Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Our country is so polarized right now because everyone relies on their unique feed of cherry-picked news.

There is no easy answer to this because:

1) Social media has flattened the traditional journalistic power hierarchy. Anyone and everyone with an internet connection can be a reporter or a publisher.

2) Corporate interests and political interference lead to bias and censorship.

3) Politicians tend to operate with as much secrecy as possible.

4) When politicians can't work in secrecy they seek to "control the narrative."

One must understand that:

* Politicians act the way they do not only in instances of shadiness but also to avoid disclosing their plans to the "other side."

* Bureaucracies, federal and otherwise, also act to perpetuate themselves and this prevents them from being as forthcoming as they should.

* Businesses act to protect themselves so as to stay in business.

* And of course the wealthy individual in power seeks to keep that money and that power.

When you add national security interests, delicate national and international negotiations, and ongoing investigations to the mix, getting real data is hard.

And so we are left with independent research by reporters and citizens. But the problem is, it's all too easy to make up a story when you just don't have all the facts and so you are stringing together whatever is there.

Unfortunately we lack a shared repository of trusted independent investigative journalism to turn to for relief.

The government could fill in the gaps by focusing much, much more on communicating priorities, sharing status updates and releasing data in an easily digestible way.

My feeling is that President Trump, like Obama before him, is skipping this step. He is not trusting the people to deal with the same facts he sees. And so the choice is either to trust him blindly, attack him blindly, or try to make sense of his actions given very limited information.

He is President now and needs to reach out to the people who did not vote for him, as well as those who did. With more than just platitudes. With reasoned arguments and step by step progress updates.

It is not enough to just say "I'm right and tough luck if you don't agree with me."

_______

All opinions my own.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Theme I: Attitude

  1. Take Yourself Seriously. Not seriously like in an egotistical way but seriously like your choices have consequences. If you aren't taking yourself seriously right now, I guarantee it has to do with the logic of depression, meaning that you tell yourself things like this: "I tried before, and I failed." If this is you, understand that your mind isn't functioning right. You're going to have to retrain your brain, even if you have to stand there in front of the bathroom mirror in the morning and make accurate statements to yourself repetitively. Not phony affirmations. Sentences such as this: "I can't control the past. I can control what I do right now."
  2. Stop Being Irrationally Afraid. Sometimes we think, "If X happens, I'm screwed." Sometimes we live our whole lives that way. We don't speak up when we should. We don't leave a bad job or a bad relationship. We don't break ties with toxic friends, or family. Because we have this terrible cloud of fear hanging over us, an all-purpose sense of doom. Of course this isn't to tell you in some magical way that everything will be all right no matter what. It isn't to prescribe unrealistic choices. Sometimes you have to live with things you just don't like. But at the very least, you should say to yourself, "What is the worst thing that can happen if I act?" And then consciously decide to go one way or another. If you find that you are just paralyzed or consumed by fear, or anxious thoughts bubble up constantly, try writing the following sentence down, staring at it, saying it out loud (as above), and even putting it up on your bulletin board: "I am a survivor. I have survived a lot already. I am much stronger than I think."
  3. Surrender. This is for the control freaks who can't prioritize, can't delegate, and can't take anything off their plate because they somehow think the weight of the world rests squarely on their shoulders. Don't believe in God? Just call it the Universe; do your best and then hit the "Let It Go" button. 
  4. Be Generous. There is no rational reason to be nice to other people. Most of the time, they won't pay you back, and it's time you could have spent advancing your own self-interest. But somehow, when you give, the Universe does give back to you. It changes your mood and your attitude; it gives you a sense of purpose. Doesn't mean you should ignore your own needs, but it does mean that selflessness yields intangible dividends.

Theme II: Intention

  1. Adopt A Posture Of Success. Some people have a ton of goals, like their entire life is about crossing off every item on the "bucket list." Others go to the other extreme and insist on "taking life as it comes." If you can pick one thing to focus on, whether professional or personal, and then see that through it will balance you. Remember it doesn't have to be an outcome-based goal (lose 30 pounds); it can be a process-based goal (walk half an hour a day). The point is not really to achieve the goal, but rather to develop a genuine sense of belief in yourself.
  2. Be Accountable. We all know an excuse when other people use one, but it's all too easy to justify our own bad behavior. Another way of putting this is that we "gaslight" ourselves, meaning we avoid seeing things as they are and instead manipulate our own selves into believing that we are right, almost at any cost. How many arguments, how many accidents, how many crimes, how many lawsuits, and how many wars could be avoided if people simply said, "That was a screwup on our end. How can we fix it?"
  3. Pay Attention To Time: l know that in some cultures, including some work cultures, being on time means being late. But make it a habit to be on time. This is not so much about the hands on the clock as it is about demonstrating respect for the other people in the room. It also forces you to be present at the meeting instead of thinking about other things or playing games with your cellphone. Similarly, keep an eye on how much of other people's time you are spending. Respect their need to get things done, and that time is very limited -- it actually is the most valuable commodity on the planet.

