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Starting the year with some nuggets of knowledge

Posted in Executive Insights

I consider myself very fortunate to have received degrees from two excellent journalism schools with wonderful reputations. I graduated from the University of Kansas where I, like thousands of others in our area, received the essential building blocks I needed to pursue a career in this business. Much more recently, I received a master’s in communications management from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication through their well-respected Executive Master’s program.

The benefits I’ve received from pursuing my degree from a national program like Syracuse are almost too numerous to mention and will be the subject of another blog post. But, as a preview, one of those benefits is the commitment on the school’s part to provide life-long learning opportunities to its graduates. I just returned from an alumni reunion in New York City, where, in addition to renewing old acquaintances with corporate communicators from around the country, the school offered several presentations from some of the most important voices in our industry today. The knowledge nuggets and “ah-ha” moments were numerous – and tough to do justice to in a blog post – but there were a few that I want to share right away:

•    Richard Edelman, Chairman and CEO, Edelman, shared his take on the monumental sea change hitting PR. His agency’s “trust barometer” has been a useful tool to show us that people have moved from media and other authoritative sources (“taking Walter Cronkite’s word for it”) to now turning to their friends and family as the people they trust most. We can no longer talk down to or “at” the people who matter most (PWMM) for our organizations. He called this change “moving from the vertical to the horizontal axis.” He urged communicators to “go where the conversations are” and said that, in this day of mass communications on multiple planes that “every company should consider itself a media company.” And, no surprise, he emphasized the importance of good listening (“listening with intelligence”) if we hope to change behaviors in our markets.

•    My friend and classmate Diane Thieke, APR, Marketing Director, Dow Jones @thiekeds: Diane spoke about her new role to help sales people in her organization do their jobs better by understanding and using LinkedIn as a relationship management tool. She also talked about our Web 2.0 world by relaying the story of how her teenage son chooses and buys music in a completely different way than in our generation (out with the corner record store, in with Pandora!)

•    Deirdre Breakenridge, co-author with Brian Solis of “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations,” reminded us again that “nobody owns social media” and talked about the seemingly endless new (many of them free) online tools to help us monitor the conversations and engage in that active listening that is so crucial in PR 2.0.

•    Mark Weiner, who owns a worldwide PR Research firm, showed some fascinating data gleaned from more than 20 years of organizational ROI studies to show that, even though PR budgets are still just a fraction of what advertising gets, PR regularly outperforms advertising on a relative basis and its positive ROI effects last longer than traditional ad campaigns and other promotional activities.

•    Finally, Jim Olson, Vice President of Communications at US Airways had us mesmerized with his stories from the “Miracle on the Hudson” (which has its one-year anniversary this week). Jim’s team received 350 media calls in the first 90 minutes but, thanks to a tremendous amount of crisis communications planning, handled the crisis well in the immediate stage and then followed up on what became one of the great “feel good” stories of the young century.  Among nuggets shared by Jim were the need for organizations to carefully watch search engine traffic on their crisis stories as US Airways found that search engines were the number two way that people sought out information after the river landing (news organizations being the first). US Airways also deftly used social media to help manage the secondary stories and built thousands of Twitter followers once they said that Capt. Sullenberger’s much-anticipated return to the cockpit would be announced on Twitter first.

In summary, a great way to start the new year professionally for me. Here’s wishing you a great year of professional development in 2010 as well.

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