donaldtrump2016

Trumpocracy – the 101 Lesson for Communicators

Who was it that said: there are none so blind as those who will not see?

Maybe it was the Huffington Post, which reported of Hillary a day before the US election: “She’s got it!”. Or the New York Times, whose election-eve odds were 84% favouring a Clinton White House?

Ok, let’s not be too cute on the morning after, when all has been revealed and it’s easy to say, I saw that.

For the record, I didn’t see that.

But far more significantly, those self-assured and self-described indefatigable seekers of Truth – the entire American 4th Estate – didn’t see that.

Never have so many witnessed so much, so closely, for so long and seen so little.

But the outcome is not just a critique of media or journalists; rather there is a truly vital lesson for professional communicators everywhere.

This is a lesson in top down communications and engagement, versus bottom up.

The American media turned its full skill, experience and attention to reporting, analysing and interpreting; essentially commenting and telling the American people what was going on.

You get the model? We (the media) know what’s happening; we give you (the people) the benefit of our stunning insight, opinion and wit.

Yeah, right!

We talk these days about the importance of engaging, understanding and enfranchising. That applies to the public, whether it be stakeholders, communities, customers, clients … or voters.

But in hindsight what the American media didn’t do is clear – and also, for that matter, what the UK media didn’t do in the Brexit debate. It didn’t stop, ask, observe and listen, instead of tell, tell, tell.

This is the essence of good modern communication. It is about understanding first, then talking.

Governments in Australia and around the world, and to some extent Corporations, are learning this – sometimes the hard way.

But if there’s any real lesson from the US election for communicators, it’s that engagement, consultation and enfranchisement are not just the latest buzz words for the same old same old.

Things must truly be done differently in 2016.

We are a long way from the idea of developing a position, turning it into simple key messages, pumping it through news media and, if they don’t listen, buying space to time to say our piece.

The message no longer comes first. What comes first is … the open ear.

Engagement means listening and hearing, looking and seeing, and mostly shutting up yourself.

Things change slowly, of course. Organisations still expect a thing called a “communications strategy” that has positions, statements, and all the key messages tied up in a neat, pretty bow.

After Trumpocracy, and Brexit, the opportunity is for communicators to educate their paymasters about why they need a strategy that first gives the microphone to their audience – and starts with a key messages page that is blank.

when-10percent-failure-is-way-too-much

When 10% failure is way too much

The recent Parliamentary Committee Hearings into the big four banks may have been considered a ‘damp squib’ by those calling for even greater public accountability but it did force some interesting admissions from the bank bosses.

There was a standard and expected amount of mea culpa and contrition in evidence but one form of words could come back to haunt Ian Narev, the CBA boss. Here’s a transcript of an exchange on the quality of financial advice provided to customers:

Narev is asked by Coleman (Committee Chair Liberal MP David Coleman) about the financial advice scandals.

He acknowledges the bank failed to act with “requisite speed” to protect customers, although only about 10 per cent of the 8000 people whose files were reviewed were found to have been given faulty advice.

Whilst Mr. Narev was being as honest as he could it is hardly reassuring to hear that if you seek advice from the ‘experts’ at CBA there is a 10%, or possibly even higher, chance that you will be put wrong and suffer a financial loss. They don’t advertise for business by saying ‘we get it right, most of the time’.

Again, words really do matter and even with the most thorough preparation (which we are sure CBA undertook) they can come across quite differently to the audience from the intent of the speaker.

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Who Is Connected To My Car?

Imagine. The driverless and connected car. The Jetsons meets Blade Runner, with wheels– for now!

The benefits are mind-boggling – but so too are the challenges affecting safety, privacy, regulation, law enforcement, and more.

Yet, to the general community, car makers don’t appear as alert and active as they could be in confronting these issues. Do they understand the value of engaging with major stakeholders long before the technologies swamp markets with unexpected vulnerabilities and are hit heavily by retrospective regulation?

So, keep imagining. You enter your “car”, without even a fob, and merely utter your destination. The Occupant ID and GPS already know you. The electric powertrain whirrs. You’re off, as you swivel on a monocoque-encased seat to face …. your workstation, where once was a steering wheel and dashboard.

Is this automotive nirvana for real?

Would you be in your seat, “unnecessarily” scanning the road; fretting about whether those twitchy 50 on-board modules are blinded by the sun and will plough you into a truck? Or would you be totally disengaged? What will be your legal obligation in terms of being “in control”? We’ve seen the first fatality already with a driverless Tesla.

But while the current question may be whether program engineers can foresee every permutation of personal safety risk, this is far from the only issue. In fact, the connected car will no longer be just your car. It is your life, your possessions, your history, your business, your misdemeanors, your purchases, your buying, travel and driving habits and all that can be communicated by networks.

What happens when you being driven along and, abruptly, everything powers down? As the vehicle slides itself safely into a roadside bay, a message instructs: “Your vehicle authority is suspended.”