Theme III: Presentation

  1. Improve Your Verbal Communication Skills. Last night I was watching a video that has gone "viral." It was amazing to me that the person featured on the video -- essentially a spontaneous street confrontation -- was so incredibly articulate, without any preparation or prompting. Regardless of your profession, regardless of your career level, and regardless of your educational achievements, you can impress people by demonstrating powerful rhetorical skills. If that seems like an overwhelming task, you can join a group like Toastmasters, which is specifically aimed at helping people improve their ability to speak in public. If you don't have the bandwidth or desire to take on yet another activity, a very simple way to start is by practicing with your cellphone. You can record yourself answering a question, and then view the video to see where you did well, and where you tend to mess up.
  2. Dress Better. I know this advice is trite and overused, but read what I'm saying carefully. I did not say to "dress well," or "dress expensively," or "dress in ways that are considered fashionable." Rather, I'm only saying to up your game, or in the words of Chef Emeril Lagasse: "Kick it up a notch." Your focus needs to be on things that are doable and authentic - you, only better. Believe me, people will notice.
  3. Fix Up Your LinkedIn Profile: Here are two simple things you can do. Number one, add 2-3 sentences under each job that explain what you did there. Don't have 0 words and don't have 3 paragraphs. Check for typos etc. Second, you need recommendations. Not just endorsements, but actual words on your profile from people who know you and can say something nice. My personal preference on this is to reciprocate first, meaning to go to a connection's page and recommend them. To do this, click the down arrow next to "Send A Message," then click "Recommend." More directly, you can also ask directly -- in person, by phone or by email. To do this, from your profile page, look underneath and to the right of your photo, where it says "View Profile As." Click the down arrow, then click "Ask To Be Recommended."
Good luck.
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All opinions my own.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Introduction


Yesterday, January 23, 2017, the Federal Communicators Network (FCN) Professional Standards Working Group released the 10 tips below. I am part of the steering committee and a volunteer in this effort to promote the development of government-wide standards for professional conduct and quality communication.

Disclaimer


These tips are meant to help clarify some issues that federal employees may not be aware of, or that may be confusing. It is not meant to replace a thorough review of law, policy, and official guidance or to restrict or alter federal employees' rights and responsibilities in any way. When in doubt, please do not use this as a substitute for obtaining reliable direction from an official source.

This document, like all FCN documents, is unofficial in nature and volunteers' opinions, as well as publications, do not represent official guidance, the views of their federal agencies, or the views of the government as a whole.

Reproduction & Distribution


All FCN publications are public domain in nature, so these tips may be freely reproduced and distributed. If you do so, please include the disclaimer so that readers are not misled into thinking that this is an official government document.

