marsteller, the world’s largest PR firm, thinks that the huge and widening gap between rich and poor bad for business. I agree.

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the #ComMgtat20 reunion of the alumni of the M.S. in Communications Management program offered by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. This is the American sister program of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management, of which I am director.

Harold Burson was the keynote speaker. At 93 years of age, he is still active and completely engaged. He delivered a fantastic speech, referring sometimes to his notes, but not often.

He made a made powerful and deeply insightful points during his presentation to the rapt crowd of 60 or so alumni present, but here are some key points that stuck with me:

  • The wide and growing wealth gap between the business elite and everyone else has drastically reduced trust in business and is therefore bad for business.
  • The replacement of “reasonable profit” with “maximal profit” as a core value of business mean that organizations are not investing in all of the departments they used to. Something is lost when organizations become too lean and profit-maximizing.
  • PR started to get a bad name when Richard Nixon called PR people flacks and said “we have to PR that” during the Watergate scandal.
  • The PR industry in the public interest is about “changing attitudes and behaviours .”
  • The 4 roles for ‪#‎PR‬ in business are (via a FB post from Terry Flynn):
    • sensor of social change;
    • conscience of organization;
    • communicator (inside/outside the  organization);
    • org climate monitor/ombudsperson.
  • As long as the PR industry is engaged in following trends and fashions rather than investing in the science of relationships, reputation and behaviour change, it will not be a strategic business function.

His points are well taken. We are in the business of building trust, credibility, relationships and reputation. You can’t do that when a majority of the population think that business is somehow duping them or reducing the quality of their lives so that the bottom line could be improved.

Authenticity versus consistency in PR

“Authenticity” has become a buzzword in public relations especially in talk about social media. I think this may be an error. I think the best we can do is consistency.

Authenticity is a tricky concept. The dictionary defines authenticity as adhering to tradition or sticking to the facts, but that isn’t how most people understand the term. The folk understanding of authenticity is “be yourself” or “be original.”

The problem is that organizations have very little possibility of ever presenting an “authentic” self. The same goes for anyone who doesn’t have the time or ability forge personal relationships with their online “friends.”

I suspect that the best we can do, in the ephemeral world of fleeting status updates and tweets is maintain consistency. Really, isn’t consistency and predictability what we really mean by authenticity, anyhow?

“Be yourself” or “be original might just be code for “be consistent” and “be predictable.”

How can PR be part of senior management?

You hear a lot about public relations pros wanting a seat at the senior management table or in the c-suite. The question is: what does this mean, other than being a vague validation of the importance of the field?

I had lunch at the Modern with a brilliant, independent-minded communications and management consultant in New York City today.

Here are some thoughts that came up during our intense and interesting conversation:

1. It means having communications be part of the initial stages of the business planing and development process. That means that when people are starting a new business, they should think: “I need to include a professional communicator on my team.”. Not as an implementer or as an order-taker, but as a former of the business.

2. It means that we have know how business works: how new communications disrupt existing processes and create new ones that create new business lines. Not helping to streamline or publicize the plans – no. Communications needs to be part of the reason for the business’s existence – at the heart of the biz plan.

3. Communications needs to understand and be able to evaluate our own value proposition. This means understand how social media and mobile computing have revolutionised the world’s cultures and economies by putting interpersonal communication and relationships at the heart of commerce.


Effective analytics in PR: Track your value.

Metrics are the language an organization’s department uses to represent its value to the rest of the organization. Metrics, when well chosen, serve as much a storytelling function as they do a benchmarking and performance evaluation one.

That’s why it is very important for public relations and communications management professionals to choose metrics that adequately capture the reality of the work you are doing and what you are achieving for the organization.

Dave Scholz, in an article written for the Journal of Professional Communication sums it up nicely: “This statement by the summit members is the ongoing issue, I believe, when it comes to AVE. When AVE goes away, it leaves a return on investment vacuum for many people in the industry.” Dave is specifically talking about Advertising Value Equivalence and how it is a bad metric for PR here, but his more general point is well-taken. There is a vacuum of good metrics in PR.

Later in his article, Dave talks about the Barcelona Principles as a great start for developing effective public relations and communications management metrics.

For me, the key is to focus on developing a set of metrics, in consultation with the decision-makers in your organization that accurately capture the the three Rs:

  • Reputation,
  • Relationships, and
  • Reliable Results.