It seems your bank has won a court order to take over your vehicle … it’s about a disputed payment, or a business debt, or an identity anomaly, or … Whatever. But what is clear is you are not in control. The cloud, and everyone connected to it, can potentially and remotely take control.

What else can happen? May creditors pinpoint your location to serve you? Can mobile salespeople intercept you in car parks? Will alienated spouses find you? Are business secrets accessible via your mobile platform? You, and your data, are an open “book”. Legal use of data may come with the purchase or lease of your vehicle, and on-selling deals done without you; like online software. Do we really understand what will be done with our data?

Of course all of this may be solved with a combination of regulation, legislation and technology.

But is the automotive industry active enough in shaping the outcome before it is shaped for it?

There is a huge task ahead in co-ordinating stakeholder relations, community consultation and government relations to draw the parameters of acceptability for communities and customers.

Without this, the legislation and regulation will come anyway – especially after some data breach, like the census scenario. At that point everything will happen to the car industry, not with it.

We see the opportunity to be active now and to allow customers and communities to shape the local evolution of the connected car … rather than try to do this after a crisis. The question is: will the car industry be caught asleep at the wheel?

Three-epic-fails-in-maintaining-trust-

Three Epic Fails In Maintaining Trust

What do statisticians, one of the world’s largest car companies and the NSW Police have in common?

They all, in varying ways, have managed to create for themselves the most difficult environment for ongoing stakeholder engagement. One of little to no trust.

The 2016 Census

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is so comprehensive a failure that a War & Peace sized tome could be required to detail just how many mistakes were piled upon mistakes. However, at the core of the debacle was the arrogant belief that ‘of course everyone trusts us’ and ‘our systems are inviolate.’ Wrong on both counts. Trying to sneak a change of privacy rules on the public with a press release and expecting no pushback is just naive. In an environment of increased awareness of online data privacy it really is adhering to Jeremy Clarkson’s famously sarcastic protestation of “what could possibly go wrong?”

Then to try justifying the privacy rule change by claiming the people provide more information on social media platforms forgets the basic difference that, if they do so, people share that information by choice, not by stealthily enacted bureaucratic fiat.

The arrogance that led to the Census site crash and the confusion of message after the almost inevitable calamity occurred (that some may say they almost goaded hackers into delivering) was the sort of slow-motion train wreck of failed communication that was as predictable as it was cringe-worthy. 

VW and Motoring Media

Speaking of arrogance: Volkswagen. The diesel emissions cheating scandal has been running for over 12 months. Still VW seems either unwilling or incapable of finding a way to engage sensibly with its most important stakeholders in any effort to rebuild its shattered reputation.

The latest stroke of PR genius was an official statement from VW Australia refusing to participate in the now well established Australia’s Best Cars awards run by the journalists of the combined state-based Auto Clubs, under the AAA umbrella. A nation-wide group of clubs that represent over 7 million Australian members. Really?

Here is what they said under the name of their local MD, (I’m not making this up).

“The AAA’s public statements inspire little confidence in its grasp of fundamental issues,” Mr Bartsch said. “Moreover, the AAA has become hostile not only to our brands, but to the motor vehicle industry that employs tens of thousands of Australians.”

It is bizarre that this petulant and arrogant tit-for-tat is seen by VW as a valid corporate response to the AAA’ disqualification of VW group vehicles form the 2015 awards, just as the diesel-gate scandal was at its high-point.

Never mind that if only 10% of the AAA members read resulting negative commentary in the Club’s various monthly journals that is another 700,000 consumers who have ‘opinion leaders’ telling them VW is a poor corporate citizen.

NSW Police and the Lindt Siege Inquest

If there is one organization that relies on public trust almost more than any other, it is the Police. We see what happens when that trust is shattered. The USA appears trapped in an endless cycle of mutual distrust and aggression between their Police forces and the black population.

The NSW Police, for some reason, appear to expect, if not demand, public trust without wishing to be too publically accountable. They spent a good part of 2015 engaged in ugly internal power struggles, played out very publicly in the Parliamentary Enquiry into Internal Affairs bugging of, now senior, police back in the late 1990s.

Now they top that mess with uncoordinated and frankly concerning statements about the chain of command (or lack of) in relation to the Lind Siege and the resulting loss of two civilian lives.

The public could be forgiven for asking ‘who is running this s*#t-show’?

Once again there has been no obvious concern for how the sight of senior leadership ducking for cover will play with their key stakeholders and what long-term reputational damage is being done. Perhaps that is a side effect of lengthy tenure and comfortable retirement provisions?

 


All three examples have not only damaged the reputation of the organisations involved but also created a stakeholder trust deficit that will be very hard to correct.

The first step in regaining any degree of trust is an understanding that there must be an acknowledgment of fault, together with a recognition that a great deal of hard work will need to done to earn that trust back. So far all three show no real sign of that basic understanding.

For now, at least, they serve the purpose of offering clear examples of how not to manage stakeholder relations. However, the really concerning trend is that, even with all that we now know about effective stakeholder management, such monumental mistakes just keep happening.