Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Communicating with country offices

In today’s Financial Times, (a subscription is required to view the entire article), Stefan Stern argues that in-country managers are key to the successful execution of corporate strategy.

Business leaders pull levers, issue uplifting statements, announce
eye-catching initiatives... and then what? Not even the most hyperactive
executive team can be everywhere at all times to monitor what is going on in the
furthest reaches of the organisation. The actions of managers and staff on the
ground will determine whether quarterly targets are hit and whether grand
strategies are realised.

The same is true for communication efforts. Organizations that operate worldwide need to ensure that communication efforts are properly executed to help build the brand and maintain consistent messaging. The managers play a critical role.

To improve the communication efforts of country offices
  • improve communication with country offices
  • be culturally sensitive
  • provide them with the tools they need.

Dicta from HQ may be met with resistance and confusion. Maintaining good communication with managers is essential to a robust communication effort. One way to start is by incorporating a communication component into training for managers. Organizations that fail to do so are cheating the brand.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Sky, Water, Trees

I didn't posted for a while as I went off to the Pacific Northwest to get some inspiration from nature. I left my laptop at home. Out there my cell phone didn't work. It was wonderful to see the bald eagles soaring up above. I watched the sky, listening to the sound of the water and the wind in the trees.

For some reason, there was a problem when I tried to upload this picture. I also have not been able to add any tags. I may switch to TypePad for my blogging platform.

CEO's don't blog but should

Good business has to do with building relationships. What better way to build a relationship with your stakeholders than to blog? In yesterday's New York Times, an article about blogging notes that among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies only one is a blogger. A frequently sited reason for blogging is lack of time. That is short-sighted as the benefits can be great. In addition to being an effective communication tool, a corporate blog helps establish trust and credibility.

For those who want to get started, there is a lot of help. In addition to a spate of books on blogs, there are a lot of resources online, not to mention consultants to help executives get started.
Debbie Weil, who coaches CEOs on blogging, has a new book coming out this month on corporate blogging. Her #1 tip: Just do it. Debbie is really accessible and knows her stuff. She also encouraged this blogger to start.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Illustrating institutional memory

As some organizations grow they lose track of their own stories. Sometimes remnants of their early successes are housed in dusty storage rooms or reside only in the minds of a few old-timers. That is a shame not least because of the danger of losing institutional memory.

An example of an organization that tells its story well is PATH. The other day I got a tour of its Seattle office, where staff members have made an effort to represent the story of the organization visually. In addition to displays of awards and high-profile media coverage, there are display cases of technologies the organization has developed and a large installation made up of images that reflect different aspects of the company’s international development work.

These displays help the visitor understand the complexity behind applying technology to public health issues and instill in the employees sense of how what they are working on fits into the larger institutional picture of the organization.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Setting the record straight

The NYT reports today that the FDA approved a new “three-in-one” pill for those with HIV/AIDS. With such good news and the large amount of funding this country has given to the cause, the U.S. public will have a difficult time understanding why organizations fighting HIV/AIDS may still have an ax to grind. That is when messaging becomes critical.

A united message about HIV/AIDS

Does a rising tide lift all ships? When competitors come together, can they form a united front? As the international AIDS conference approaches, can organizations intent on addressing this issue band together to deliver a strong clear message to the media?

Two years ago I helped to organize a series of workshops, for communicators in the field of international development, which focused on media strategies. It seemed to me at the time we were all facing similar challenges and that there would be some benefit to working together. Admirably, the Global Health Council has taken on this task as a service to its members and as a way to improve the health of people in developing countries.

At a meeting today, communicators discussed the overarching message their respective organizations wanted to get out to the media. Working together proved productive as each person contributed ideas and the group identified major messages and further refined them. Whether or not the messages are finalized through a formal process and perhaps adopted by the larger global health community is yet to be determined. It is important for NGOs to see the advantages of working together. To achieve their goals, donors should also take note of the organizations that leverage resources.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Your fly is down, or why public speaking skills still matter

I went to a public forum two weeks ago and listened to two presenters who despite an interesting topic failed to capture my attention. Was I turned off by the number of "ums" they had in their speech? Was it their lack of professionalism? I remember tuning out when one turned to the other and said, "Oh, I forgot we had all those slides."

Whether you are giving a formal presentation, making a pitch to a client, being asked by your boss for an opinion, or responding to a prospective employer's questions, your public speaking skills say a lot about you. If your skills are poor, it is the equivalent of smiling with spinach between your teeth or walking around town with your fly down.

Here are seven steps on how to improve your speaking skills.

1. Practice
2. Know the audience
3. Know the room
4. Realize that people want you to succeed – you don’t have to be perfect.
5. Don’t apologize
6. Concentrate on the message – give them something of value
7. Gain experience

I'll be going into more detail on this at Talking in Circles Toastmaster club meeting on August 15. Come visit.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Self-interest, or How to get someone to care about human suffering

Last night, at a meeting of the international committee of the Public Relations Society of America National Capital Chapter, we heard perspectives on "branding of human crisis." In other words, the speakers addressed the issue of how to get people to care about human suffering. Mike Carberry, president of CARMA International, a global media analysis company, put it simply when he said that self-interest drives coverage. The company recently completed analysis of global coverage of human disasters. The results of its study are published in Western media coverage of Humanitarian Disasters. Download the PDF. Major conclusion are:

Economics is a better guide to press interest than human suffering

Politics determines the timing, level of interest and story angle, not the humanitarian issues

Me, me, me - in other words, how it affects the individual/national interest determines coverage.

