Archive for ‘Work Life’

March 10th, 2013

Of Tails and Dogs

Periodically, I hear myself saying to clients sentences such as “I think we need to remember that the tail shouldn’t wag the dog. The decision you need to make should be driven primarily by mission, and not just by the communications implications.”

That I need to say this at all is understandable. Most of my clients are public organizations, institutions that rely on networks of donors and audiences for support and that thrive based on wide participation. Decisions that risk alienating those audiences and supporters are tough to confront, no matter how necessary they may be.

While communications concerns and implications are often (rightly) invoked at the front end of many decision-making processes, in many instances the discussions about external messaging and impact risk taking over the entire process. Good consultants can recognize this early enough and try to help the client shift gears.

Much more troubling are the opposite scenarios, where there seems to have been little or no attention paid to communications processes or decisions at all. If you’re reading this and thinking: oh, that’s because a terrible decision gets made and then communications folks have to figure out how to “sell” it publicly, you would be … wrong.

Yes, leaving the communications team out can definitely be a problem. Trying to figure out how to create a communications strategy or coherent messages for what may be very complex and multi-layered decisions is not always easy. However: that’s the job–and good communications professionals can handle this.

And in an age of digital communications, it should be obvious that leaders cannot afford (literally and figuratively) not to give their communications team a role and opportunity for input. (Does this argument even need to be backstopped with references? Pick up the newspaper or look at any business blog and it is easy to find examples of communications failures that stem from bigger leadership failures.)

But a little scraping away at the surface of these situations often reveals poor internal communications up to and through whatever the present (external) crisis might be: the questions for staff, trustees, or external constituencies may be poorly articulated, while the rationale for confronting a problem may be muddled and the ramifications of any decision left unclear. Not to mention that poor leadership often empowers as decision-makers those who are normally just one set of stakeholders among many.

In other words: the real problem is that a lack of attention to communications issues tends to reflect a lack of leadership entirely. And that is pretty much the definition of a crisis.

January 27th, 2013

Bad Systems Often More Frustrating Than No System At All

On January 23rd, I received an email from Delta airlines about my flight from LaGuardia on the 26th. The subject line was “Confirm Your LGA Terminal 24 Hours Before Departure,” and the gist was: Delta now operates out of two terminals, so check before your flight and we will make sure you get to the right one.

As a frequent traveler, I appreciate this sort of thing. Racing from one terminal to the next to catch a flight is exhausting, and I thought it was great that instead of forcing me to guess or sort it out when I got to the airport, Delta was telling me ahead of time.

Unfortunately, the email was about as good as it got. Yesterday, I looked at it again, in preparation for today’s travel. The Delta website link helpfully took me to a page where I could access flight schedules–but not directly info about my flight and its terminal. The Delta mobile app–otherwise helpfully designed–showed me my boarding pass, but no terminal or gate info. The “Flight Status” function showed gate C29–presumably Terminal C–but since getting this info was otherwise difficult, it was hard to know if that was accurate.

The app included a link for easy Tweeting to Delta (@DeltaAssist) so I did. The response did not confirm the terminal–the whole point!–and instead said “@DeltaAssist: My apologies for the inconvenience. Some flights are not assigned a gate until the day of departure. Thank you. *CS”.

So here’s a tip, Delta: good on you for trying. But either take the user directly to a page with the relevant info–clearly marked and displayed–or just send a letter saying “Heads-up, we run out of two terminals, so leave yourself extra time because we may not assign a gate until shortly before your flight.” I would rather spend 10 more minutes in the airport to make sure I have the time I need than 20 minutes trying to sort through multiple computer systems for buried or unavailable information.


Speaking of systems and airlines, TripIt is a great system–web, iPad, iPhone, etc.–for those who travel a lot. Itineraries are automatically uploaded just by emailing them, and the “Pro” version tracks flight delays, can provide directions, and links to relevant travel providers easily.

So it is a real shame that Delta, United/Continental, American, and other major US airlines refuse to let TripIt users have access to their mileage point systems via the app. Given the level of hostility towards airlines, because of their often poor service and even-poorer communications skills, it seems like a ridiculous step to prevent flyers from using this tool to track their points in one place. Especially when more than 100+ other airlines and systems are part of the system. What gives?

Probably that they don’t care, much the way airports don’t, as astutely noted in this recent post by Seth Godin.


January 10th, 2013

This Is Not About New Year’s Resolutions

In 2012, I went to the gym 118 times, and wrote a total of 18 blog posts. In 2002, I wrote 39 blog posts and didn’t go to the gym at all.

Things change with time? Yes, probably; I was ten years younger, relatively newly married, and childless. I had more free time, and more time to invest in sharing my intellectual energy and outrage about the world. There was also no Facebook, no Twitter, fewer mechanisms for sharing “thoughts” (is that what we’re doing there?) in ways that–for me, at least–sometimes feel like they undercut the investment required in really thinking and writing something out beyond its 140-character Twitter limit.

Still: there are 365 days in 2013, and even if I go to the gym 120 times, that leaves 245 open days. My goal is to do a better job balancing those items this year, which won’t mean 245 blog posts but should mean inching closer to 42. It will likely mean more regular social media “vacations”–planned getaways from the incessant and sometimes distracting stream–and at the same time, a renewed emphasis on using those tools to share with a purpose (“speak softly, and carry a big stick”).

This is not a resolution for the new year, it’s just an articulation of a goal.


I laughed recently when a colleague reminded me that during her interview several years ago I had argumentatively proposed that “blogging is dead.” She had come well-prepared to talk about blogging, since she had seen my blogs and thought this would be a good discussion topic for an interview at a communications agency. She wasn’t wrong.

I don’t know that blogging is any more dead than anything else. Long-form journalism? Facebook? (You’ve noticed all those cranky users leaving Facebook in droves, right? Headed over to Google+, right…) Sometimes I think what has died is the capacity for sustained, rigorous, and self-confronting analysis of both facts and opinion. There is no shortage of content in this “user-generated content” world of ours. What I have always wanted was content that said something different, something that mattered, whether in 39 posts or just 18 of them.

I guess you can call that a resolution for 2013 if you really want to.

October 4th, 2012

All the world’s a stage

One of the more interesting (and consistent) challenges I deal with at work is explaining to potential clients (and sometimes current ones) the fragmentation in the media world. On one level, this is understood; it is precisely because people understand there is a challenge that they seek out a company like ours.

At the same time, it can be difficult to grasp. The major opinion-leaders and “influencers” remain, but their overall impact might be diminished. Or they may exert influence, but in ways that require support. Where there was once an audience–perhaps 85% of that audience were your subscriber base, and another 15% were the random people inspired by specific programs–there are now many different audiences, consuming many different sources of information in just as many different forms.

Here is one more very blunt way to think about it.