Tis the Season to Plan Your Awards Submissions

Dear fellow communicators, PR people and marketers:

I’m sure visions of a holiday break are dancing in your head right about now. You’re swamped with year-end reviews, next year’s budget, holiday parties, and what to give your administrative assistant so she or he will put up with you for the next 365 days.

If you’re feeling especially spent, perhaps it’s because you did such stellar work in 2012. That means now is exactly the right time to start thinking about how those programs might be recognized by the industry.

Give your work a fighting chance. Make sure you’ve got all the supporting materials your entry needs to make it awardable by checking out these helpful, tip-heavy posts.

To get yourself going, I highly recommend reading them in the order presented here:

Crafting a Strong Award Program Entry for Your Work
Getting yourself prepared, reviewing award-worthy work, filling in missing metrics and feedback, taking a hard look at whether your program stands a chance.

Writing Your Entry: How to Make Your Work Competitive this Awards Season
Writing tips and a section-by-section view of standard entry forms, guiding you on what you need to write to support your program effectively. Includes link for a FREE worksheet to help you organize your entry, showing the judges clear connections between research, objectives, tactics and results.

And for writers:

Writing Your Writing Award Entry
Make the most of your writing talents to highlight the key program areas judges want to see in your entry.

Additional Resources

IABC Gold Quill Awards offers you tips for writing an effective entry, shares the judging score sheet and provides a download of their webinar, “The Midas Touch,” with advice on completing an effective entry.

Early deadline for the Gold Quill Awards is Jan. 31, with final deadline March 5, 2013.

PRSA Silver and Bronze Anvil Awards provides the excellent “Anvil Thinking” video, featuring judges discussing what it takes to win one of these prestigious awards.

Early deadline for the Silver Anvil Awards is Feb. 8, with final deadline Feb. 22, 2013.

IABC Revamps Gold Quill Awards

I write regularly about awards programs in the PR, marketing and communications industries, so I was thrilled to receive an email last week, announcing significant updates to one of the major honors – IABC’s Gold Quill awards.

Full disclosure: I’m a member of the International Association of Business Communicators and have served as a first-tier judge for the Gold Quills several times in the last two decades. Perhaps that makes me biased, but I’m convinced these changes will lead to a program that offers greater ease of entry and even better judging.

What’s changing and what does it mean for you? I’m working from an Aug. 30 email, from IABC Chair Kerby Meyers, which notes several important updates:

Online entries! – Yes, that deserves an exclamation point! The Gold Quills were the last major program to require a mailed entry. Sure, I’m an advocate of advance planning for award entries, but the reality is that most entrants are prepping their materials up to the very last minute. Relying on overnight delivery – and cramming everything into a giant notebook that had to meet a long list of requirements for how it looked and how it was organized – made the process that much more fraught. Now, every entry will be standardized thanks to online forms, and entrants have an extra 24 hours to double-check their submissions.

Longer entry period – There’s little excuse to be copy-and-pasting your entry into the online form five minutes before the deadline. According to the email, the Gold Quill program will open in October and entries will be accepted through the March 2013 deadline.

Standardized training for judges – Starting with the 2013 Gold Quill program, judges will be required to complete a training that ensures they are International Awards Evaluators in Good Standing, according to IABC. This, I think, will make the Gold Quills an exceptional awards program. In my experience (and not just as a judge for IABC), there’s a range of expertise in the judging room that includes long-time judges and newbies, 30-year marketing pros and new graduates in their first communications role. I don’t draw these distinctions to say that one is better than the other – judging should never be based on who’s been a judge before. What’s most valuable to the program and entrants alike is a consistent, fair, standardized set of judging criteria and a formalized way of training judges to understand and apply those criteria. For those interested in becoming an Evaluator in Good Standing, IABC will be communicating further information next month.

Those are the biggies. Additional changes include:

Eliminating first-tier evaluations – Now all entries will be judged by the aforementioned trained evaluators serving on a blue ribbon panel in one of five countries: the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa.

Introducing a new scoring sheet – This ensures even more feedback on each part of the entrant’s workplan, which should be a welcome addition for everyone submitting work.

Adding more guidance for entrants – IABC already offers comprehensive guides, webinars and social media chats related to entry preparation, as well as a mentor program for members who haven’t won a Gold Quill. It’s always highly recommended that entrants make use of these; you’ll find a list of opportunities here, as well as under the Resources tab in the Gold Quill section of the IABC website. (Note that these will be updated with the just-announced program additions as the 2013 program gets under way in the next month.)

The IABC email mentions that the 2013 call for entries will be announced in late September, and available on the IABC website.

Related posts on writing a competitive entry for all of the major PR, marketing and communications awards programs:

Table of contents of No Bad Language posts on awards
Advance planning for writing a strong award program entry for your work

AVEs and AVE Nots: Major PR Awards Programs Will Reject Entries Using Questionable Measurement Practice

Planning to enter your work in one of the major PR awards programs?

Then you’ll want to acquaint yourself with an important change in the rules, encouraged by the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation (AMEC), which has been endorsing the 2010 Barcelona Principles, new measurement standards for PR and social media.

Now that we have measurement standards, how do we get them adopted? That’s the question PR/social media measurement expert Katie Delahaye Paine posed in her most recent The Measurement Standard newsletter. Like the sponsors of some of the industry’s leading awards, Paine believes the answer is to bar AVE measurements from award programs.

The only way to prevent PR practitioners from falling back on bad measurement habits – like Ad Value Equivalency – is to use “fear, greed, or force,” says Paine in her post.

She was half-joking about force (I think…there is a reference to inventing a drone that could deploy “Shame on You” stickers when someone uses AVEs), but she talks tough when it comes to recommending that clients “shun firms that offered them” in measurement reports and “pushed for a rejection of any entry to an awards program that included AVEs.”

PRSA, AMEC and PRWeek now “categorically reject” entries that include AVE as a metric, she notes. Some refuse to give them up, but other distinguished programs, like the Cannes Lions Awards banished AVE measurement this summer thanks to AMEC.

Should AVE Known Better

AVEs (Ad Equivalency Value), like impressions, are considered by many leading PR and measurement experts to be an outmoded form of quantifying the success of a public relations campaign. Although AVE relies on a mathematical formulation – measuring the media coverage garnered on behalf of a client, frequently using a multiplier, and then calculating the value of coverage as if it were paid advertising – the data derived is viewed as unscientific and specious.

