Show me the value

The first Director of Communications at the White House was Herb Klein, who stayed in post for four years and 162 days.

Roll forward nearly 50 years and note that President Trump’s Directors – Sean Spicer (45 days), Mike Dubke (88 days), Sean Spicer again (49 days), Anthony Scaramucci (10 days) and the just resigned Hope Hicks (169 days excluding her time as the interim post holder) – have averaged between them fewer than 100 days each. Something is clearly not working as it should.

A long time ago, in this very galaxy, when Jeremy Clarkson was a power in the land, each Monday following the broadcast of a new episode of Top Gear, Comms and PR directors whose company products had featured on the show, were criticised by bosses and colleagues alike if the showing was caustic and the verdict damning.

“Why can’t you control him?” was the oft-asked question.

Well the truth is that in those heady days, British motoring journalists were powerful people, mostly independent of the industry about which they wrote. They made their judgements about a car’s technical merit, and design, knowing that their views were largely untouchable and that they would always (mostly anyway) be protected by their publishers.

So it is in serious political reporting today. Journalists and their editors on the great newspapers of the world – New York Times, Economist, Washington Post, Financial Times and the Guardian – have been rigorous in the way that they have reported the President’s words and actions. It is the same at the BBC, CNN, ABC, ITN and other professional news broadcasters.

We have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the President has taken the words ‘most powerful man in the world’ too literally. He now wants to know why his many Directors of Communications have failed to control the media and were thus forced out, for that specific failure.

His ego, we are told, is as fragile as it is humungous.

The value of a great director of communications, in commerce as in politics, is mainly to be found in two specific areas. First, she or he must be a brilliant manager of time, money and staff.

Second, he or she must have the forensic judgement and courage of Machiavelli, the intellect and writing skill of Cicero and the street-fighting gutter instincts of Alastair Campbell.

Wise indeed is the boss who understands and appreciates these skills, listens very carefully when the comms chief speaks unpleasant truths, and appreciates that managing an organisation’s communication is a long game, sometimes reactive and more often proactive.

Is this about me, or you?

Cartoon doctor

Listen and respond

A senior consultant physician is employed to teach young doctors. Nothing odd about that, is there?

What if the subject that she teaches is not medical but communication? Does that strike anyone as unusual?

OK; but what if the detail of her lesson does not teach the student how to communicate well with someone the news that they are dying but is concerned, instead, with lessons as to how best assuage the feelings of the young doctor whose job it is to impart said bad news?

To put it another way, the health service pays seniors to teach juniors that however much it upsets them to bring deadly tidings to the terminally sick, they still have to do it.

To many people, this will sound completely bonkers. This is not about the feelings of the person delivering the bad news, which are largely irrelevant in this instance, they might say, but about the feelings of the terminally sick recipient.

Well yes, and no.

Like all human communication, this is not a binary event or undertaking and there is no hierarchy as to the people involved in this real-life event. The terminally ill person, their families and friends, the doctor and those supporting her or him – all are involved and all have feelings about the matter. All of those feelings are relevant to the effectiveness, or not, of the communication.

The crucial aspect is that good communication is key to getting something like this right first time, because there won’t be a way to ‘unsay’ the wrong way.

Talks about death are difficult and require empathy and honesty first and foremost from the persons in the conversation. They do not work well when key aspects are hidden behind artifice designed to spare feelings. Bad news, and good, is better received when it is easy to understand. That is the only way to respond and react to whatever that news is.

Knowing something is always better than not knowing, unless you’re an ostrich. And that head-hiding analogy has been proved to be a myth.

Personally, I like the Gina Miller approach: “I come from South America and it’s part of our culture to speak out. It’s a lot healthier. There’s a big difference between being respectful and being restrained. I am more interested in teaching my children empathy than subscribing to our ‘me’ culture and obsessing about ‘how do I feel’ all the time.”

Effective communication is always about all of us, right up to the time one of ‘us’ is no longer there to listen and respond.

Maths, also a formula to clear writing

Before you re-arrange the alphabet, first work out the arithmetic. Writing well – so your intended readers understand clearly what you say and what you mean in your emails, tweets, news releases, articles and business reports – requires a clear and defined process. Just like maths.