The 10 Tips


  1. First Amendment Rights: Your personal social media profiles are your own, and for the most part, the federal government does not intend to control online activities that are purely personal (an example of an exception is the Hatch Act, which contains certain limits on employee free speech). Also, the same principles apply whether your speech occurs over social media or in more traditional ways, e.g. publishing a letter to the editor of a newspaper.
  2. Special Restrictions: Find out from your agency whether there are any special restrictions on your social media activity beyond the general rules that apply to all federal employees. For example, this might apply if you work for a law enforcement agency.
  3. If You Are Aware of Misconduct: Reporting fraud, waste and abuse to the appropriate authorities is lawful, but leaking classified or otherwise confidential information over the internet is not.
  4. Disclaimer: When people know that you work for the government, they are prone to assuming that you speak for the government, even when you’re not. So in discussing your personal views, it helps to be upfront about the fact that you are not speaking in an official capacity. Example: “The content of this communication is entirely my own and does not reflect the opinions of or endorsement by any federal agency or the government as a whole.”
  5. Opinions about Your Agency: You are entitled to discuss, analyze or disagree with your agency about publicly available information. That said, your agency may require you to tell them if you do so. Check your public affairs/public communications policy for more information, and do not hesitate to ask your Office of Public Affairs and/or your ethics officer for guidance.
  6. No “Impersonation”: While you are free to describe your interests, experiences and ideas on unofficial time, do not use unofficial time or personal social media accounts to act as an official representative of your agency without authorization.
  7. Political Activity: Regarding personal political activity, refer to the Hatch Act. (The text is readily available online, along with an extensive set of frequently asked questions.)
  8. No Right to Privacy on Work Devices: Read and follow your agency’s policies on information technology use. Some allow you to use your work computer to access your personal accounts on a limited basis. If you do use your work device, whether desktop computer or mobile phone, to access personal accounts, understand that your activity may be monitored by the agency.
  9. Keep Personal Devices Personal: Don’t use your personal devices or accounts for agency activity, because then it is subject to legal discovery (including FOIA) in the event of litigation. Also, use “smart” passwords (guidance on these is readily available online), and change them frequently.
  10. Targeting by Foreign Spies: Be careful who you “friend” online. Foreign intelligence agents are known to target federal employees specifically, for a variety of reasons.

About This Initiative


In August 2016, the Federal Communicators Network published a research paper demonstrating the urgent need for consistent interagency communication standards. This “cheat sheet” is our first attempt at providing information of a general nature on a federal communication topic of interest. Future issues will address training , career laddering, definitions of common terms, and more. To access the research paper visit http://www.slideshare.net/FCN-Presentations. To provide feedback or get involved, email fedcommnetwork@gmail.com.

About FCN


The Federal Communicators Network (FCN) is a professional community of Federal employees offering communications best practices, training, networking, and other opportunities for Federal government communicators.

Born out of the White House in 1995, FCN brings more than 800 communications professionals from across government to lead and refine communications and marketing strategy in support of agency missions. Working with organizations across the Executive Branch and in state and local governments, international governments, and non-profit and private partners, the FCN aims to sharpen the delivery of the Federal government's mission through digital-savvy communications strategy, branding, messaging, and engagement.

Mission


For nearly 20 years, FCN has helped communicators serve the taxpayer through:

  • Training: live workshops and telephone seminars
  • Networking: provision of live and online networking opportunities
  • Best practices: sharing emerging tools and technologies

Principles


  • All volunteer-led: led and organized by FCN members who offer and have supervisory or agency approval to lead.
  • Always no cost to the individual or agency: events and resources are free to federal communicators.
  • Public service: committed to the highest principles of integrity, professionalism, and public service.
  • Membership: FCN membership is open to U.S. federal government employees and contractors with a government email address. As a courtesy, state, local, and tribal government employees are also welcome. You become a member by signing up for the listserv. (Click here.) If you run into any difficulty, you can also contact FCN at fedcommnetwork@gmail.com.

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This post is written in my personal capacity and all opinions are my own.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The fact of the matter is that you have to get along with people in order to remain employed.

But you knew this already; you knew that as much as we exist in a knowledge economy we also exist in a collaboration economy, a service economy, an economy where brands are differentiated by the emotional labor geared toward making the customer feel special.

For the sake of efficiency, perhaps we should simply admit that we live in an emotion economy and be done with it.

I was talking to someone the other day who has impeccable credentials. But they were well-aware that credentials are not enough. They needed leadership skills, management skills, but even more than that they needed a mentor and a professional network.

The ability to build and maintain such a network, both at your job and outside of it, is an insurance policy for your professional brand. It is the basis upon which you will get referrals and references. But more importantly, it is the cornerstone of your ability to maintain your employment once hired.

You have to get along with people. But it is more than that. From a psychological point of view, now more than ever it is critical to maintain strong boundaries between your professional self and your personal self. This is because you will be called upon to project friendship with other people only for the sake of your job. This is an inherently unhealthy situation, as you should be able to keep your personal, personal and your job situation purely about the job. But in an emotion economy, that has frankly become impossible.

You will also need to maintain your professionalism even in a work environment where people frequently engage in dating and marital relationships with the same people they work with. This is a tricky situation, first, because you do not want to become a victim of sexual harassment by someone who lacks appropriate boundaries or who uses the workplace -- particularly their power in the workplace -- to serially engage in personal relationships. Second, when you're dealing with a particular individual, you may not understand that the person is emotionally connected with other people at work in ways that have nothing to do with actually getting work done. Navigating those relationships is a very real minefield.

