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The Donald and Fake News

Alternative facts and post-truth appear to be the new characteristics of the world we inhabit. News that doesn’t support an individual or group’s stance on a certain issue is now ‘Fake News’ not to be confused with genuine Fake News.

Who is the lightning rod to these concepts and to then inextricably tie them together?

To state the obvious, Donald J. Trump.

Over the last 12-months no single person would have had more column inches devoted to themselves than the newly minted President of the United States. Love him or loathe him, there is a lot we can learn from him in today’s messaging environment.

The Positive

Understanding his target audience:

Think Menzies’ “Forgotten People” and Howard’s “Battlers”, Trump identified the deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and tapped it for his own gain. The catch-all of: ‘Make America Great Again’ has provided him with an umbrella that enables him to say pretty much whatever else he wants.

Language:

Forget the content, Trump uses simple language as opposed to flowery rhetoric. What he lacks in oratorical skill, he makes up for in audience comprehension. The key to communication.

By speaking in ‘absolutes’ he has differentiated himself from the qualified language that has come to typify the Western world’s political class.

In today’s ‘noisy’ environment it pays to own a tone that is distinguishable from the ‘group sound’ of your competitors/adversaries.

There is a school of thought that speaking in absolutes is dangerous ground in political systems; in this instance however, I think that the new President is hedging, given that if he can demonstrate he has used his best endeavours to deliver on his agenda and cannot, it continues to be the system that he has railed against that is the hurdle to delivering the ‘will of the people’ rather than a Trump failure.

The Negative

Facts don’t matter (unless they suit his purpose):

It’s dangerous territory to selectively use fact, or more to the point to besmirch any alternative opinion as ‘Fake News’ if it doesn’t accord with your agenda.

At some point, where reality is relevant (like life for example), facts are bound to catch up with you.

Additionally, on the one hand Trump decries ‘Fake News’ yet has not condemned its used when it has been used to his advantage. In the process, his selective denouncements have legitimised the use of falsehoods to pursue an objective.

Delivery:

The President’s demeanour leaves a great deal to be desired. His default disposition of anger, supplemented by various combinations of appearing to be – disinterested, ill-prepared, making himself the subject matter, and his willingness to articulate semi-formed thoughts as they come to mind leave plenty of room for improvement.

It is fortunate for him that the popular mood and environmental factors were so weighted in his favour that these short-comings were easily overlooked in favour of the ‘bigger picture’ desire for delivering anything but the status quo.

The point of all of this is that it is quite possible to deliver positions with conviction, develop and own a unique delivery style that differentiates you from the crowd, and to communicate with an audience you understand, in its language, whilst (believe it or not) sticking to the facts.

 

RMK+A has long experience in helping its clients, in all spheres of endeavour, craft and effectively deliver communication to key stakeholders, clients and influencers.

Issue-of-Trust

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Engagement

2  The Issue Of Trust

A few years ago I came close to losing faith in the discipline of communications. Problems arose that our hitherto powerful comms methods seemed unable to address. How come? We had the messages, we had the reach and the frequency.

Unfortunately we had lost the trust.

Working in government comms for over 20 years it’s easy to forget about trust. Generally, people trust government departments and agencies (politicians still have a problem, of course).

Even in these cynical times, the vast majority of Australians don’t believe the conspiracy theories about fluoridating water or monitoring people’s data. Even the biggest conspiracy theory of all regarding climate change seems in the process of abandonment by all but the most committed deniers.

Nonetheless, government can lose the trust of the community when it’s seen to be implementing a controversial policy, or looks confused, disorganized or lazy. In my own Road to Damascus experience, government was seen to be wrong-headed, high handed and invasive. After 12 months of this there was very little trust left.

What I learned from this situation is that sometimes you have to acknowledge that your comms isn’t going to be enough, stop trying to persuade people and start engaging with them.

Since then I’ve been trained in engagement techniques, which I’ve used in a variety of situations. I now see comms and engagement related, and complementary in many ways, but as coming from very different places.

Communications – at least as I was taught it 20 years or so ago – works from the premise that the communicator acts on a target audience. The basis of engagement, on the other hand, is about working with the stakeholders.

