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Atticus Finch/Will Kane Come to the Rescue

And so, the appointment Wednesday of Bob Mueller as a special counsel to look into all things Trump/Russia caused some immediate reactions.

The first is I flashed on Gregory Peck (as Atticus Finch) and Gary Cooper (in High Noon), standing stall and erect, commanding the courtroom or the local law-enforcement crisis … and bringing a level of credibility that the citizens haven‘t seen in a long, long time.

(C’mon, check out Will Kane on the left.  If that’s not Mueller, it certainly is Jim Comey.)

In that same flash,  I also saw a deranged Nicolas Cage hiding out in the back bedroom of the local brothel.

This, apparently, is how I process the ebb and flow of politics in 2017.

My follow-up reaction … which probably was driven by my earlier ones, is that symbolism can be powerful in shaping perceptions.

Consider:

  • Robert Mueller the war hero.  Donald Trump the non-participant.
  • Upon accepting the special counsel appointment, Robert Mueller resigns immediately from his law firm, WilmerHale.  More than 115 days into his presidency, Donald Trump has not distanced himself from his business interests.
  • Robert Mueller immediately has widespread, bi-partisan support.  Donald Trump constantly goes out of his way to divide.
  • Robert Mueller’s stellar reputation.  Donald Trump’s clouded reputation.
  • Robert Mueller’s orderly, no-nonsense process.  Donald Trump’s “spaghetti-against-the-wall,” 24/7 turmoil.

Gregory Peck vs. Nicolas Cage.

Gary Cooper vs. Nicolas Cage.

Either way, it’s not going to be a fair fight.

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Dear Paul Ryan: I Wrote These News Conference Remarks for You

160323-paul-ryan-3-js-1160I have been a fortunate man, both personally and professionally.

I have a wonderful wife and three children who mean the world to me and always are there for me. And I have always tried to be there for them.

My career choice to be a public servant has been gratifying and rewarding. I’ve tried to make a difference and do what is right … to be honest and to remember who it is I am working for. I have been blessed with great opportunities – in the House of Representatives, as the Vice Presidential nominee and now as the Speaker of the House.

I am extremely thankful for all the blessings that have come my way.

As the Speaker, I naturally have felt a great responsibility to the Republican Party and have tried to make decisions and act in the best interests of the party. Not only is it is my job, it also is how I believe.

Over the past year, and especially the last few months, I have found the decision-making process increasingly more difficult and I have tried to balance the interests of our party and what I believe is best for our country with the statements and positions of our presidential nominee. At the core of my belief is the conviction that appointees to the Supreme Court are the most important challenge facing us and that I, as speaker, need to support our nominee as he presents the best path forward for ensuring that conservatives justices get appointment to the court.

While I are extremely loyal to the party and believe that my support was the right thing to do, I recently found myself considering the issue of party versus country. It is not a simple assessment to make. But one message kept resonating in my head: Our time on earth in finite and we can’t ignore those opportunities when we can make a difference.

I thought about this statement and I thought about my family. And the words that I kept saying to myself were the following: I want to be a person who is remembered for what he did with his time on earth, not what he chose not to do.

And, so, that is what I am going to do.

I don’t think the upcoming presidential election is about party loyalty any longer. I think it is about who we are as a country and who we are as people. It is about our social fabric. Our country is at risk in this current election and the risk is great – and not confined to the appointment of Supreme Court justices.

I have decided the time has come where I need to set my own comfort level to the side and be a person who does something with his time on earth.

Consequently, I am announcing today that I will not support or endorse the Republican nominee for President and that I will do everything in my power to ensure he does not get elected. At the same time, I will work earnestly to elect all down-ticket Republican candidates, and I believe we can be successful with this as our aim.

I know I may, in fact, be putting my career at risk. I understand that. But I am not willing to put our country at risk and I am not willing to put at risk who I am as a person.

I am just one person, of course. So, as part of this effort, I am asking President George H.W. Bush, President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Governor Mitt Romney to actively join me in the effort.

This is the right thing to do for our country and I am comfortable with my statement today.

Thank you and God Bless the United States of America.