All of this, of course, ignores the very real ethical issues that an emotional economy brings up. Is it really fair of an employer, or of colleagues, to expect you to be their "friends" as the cost of working with you shoulder-to-shoulder? What about the fact that some people prefer to work in this way, while others find it deeply disconcerting? How can we create a profitable, inclusive, moral workplace that is consistently engaged in "building the brand" without impinging on the privacy of its employees?

We live in a day and age where the definition of "work" is rapidly changing. If we are to be maximally productive, we need to understand how that evolution is affecting the psychological health of our employees.

_________________

All opinions my own.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I love going to Pret for my coffee in the morning. It’s not just another coffee place.

Pret is love.

I can tell how much they care about the food they serve. For one thing the presentation is so appealing. (I eat kosher, but God does allow me to admire a chicken hotwrap.)

All of their food is fresh. If you don’t see it on the shelf, it’s because they haven’t made it for that day just yet.

Their brown paper packaging is not only appealing in a basic way, but also tells me they care about the environment.

The eggs are cage-free. I didn’t need for that to be true, but I like knowing it. And that fact is proudly displayed directly even on the ingredient list for a simple egg salad sandwich.

Pret is love. They love the bounty of nature, their ingredients, and they take good care of the planet, too, with thoughtfully designed trash receptacles that actually make me want to recycle.

The staff works as a team. They seem to genuinely like each other, from what I can tell.

Their good feeling translates into a customer service ethic that is very much on point and in sync.

They will even fill my filthy Starbucks cup with coffee and 2 shots of espresso. No sneering at other brands. No judging the fact that I haven’t washed it. Just because I ask.

Pret is a great brand because it is a philosophy of life that translates to every single thing they are selling. Even their brownies are handmade, and each one is carefully titled a “love bite.”

The Pret brand philosophy is obvious, but they take great care to tell you about it, too. They just seem very proud of who they are and what they’re about.

If they take this much care with a pepper…

If they go this far out of their way to tell me that unripe avocados are “horrid”…

If even their napkins proclaim their values…

Then I feel really good about being there, and buying their food.

They have a good attitude as well. Like, in order to write this post and show you all the good stuff here, I had to take photos. They asked me about it, and then let me keep going. I appreciate their trust.

Did I mention that they always double-stamp my loyalty card when I come in here? (I’m pretty sure they are making money off me anyway…they aren’t cheap but the coffee is far superior to any other chain in the city.)

As a side note, as much as I love the Starbucks brand as well, it is obvious to me that in comparison with a place like this, they are on the decline.

My main metric for this is the staff. No matter where I go, they always seem to be going through the motions.

Concurrently, and in a similar way, there is handwriting on the boards but it seems very “prepackaged.” The snacks are also pretty good, but they have the feel of something that was outsourced too much, to people who once had passion for their craft and then lost it.
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All opinions my own. Photos by me.
Typically when people ask me “how can I fix my brand,” the answer is very simple. They just don’t want to hear the answer.

Here are five examples of things people don’t want to hear.
  1. Communication is a critical function that must be heavily staffed with highly qualified people who live, eat, drink, breathe and exude the brand. Most executives pay lip service to it, but at the end of the day their assumption is that “anyone can do it, I’ll figure it out on my own.” As an extension of this mistake, organizations will sometimes hire professionals who serve as the official communicator for the organization, but only as a token — akin to hiring a great lawyer and then ignoring their advice, or a super cybersecurity professional and then refusing to take even the most basic advice about strengthening passwords.
  2. Most of the things you are saying right now are actually hurting the brand, not helping it. This is primarily because most organizations talk in a very generic way to “everybody,” rather than to their unique audience which loves and prizes them and is deeply loyal to what they stand for. I’m not going to get into the Freudian reasons why this happens but suffice it to say that it has to do with that old Woody Allen joke, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” Secondarily it connects to a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, where we tell ourselves that “if I can’t see it, it isn’t happening.” The fact of the matter is that your brand is revealed by every single interaction your employees and operations have with the public, and to be successful you must manage each and every one of those.
  3. Your names and logos are a confusing mess. What this means: too many names, name doesn’t add value, logo isn’t professional, no clear connection between name and customer, use of acronyms, and so on. Brand value begins with an intelligent use of name and logo that clarifies who you are and how your separate products work together or apart.
  4. You’re too obsessed with your website. Get heavily onto the right social media channels and don’t over-focus on your static website. Most of the action nowadays is centered on conversation — between you and your customer, between your customers and each other, and between your customers and non-customers who include your brand in their conversations.
  5. You don’t use your brand in the real world. Branding is not an idea exercise. It is meant for the trenches: Come up with a unique way of doing business that combines your name, your logo, your vision, your mission, your values and your operating methods. This combination is your “secret sauce” — use it, protect it, repeat it, and don’t give it away.
Normally the root of the problem for these clients is that they have competing brand elements at work. They can’t bear to give any one of them up, they don’t like the idea of prioritizing, and inevitably therefore they have a complicated reason why the messed up image must stay as it is.