How so?

Writing, solving word problems, in other words, is like any form of reasonable argument. Which is itself no different from a balanced mathematical equation.

Both start with factual information that is either provided or available. You precis the information into a summary using any of 26 letters and a variety of symbols (aka punctuation) and there you have it: the basics of sane, sensible writing. And, of course, the piece must conclude with nothing more or less than a conclusion that shows clearly just how reasonable was the original argument.

This doesn’t work for fiction quite as well, of course, but if your business writing is fiction, sometimes also called creative writing, what’s it doing here? Go write a novel or sitcom instead of a project report and see how that works out in the boardroom.

To change the content of your writing from adequate to good needs the writer to get the facts right and present them simply and with brevity. Winston, not only one of our greatest leaders but also a first-class writer, demanded succinct notes and memos from his generals and advisers to save his time and theirs. In 1940, while the RAF (one hundred years old this year) was kicking the Luftwaffe all over the Kent sky, he sent the following note to his staff:

Follow his suggestions – and mine about factual accuracy – and you will craft an equation of beautifully written balance.

Whatever you write using these principles will add value to wherever your words are published: on your website, in company reports, inter-company memos and other communications. They will get you noticed by powers above and below.

And if none of this works for you, find a writing tutor instead.

Write investment makes good returns

Is every human problem caused by poor communication? Mostly, yes.

Poor communication always leads to misunderstanding and misunderstanding, particularly in the workplace, leads to chaos and occasionally conflict. It can also annoy customers and prospects, sometimes to the extent that they go elsewhere. And no-one wants that.

Here at Immediate Network we believe that everything starts with the words, just as every Oscar-winning movie starts with the script. Or before that, an idea, written down to be read before it inspires a well-crafted screenplay.

In every group of people in a division or the whole business, there will be one who intuitively understands the need for clear communication. Sometimes it’s even the boss…

Equally, in every such group, most will be diffident about their writing abilities. Some are  embarrassed that their grasp of grammar and syntax is weak, and that they will look bad in front of their colleagues and seniors.

We believe that good clear writing is a knack, not an innate ability.

It can be taught, and learned, simply. It does not require a great deal of effort though does involve constant practice.

We’re close to launching a learning stream, specifically aimed at working people in the business world. The background vision is that we want to teach people within companies to write clearly for all business purposes.

The series of online teaching modules will demonstrate Best Writing Practice and explain how to write specific pieces that can be used for a variety of purposes.

We shall also offer a follow-up editing service because this is a critical element to ensure success for both students and their employers.

All companies need to have a small core group of employees who can write clear, literate and grammatically correct English to enhance the company’s sales, marketing and internal communication. Our mission is to make this happen.

Use it again and again

Content Marketing Immediate Network style will help grow your brand without breaking the bank

As a small business we know how to make each pound spent on content and communication work hard, and deliver a decent return on investment. We deeply understand that communication is not an end in itself; it’s a means to an end, that end being more sales.

Why use Content Marketing as opposed to, say PR. Or more traditional advertising?

PR only works for news. PR for brand building or other purposes is actually marketing so best get your descriptions right to avoid confusing yourself.

And if you want to define news, that’s simple as well:  News is either something that someone wants to keep out of the news or it’s  something startling that will be of interest to enough of people that it will help sell newspapers, magazines or drive viewers and listeners to your TV or radio station.

Best example ever: Dog bites man; not news. Man bites dog; news.

There is a great deal of rubbish written about content marketing which is, actually, very simple and yet pretty hard to do well.

Content Marketing in action is this: create and then re-purpose your content across all available communication channels.

Start with a strategy, ie define exactly what you want to achieve. Next, work out what will help you to achieve your aim and what will hinder you. Then draw up a tactical plan (ie what you will actually do and how you will do it), get your resources ready and get started.

Just one other thing: as Five Star General Eisenhower said just before D-Day: ‘No plan survives the first shot from the enemy’. In other words, be flexible and adaptable.

And remember, for content marketing to work, you’ll need good content, created to the highest possible standards.