Why remove an established albeit old-fashioned measurement from an awards program?

In the past decade, the major PR industry awards programs having been moving toward a standardization of their own. It’s a lot harder to win an award just because the CEO liked your meeting-in-a-box. Judges review entries for quality of work and quantified successes, for content as well as results that link directly to the original objectives for the campaign.

The drive toward standardization is about promoting professional standards of practice in the PR industry, from accreditation to ethical behavior, measurement, and rewards.

If I Can’t AVE You

Now to the important part – what it means for you if you plan to enter 2012 work in a PR awards program that has disallowed AVEs. The good news is that you still have time to “measure what matters,” as Paine puts it.

This means gathering data about the program’s impact on the audience. You should be able to draw a straight line to the measured results from the original communications need through the strategy, objectives and tactics developed for your program.

Doing this kind of follow-up should be simple for corporate and institutional communicators (who tend to have direct access to the audiences they’re communicating with), but even agencies may be able to survey their clients’ audiences with the goal of gathering metrics on campaign effectiveness. There’s certainly an incentive for clients who want the kind of third-party endorsement that accolades offer: Spending a little extra on an audience survey could turn an unacceptable program into an award-winner.

I’ll AVE What She’s AVEing

Paine, CEO of KD Paine & Partners, a PR, brand relationships and social media research and measurement company, is a tireless advocate for accuracy and standards in measurement.

If you’re a “you do the math, I’ll do the words” kind of PR or communications person, you’ll love her take-no-prisoners approach to writing and talking about data. (“Clearly there are still a lot of PR pros clinging to AVEs as a measure of their success,” she writes in her post on adoption. “The best we can hope for in their case is early retirement, since sooner or later the C-suite will see behind the façade and fire them.”)

In just a few years, with the arrival of social media, we’ve witnessed the upending of industries and practices. Paine’s efforts – and those of the measurement brigade – are just as exciting and transformative.

“In reality, AVEs and multipliers won’t go away until clients demand a better solution,” says Paine. “The good news is that it is starting to happen. More and more clients are waking up to the silliness of a chart that indicates that the number of impressions you received last month is three times the population of China.”

We’re about to enter an era when PR measurement is transparent – far beyond impressions, AVEs, Likes, Smiles, and Hits on a newsletter article. Because the tools are already out there, and clients won’t need us to interpret data anymore.

No professional, ethical practitioner should fear this kind of openness. Having these “drill down capabilities,” as Paine calls them, will allow us to demonstrate the ROI of our programs, making our work and thought leadership even more valuable to CEOs and clients. Even more important, it will enable us to refine PR programs so they’re more targeted, effective and meaningful to the audiences we’re hoping to reach and engage with.

For more background:

Katie Paine’s “Everything You Need to Know about the Dublin Summit and the New Measurement Standards” shares tons of links, including one to a glossary of social media measurement terms.

Check out No Bad Language’s posts on writing competitive awards program entries.

Thor for Social Media Executive Champion?


Thor, the god of Norse mythology. “Thor’s battle with the Ettins” (1872), painting by Mårten Eskil Winge. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Read almost any social media book and you’ll quickly arrive at a certain piece of advice that’s beginning to set my teeth on edge. It’s the requirement for an Executive Champion.

Invariably, these books recommend the CEO fill the Champion role, and apparently one of the Champion’s duties is to swoop in like Thor with his hammer and smash any impasse, leaving the social media team a clear path through the rubble.

Here are five key reasons why this isn’t an effective social media strategy:

Most social media books are written by experts in social media, not the corporate world
While many of the social media strategists who’ve penned books work with corporate clients, this is not the same as navigating a corporate hierarchy from the inside. They simply don’t have the experience of maintaining effective working relationships in highly matrixed departments and across all the business units involved in supporting a strong social media program.

When you need a “decider” in a lean, fast-paced entrepreneurial company, the CEO is often the go-to guy because he’s also the person who developed the software or the idea the company was founded upon. There are few layers between the CEO and the teams engaged in key initiatives. Not so in an established corporation. The social media team operates several pay-strata below the members of the senior team, much less the CEO. And there are established processes for solving issues that involve starting with your team and seeking your immediate supervisor’s help and approval before the supervisor (not you) takes it to the next level (which won’t be the CEO’s level).

Thor needs to be capable of influencing the C-suite, but, in the long tradition of superheroes, he isn’t one of them
In his book, The Social Media Strategist, Christopher Barger, who’s led social media programs for IBM and GM, describes the Executive Champion as a corporate player who:

  • sells the “social media vision to the highest levels of business leadership” and explains “why resources allocated to it are being wisely spent;”
  • credibly takes this vision to the rest of the organization;
  • enforces “consistency among social media, marketing, and communications strategies;” and
  • provides the budget for your social media program or has the savvy to “credibly and effectively go ‘tin-cupping’ through the rest of the organization to acquire that budget.”

That’s a tall order, but inside most companies, there’s a VP with the credibility, likeability and practicality to drive agreement around each of those requirements.

You’ll be lucky to get one impasse-bashing favor from the CEO in your entire career (if that)
If you actually managed to get your issue in front of the CEO – say Legal refuses to allow spontaneous posting to social media sites without approvals or IT won’t budget for resources or bandwidth – guess what she’d tell you? “Find a way to work it out,” is what you’ll hear as she directs you to the door.

CEOs wisely understand that their role isn’t down in the weeds of day-to-day decision-making. They also know they musn’t play favorites. Running to the CEO to tattletale about your right to tweet without a three-week Legal review will only serve to make Legal irate. Likewise the IT department.

If the CEO does extend you a favor – and that’s a big, Thor-sized IF – you’ll spend the rest of your days at the company, trying to prove that you’re capable of making future decisions on your own. You’ll be forever under the hammer, and that’s a very uncomfortable – and ineffective – place to work from.

If Thor handles a disagreement for you, it will be the last time anyone supports you in the company
The real corporate world isn’t like the one portrayed in old comics, where Jimmy Olsen becomes a made guy at the Daily Planet because Superman acknowledges him after saving the world. Run to the CEO to solve an issue, and no one will trust you again. Your ideas won’t be pushed forward, work you needed done yesterday will slow to a snail’s pace, your meetings will be sparsely attended, your achievements begrudged, your failures snickered over. You’ll be the Loki of your company.