The key issue here is subconscious: People identify with their brands as with themselves. And because brands are really artificial souls, there is a direct parallel between the confused, disorganized psyche and the convoluted snarl that is most of our individual personalities.

(Of course I don’t mean to be snotty, as I am as aimless as anyone.) The truth is that there are microscopically few people on this planet who can truly lay claim to single-mindedness. It is a part of the human condition to struggle, evolve, grow, and make a ton of mistakes along the way, leaving your friends and colleagues wondering who you really are, anyway.

But an organizational brand is not a human being at all. Where we want to see messy humanity among individuals, our companies should not be that way. As the business guru Peter Drucker famously said, and I do repeat this in my head all the time: “The purpose of business is to create a customer.”

If your brand is so complicated that only a psychotherapist can figure out how it makes sense, then it is truly messed up.

______________________________________

All opinions my own.
  1. Citizen Journalism Eclipses the Mainstream Media: In a trend that continues from the campaign, we will see official sources of news decline in public interest as it is perceived that they spin a pre-fabricated narrative. At the same time, the perceived honesty of independent bloggers, researchers and other citizen journalists will lead the public to turn to social media first and potentially exclusively to find out what is going on. In 2017, the "MSM" will serve chiefly as fodder for the real conversation, which occurs in public and private social media forums. Expect social media to fall into relatively stratified ideological lines, with the Left talking mostly to itself and the Right doing the same, while the media wrings its hands over "fake news" and struggles to make the case for its legitimacy.
  2. The Decline of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube: A number of factors have combined to create distrust in what can now be called "traditional" social media. These include issues related to privacy and government surveillance as well as issues around perceived censorship and favoring of specific ideological views. In response, the public will turn to new, homemade, alternative forms of communication that are not perceived as servile to anonymous mega-interests.
  3. Increased Parental Involvement, Homeschooling and Alternative Education: Many forces will power a shift away from traditional education toward home-curated forms of schooling. For one thing, there is extensive coverage of the ideological wrangling taking place at the college and university level, with extremist professors and coverage of student demonstrations eclipsing discussions of research and scholarship. Additionally, there is a longstanding concern among parents that traditional schooling, even at the undergraduate level, tends to reward those who play to a rubric rather than individualistic students, whose contributions at the level of critical thinking and creativity are impossible to measure at the quantitative, herd level. Further, parents are increasingly aware that the economy requires their children to attain significant proficiency in science and technology subjects. All of these factors will combine to make parents readier to pool their efforts or work independently to ensure their children are well-prepared to face the future.
  4. The Growing Irrelevance of Washington, DC: The U.S. presidential election of 2016 highlighted the cultural dissonance between our national capital and the rest of the country. Despite the fact that Donald Trump won the Presidency, the seeds of distrust have been sown deeply, and we will start to see the elimination of "what's going on in Washington" from ordinary conversation.
  5. The Fight to Define "Alt-Right": With the election of Donald Trump, his amorphous collection of freethinking supporters will spend much time this year defining itself. One of the more noticeable issues that has cropped up is anti-Semitism. The movement known for its frank talk and anti-establishment nature will struggle with the concept of establishing boundaries around public discourse, as censorship is seen as the ultimate taboo. Other significant questions will concern the extent to which the movement questions Donald Trump's actions, or is tied to his sometimes inscrutable choices; "new masculinism" and a strong anti-feminist bent; diversity and inclusion versus a strong distaste for political correctness; attitudes toward Islam; and the implementation of meritocracy in light of widespread economic distress.
  6. A Tiny Home for Everyone: The trend toward affordable standalone homes will continue as people move further and further from urban centers to claim their own stake of property, however small. As families face difficult economic choices, expect more bodies crammed into smaller spaces, with correspondingly more multifunctional, utilitarian home items, clothing and more.
  7. If You Can Shoot It, You Can Eat It: Expect continued interest in unorthodox sources of protein and harvesting of any and every piece of a killed animal for food. These items will be presented to the public not as scraps of food for the desperate, but as delicacies, leading to the introduction of new products for the mass market of foods formerly considered "gross."
  8. Rise of the Security-Obsessed: The rise of terrorism worldwide has in turn heightened anxieties among the public about whether and when an attack may come. Correspondingly, expect a continued increase in gun purchases and associated training; martial arts training; and increased interest in all manner of electronic devices that promise passive, no-contact protection from without. These include home sensors, protective fabrics for bags and clothing, security devices for travelers, detectors for food tampering, and even bulletproof glass for automobiles and homes. Women will lead the way in searching for protective gear that is affordable and undetectable, allowing them to enjoy fuller participation in life with less concern for their personal safety.
  9. Communal Tables: Expect more and more emphasis on "breaking bread together" in casual eateries, where relatively rootless customers seeking a social connection will eat and drink with strangers who become temporary friends. This continues the trend toward a "trusting sharing economy," which was fuelled by the rise of services that depend on customer feedback for their growth - eBay, Uber, and Airbnb.
  10. Revisiting Russian Culture: It was perhaps inevitable that Donald Trump's "bromance" with Vladimir Putin would lead to a cultural fascination with mysterious "Mother Russia." The Cold War has been over for many years, but Americans never really warmed up to life on the "other side." As world events continue to put Russia in the spotlight, expect Americans to want to learn more about this remote land, and its culture, for themselves.
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Copyright 2016 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author's own.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