What's the take away? Look for the economic, political, and local impact in your story.

One word equity

Lord Saatchi who brought us some of the great slogans in advertising discussed the death of advertising as we know it in an online discussion at FT.com. He says that people who grew up with digital technology have brains that are wired differently from older people. That is why they can multi-task so well. It is called Continuous Partial Attention. The consequences for marketers will be to build brands that are associated with a single word.

The strongest brands are defined by their ownership of one thought; the
very strongest by one word. The nature of this thought or word predetermines the
breadth of the brand’s activities.

The proliferation of channels in the digital age presents another challenge.

It requires a new business model for marketing which is more appropriate for the
digital age, in which companies compete to build one word equity for their
brands, the global ownership of one word.
In this new business model
companies aim to define in one word, the characteristic, the particular value,
the emotion, the performance, the one word they most want instantly associated
with their brand around the world. And then own it.
That is one word equity.
It’s the modern equivalent of having the best site on the high street. Except
the location is in the mind.

What's your word?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sleeping with the enemy?

The current issue of Fast Company features an interesting ad on its back cover. In a 3-inch strip on the left-hand side of the page is an ad for BMW's Mini Cooper with the tag, "Let's make room for mother nature." The rest of the page is basically white space with the logo of The Nature Conservancy and a Web page reference. Small letters at the top read, "This ad space donated by Mini."

For some environmentalists, this type of partnership may look like a sell out. From another perspective, it is a creative way to get your message across and to partner with an organization that may share your view of the world. This campaign is distinctive--a winner for both parties.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Communicating about global health

At the Global Health Council conference last week, professional communicators discussed messaging, media, and blogs. In an increasingly competitive environment, communicators need to be on target with their messages and know their audience. That point was highlighted at a workshop on communications for global health professionals and at the media awards luncheon. By focusing on messaging, communicators help get the word out about the importance of what their respective organizations do, which will lead to interest in the data from the technical experts and, ultimately, improving people’s lives.

In a break-out session, I talked with Lawrence MacDonald of the Center for Global Development. He agrees that blogs can serve an organization by driving opinion and helping to attract reporters. The blogs of the Center for Global Development add value by commenting on news sources that many of its stakeholders would like to read, such as the FT, but don’t have the time.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Conferencing web 2.0

With social computing gaining acceptance, NGOs and grassroots organizations have more tools available. The NetSquared conference starts May 30 in San Jose, California. Conference organizers provide various ways to participate, helping to build relationships. This is critical to organizations seeking funding and increased awareness. How does your organization accommodate those who cannot physically attend a conference? How does it reach out to bloggers and other NGOs?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Crisis communications

Some organizations do not have crisis communications plans. That is OK for small enterprises that are communicating well. For larger ones, especially those that work overseas, this is a mistake. The Washington Post article on the halt of trenofivir testing serves as a reminder of what can happen without proper planning and when outside activist groups help to fuel an event.

Without knowing the specifics that led up to such emotional protests, it is clear that trust had eroded. Given a trial of this nature, special effort should be focused on local opinion leaders and media. There were sound arguments for the basis of the trial, but no one was listening. Effective communication could have prevented this.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Photographs make it real

Photographs help an issue come alive. Images of real people can be particularly important when dealing with stigma that can be associated with HIV/AIDS.

I took this picture of a little girl at St. Camillus in Karungu, Kenya. Her parents died of HIV/AIDS and she is HIV positive. Now she is on ARVs and living at Dala Kiye orphanage run by Father Emilio Balliana. St. Camillus is located on the shores of Lake Victoria in western Kenya. It lies in an area that has been hard hit by the epidemic. It is in a resource-poor setting where many people live on less than one dollar a day and in a district that has a prevalence rate of approximately 30 percent.

Two good sources of photographs for development is Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs Photoshare and the photo library of Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

It is already happening

Senior executives in many organizations are wondering, "Why blog?" They may be the same people who failed to embrace communications as a strategic aspect of business. Due to lack of understanding or vision, they may question the value of marketing and PR in general and specifically of blogging. As communicators it is our responsibility to educate our clients in these areas. When it comes to new media, the response is simple: it is already happening. You can't control the message. Our stakeholders are already talking. You may be able to influence what they say and the best way to do that is to join the conversation.

This was readily apparent at Beyond Blogging 2006, sponsored by Fleishman Hillard and DC Communicator on May 19. Hundreds of communicators gathered to reflect on how our world is changing, the impact of social computing, and the power of the new media.

Kudos to Fleishman's interactive team for creating a great logo for the event. It would have been nice to see some skirts, though. As Yvonne Divita pointed out in her remarks, its women who are doing most of the blogging. Lip-Sticking is her blog on marketing online to women.