It takes a village to manage an effective social media program – not a demi-god
One reason non-corporate types put dibs on the CEO for Executive Champion is because they believe he or she has the ability to rise above the scrabbling that goes on around ownership of social media. You’ve probably seen hundreds of articles like this: Is it PR or HR? Marketing or IT? Customer Service or Advertising?

Actually, it’s all of them. As Christopher Barger notes, “territorialism” doesn’t work for social media. “The reality is,” Barger writes, “each function brings a different strength and a different weakness to social media activity. In an ideal situation, these strengths and functions are brought together as sort of a hybrid function operating together and directing the rest of the business.”

It’s the team’s job to rely on the cross-functional expertise in the room to solve problems. If they can’t – with all that brainpower at the table – then even Thor’s mighty hammer isn’t going to solve the problems in that social media program.

Engaging Audiences with Storytelling

Running rings around Saturn. The Cassini mission explored the rings and moons of the gas giant.

Last week, I had the extraordinary opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., and hear from two of JPL’s master storytellers about engaging audiences’ imagination through the wondrous possibilities of space exploration.

My inner science nerd spent the whole time doing cartwheels while the professional me took lots of photos and some notes to share with you.

The organizers – the Los Angeles chapter of IABC – made the excellent choice to include both external and internal storytelling on the agenda, which opened up the topic and the perspectives in a big way.

Our speakers were Stephen Kulczycki, deputy director of communications and education at JPL, and Teresa Bailey, information science specialist and the JPL FIOA liaison in the Library, Archives and Records section.

Connecting with Hearts, Not Just Minds – Storytelling to External Audiences

Just as you’d imagine, we needed to submit our names to JPL several days prior to the event and there were security checkpoints throughout the Pasadena campus, which has more acreage than Disneyland.

The next Mars rover (which successfully landed Aug. 6, 2012) is Curiosity, and it’s the biggest machine in space. Curiosity reminds me a bit of WALL-E!

Still, there’s a large public-facing component to this organization, including a visitor’s center housing a museum on the history of space exploration. Thousands of students come through each year, learn and discover, and are treated to a number of communications designed specifically to encourage their sense of wonder about “amazing places,” as Stephen Kulczycki says.

His office produces short films about JPL’s work that have the quality of Hollywood trailers with quick cuts, dramatic orchestral music, and lively graphics. The scientific language is pitched to “smart 8-year-olds,” which makes these mini-movies perfect as press releases, for the general public, for online platforms, and as footage in science programs, such as PBS’s “Nova.”

“Every good story takes a protagonist with a dream and a set of obstacles they need to overcome,” Kulczycki says. “We get the mechanics and explanations out of the way and get to the heart of what people feel.”

“We’re creating relationships here, person to person, house to house,” he adds.

JPL has one of the Apollo mission moon rocks. Note the giant padlock (back, left) securing this sample!

If you work in an organization with plenty of proprietary information to protect, it’s possible to give in to the restrictions on information-sharing and lose sight of how you can use communications to create those relationships. The JPL storytelling event demonstrated that even in a restricted environment, you can find innovative ways to engage, educate and enthrall your audiences.

One of the coolest ways JPL involves children is in the naming of spacecraft. Schools across the country are invited to submit names and, in the case of the latest moon orbiters (now christened “Ebb” and “Flow”), the winning school gets to take the first pictures of the moon. Brilliant!

We saw a video of the Skype transmission from the winning science classroom in Montana. All the kids were cheering while the teacher beamed and jumped up and down. The 8-year-old in me, who spent most of her Saturdays at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, knew exactly how they felt. The communications professional recognized that one day, one of those students may grow up to become an astronaut, a spacecraft designer, an astrophysicist, or a politician who makes decisions about funding space exploration.

JPL uses communications and involvement to invest its audience. “The value we put on communication is the way it enables us to connect with the human soul and heart,” Kulczycki says. “We represent hope, otherwise we’d be machine-makers instead of dream-makers.”

Storytelling that Builds Community

Meanwhile, inside JPL, there’s been another kind of storytelling, and it’s been happening at the library for the last dozen years.

“Community-building is a common thing for libraries to be involved in,” notes Teresa Bailey, who developed monthly (now every other month) hour-long speaker programs after “puzzling over how to incorporate storytelling without making it sound like something happening at a children’s library.”

“Ground Control to Major Tom.” This is mission control at JPL, where they monitor all the data sent back from spacecraft studying the moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond.

But, she had a strong belief that the best way to transfer knowledge is face-to-face and launched the storyteller program in 2000. Bailey helped connect and engage her internal audience by encouraging speakers to share personal stories with insider details – “what makes your work meaningful to you? Only you have walked in your shoes.”

Scientists can discuss research from the past, current projects, even their dreams for the future.

Bailey preps the storytellers in advance, allows more than one scientist to share the stage (because research generally involves large groups of scientists and engineers), encourages the use of visuals, and handles internal publicity. The stories are filmed and made available on the intranet, as well as through the library’s archives site.

Bailey sees storytelling contributing to a knowledge-sharing culture. Storytelling, she says, supports:

  • mentoring
  • socialization of new employees
  • building relationships and bonding
  • learning lessons from past or present projects
  • organizational identity
  • community

“It’s very contagious being here because there’s always something new,” she adds. Storytelling spreads that “contagion,” enabling employees to learn, ask questions, get involved, be inspired, and reach for the stars.

Many thanks to our gracious hosts, speakers and tour guides at NASA JPL. You can check out the stunning videos and learn more on the JPL website.

Writing that inspired me this week:

“Space. The final frontier.”
~ Gene Roddenberry, “Star Trek”

Is it Okay to Take an Admin Job to Get Your Foot in the Door?

Since today is Admin Professionals Day, I thought I’d address a sensitive question that seasoned PR, marketing and communications folks often hear from recent graduates, looking to get experience in the field:

“Should I take an Admin job to get my foot in the door with an agency or company?”

My answer is a definite “No.”

(This advice comes with the caveat that, even as we climb out of recession, jobs continue to be scarce, so if you desperately need to work and the only option is an Admin position in your industry, take it – and check out the tips at the end of this article.)

My response is never meant to dismiss the role of administrative professionals. They work exceptionally hard, multitasking across dozens of projects and requests, while keeping the office, its people, client relations, business processes, and technology on track and operating smoothly. They are the lifeblood of our workplaces, we couldn’t get by without them, and the fact that there is only one day a year that honors administrative pros is the real shocker, to my mind.