"The truth at any cost lowers all other costs." - Robert Steele, former CIA Officer and intelligence reform activist 
Adbusters uses the term "straight line thinking" to describe "logic freaks" focused only on "more technology, more rationality, more surveillance, more consumption, more control."
But that isn't what I mean. From my perspective, "straight line thinking" is:
  • The ability to clearly articulate what your desired outcome (goal) is.
  • A commitment to getting there as efficiently (shortest number of steps, cheapest cost) and effectively (highest quality result) as possible.
  • Encouraging debate regarding the best method of achieving the goal.
Great communication facilitates all three aspects of "straight line thinking." Not only does it enable different kinds of people to understand what you're saying, but it also makes it possible for them to participate in achieving the goal.
In order to enjoy the benefits of "straight line thinking," though, one's organization must be healthy enough to handle painful feedback. It's like going on a diet: At some point you have to get on the scale. This point is exemplified by Jack Nicholson's classic line in A Few Good Men.
The inability to tolerate reality is symptomatic of a society on the decline. 
Accordingly, when propaganda becomes a substitute for real news, it becomes impossible for people to know what's going on, and to make decisions based on that information -- a point made by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made in his interview with Fox News journalist Sean Hannity.
To put it bluntly, if the public does not have real information, there is no democracy. There cannot be.
We need to have the truth in order to make society better.
_________
All opinions my own.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

In my own personal capacity as a citizen and as a communication professional, I am frequently critical of the federal government's use and misuse of communication tools.

As a federal communicator -- and please note that all opinions expressed here are my own -- I have spent the better part of my career trying to make things better. Not just on my own, but also with many intrepid others. There are in fact numerous mechanisms, from meetings to listservs to free training sessions to videos, that enable us to improve.

Most recently, in 2016, a group of us culminated a year-long project and published "Advancing Federal Communications: The Case for Professional Standards of Practice" (executive summary here). The paper argues that in the absence of clear and consistent professional standards and uniform government practice, as exemplified by the UK for example, we will continue to see well-trained professionals hampered in their efforts. No matter how stellar a performer you are within a specific agency, your work needs to be set against a much larger context set forth by the government itself, one which explains to the public why your work is vitally important and not a waste of money.

Just yesterday, January 10, 2017, the Daily Caller published an article called "Taxpayers Spend Thousands On Poorly Used Gov’t Public Relations Jobs." It made reference to "Government PR," Item #14 in Sen. Jeff Flake's recently published "Wastebook," in which he excoriates the government for spending so much money on advertising and public relations contracts. The U.S. Government Accountability Office published its own report in September 2016.

