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Mindful of small pleasures: drinks

I sometimes take a moment to think about the things that make me happy or comfortable. I was having a conversation with a friend recently who asked me to blog about stuff that I brings me comfort. I thought that I might write about a few. As you may remember, I wrote a series of 100 posts about my “Life-Loves”. Today I will focus on drinks.

A good flat white. My favourite coffee concoction is the flat white. It’s like a cappuccino, but much velvetier and with a sweeter, more intense coffee flavour. I was happy to see that Starbucks has started offering the flat white in Canada and that the barista who works the mornings in the Starbucks drive through that I frequent can make a great one.

An ounce or two of Amaro Averna after dinner. When served on the rocks and garnished with a sprig of muddled rosemary, Amaro Averna is a fragrant reminder of sunny summer afternoons. It was first recommended to me by a waiter at Soho House Toronto – it was a lovely gift.

I am not a very big tea drinker, but I must say that in winter, I often will have a ginger tea with lemon, or a lemon tea with ginger. I brew this myself, if I can, with filtered water, thinly sliced ginger and lemon. It makes a lovely warming, stomach-settling drink.

Finally, there is nothing like a cool, clear glass of filtered water. Or, my favourite – filtered water (I use a Zero Water filter) carbonated through my sodastream machine. There is nothing more refreshing to me than a glass of freshly made, sparkling filtered water.

I think it is important to think about the things that bring you comfort. You might take a moment to think about what your list would contain.

I won’t get into wines for that requires its own post.

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The Leslie Roberts scandal and regulation of PR

It cannot be debated that the PR profession has seen an extraordinary ascendancy since the rise in popularity of digital communication and social media. However, there are many leftover ideas from the mass communications era of PR that ended with the social media revolution. The Leslie Roberts situation is an example of this.

The old version of public relations relied on a structured, gate-keeping model of access to the public conversation. It relied on PR experts having relationships with editors, journalists, advertisers and other influencers – on a one-on-one basis. This was true because of the the power that resided in the hands of gatekeepers to the public conversation like Leslie Roberts or Amanda Lang, both of whom face allegations of unethical journalistic behaviour.

The new social media era of interactive media, where consumers of information have become prosumers of information is putting an end to this. In fact, when we saw the low level of interest in the take of Sun Media, it could have been attributed to the fact that the news media no longer had a monopoly on the public conversation.

The fact that Canadians are taking the Leslie Roberts scandal so seriously is more a legacy of the idea of the office of the broadcaster than the actual damage to the public conversation that Leslie Roberts’ alleged unethical booking habits may have caused. The fact is that his was one voice in the Canadian public conversation, growing ever fainter with the advent of more independent journalists and in-house content producers for public, private and not-for-profit organizations.

The most important lesson to be taken from this is that PR ethics are actually becoming more important than journalistic ethics in these days when a dwindling minority of Canadians watch traditional broadcasting news media, and rather turn to blogs, news aggregators, independent journalists and their social media network for news and information.

This does bring to the fore the debate around whether the PR profession should be regulated – like accountants, for whom the CPA designation means that they can perform certain privileged professional operations, or lawyers who need to pass the bar to be able to perform certain duties.

Would regulation help avoid situations like those created by the firm BuzzPR? I think this is an important question to ask.

 

 

Building the case for PR: Helping startups succeed

Let’s continue with the analysis that I began in yesterday’s post on law’s status as a respected profession and the fact that public relations is generally held in lesser esteem. The question a few people posed to me in emails is: “What can we do to garner more status and prestige for PR?”

For me, the first, most glib answer is: show people how PR can help them generate value. That usually means finding ways to aid business develop or to be part of the starting business plan for a new enterprise.

In this world driven by social media and interpersonal connectivity, the very fundamental element of marketing a new product is building a community around it. That means that public relations and communications management, should – in theory – be a first call for startups. Why isn’t it?

The answer lies in the fact that many PR people appreciate and understand publicity, celebrity and influence, but they often don’t have as thorough an understanding of how commerce or business works.

So the low-hanging fruit is for PR pros to gain an understanding of how businesses work: how they develop the relationships necessary to create a product, bring through production and to market. Then the case for introducing PR into that value chain could be easier to identify.

Really, the role of PR is to create and manage the relationships necessary for businesses to bring commercial success.

 

Addressing PR’s problematic reputation

In a recent speech, PR luminary Harold Burson said that Richard Nixon, during the Watergate scandal, contributed to the negative perception of PR when he referred to “PR flacks” and used PR as an equivalent term to spin or manipulating public opinion: “We will have to PR that…”

Since then, public relations has been vilified in the media and popular imagination as supporting the powerful at all costs and promoting corrupt business practices that are not in the public interest. This is a sad state of affairs that needs to be addressed.  As far as I see it, there are two ways to do this.

1. Defend and self-blame.

  • Institute ever stricter ethical constraints,
  • Issue position papers on the virtues of PR, etc.

2. Build our prestige and status.

  • Seek regulation and professionalization,
  • Promote the value that PR adds for relationship-building and winning in the court of public opinion.