So why the big fat “No”?

It’s precisely because we depend so much on admins that these situations become fraught for everyone involved. The disconnect happens because the person who accepts the offer for an Admin position when they’d rather be at a higher pay grade (let’s call this person the Non-Admin-Admin) expects to take on development work – projects that will position the Non-Admin-Admin for a promotion to Associate. Meanwhile, the agency or department has enough administrative tasks to bury a battalion of Admins, which is why it posted and interviewed for people with specialized administrative skills.

Frequently, the Non-Admin-Admin has enough experience to be an Associate (there just isn’t an opening right now), but doesn’t know some of the necessary requirements for an Admin job, whether that’s maintaining databases or the delicate dance of keeping everyone scheduled and organized so they can focus on their work. When the Non-Admin-Admin doesn’t want to be an Admin, it’s painful all around, and everyone in the office ends up unhappy.

If you find yourself working as a Non-Admin-Admin, and you’re frustrated with the lack of forward momentum, here are a few key suggestions for career advancement:

Know your company’s promotion policy
Make sure you know the official HR policy on applying for new jobs and in-place promotions (don’t just rely on your manager or hearsay). Do ask people who’ve been promoted (from Admin to Associate, from Associate to Manager) if you can schedule a brief informational discussion with them or offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for some career mentoring. People love talking about their accomplishments, so find out what kinds of skills they needed to learn or projects they took on that enabled managers to see them in a promotable light.

Put a review process in place
Got four-to-six months before you’re eligible for promotion? That’s not an eternity in corporate life, and so not the time to sulk or fill the office with eau de bad attitude. Embrace this time with gusto and schedule a meeting with your manager pronto. Tell him that you see yourself as an Associate in six months, and that you’d like to put a development plan in writing that you’ll both review on a regular schedule. Ask for your manager’s honest assessment so that you have a realistic idea of the skills and behaviors you’ll agree to work on. You can ask questions to clarify, but this isn’t the time to argue with the boss. You’ll need her to sign off when you’ve achieved everything in your plan and are ready to move on.

Accept and excel at your Admin job
This one is absolutely crucial. There’s no question that the ability to succeed at a higher grade will be judged on success as an Admin. The prospect who leaves work undone, doesn’t support the team, acts as if administrative tasks are beneath him or her, shows up late, or, worse, winds up being disciplined for poor performance, will never be eligible for a promotion and may even find themselves unemployed. How you perform at your current position counts for (or against) you when you apply for your next job.

Volunteer for professional-level projects
This is the best way to learn new skills and practice new behaviors. Remember, you still need to keep your current job running like clockwork, but projects are a great way to learn more about the work you’ll be doing and make new allies who can help you navigate your career path at the company.

Learn new technology
Many small agencies and big companies are struggling to manage the additional workload of social media on top of all the existing client work. Learn the company’s blog publishing tool or how to post to its Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest accounts, and you may become indispensible. You’ll be doing the kind of work expected of an Associate and be seen in a new light.

Support your agency’s clients
Are the office’s exempt employees volunteering this weekend at a client’s charity walk-a-thon? Have they been spending lunch hours running around getting people to sign a petition for the client’s pet cause? Once you become an Associate, your focus will be on the client. If there’s a way to jump in now – as a development project, free from concerns about overtime pay – grab it. Like the previous two examples, this will give you the perfect chance to do work at a higher grade level and show everyone what you have to offer.

Why Is the Blogger-PR Relationship So Misunderstood?

Why can't bloggers and PR pros get along?

Another day, another one of those posts. Yes, another blogger has taken to the social media ‘verse with furrowed brow over the way PR pros approach bloggers.

On the one hand, this is Amber Naslund, so she offers excellent advice to anyone in corporate communications, PR or marketing who’s managing a crisis:

“You’ll need to figure out how to rally your own resources and the people that do know and trust you today to work extra hard to be your advocates in your moment of need. They’re the ones you should be asking, anyway, if they know you best and can vouch for your reputation, or your people, or the work that your company does.”

That’s because Naslund is a pro and understands the purpose and value of relationship-building over the long term.

What you read far too much of (and which Naslund does indulge a tiny bit in her post) is this:

“You just found me on some social media blogger list and did zero research as to the content I typically discuss on my blog. That’s obvious. You’re just hoping that I’ll use whatever reach and attention I have for your benefit…Why would I stake my reputation and the valuable attention of my readers on coming to your or your CEO’s defense based on a single email you send me in a moment of crisis?”

My goodness, the chest-beating that bloggers engage in! There are more than 150 million blogs* and, by my completely unscientific guess, probably half of the blog owners have dedicated at least one post to complaining about the way PR people work with them.

Sure there are plenty of blogs with the influence and reach of national newspapers. But, even hardened newspaper columnists rarely waste their readers’ time railing against the PR industry. (It’s such an easy target.) You’d think these blog folks were Norman Mailer or something. Of course, Mailer would have donned boxing gloves and offered the hapless PR guy the chance to duke it out in the ring.

Unless, like Naslund, you can use the interaction to offer some genuine insight, it’s time to pack away these posts. Because here’s what journalists know that bloggers don’t seem to suss: It’s never going to stop.

Even as social media platforms and ever-newer devices allow for more focused and customized targeting of audiences, PR is never going to be 1:1 communication. The crux of the problem is built in to the industry. 1:1 communication would be the PR agency’s client communicating directly with a consumer or stakeholder. Once the client hires an agency, it has already lost the opportunity to build a direct relationship, so PR by its very nature operates on a mass level, spreading the word as far and wide as possible to try to reach consumers with the client’s message.

It’s Not the PR Industry’s Fault

Yes, there are many campaigns that could be more targeted and focus on better relationship-building on behalf of the client. Typically, there isn’t a budget for that kind of individualized, time- and resource-consuming work. Typically, it is the job of an administrative assistant, an intern or a freelance contractor to put together the media and social media lists for a campaign. (Those expensive suits who pitched this campaign to the client? The ones who promised they had “ins” with star reporters, magazine profile writers, and TV hosts? Nope, they don’t put the lists together for the campaign, they don’t oversee the media outreach, and they don’t do 99 percent of the pitching. If they do happen to know a reporter well, then that’s the one call they’ll make. Everything else is handled by a freelancer paid by the agency at about 15 – 20 percent of the hourly billable rate the agency charges the client for the work.)