Hot Buttons for Communicators and Marketers

week2ntjsfmarketing-mistakes665x335-crop-600x338It was really interesting recently to hear a group of seasoned communicators/ marketers call out some of their biggest frustrations these days.

Any of these sound familiar?

Experience vs. “Let’s run a test”

There is nothing new, of course, in so-called experts handing out advice about areas of communications for which they have no practical experience.  But a new twist seems to have touched a nerve.

Experienced this one before?

After hearing the situation and the challenge/opportunity, the experienced professional tells the group seated around the table that best practices strongly suggest a certain strategy and/or tactic.  She knows her recommendation is the right step.  She’s utilized it before herself, and she’s seen how others have benefitted from the same action.

It works.  It’s proven.  It’s the appropriate counsel she should provide.

Enough said.

Well … not really.

Across the table, there’s a voice (maybe authoritative, maybe a bit nervous).  He says:  “Well, we can run a quick test and sample 100 people and have an answer back to you by next Thursday.”

A colleague (also on that side of the table) seconds the idea, the meeting concludes and the sampling initiative essentially kicks the issue down the road.

  • Best case: The issue somehow resolves itself during this period of inactivity.
  • Worst case: The lack of action exacerbates the threat or causes the company to miss the opportunity.
  • Likely case: The data that comes back from the sampling is not really helpful and doesn’t provide any useful additional context.

Question to consider:  If you need to run a survey to provide a piece of strategic advice, should you really be positioning yourself in the first place as an expert on that issue?

Reality to remember: The fact is, the experienced practitioner’s advice not only includes best practices, it probably also includes results from studies that have been conducted through the years.

Deadlines vs. quality

It’s getting near crunch time, and there seems to be a growing opinion from the key decision-maker that the only way you can meet the deadline for providing your strategic recommendation is to sign off on a deliverable that might not be as good as it should be.  Quite simply: the boss can’t deal with any more comments or recommendations.

“It will be good enough,” he says.  “We can always play with it later and make it better.”

Wrong.  “Good enough” simply is not acceptable.

Why is it, then, that some people allow a deadline to define “good enough” rather than have a goal of developing “best possible” by that deadline?

Why is it, as well, that we can’t prioritize “best possible”?  A wise colleague once commented that “the client will remember that it was bad, but if it is good, they won’t remember that it was a day late.”

His advice?  Speak with your boss or client, tell them you are “close but, in another 24 hours, it will be much better.”  It’s honest counsel.

Remember the old adage “you only get one chance …”?  Not only is it memorable, it also is true.

Marketing price vs. marketing need

So, here’s the issue: The $27,000 car is going on sale this weekend for $24,900.

Question: Is the “value message” that you have teed up going to resonate equally with:

  1. A person who had already planned to go car shopping this weekend?
  2. A person who is not currently in the market (for whatever reason) for a new automobile?

As marketing plans are developed and then implemented, it is critical not to lose track of your original compelling idea.  If your business rationale is to sell solutions that address a need, your messaging must not only reflect that need, but also your solution.  If you are basing your appeal on price, you better make sure that your targets are actually in the market for what you are selling … otherwise, you are just sending messages off into thin air.

Messages not only need to touch people, they need to touch the right people – who also might in fact be thinking about the same issue at the time you touch them.

So, net-net … if I’m not thinking about car shopping this weekend, it isn’t likely that the discount price is going to affect me.

$14 is more than $9

Sometimes, in fact, your messaging is pretty simple.

Like …

  1. $14 is more than $9
  2. Qualified is better than unqualified
  3. Local is better than not local
  4. Experienced is better than inexperienced

As communicators, we love to write and develop messages that we believe really underline the differences that advantage our clients or our employer.  But, sometimes, those messages are just empty calories or bumper stickers that really don’t do the job.  Sometimes we overthink (and overwrite) and lose sight of the real message.

It may be beautifully written or presented, but ask yourself: Does it do the job?

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12 Keys for Thought-Leadership Effectiveness

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAedAAAAJGQzYTM4NmI3LTkyZTctNDYwMC1hNGU1LThhZDUyNjUwYWU5NwThought leadership is a communications and marketing strategy (and tactic, for that matter) that companies, organizations and individuals have utilized to varying degrees of success for decades. Our nation’s founding fathers, in particular, even used an 18th century delivery system – the pamphlet – to extol ideas (and, in some cases, to engage in character assassination).