Marketing vs PR? More like marketing is BECOMING PR

The new world of social networks, ubiquitous smartphones and easy connectivity has made the relationship king of the marketing universe. The thing is, most marketers aren’t trained to understand their consumers to foster a proper dialogical relationship that most people would recognize. Rather, they are good at doing research, understanding trends in the culture or doing research to unveil consumers hidden desires and then deliver a product to them that meets those needs and dreams.

The problem is that the usual vehicles for communicating with consumers just aren’t that effective anymore. Traditional advertising and mass communications tools such as radio, print and television are changing rapidly, transforming into relational media. Most marketers aren’t tuned to the relationship frequency.

And that’s where the opportunity for public relations and communications management comes in. PR is a business built largely on a deep theoretical and practical understanding of relationships, reputation and crisis/issues management. The problem is that advertisers and marketers tend not to think of PR in these terms, rather they tend to consider PR to be a function for getting the word out, not forming the strategy. This is wrong. While advertisers and marketers try to figure out how to handle relationship and build reputations, the answer is lying right in front of them: public relations. Marketers just don’t know that their field is converging with and transforming into PR.

This is the challenge for PR pros…

It’s up to PR pros to understand how business strategy works and make the value proposition for what public relations can do for which marketers don’t have the right training: build relationships and credibility for brands!

Postmodern insomnia: how to make an internal comms smoothie

Well, here I am at 2:50am wide awake and watching an episode of The Mind of a Chef on Netflix. This bout with insomnia is the result of a lovely Turkish coffee enjoyed at Jerusalem Restaurant at a family New Year’s Dinner. Amazing the power of caffeine in the evening.

Anyhow, it called to mind the idea of what time of day means to relationship building. We think of regular business hours as the time that we spend in an office, check in on a time clock or feel obliged to do a task or think certain thoughts for which we are compensated.

The thing is that this has changed for so many people. Like me, my brother and his lovely wife, many people now pretty much work from home. This means that work time and downtime sort of blend into a foamy smoothie, which can be delicious or soul-destroying, depending on the mix of ingredients and your mood.

Good internal communications for a distributed company is kind of like making a life smoothie. You start with knowledge of your employees desires, dreams, workflows and personalities. Much of this can be achieved through clever targeted content analysis of email and text messages between employees over the corporate network. Next, you build messaging and workflow to inspire, assuage, motivate and sometimes even comfort. Comfort? But of course – who hasn’t had an anxious day and felt better after finishing a task that was outstanding? It’s a little endorphin reward from a well-known and (hopefully) emotionally neutral source.

So, internal communications managers: learn about who the work-from-home employees are. Then work with HR to get this knowledge. After that, communicate with them in a way that inspires, motivates and comforts them at times when they tend work or think, be alert and enthused or need a quick win when they’re down in the dumps. Work with operations management to add a workflow and tasking component to the message. That way you tie an idea to a feeling to a behaviour.

Voilà – an internal comms smoothie: parts employee communications, human resources knowledge and inspiring messaging/tasking.


We should teach the principles of commerce to young kids

One of the greatest brakes on people’s success is their lack of social capital. I have seen this in action at the university where I teach. The students who come in knowing how to start businesses, seek internships and network have a huge advantage over those who haven’t been given those skills or exposed to those ideas earlier.

It’s a question of familiarity. Even if the university were to start teaching students about entrepreneurship and financial management, it is too late for most. By university, those young people are way ahead, who were, as children consistently exposed to those foundational principles of business and money as part of the fascinating puzzles of everyday life. For the students who have know them since childhood, those principles will have critically shaped and coloured the way they view the world. Rather than seeing commerce as forbidding, they see it as an opportunity.

We live in a commercial world. The market and business make most of the things that we do, the services we use and the jobs we get happen in Canada. Whether it is directly, through commerce, or indirectly through the tax revenues generated through commerce.

To understand commerce and business and entrepreneurship at an early age allows kids to have a critical look at the business and services they encounter at an early age. When they go to a restaurant, rather than just buying a sandwich, sitting down an eating it, they could look at the product, the location, the furnishings in the store, the quality of the materials and the service and start deducing what the restaurant’s business model might be.

This is an entirely different way of viewing the world. All of a sudden, even the mundane experience of buying a hot dog from a street stand becomes a puzzle: is this a good location? How many hotdogs does this stand move? How could performance be improved?

I was extremely fortunate to have been born into a family where business, entrepreneurship and finances were discussed openly and cheerfully, even if the news was sometimes bad. We discussed how to turn a chance to spend money at a store into a way that one could make money, if one could buy the product more cheaply elsewhere and resell it for a profit. We talked about how restaurant eating was vastly more expensive and often lower quality than a much cheaper home-cooked meal.