This is what journalists and PR people know. The PR industry isn’t going to change. If you’re a blogger, it’s time to understand the process. Frankly, you should be pleased your blog made the list; it means you’re out there making an impact.

You don’t have to do anything about a pitch letter. You don’t have to participate in a PR campaign, and no one’s going to shoot you if you toss a pitch letter in the recycling bin and get back to the more important work you were doing in the first place. It’s just like that advice mom always gave you: Ignore them, and they’ll go away.

If you’re a blogger with an active, dedicated readership, you’re already doing exactly what social media was invented for: engagement. Keep up the great work and avoid the stuff that gets in your way.

Further reading: Why Is the PR-Blogger Relationship So Fraught?

*According to BlogPulse, there were 152 million blogs on the Internet in 2010.

Corp Comm Needs Some Sympathy for the Devil

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer. What I’m convinced of is that every Corporate Communications unit needs a kind of sacred space to challenge the messaging, communications approaches and accepted wisdom created by the department.

If what’s puzzling you is the nature of my assertion, let’s be clear, I’m not a gadfly, contrarian or naysayer.

Please allow me to introduce myself: I’m what’s known as the Devil’s Advocate.

So, if you meet me, have some sympathy, these days I often find myself surrounded by cheerleaders. And, unless you’re one of the teams going to the Superbowl, cheerleading rarely does a profession like corporate communications any good.

But, I hear you saying, it’s our job to enhance the company’s reputation and support leadership with effective communications. It’s our job to develop the best communications strategies, plans and messages to promote and share news with our audiences. It’s our job to help employees understand changes in business direction, policies, procedures, and ways of working by being clear about what’s expected of them.

You’re absolutely right. But, we don’t accomplish this by cheerleading or telling audiences how they’re supposed to feel about the information we deliver, especially when the news may be met with differing opinions. We do it by presenting the facts clearly and by being open, honest and timely in our communications.

Devil’s in the Details

There’s nothing wrong with genuine pride in the company we work for, the way it conducts itself in the world, treats its employees, and rewards its shareholders. But, if “school spirit” interferes with communicating effectively, that’s another story, especially when the news isn’t so cheery.

Remember BP leadership’s repeated insensitivity following the explosion on its Deepwater Horizon oil rig that cost 11 workers their lives and caused an environmental disaster across five states? How about Philip Morris’ spin on smoking deaths? Or when the Big 3 automakers flew private jets to Washington, D.C., to ask the taxpayers for bailout money (an unspoken message that was heard loud and clear)?

It’s Corp Comm’s job to prepare executives and spokespeople and manage reputational issues. How do we protect them from tone deaf talking points that become PR nightmares?

Corp Comm, meet the Devil’s Advocate.

It’s time to shine a sharp, bright light on your communications plans and messages and see whether they hold up to scrutiny. This is an important exercise for any communications plan – whether you’ve got positive or difficult information to share.

Reporters – and many employees – are seasoned skeptics. Journalists are trained to ask the kinds of probing questions that can dismantle messaging if it hasn’t been pressure-tested.

Would you rather have your CEO’s messages fall flat in the privacy of a company conference room or publicly at a press conference?

The Nature of My Game

Here’s how it’s played:

  • You’ll need two teams. The first created the communications plan and messaging; the second is given a situational overview and reads the plan and messaging in advance.
  • Team 2 plays Devil’s Advocate and prepares questions for Team 1 from the point of view of key audiences: media, critical advocacy groups, employees.
  • Set up a physical space, like a conference room, that can serve as the setting for a press conference, a meeting with constituents, and an employee meeting.
  • Role play the scenarios, pressing hard on both sensitive issues and areas that Team 1 might think were unimportant. Make sure Team 2 stays in character; after all, it’s their job to bedevil Team 1 to help them create a better plan and stronger messaging.

The Rules of Devil’s Advocacy

When it’s not so much a crisis, but an annual plan or approach, it’s just as important to do some pressure-testing. Rules apply:

  • Set clear boundaries for the team who’s written the plan and the group playing Devil’s Advocate. You probably can’t rewrite a company policy or the 2012 goals, so don’t solve for world hunger. Focus on pressure-testing the communications at hand (not the new company policy).
  • Agree to keep everything said in the session confidential. After all, these are drafts; the work you do together may change the language, tone or direction significantly in the final, approved version.
  • A good rule of thumb is to focus first on what works in the plan, then on what can be improved. Comments and suggestions should always relate to the plan and its improvements, rather than at individuals.
  • Everyone in the room agrees to participate, providing both positive feedback and recommendations for improvement. Everyone must play Devil’s Advocate at some point. You can’t allow just a few brave souls to put their feet to the fire.

The Deadly Sins (Things to Avoid)

  • Despite the focus on playing Devil’s Advocate, this is not a bashing session. You’re not there to rip the plan apart or shout, “King me!,” at every mistake. One of your colleagues developed these strategies and messages. Someday your communications plan may be center stage. Even devils can play nice.
  • If the rules are followed, there can be no repercussions for Devil’s Advocacy. Remember, the purpose is to ensure the company and its representatives don’t seal their fate in some awful way in front of important audiences. Speaking up to improve communications and protect the company’s reputation can’t burn anyone later. (If it shows up on a review, for example, you’ll never get any productive feedback from that employee again.)

Good leaders will recognize a sub-rule to the last rule, which is that people who step up to help challenge and make messaging better and strategies and plans more successful deserve to be thanked for their forthrightness. This sends its own message to the department about the value of open and honest communication.

Pleased to meet you, Corp Comm. Hope you guessed my name. Feel free to tell me what’s puzzling you in the Comments.

Out of the Mouths of Executives: How to Craft Quotes that Get Coverage

Your company has news to share, and you’re writing the press release. Of course, you want pick up, but instead only the lede and fourth graf were squeezed into a space smaller than your iPod Nano.

And those quotes you labored over for the executive leading this important project? They were left on the virtual equivalent of the newsroom floor.

Corporate communicators and PR folks create quotes for press releases. Reporters understand this. Good reporters, who work for the news outlets where you most want coverage, go out of their way to avoid PR. They look for the news, and they call for one-on-one interviews to get their own quotes. If they’re up against deadline, they’ll pull only what they see as “real news” from your press release and ditch the rest as too self-promoting.