The strategy also is one of those concepts that everyone in an organization typically believes he or she understands completely and can easily “bang out” without much planning or, interestingly enough, actual “thought.” That belief, of course, sits right at the top of the list of most-common mistakes made when putting a though-leadership program together.

Setting that one aside for now, here are 12 other keys to ensuring your thought-leadership program is interesting, on the mark and effective.

  • Start curious/inspire curiosity. We want to expand the conversation, correct? We do that by expanding the conversation – and the thinking – right at the beginning of the process. Don’t begin “topic-mining” by assuming you already know everything about a particular subject. If you begin curious in developing your points of view you will inspire your readers to be curious as well. Elevate.  Make them think, encourage them to learn.
  • “I” comes before “M.” OK, OK. Sometimes it’s just alphabetical. Thought leadership is about ideas. It’s not about marketing. Present the way you think, how you view situations, how you go about creating solutions. Don’t try to directly sell business. The business will accrue to you if your ideas leave the desired impression.
  • Answer questions. Don’t know where to start? Think you don’t really have any unique ideas or points of view. The following will kick start your creative thinking: What are the questions your clients have been asking? What are the questions you wish they would ask because you have some great ideas? What are the questions you are scared to death they will ask and you don’t have answers? What are the questions they are answering for you because you haven’t been timely in getting your message out?
  • Focus on narrow/narrow your focus. There is nothing inherently wrong about having an interesting take on a single topic or issue. Start there. And, even after you start putting your thoughts together on what you perceived as narrow in the first place, go ahead and try to trim some fat. You’ll be able to narrow your focus and make your article even more poignant. Remember: the reader won’t remember if your article was too short, but he or she will remember if it strayed off topic.
  • Right-size and know targets. You can always zero in on your audience better than you know them right now. High likelihood: Whatever category you put them in today, there is a smaller subset that provides a clearer, more-informed perspective. Go small to go big – the tighter the size of your group, the more upside for positive results.
  • Align succinct messages. First, understand that your themes need to be business-oriented. Because you are not selling products but instead positioning thinking, your messaging needs to make the business case … tightly, clearly and on the mark.
  • Back up. Don’t retreat. Back up your points of view. You have several methods – facts, research, best practices … all of the above. OK, you have gone to the trouble to develop a point of view or protocol or observation. And you have developed tight messaging that conveys exactly what you want to say. Don’t leave it hanging out there without any support. Reinforce it to drive it home.
  • Timeliness/Relevancy. So, your POV is really very interesting to you, but will it be to potential targets? Timeliness and relevancy at least give it a fighting chance. And by timeliness, current and future are far more compelling than hearing about how you solved something in the past. As for relevancy: we’ve already tightened up your audience focus, right? Is the subject matter spot-on for that very specific group
  • Patterns/Trends/Commonalities. If you don’t find yourself using one of these words – or a reasonable synonym – in the first two paragraphs of your article, you probably should close the file, call timeout and rethink what you are doing. One-offs aren’t the stuff.
  • Restraint.  Seems like we shouldn’t have to include this one, but … control yourself – stay away from what you don’t know. Do you really have experience with the area you are discussing? Or, are you stretching? (If you find your article is filling up with Hamburger Helper, your answer to the second question probably is “yes.”)
  • Sticky links. Granted, you aren’t running a commercial or an ad. However, there does need to be a stickiness or linkage – or, better yet, a “sticky linkage” – between what you do, how you do it and the solutions your clients will need in the future.
  • C-Squared. Deliver consistently and consistency. When effective, thought-leadership pieces are issued on a regular basis and readers look for them on at least an ad hoc schedule. Likewise, when effective, the quality level – irrespective of author or topic – remains at the same high mark that comes to be associated with the campaign.

If your thought-leading program is heading in the right direction, most of these keys take care of themselves. But, it’s always worth running through the list. Your want to deliver an effective program and the right approach can get you the desired results.