Not only is this knowledge practical, it turns what would otherwise seem like a world of closed doors into a world of challenges, puzzles and opportunities.

The problem is that many families do not have the knowledge and experience of business, entrepreneurship and finance to pass on to their kids. If we really want to make a serious dent in Canada’s alleged productivity gap, I think the real answer is simple: make commercial awareness a part of the curriculum from junior kindergarten until the end of university. This should not replace reading the classics, learning mathematics and music, or science or practicing drama and public speaking. Rather, business should be a literacy taught alongside these other literacies. Even if they chose not to become business people, they will understand the workings of the world in which they live and work.

In our capitalist society, teaching little kids about business, entrepreneurship and financial literacy is the greatest and most empowering gift of social capital we could give to the next generation, bar none.


Managing your manager

I have been reading Drucker quite a bit as part of a research project the last few days. In Managing Oneself [pdf]I found the following gem:

“Bosses are neither a title on the organization chart nor a “function.” They are individuals and are entitled to do their work in the way they do it best. It is incumbent on the people who work with them to observe them, to find out how they work, and to adapt themselves to what makes their bosses most effective. This, in fact, is the secret of “managing” the boss.”

There is a lot of truth in this quote. It is easy to cop out and say that it is impossible to work for or with a new boss. For example, if you previous boss was very polite and constructive in their comments to you and your new boss is more abrupt, it is easy to simply write the person off as demeaning or aggressive. This may not be so – it may simply  be that the new boss is more direct and aggressive, which could actually have significant benefits, if you take the time to discover them and think about them. The same advice goes for troubling colleagues – everyone has a something to add to the conversation, a talent, a skill, a unique point-of-view.

Through your career, particularly as a PR or communications manager, you will have to deal with a great diversity of people. Get used to probing them to understand what the key to making them more effective is. That way you will be a net contributor and not perceived as a bad fit with the new team.

Please Note: This assumes that the new manager or the troubling colleagues are dealing with you in goodwill and in good faith. You have to ascertain whether this is the case as early on as possible. If they are operating in bad faith or lack goodwill, then you are playing in a whole new ballgame – it might be time to put your head down and stay out of the way, or to start looking for a new position in a more positive environment.

Strategy is a very human thing.

When we say “thinking strategically” we often seem to mean thinking managerially.

We confuse strategy with good planning. However, planning really is a question of organizing your tactics in a logical and efficient way. Strategy goes beyond planning and setting measurable goals and objectives – it means being able to imagine how your organization or your brand fits into the arena in which you’re competing: its culture, economy, politics and social life.

A great, although somewhat over-discussed example of this is Apple. Steve Jobs could think strategically because he understood what made people feel better about themselves and their social lives. This knowledge of the culture enable him to envision what the cultural and social capital that products like the iPod and iPhone came loaded with – feelings of personal liberty, celebrity and style.

He knew that a sleek device marketed to consumers as providing “a soundtrack for your life” fit with the emerging although somewhat contradictory world of  counter-cultural consumerism. And the product sold like crazy.

More than that, owning an Apple product meant that you bought into some very post-industrial ideas of personal creativity, does things your way, and instant coolness. Did the device actually confer any of these properties on the users? No, certainly not. What Apple devices did was give users the sense that you were now part of the club of those creative ascetics who change the world. Strategic genius. You can hear it in the clip I have included below.

Things are changing for Apple. We are watching the corporation become an ordinary technology player since Jobs’ untimely death. Not because Tim Cook and his team are incompetent, but rather because they are having trouble creating a followup to the Jobs’ strategy, mostly because they lack his imagination and his vision. When a company’s brand is so profoundly tied to one’s person’s creative imagination and cultural understanding, it is very difficult to keep up the coolness factor after that person passes.

Why is this? Because strategy is something that is very difficult to quantify. It is very hard to put into a formula. The managerial processes needed to execute the strategy can be formalized, but the strategy is a holistic thing – the master strategist doesn’t only logic through a problem. No, logic is just a piece of the strategy puzzle. The master strategist tastes a challenge, smells a challenge, dreams of a challenge. It visceral and intuitive.

A good counter example to Apple is Porsche, which has built out their brand by resurrecting and extending their brand history and origins: racing, style and pragmatic engineering. Porsche provides the examples and the vicarious experiences through social media, but allows users to reimagine their connection to Porsche in their individual imaginations – a more sustainable strategy.

In a word, strategy is a profoundly human thing, because it depends on the strategist building a representation in the minds of consumers. This makes it challenging to teach, difficult to explain and almost impossible to reproduce by someone other than the originator of the strategy.