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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!

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“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.”

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.

 

Freedom of speech and public relations

Today’s barbaric and murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French weekly newsmagazine was the work of an imperialist movement that wants to impose one way of thinking on everyone else. One of the key elements of imposing your will on others is making sure that nobody is allowed to publicize an attractive alternative. There are two professions whose responsibility it is to present a diversity of perspectives and ideas to the public: journalism and public relations.

We have heard a lot today about the courage and responsibility of journalists – even satirical journalists – to challenge power and seek to present alternative perspectives. I would briefly like to reflect on the role of PR in this regard.

The role of public relations is represent organizations and individuals and try to fashion and manage their reputations, relationships and brands, amongst other things, of course. This would not be possible without freedom of speech. It would not be possible for practitioners to promote the ideas of minority groups, start up companies, civic action groups or social justice causes. The fact that over 40% of PR jobs are in the not-for-profit and government sectors is an indication of the how much professional communicators are involved in public communication.

Unlike journalists, who are by their very definition, external to organizations and to power, public relations practitioners usually provide counsel to organizations from the inside. They are often consiglieri to the leaders of organizations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. As PR counsel, we provide advice about how to best communicate in the court of public opinion – how to be heard, understood and believed. At our best, PR counsel helps ethically influence public opinion and inspires behaviour change that helps society progress.

Public relations and communications management form a profession that relies upon the ability to express diverse and often contradictory ideas publicly. PR pros put the ideas of our clients to the test of public controversy. As PR practitioners, we should be outspoken and fearless in stubbornly protecting freedom of speech – for the good of our profession and for the good of democracy.

#JeSuisCharlie

My new favourite handwriting tool: Adonit Jot Touch with Pixelpoint

I have terrible handwriting. Often, it is so bad that I have to spend significant amounts of time deciphering what I have scribbled during meetings or when I have written down personal observations.

Recently, I discovered the joys and efficiencies of writing and drawing on my iPad with a stylus. I started with one of those bulbous tip styli that one gets for free as swag at conferences, but quick became frustrated with the lack of glide and started hunting for a better alternative.

After much research, I ordered an Adonit Jot Touch with Pixelpoint technology. Wow. What a great stylus… it is very accurate, allowing me to write naturally and quickly using the GoodNotes app, for which the Jot Touch is optimized to pair. The stylus is pressure sensitive and optimized to work with Adobe Creative Cloud, which is awesome for me too.

I have to say, the joys of writing with a stylus on your iPad is that you get all of the feeling of putting pen to paper and achieving a satisfying result: your scribbles appear faithfully on the page. The neat thing though is that this is a Moleskine page on steroids: you can grab bits of things you’ve written and move them around, draw shapes and highlight text. You can even annotate PDFs in GoodNotes paired with a Jot Touch with Pixelpoint. What a pleasure.

I have always found the process of typing up my notes a little artificial. Good handwriting recognition on GoodNotes means that my scrawl is (mostly) faithfully converted into print form. It’s the best of both worlds, really: you can write your notes by hand and then save them as typed docs that are easily shared and read by others.

 

Untitled 2
Specs of the Adonit Jot Touch. Click on the pic to go to the product page.

 

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.
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