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A New Use for “The No Asshole Rule”

nbc-fires-donald-trump-after-he-calls-mexicans-rapists-and-drug-runnersNine years ago, Bob Sutton, a professor at Stanford University, published a book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.  The premise was pretty straightforward: don’t hire/surround yourself with assholes but, if you do, here’s how to survive.

As we move into the general election season, it’s a read that is well worth revisiting.  While his observations go to corporate and organization settings, it doesn’t take much effort on the part of the concerned reader to apply them to the 2016 presidential election.

So, without any additional setup, let’s revisit his work …

Sutton starts with a given: assholes typically are bad for other employees who work for and with them, and for the company or organization that enables them to exist.  Yep.  What makes him great, however, is his position that yeah, sure, sometimes assholes even are successful – but life is too valuable and too short to put up with them.

(By the way, Sutton has written several other books and his blog, which makes for a fun and informative read, is at bobsutton.typepad.com/…)

Sutton also puts forth two tests to determine if that person in question is an asshole:

•     Do people feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person in question? In particular, does he make them feel worse about themselves?

•     Does the person aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful and not at those who are more powerful?

Now, to be sure, Sutton recognizes that everyone acts in these ways from time to time.  But he asserts that “certified assholes” have a different pattern.

“A person needs to display a persistent pattern, to have a history of episodes that end with one ‘target’ after another feeling belittled, put down, humiliated, disrespected, oppressed, de-energized, and generally worse about themselves,” he writes.  “Psychologists make the distinction between states (fleeting feelings, thoughts, and actions) and traits (enduring personality characteristics) by looking for consistency across places and times – if someone consistently takes actions that leave a trail of victims in their wake, they deserve to be branded as certified assholes.”

Or, perhaps, in this presidential year, as a “branded” asshole.

Sutton also says there are a dozen everyday actions that assholes utilize.  A few of them are worth citing.

  • Personal insults
  • Invading one’s “personal territory”
  • Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  • “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  • Withering e-mail flames
  • Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  • Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  • Rude interruptions
  • Dirty looks
  • Treating people as if they are invisible

Sounds like we just revisited the primary season.  But don’t despair.  Although Sutton doesn’t believe assholes always are avoidable, or can be eradicated, he does offer a survival guide of sorts to help us cope.  A couple of his tips follow.

  • Reframing: Change How You See Things.  “Learning when and how to simply not give a damn isn’t the kind of advice you hear in most business books, but it can help you make the most of a lousy situation,” he writes.
  • Develop Indifference and Emotional Detachment.  Sutton writes: “Passion is an overrated virtue …, and indifference is an underrated virtue.  As Walt Whitman said, ‘Detach whatever insults your soul.’  I think this is a lovely, compact summary or the virtues of developing indifference to demeaning jerks in the workplace, or anywhere else for that matter.”
  • Look for Small Wins.  “If you can’t win the big war against the creeps, start looking for small battles that you can win, as the sense of control you gain will sustain your spirit,” Sutton advises.  “And if one minor victory after another begins to pile up, who knows – you might start a movement … where the pro asshole rule is slowly but surely replaced by the no asshole rule.”

And I’ll add a final one.  If you are writing about an asshole, don’t actually type out his name.

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Would a Timeout Work in This Election Season?

1-time-out-timer-stoolTime for a timeout?

Yes, the presidential candidates are not children getting cranky or refusing to share.  Yes, they are adults.  But recent actions and behavior in the long and uber-crazy primary season lead to only one conclusion.

Hill, Bernie, the Donnie, Teddy-Boy and John-John need to go sit in their respective quiet spots for a while and think about how they are behaving.

Hill’s playmate, New York Billy de Blasio, needs to find a corner, as well.

This past Sunday, Hill and New York Billy appeared at a political event and tried to impress the crowd by laughingly employing a scripted comedy sequence.

And why not?  These are funny people, right?

Noting that the mayor took a long time to give the former New York senator his endorsement, Hill said: “Thanks for the endorsement, Bill.  Took you long enough.”

Inexplicably, and with extreme tone deafness, New York Billy replied: “Sorry, Hillary, I was running on C.P. time.”

The audience reaction underlined the offensiveness of New York Billy’s remark, given that “C.P. time” not only is a racially insensitive abbreviation for “colored people’s time” but also is a remark that many had hoped had faded from use.