In his book documenting government waste, Senator Flake asks a very valid question:
So what does it say when more than $1.4 billion is spent every year promoting federal agencies and services but trust and confidence in the government have plummeted?
In response to his own question, Flake suggests that "a good product sells itself" and recommends the following:
"Federal agencies could improve their public relations at no cost whatsoever by simply conducting themselves efficiently and effectively rather than misspending taxpayer dollars on questionable and unnecessary projects and activities that will inevitably end up in Wastebook."
Reading this, I have to shake my head and wonder at the logic of this argument. It is not a waste of money to hire federal communicators and deploy them to explain what the government is doing. Far from it: I'm on social media every single day, and I can see the public reacting to what the government says (and doesn't say).

They see, for example, that the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act was incorporated into the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, and they don't understand what it is or what it means, and it is into that vaccuum that many suspicions naturally fall.

So if you want to increase trust between the public and the government, of course you should be telling people, in clear and objective terms, what's going on. Tell them what you're required to tell them. Answer their questions. Make it easy to understand and not dense. Don't hide information. Don't complexify it. Go where the citizens are - on social media. All of that.

Most of the money is being spent on advertising and PR contracts. They are not necessary if you have a great team of government people who are empowered to do their jobs.

___________________

Important note and disclaimer: As always, I do not represent any individual agency, group of agencies, or the government as a whole in my personal writings. Also obviously, as a federal communicator I am going to be personally biased towards the perpetuation of my own profession; from that perspective please take what I say with a grain of salt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"If You See Something, Say Something" is the most memorable public safety campaign I can think of. It began as a DHS (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) initiative but quickly branched out into a nationwide initiative at the federal, state and local levels and you can see the motto everywhere, particularly at public transportation hubs.

Here's a fun fact: the motto was originally rejected. As Mike Riggs reported several years ago in Reason.com (citing an Adweek article from 2002), Korey Kay & Partners tried to get the federal government to adopt it after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Nobody was interested -- not DHS, not the Department of Justice, and not the Department of State.

But eventually DHS did adopt it, and according to Riggs, in 2008 the line "went viral." (The article offers an excellent timeline showing key moments in its adoption.) The question for students of law enforcement communication, and social media marketing, is whether the campaign has actually worked.

The consensus is that it hasn't:
  • New York magazine writer Dwyer Gunn, citing the work of NYU sociologist Harvey Molotch, points to the detrimental effect of many "leads that are likely to amount to nothing." For one thing, they make each individual lead less likely to be taken seriously. Overall, he notes, the program "hasn't yielded any terrorists."
  • The New York Times in 2008 noted that the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) claimed it got 1,944 campaign-related tips in 2006. The result? "No terrorists were arrested, but a wide spectrum of other activity was reported."
  • TechDirt.com called the campaign the creation of a "Massive Database Of Useless Info From Citizens Spying On Each Other."
These commentators may be right; perhaps encouraging people to report on suspicious activities mucks up the system, distracts the feds and the police, creates unnecessary delays, and encourages an atmosphere of suspicion.

But then again, perhaps the problem with the campaign was not the idea, but its execution. Terrorism is on the increase, not the decline, and we need all available information to fight it. In "Key Trends in the Uncertain Metrics of Terrorism," published in 2016 by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, Anthony H. Cordesman notes:

"Virtually all of the data available indicate that these threats to the United States and its allies remain critical and that the geographic scope and intensity of terrorism continues to increase. At the same time, there are critical problems and shortfalls in the data available, a near total lack of credible unclassified data on the cost and effectiveness of various counterterrorism efforts, and critical problems in the ways the United States approaches terrorism."

In short, what Cordesman is saying is that we don't know enough, we don't measure well enough, and we don't think smartly enough about how we fight the bad guys (and ladies).

The public can and should play a huge role in supporting government efforts to fight terrorism. And despite the widespread criticism it has received, a glitzy ad campaign like "If You See Something, Say Something" can help. But -- and this is a big but -- by failing to report studiously on results, law enforcement leaves the public with the impression that this is a superficial campaign.

It gets worse than that. While the public respects law enforcement, they have almost no trust in the institutions and individuals associated with politics and public service. So while Gallup found (2016), for example, that 76% of Americans have "a great deal of respect for the police," they simultaneously learned that:
"If You See Something, Say Something" is a great idea. It's a great concept. It's a great ad and a great brand.

But in order for a brand to work, its customers have to see a promise being kept.