Want your quotes to see the light of day? Here are 10 tips for crafting quotes that get play:

Don’t rely on key messages for the quote.
Here’s perhaps the single biggest problem with created quotes: They repeat what’s already been said in the headline (and possibly in the subhead) and in the lede. Why? Because the writer is using the key messages to craft the press release.

Consider the poor journalist who has to read this release. What’s going through his or her mind? “I know that. You’ve said it twice already. Tell me something I don’t know.”

This is why copy gets cut. Reporters want the news, which, by definition, means delivering something new in each sentence.

What? No messages? You can’t believe I’m suggesting this, can you?

Here’s a quick experiment I tried just before writing this: I Googled Fortune 500 companies, clicked on a link to last year’s list, and selected the first one that I didn’t have a vested interest in. The company turned out to be Chevron. I didn’t intend to single out Chevron; I just wanted to see how fast I could put my cursor on an example. Pretty fast, it turned out.

I went to Chevron’s corporate website, clicked on the News link, and opened a recent press release at random:

HEADLINE: Chevron Announces Natural Gas Discovery Offshore Western Australia

SUBHEAD: Vos-1 discovery adds to drilling success and further underpins development of world-class LNG business

LEDE: SAN RAMON, Calif., December 15, 2011Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) today announced a natural gas discovery by its Australian subsidiary in the Exmouth Plateau area of the Carnarvon Basin, offshore Western Australia.

QUOTE: George Kirkland, vice chairman, Chevron Corporation, said, “The find at Vos-1 represents our twelfth offshore discovery in Australia since mid-2009. Our successful drilling program offshore Western Australia demonstrates Chevron’s global exploration capability.”

Barring key messages, what do you include in the quote? My recommendation is details. Why do you think the fourth graf always seems to make it into the newspaper? Because after the lede recaps the headline, and the second graf recaps the subhead, and the obligatory grafs for quotes, press releases often deliver backing documentation in grafs that follow. How about moving some of that business intelligence into the quote? The quotee is supposed to be a senior executive with deep expertise in the subject; this is the place to make them sound like a pro. Let them run with the important details, the numbers, the dollars or yen or euros, the insider’s perspective.

This can feel a bit like burying the lede, but if the quote is well-written, you’ll reap at least two benefits: 1) the quote will run because it contains new information pertinent to the story, enabling you to get more of the press release covered, and 2) if it sparks the reporter’s interest, you’ll get a call for an interview with the executive, and a longer story.

Do study your subject.
The best way to learn how to write convincing quotes is to understand how your subject speaks. To that end, if there’s an executive you’re going to be writing for on a regular basis, attend every employee meeting where she or he is a speaker. Revisit transcripts of old interviews. If you know of speeches he penned himself, read those. Look up articles or editorials she authored. Remember, a senior leader is worthy of quoting because he’s an expert in the industry, not just because of his title. Pinpoint how your executive talks, the insider lingo used, when he or she is deeply engaged in the details of the business.

And, whenever you have the chance, interview your subject and get to know his or her particular turns of phrase. Discover the linguistic nuances that make this person’s speech indelibly his or her own.

Don’t smooth off the rough edges.
Too often, when we create quotes, we polish them to such an extent that they feel manufactured. Like this: “Our successful drilling program offshore Western Australia demonstrates Chevron’s global exploration capability.”

Do you think this is what was said around the drill tower (or the corporate offices) when they discovered their 12th natural gas well off the coast of Australia?

Now, I’m not talking about putting in “ums” and “uhs” to make a quote look like a transcript, but I am suggesting using ordinary, everyday conversation that sounds real because it is real.

Are you trying to put words in the mouth of someone from South Carolina? London? Brussels? Tokyo? Mumbai? What about a doctor? A Ph.D.? An engineer? Or a CEO who worked his way to the C-suite from the manufacturing line?

You’ll likely find an unusual coinage, or two or three, if you talk to someone who hails from the south or once assembled the company’s key product. Even if the executive doesn’t have a regional dialect, you’ll find that no one speaks perfect English (or whichever language is primary for your business). There’s something about the inexactness of spoken language that makes it more believable, more trustworthy, more real.

Do eavesdrop at industry conferences.
Generally, you don’t have the chance to interview senior executives for every bit of news that needs a press release. The assignment arrives with instructions to create a quote that will be approved or changed before the release goes out.

If access is limited, then industry conferences and publications are a natural next best thing. You’ll be hearing the language of your industry as it’s spoken in its natural habitat. Listen, not to the speeches, but to the networking between sessions, over lunch, at coffee. Take copious dictation – this is not the time to leave out conjunctions and clauses – following the twists and turns as carefully as possible.

Likewise, avoid the articles written for industry publications that have lifeless prose. Look for authors who are clearly reporting from the front lines. Underline intelligent, elegant and unusual locutions and save them. You’ll be glad you did next time you’re asked to write a quote.

Don’t succumb to jargon.
Putting detail in quotes doesn’t mean resorting to jargon. Avoid consultant-speak and your company’s unique acronyms and naming conventions. If you mean IT, use IT, not the unusual name (Technical Information Resources & Services) your company has created for its IT function. If your company is drilling off the western shore of Australia, write it like humans talk. Don’t say: “Our successful drilling offshore Western Australia…”

Do know when to fold ‘em.
Really, I meant it when I said I didn’t set out to pick on Chevron. Something I love about this press release is that it’s short and sweet. You get the news, you get a couple of quotes, and you get the Chevron boilerplate. And, they avoid some of the sillier hallmarks of corporate press releases, such as…

Don’t make the CEO say how excited, happy, thrilled or delighted he or she is at the news.
Every press release ever written about good news seems to quote a senior executive saying how excited he or she is with today’s developments. Would you expect the CEO to say he’s unhappy? Because that might be news.

When writing becomes formulaic, it gives readers a happy excuse to skip over standardized phrases. Keep the reporter reading your press release on the edge of his seat. Or at least, keep her guessing. Let her be the one who’s thrilled and delighted that your senior leader has something intelligent and newsworthy to say about today’s developments.

Do individualize quotes if more than one person is being quoted.
You may be asked to create quotes for more than one executive, depending on the news or the size of the effort you’re announcing. If you want the quotes to get coverage, then Quotee #2 must sound different from Quotee #1.