Once I started thinking along these lines, it really struck me that communications was somewhat warlike – think of the language – ‘target audiences’, ‘campaigns’, ‘strategy’, ‘penetration’, ‘hits’. We’re not such a violent lot really, but I think communications is in the business of seeking power over people – their knowledge, their attitudes, their choices – by firing off our messages at them. Certainly those of us in government are doing this for the greater good.

On the other hand, with engagement we start from the position that we don’t have a monopoly of truth or moral authority. We have stuff to bring, you have stuff to bring; let’s both bring our stuff and see what we can achieve.

History – even fairly recent – suggests that government could once get its way because it was ‘the expert’, it had the power, and it was perceived by the community to have a mandate – and the community by and large felt it had to accept what it did.

That era is over, and governments now have to accept that they too need social license to operate.

Communications is still powerful and hopefully, for government, a powerful force for good, but it only works when the trust is there. When trust is lost, comms loses its mojo and becomes just words. And that’s where engagement comes in.

 

Japanese-Character-For-Respect_883x331

Would you like decency with that?

Helping your organisation develop a values based culture, how Bushido shows the way

Open a paper, turn on a TV, or click something that’s not bait and you will not have to turn far, wait long, or search hard to find a story about bad corporate behaviour. This is no better illustrated than by the recent Mossack Fonseca (Panama Papers) and Unaoil revelations (ably supported by a cast of local stories such as 7/Eleven, CommInsure, Wilson Security et al).

So, is the surfacing of these revelations a deterioration in corporate culture and associated decline in ethical standards, or has this always been the way in which the spinning of the globe has been oiled and there has just been a rise in investigative reporting that has brought these issues out into the open?

The answer is likely a mix of the two, however the naïve optimist in me would like to think that a fall in the standard of behaviour accounts for the majority of the stories that have been broken; as opposed to the alternative of low-standards having always existed out of view.

Progressing on that basis, the question arises how do organisations ensure that their much vaunted corporate values are adhered to in the pursuit of shareholder value and returns? As we know, dollars (or perhaps what they represent) are very powerful things.

Societal values are evolutionary in nature; by way of example I cite our acceptance of violence. It wasn’t so long ago that a punch up at the pub, though not encouraged, was accepted as a form of dispute resolution. Rightly, this is no longer the case.

I therefore contend that organisations (be they government, corporate, or not-for-profit) need to have an adaptive system in place that educates their operational headcount about what is, and is not behaviourally acceptable. A one-off, tick box exercise to satisfy a checklist would not be sufficient given that the subject matter is undergoing continual metamorphoses.

An enlightening parallel can be found in Bushido: The Soul of Japan, an explanation, if you will, written by Inazo Nitobe[1] of the moral principles that Samurai were required or instructed to observe.

The nature of the system was such that it was not a written code; rather it was a set of principles that were handed down organically (not unlike an oral history) either via word of mouth, or more impressively through deed.

Interestingly, the paid fighter was naturally recruited from some fairly rough and ready personnel, it was through the generational application of the ‘unwritten moral code’ that Samurai came to be highly respected and seen as both the exemplars and guardians of the highest behavioural standards.

It was a sorting of the wheat and chaff that conveyed enormous privilege and responsibility upon those within its ranks.

It is possible to make the argument that our leaders are those now charged with passing down through word and deed the standards that are expected of their charges. These standards must be the living representation of ‘Value Statements’ and take into account the evolving expectations of society at large.

As outlined by my colleagues Rob Masters (Contrite Contrition) and John Kananghinis (The Values Deficit) in this edition of Words and Insights society at large has had enough of hearing mealy mouthed platitudes laid at the foot of the most recent scandal. They want to see leaders who own the situation and the moment; leaders who embody their values statements through their actions; thereby laying the foundations and paving the way for the next generation of Samurai to follow them, and protect society’s behavioural standards.

For a brief history of Japan, click here

 

[1] Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) was born in Morioka, Iwate prefecture. After graduating from Sapporo Agricultural School, he went to the United States and Germany, where he studied agriculture and economics. On his return to Japan, he held various positions in education. From 1920 to 1926 he stayed in Geneva as Under-Secretary General of the League of Nations. After retiring from that post, he dedicated his life to peace. In 1933 he died in Banff, Canada.

 

 

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