Law enforcement should start to fulfill the promise of this campaign by focusing on its results. If they're getting too many useless leads, they should help the public deliver more fruitful ones. And they should provide regular progress reports, in a coordinated way, that show how these improvements are yielding a true return on investment for the public.

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All opinions my own. Photo by AdinaVoicu via Pixabay (Public Domain).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

On September 13, 2016 I presented "Advancing Federal Communications: Research Findings, Implications & Next Steps" in a webinar that was free and accessible to the public.

For those who are interested, the audio recording of that presentation is still available (see below) along with the other original materials associated with the release of the research document.  

A large group was responsible for the development of this paper; I was the co-lead writer along with Jeff Brooke, former Chair of FCN, now of MITRE.
Please note that the Federal Communicators Network is a grassroots volunteer organization and all the work done by its volunteers is independent of their places of employment. As always, all opinions are the writer's own.
To make it easier for those who prefer not to click on a lot of links, some of the key slides from the presentation appear below.

 


 










 
 












This blog post is not shared on behalf of the Federal Communicators Network.

Nevertheless, I wanted to share some information about joining.
  • Membership is free.
  • You become a member by signing up for the listserv.
  • Membership is open to U.S. federal government employees and contractors with a government email address.
  • As a courtesy, state, local, and tribal government employees are also welcome.
You can learn more about FCN by visiting their blog.


If you run into any difficulty, contact fedcommnetwork@gmail.com.
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All opinions are the author's own.

Sunday, January 1, 2017



Yesterday the rabbi asked us to think of the one thing that most defines 2016 in our minds.  Immediately my husband and I turned toward each other and exclaimed, in a low shout, "Trump!" 

With tremendous gratitude to God, here is a transcript of the president-elect's remarks from the campaign video above, released October 27, 2016.

Dannielle (Dossy) Blumenthal
___________________________

TRANSCRIPT OF REMARKS BY PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD J. TRUMP

Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment with a new government controlled by you, the American people.

The Washington Establishment, and the financial and media corporations that fund it, exist for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself.

The Establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election. For those who control the levers of power in Washington, and for the global special interests, they partner with these people that don't have your good in mind.

Our campaign represents a true existential threat like they haven't seen before.

This is not simply another four-year election. This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government.

The political Establishment that is trying to stop us is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration, and economic and foreign policies that have bled our country dry.

The political Establishment has brought about the destruction of our factories and our jobs as they flee to Mexico, China and other countries all around the world.

It's a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.

This is a struggle for the survival of our nation, and this will be our last chance to save it.

This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a a small handful of global special interests rigging the system. And our system is rigged.

This is reality. You know it, I know it, they know it, and pretty much the whole world knows it.

The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure.

We've seen this firsthand in the Wikileaks documents, in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special friends, and her donors.

Honestly, she should be locked up.

The most powerful weapon deployed by the Clintons is the corporate media - the press.

Let's be clear on one thing: The corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism.

They're a political special interest. No different than any lobbyist or financial entity. With a total political agenda, and the agenda is not for you, it's for themselves.

Anyone who challenges their control is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe.

They will lie, lie, lie, and then again, they will do worse than that. They will do whatever's necessary.

The Clintons are criminals, remember that. This is well documented. And the Establishment that protects them has engaged in a massive coverup of widespread criminal activity, at the State Department and the Clinton Foundation, in order to keep the Clintons in power.

They knew they would throw every lie they could at me and my family and my loved ones. They knew they would stop at nothing to try to stop me. Nevertheless I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you. I take them for our movement, so that we can have our country back.

I knew this day would arrive. (It was) only a question of when. And I knew the American people would rise above it and vote for the future they deserve.

The only thing that can stop this corrupt machine is you. The only force strong enough to save our country is us.

The only people brave enough to vote out this corrupt Establishment is you, the American people.

Our great civilization has come upon a moment of reckoning.

I didn't need to do this, folks, believe me. I built a great company. And I had a wonderful life.

I could have enjoyed the fruits and benefits of years of successful business deals and businesses for myself and my family. Instead of going through this absolute horror show of lies, deceptions, and malicious attacks.

Who would've thought.

I'm doing it because this country has given me so much. And I feel so strongly that it's my turn to give back to the country that I love.

I'm doing this for the people and for the movement. And we will take back this country for you.

And we will make America great again.

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All opinions my own.