Avoid doing what Chevron did. After their first quoted exec said this – “Our successful drilling program offshore Western Australia demonstrates Chevron’s global exploration capability” – their second executive said this: “Our on-going exploration success continues to add to our Australian resource base, further underpinning our drive to be a leading supplier of liquefied natural gas to world markets and natural gas to Western Australia.”

The substance of these quotes isn’t that different and, more to the point, the words they’re using are exactly the same: discovery offshore Western Australia drilling program success.

This is where knowing each person’s unique style of speaking helps. You can also focus on their different roles in the company. Quote #1 typically belongs to the CEO. But, Quote #2 may be from the person who led the five-year project and understands both the technical aspects and the hard work that went into it. So, the CEO can describe how this news affects the current and longer-term prospects for the company, while the project lead provides the interesting nitty-gritty details.

If the CEO is a well-known company spokesperson, but Quotee #2 is not, it’s wise to introduce her by name and descriptive role (use title on second reference or not at all) to give the reporter some idea why she’s being given airtime. For example: “Jane Smith, who oversaw the 400-member project team from start to finish, said…”

Don’t “further the legacy,” “expand on tradition,” or “continue the success.”
These are phrases that make a reporter’s eyes glaze. Sorry to say, but statements like these are clear indications to a journalist that there’s nothing of import in a press release. Journalists read dozens of releases a day that say exactly the same thing, which is why most press release prose gets the axe.

Many companies are bound by regulations to avoid certain “forward-looking statements,” which is why phrases like these crop up, designed to pretend to say something visionary without saying anything. If your hands are tied, and you really can’t say anything further, then don’t. You’ll make a better impression on reporters than writing stuff like this.

If you are allowed to broach the future, then avoid the clichés and have your senior executive say something meaningful or detailed.

Do bring a recording device – for video and voice.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to schedule time with a senior leader to interview them about the subject of the press release, then you’ll be 3/4 of the way to writing a great quote already.

Remember to bring a good digital voice recorder to capture the nuances of what the executive thinks about this announcement. And a hand-held video camera (if the executive is willing and if the news is important enough to warrant it).

Maybe you’ll only share the video with employees via your intranet. On the other hand, if you’ve got good soundbytes or video, you’ve created the opportunity for radio, TV, news websites, bloggers and podcasts to give you far more coverage than a regular old press release will generate. What you can give them is the real deal – honest-to-goodness quotes directly from a senior executive of your company – in multiple formats that have the potential to reach a much wider audience.

It will show that you understand what reporters need to tell a news story and that you work and think like a reporter. All of that is what makes you a trusted resource, which creates value and interest for the content you create in the future (and the quotes within it).

Saving Face: 11 Ways to Recover from a PR Disaster

Netflix stock has opened like a poorly reviewed sequel for the past two weeks after reports that the online DVD/movie-streaming company lost 800,000 customers in the last quarter.

The irony is that new pricing and a hastily conceived change in business model, aimed at boosting Netflix’s stock, turned off customers, inviting reputation-drubbing reviews, and ultimately caused scared investors to dump shares.

There were three separate chances – the pricing change, the Qwikster announcement, the Qwikster demise – for Netflix to communicate effectively and help their customers adjust to change, yet the company seemed to bungle each opportunity, infuriating customers to such an extent that they unsubscribed from the service.

Why did communications go so wrong? And, once they’d created a problem, how could Netflix have handled communications to keep customers and investors happy? How do you successfully retract messages and deliver newer, better ones?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Netflix customer and have been for about seven years, though I don’t own stock in the company. I am probably what Netflix considers a Luddite user – I’ve always had a low-priced DVD-only plan. I was unaffected by most of this as a customer; as a communicator, I learned, and was reminded of, some valuable lessons about messaging change. Here’s what Netflix could’ve done before, during and after…

Introducing the Higher-Priced, Reduced-Service Business Model

In July, Netflix announced it would change its service offerings and price structure. Up until then, folks who had DVD-by-mail accounts also had the option to stream some movies for free from the Netflix library.

Here’s Lesson #1: When you give away a product or service for free, as the old joke goes, you’ve just established its worth. Netflix should have done a better job communicating why it was offering free streaming to begin with, and it should have been explicit about how long the free offer was going to last, so customers weren’t surprised when it went away. Even if they didn’t do this when they launched free streaming, there was still time to communicate before the price hike and service change.

Lesson #2: Explain your decision clearly and provide evidence. When you’ve offered something for free, then decide to charge for it, it’s going to feel like a loss to your customer. When brands and companies retract an existing feature, they need to make the case for change to the audience. The explanation – and any research backing it up – must be compelling enough to convince the audience to adapt to the change. The rationale can’t simply be about a company’s bottom line. (For an effective example of charging for an online service that used to be free, check out this NPR story on The New York Times’ paywall.)

Instead, Netflix choose to deliver the news about changes in pricing and service like this:

“Last November when we launched our $7.99 unlimited streaming plan, DVDs by mail was treated as a $2 add on [sic] to our unlimited streaming plan. At the time, we didn’t anticipate offering DVD only [sic] plans. Since then we have realized that there is still a very large continuing demand for DVDs both from our existing members as well as non-members. Given the long life we think DVDs by mail will have, treating DVDs as a $2 add on to our unlimited streaming plan neither makes great financial sense nor satisfies people who just want DVDs.”

Lesson #3: Know your audience. Buried inside this price-change announcement was the news that Netflix had plans to eliminate DVD-only plans. Essentially, they were telling customers with DVD-only preferences that they’d better jump on the streaming bandwagon quick-smart or they’d find themselves paying for a combo plan while using only one part of it. Kind of like paying for a surf-and-turf platter and only eating the steak.

If this wasn’t confusing enough – and if freaked out customers were still reading – Netflix abruptly reversed itself: “Since then we have realized that there is still a very large continuing demand for DVDs both from our existing members as well as non-members.” (Italics mine.) The language takes the form of a pronouncement: We’ve decided this for you in consultation with ourselves. With any change – and any decision that affects customers’ wallets is always going to feel like a big change – audiences like to feel as if they’ve been consulted, like they’ve had a chance to provide their point of view. This messaging is entirely one-way communication. It’s no surprise that customers took to social media to voice their complaints…and that Netflix remained silent in those channels for days afterward.

