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legendsin-their-lunchtimes

Legends in their lunchtimes

As the basket at the foot of the AMP guillotine begins to fill, for those of us who have had the privilege (or curse) to have been active in business for more than 3 decades, the unfolding events appear all too familiar.

Hubris, and wilful blindness have never combined to end in a positive result. Never-the-less, both tend to manifest as part of a regular business cycle.

An outbreak of believing your own PR is likely to resulting in mounting casualties.

Business success depends not only on sound strategies – well executed – but, annoyingly, on a degree of luck, timing and a supportive broader social and regulatory environment. Too often management and boards can mistake a fair proportion of the latter three (delivered by regular variations in business and consumer confidence) for their own genius.

The resulting natural tendency is to lessen the focus on detail and begin rewarding one another for the job well done. A tendency naturally increased if it is other people’s money that is being used.

The mess uncovered at the AMP is almost certainly the beginning of a long stream of hubristically driven shambles that the, much delayed, Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services will bring to light.

The damage to personal and corporate reputations will, in some cases be irreversible and in most cases, take long periods to recover from.

Two things confound and disappoint the public and work to lessen an organisation’s social licence to operate. First, the evident avarice-driven disregard for rules and customer benefit. Second, the failure of boards, as houses of review and management supervision, to identify and act on such abuses.

As professional communicators, we are regularly asked to convey good news and minimise poor outcomes when engaging with ‘stakeholders’ (read anyone who can impact on a share price that drives bonuses or who can tip folks out of a job). Both on principle and in the longer-term interests of our clients, we never knowingly misrepresent the facts. We may focus on one element more than another, but to lie is to ensure you will, eventually, get caught-out. An outcome that damages all involved.

Board members of any public company, industry body, not-for-profit or other such organisations have a responsibility to ask management the difficult questions, to challenge assumptions and, where necessary, to check the detail. Even if all is presented, on the surface, as good news.

In getting to the facts, too often we have witnessed situations where process is relied upon rather than proper answers. Instances where to us, as so-called spin masters, it is obvious that either not enough substance is present and/or too much pre-spin has already been applied.

Thankfully, few such cases have involved our existing clients. But we have worked on quite a few crisis management cases where the damage has already occurred.

Business cycles have, even in our relatively short experience, displayed a predictable regularity. A longer view of business history does not support an alternate conclusion. Executive management and boards should, in good times and bad, take a close look at how their businesses operate, how they generate the results, consider the prevailing conditions and ensure that they are well insulated from possible ethical, regulatory and operational failures.

If that is happening, the task for the communicators is to tell a good story, well. If not – welcome to the town square, with the crowd baying for blood. The most that can be done at that point (at great expense) is make the best of bad situation and prepare the ground for the successors.

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.

I Got Mine and I Got Yours Too.

Narcissism and leadership

A sub-optimal combination or How words and actions betray the self-obsessed

Irrespective of one’s political leanings, or view of the desirability of a second Clinton Presidency, the one thing that the current USA Presidential campaign is making very clear is that even in the age of self-obsession voters soon tire of obvious narcissists.

Someone needs to tell Donald Drumpf (yes, that is the original family name) that ‘leadership is not all about you’. As The Donald’s unravelling campaign demonstrates, people want leaders to be all about the concerns of the populace not the projection and protection of the candidate’s ego. So, no Donald, it’s not all about you, just as it was never, in our own example, all about Kevin, nor is it still.

The particularly disappointing thing about the Trump campaign is that it is so bad that it allows the Clinton campaign to do nothing other than say – ‘ well you can’t let him into the Whitehouse’. Policy discussion has not just taken a back-seat, it has been left at the curb.

The cult of personality is a shallow and lazy way to pick leaders. Perhaps the Trump candidacy, fed as it has been by the media new and old, will finally demonstrate that there needs to be some focus on more than grubby political blood sport. Yes, nasty narcissists have been, and still are, elected. However, ultimately, all have failed to be leaders of any quality and reputation. The shame of it is the damage done on the way through.

There has certainly been no shortage of such characters in the world of commerce.

What does all this tell business? Well, apart from driving more disillusionment with the political process, the lesson on leadership is plain. Words matter, a lot. Actions matter, even more and attitude matters, the most.

And, right on cue, up pops another example of actions not matching words.

When the, for now, CEO of Wells Fargo, John Stumph, faced a Congressional Hearing on the issue of the bank opening over 1 million accounts without customer’s knowledge – and charging them for the privilege- he claimed that the buck stopped with him. What he did, though, was to blame the 3,500 low level staff he fired for the breach (but only after regulators found out the bank was engaged in the massive fraud).

Senator Elizabeth Warren didn’t let him off lightly. She pointed out that he had not suffered one cent of penalty (he is paid over US$20 Million in salary and bonuses per year) and that not one senior executive had resigned or been fired. That, she scolded him, showed a total lack of accountability. Now he is unlikely to hold his job much longer and the bank’s board has ordered him to pay back $41 Million in bonuses and stock options.

Leadership is having and demonstrating the right attitude, saying the right words and matching them with the right actions. Egomaniacal rants about how “I alone can fix this”, ego insecurity that demands vicious and venal retorts to real and imagined slights and demeaning, disrespectful behaviour to ‘friend’ and foe alike, are not the marks of a truly successful and respected business leader. We can only hope that they prove to be just as unsuccessful in modern democracies.

RMK+A is highly experienced in assisting senior executives and CEO’s with strategic communications, including key message development and all aspects of stakeholder engagement.

The-Case-for-Thought-Leadership

The Case for Thought Leadership

Consumers are constantly bombarded with messages by savvy brand marketers in an effort to ‘engage’ at every opportunity. And the noise is deafening.

Targeting an audience is easier than ever before with no end of online metrics, analytics and geo-tracking to ensure more visibility of consumer preferences, habits and behaviours.

But what happens once you actually track down that elusive target audience? Do they know your brand? How do they perceive your brand? And, most importantly, do they trust your brand and the various values you espouse?

Enter Thought Leadership.

Thought Leadership, in its most basic, unadulterated form, is about offering a meaningful contribution to a topic, issue or discussion.

You need to take a leading position, make an impact and challenge the status quo.

You also need to implement authentic communication which will, in time, shape consumer perception of a brand.

But this won’t happen overnight.

You need a considered, strategic approach to build a profile, take a leading position and ‘own’ the conversation rather than just being an observer.

This continuous conversation must be supported by consistent and genuine messaging, and backed by research, by innovation or by the people behind the brand who are experts in their chosen fields.

All these elements, and more, are required to genuinely position your brand as a Thought Leader.

Marketing can put your brand in front of the right audience, but it’s up to communication professionals to ensure the interaction is meaningful.

RMKA’s expertise in developing Thought Leadership positions will enable your brand to build and sustain this interaction.