If you examine law, the sister profession of PR: it operates in the court of law, its practitioners are not widely trusted or admired, but it granted status and is respected because it is perceived to be :

  • a difficult profession in which to excel;
  • a powerful profession populated by smart, powerful and influential people;
  • prestigious academic programs from strong schools lead to the profession; and
  • access to the practice is regulated officially.

We know that continuing to work on increasing PR ethics and professional standards is crucial, but it is not enough. I think that PR wins by adopting option two: building prestige and status for the profession.

My writing process

The writing process involves creativity, of course, but that creativity is also a product of discipline and hard work. Writing is something that each of us has to develop a process to be able to do well. I will quickly describe mine for you.

I write every day. In fact, you will have noticed that I have taken to writing a blog post every day – that is one of my New Year’s resolutions and also something that has helped me “prime the pump” for larger writing projects.

I enjoy writing and to do it professionally, you must enjoy it too. I find it calming and even serene when I sit down in front of the computer and start to put words onto the blank screen. As the words take shape, I feel myself relaxing – my muscles loosen up, my mind is calmed and I begin to be engrossed. All I hear is my own voice saying each word as I type it.

When I wrote on paper, I used to love watching the words appear on the page, with each stroke of the pen, until the canvass was filled, not only with my ideas, but with the scratchy cursive that I had fashioned. I recently started writing in longhand using a stylus on my iPad, and in the short couple of weeks since beginning that practice, I have already found my penmanship improving. My goal is to have a flowing script someday.

There is something magical about the writer’s craft. If you love ideas and stories, you should try to develop your own writer’s craft. The craft is as diverse as there are passionate writers.

Good luck and happy writing!

“Smart houses” as an opportunity for PR

The Internet of Things (IoT) is there: machines are starting to speak intelligently to other machines and automate small parts of our lives. Soon a greater portion of our lives will affected by the machines we use everyday, as they track our actions and adapt their functions to our habits and preferences.

We are only beginning to see the massive transformative effect that digital tech will have on our society, economy and selves. We’ve seen email make distance and time irrelevant for the transfer of large documents that used to have to be couriered. Then social media made connecting and keeping up with a disparate collection of acquaintances possible. The next wave will be the advent of machines speaking to machines and automating different parts of our lives.

Marshall McLuhan said that, from a communications perspective, technology extends the body and retrieves something from the past. The IoT extends our ability to be in sync with nature, I think and it retrieves the concept of the staffed household. In the past, only aristocrats or the very wealthy could afford to have staff who would help run a house, intelligently adapting to the owners’ lifestyles and habits. The IoT will network our appliances and link them together intelligently, creating a “smart house steward” concept, I think.

The opportunity for communicators here in U/X, I think. The house will need to have an avatar or at least a voice and personality. The “house entity” will have to be capable of building a relationship with the owner – very rudimentary at first, of course, but increasingly layered and textured as times goes on. It will start with a crude Siri-like interface and grow to the moment where “House” is an actor in your life – a family member, a partner, etc.

This new “House” personality will be an agent in the lives of the house’s occupants, and it will steward the flow of information to occupants as well as regulating temperature, etc. Much as Google can guess your proclivities and make suggestions to you, “House” will do the same. It really will be a butler and a friend.

It is up to professional communicators to understand how to build relationships with occupants through the “House” and use it as a tool rather than perceive it as a barrier.

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
Electives*:
(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!

MCM LOGO

Define your motivations to defeat fear and bring happiness

Many of spend much of our time dashing about, feeling busy. We cycle through feelings of relief for having “caught up” and then are plunged back into the anxiety of feeling “behind.” The question to ask is the following: why are we in this negative cycle driven by fear?

Fear is a terrible motivator. It is uncreative and stressful. It pushes us relentlessly toward making bad choices. It makes us submissive and willing to cede control to someone else, just for the relief that having “someone else in charge” brings.

To break this cycle of fear and anxiety in your life one needs to take a moment to know one’s self. By knowing oneself, one can then manage oneself more effectively and start leading a life of creativity, peace and calm.

How does one come to oneself? The answer simple, but the implementation is difficult. A good place to start is to make a list of the things which worry us, versus the things which bring us peace. Here is a table with some of mine

 

 Fear-Makers  Happiness-Makers  Why?
 Meeting expectations of others  Achieving my own goals.  I never really know what others want or are thinking about me.
 Looking busy and important  Working on projects that are meaningful to me I take on too many things which are visible to other and don’t tend to the things which are invisible, but which I love.

Etc.

Honestly going through this exercise will be difficult. It will take many tries. Sometimes you’ll feel as though a thing you’ve put in one box also fits in another box – so you have to refine.

For example, for me, “meeting the expectations of others” also brings me happiness sometimes – when I make someone smile, or when I bring someone reassurance because I did something that that I had promised them. So, in my case, I would change the chart after reflecting:

 Fear-Makers  Happiness-Makers  Why?
 Meeting expectations of others  Keeping my promises.  I never really know what others want or are thinking about me, but keeping my promises means that I am beyond reproach.
 Looking busy and important  Working on projects that are meaningful to me I take on too many things which are visible to other and don’t tend to the things which are invisible, but which I love.

This is a more accurate representation of what really motivates me.

You should try making a fear-happiness chart for yourself. You may be surprised at what you come up with.

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.”

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