“The controversy couldn’t come at a more inauspicious time for Clinton,” writes Adam Howard on the NBC News website.  “… Bill Clinton has been in the hot seat this past week for public, racially charged clashes with Black Lives Matter protesters. Both Clintons have been increasingly under fire for the past vociferous support for a 1994 crime bill which has not been faulted for sky high incarceration rates, which has disproportionately impacted African-Americans.”

Timeout!

And then there’s Bernie, who was blasted last week by former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren for his claim that Israel has killed more than 10,000 innocent Palestinians in Gaza.  On Sunday, when being interviewed on CNN, Bernie dismissed the criticism, but showed — surprisingly — that he didn’t know who Oren is.

“Who is Mr. Oren?” Mr. Sanders said after being asked about the criticism.

Oops.

Timeout!

This came atop their earlier “qualified/unqualified” squabble that was reminiscent of two kids screaming in the street.

Did so!  Did not!  Did so!  Did not!

They questioned each other’s bona fides to be president.  Bernie wondered about Hill’s integrity and Hill suggested that Bernie is not a “real Democrat.”

Timeout!

As for the Donnie: he is getting very cranky because he doesn’t like how others are playing.  He’s probably hungry or needs a nap.

“You saw what happened in Colorado,” he whined after his most recent defeat.  “It’s a fix. … It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system.”

And then there are the other kids with whom the Donnie hangs.  Noted Kirstan Conley in the New York Post: “Trump was introduced by Jennifer Crisafulli, who was fired on ‘The Apprentice’ and lost a job in real life after being criticized for comments about ‘two old Jewish fat ladies’ who she said were ‘jaded old bags.’”

Timeout!

Teddy-Boy, meanwhile, the self-described outsider with whom no one wanted to play, has become acceptable because … well, just because.  “If they gave out a report card for first-term senators, Cruz would get an F for ‘plays well with others’,” writes Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times in a column titled “Ted Cruz isn’t Donald Trump, so he’s good enough.”

Goldberg notes the irony that Teddy-Boy spent years building his reputation as the guy who wants to tear down the system, “and now it’s the system, not necessarily the voters, that may put him over the top.”

And now Teddy-Boy has accused the Donnie of threatening delegates; this was part of his response to the Donnie’s claims that Teddy-Boy used “gestapo” tactics to win in Colorado.

“That is a tactic of union thugs,” he said during the interview with Glenn Beck, reports ABC News.  “That is violence. It is oppressive. The idea that Donald is threatening delegates, we’re seeing that pattern over and over again. Donald needs to understand he’s not Michael Corleone, Donald needs to stop threatening the voters. He needs to stop threatening the delegates. He is not a mobster.”

Timeout!

John-John, meanwhile, is getting punchy because he has been talking – and saying nice things – for months, but no one is listening.  So he’s decided to go in a new direction.

“The Ohio governor’s speech at the Women’s National Republican Club in New York had all the trappings of a presidential affair, with ‘Hail to the Chief’ piped into the room and American flags prominently placed behind him,” wrote Eliza Collins in Politico.

And John-John was very critical of his opponents … for the first time.  “Some who feed off of the fears and anger that is felt by some of us and exploit it feed their own insatiable desire for fame or attention,” he said.  “That could drive America down into a ditch, not make us great again.”

He also said the other kids (ah, adults) are not playing nice and suggesting “disturbing” solutions and behavior, including religious tests for immigration, targeted neighborhood surveillance, draconian tariffs, and a dramatic rethink of NATO.

“I have stood on a stage and watched with amazement as candidates wallowed in the mud, viciously attacked one another, called each other liars and disparaged each other’s character,” he said.  “Those who continuously push that type of behavior are not worthy of the office they are seeking.”

Timeout!

But wait, the experts aren’t certain about the value of timeouts.

“Next time the need for discipline arises, parents might consider a ‘time-in’: forging a loving connection, such as sitting with the child and talking or comforting,” write Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne, Bryson, Ph.D., in Time magazine.  “Some time to calm down can be extremely valuable for children, teaching them how to pause and reflect on their behavior.”

Talking and comforting?  Maybe we can work that into the upcoming debates.

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