Lesson #4: Be human. Statements like “…treating DVDs as a $2 add on [sic] to our unlimited streaming plan neither makes great financial sense nor satisfies people who just want DVDs” reinforced what many Netflix subscribers viewed as a money-first, customers-second approach. This will happen when the words “financial sense” appear before “people who just want DVDs.”

When communicating about change or any difficult subject, always, always place human beings before any other issue. And try to make those human beings your audience, your customers or your stakeholders, not you and your investors.

With each of its decisions, Netflix failed to indicate if they’d done research into what customers wanted and needed and the price points they were willing to pay. How difficult would it have been to poll customers, invite them to focus groups, or engage them in social media channels before making a business decision?

But, companies on the brink of change are often ruled by fear – of what customers really think, how they’ll react, and what any hint of change will do to Wall Street. Decisions based on research into stakeholder perceptions – part of the due diligence of change management – are a lot more strategic than ones based on assumptions. When we engage stakeholders, we start to think of them as individuals and spend more time with them in two-way conversations, listening and learning. As a result, our communications become a lot more relevant, relatable, human.

An Apology Minus a Strategy

It took until mid-September for Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to jump into the fray the company had caused.

“I messed up,” he began. “I owe everyone an apology.” It was such a promising start, seeming to acknowledge the problem. Unfortunately, this was also the email that begat Qwikster and foisted the awkward two websites/two passwords/two credit card charges business structure onto baffled customers.

Lesson #5: Demonstrate that you’re sincere. Apologizing was the right move for Netflix, and the CEO was the right person to deliver the communication. The apology itself was well-worded; it didn’t resort to any “I’m sorry you thought I said that when I really said this” shenanigans.

Hastings went on to provide some context, pointing to companies, such as AOL and Borders, which had failed to adapt to change. “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly,” he wrote.

Then, he added, “When Netflix is evolving rapidly, however, I need to be extra-communicative. This is the key thing I got wrong.” But, when he tried to re-explain the pricing and service changes, the language again turns a deaf ear on customers:

“So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently. It’s hard for me to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary and best: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to ‘Qwikster.’”

“We realized….we need…we think it is necessary and best…” I’ve included the link to the full email so that you can see for yourself that, besides the apology, there’s little in the way of an explanation that takes into account the needs of and what’s best for customers. Really, it’s not about you, the email essentially says, it’s about how hard this is for me.

“For me the Netflix red envelope has always been a source of joy. The new envelope is still that distinctive red, but now it will have a Qwikster logo. I know that logo will grow on me over time, but still, it is hard. I imagine it will be the same for many of you. We’ll also return to marketing our DVD by mail service, with its amazing selection, now with the Qwikster brand.” [sic]

Lesson #6: Pinpoint the issue and address it directly. In its haste to announce and explain Qwikster, Hastings and Netflix lost sight of the real issue at hand: customers were upset over a perceived loss of service combined with a price hike. They weren’t clamoring for Qwikster as a solution. This lesson goes hand-in-hand with the previous one – it’s impossible to be (or sound) sincere when you’re addressing the wrong subject.

For this to feel like a genuine apology, Netflix needed to clearly state its rationale for the price changes and back up its words with tangible improvement to existing service(s) that demonstrated a benefit to customers despite the price increase. The Qwikster announcement merely changed the subject, it didn’t make the issue go away.

Lesson #7: Unless you can poke fun at yourself, don’t try to be funny when communicating difficult information. “There are no pricing changes (we’re done with that!),” Hastings added to his email, striving to be jocular. Humor is tough under the best circumstances; it never works when your audience is angry (actually, it works to make them angrier) because it sounds like you’re missing the point. Which is exactly what Hastings was doing.

The About-face

Customers weren’t the only ones left scratching their heads. Investors, the audience Netflix was preaching to all along, became equally irate as the missteps shone a spotlight on an utter lack of strategic thinking in the executive suites. Stock price reflected this loss of confidence, plummeting some 70 percent in three months, after visiting $300 a share in mid-July of this year.

R.I.P. Qwikster.

On Oct. 10, a terse email from “The Netflix Team” – rather than the CEO this time – announced that Qwikster had imploded on the launch pad.

The note reiterated its pricing messaging without acknowledging the customer outcry that had led to Netflix’s disastrous business model revamp: “While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.”

The brevity of this communication was designed to get the whole thing out of the way quickly. Yet there are still lessons to be drawn:

Lesson #8: Don’t market, explain. With every announcement, Netflix felt the need to market some additional service. Here it’s a giant paragraph (far longer than the space allotted the slap-dash demise of Qwikster) devoted to their streaming services. It’s random, it’s off-topic, it’s just not helpful. Mainly, it suggests Netflix is just going to keep hammering away at their messages and not listen to or care about what the audience has to say or needs to know.

Lesson #9: Enlist back-up. Work with industry pundits and influencers among your target audience in advance of any big announcement. Explain what you’re about to do, demonstrate the research you’ve done to support the change, detail how you plan to message about it, and listen to their reaction. Adjust your message accordingly, then ask for their support when traditional media come calling with questions and on social networking sites, before chatter gets loud. Netflix should have enlisted industry analysts and techies before its first announcement; it was an absolute requirement by the time they retracted their position on Qwikster.

Some final lessons that may help brands and companies avoid PR disasters like this:

Lesson #10: PR can’t solve everything. You gotta feel for Netflix’s spokesman, who was sounding mighty beleaguered by the time announcement No. 3 rolled out. This was one of those PR disasters where Netflix basically revealed that “the Emperor has no clothes.” There was no strategic thinking or planning behind Qwikster – it was a knee-jerk reaction to a deluge of angry customer comments – and no PR can dress that up.

Lesson #11: Focus on the future. This is where your customers and Wall Street want you anyway. It’s clear Netflix had a vision of a future where clunky old DVDs – easily damaged, slow to mail – were no longer part of the business model. Instant streaming seemed to be the way of the future. But, the company needed to do the work to get customers to share the same vision, understand the value proposition, overcome any technology gaps or fears, and adopt the new way of accessing the Netflix library.

To be visionary, you have to know how to lead. In this case, Netflix needed to invest time, money and, goodness, yes, communications to educate the portion of its customer base that wasn’t in that magical early-adopter space. Teaching, sharing knowledge and information, is always preferable to pronouncing. And, like two-way communication on social networks, it puts you squarely in touch with your most valued constituents and helps you understand what they’re thinking, what they need, and when they’re ready to make the leap with you.