Tag Archive: Strategic Business/Financial Communications


“We don’t have a strategy yet.” – President Barack Obama asked about a potential U.S. response to the radical ISIS of Iraq and Syria

“We are THE low-fare airline.” — Herb Kelleher, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Southwest Airlines

kelleher

We hear the word all the time.

It is as ubiquitous as “sustainable,” “solutions” and “selfies.”

Here comes another common S-word: “strategy.”

What is this creature?

According to the Business Dictionary, strategy is “1.) A method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem or …

2.) The art and science of planning and marshaling resources for their most efficient and effective use. The term is derived from the Greek word strategia for generalship or leading an army.”

As the creator of an upper-division university course, Strategic Business/Financial Communications (my M.A. project), sometimes one can still ask if you appreciate the meaning of the word, strategy. We use it all the time, but do we really appreciate its context?

Does Management Know What It Is Doing?

Rank-and-file workers around the world spend portions of their days chatting around the proverbial cooler or more likely firing text messages or emails across cyberspace asking each other whether the boss or bosses really know what she/he/they know what they are doing?

watercooler

The real question is: Do we have a strategy? And if so, what is our strategy?

Think of the interrogative this way: Any organization has only so much money, so much time, so much manpower/womanpower and so much talent and knowhow. These resources are finite. How will they be most effectively utilized?

The decision is just as much what an organization is going to do with its resources, as it is what it will not do with its limited attributes.

“We’re not serving any damn chicken salad”

The New York Times bestseller Made to Stick, co-authored by Chip and Dan Heath, recounts the story of Tracy, the marketing whiz at Southwest Airlines, suggesting to CEO Herb Kelleher that chicken Caesar salad would be popular with the airline’s customers. The idea went absolutely nowhere because it did not coincide with Southwest’s THE low-fare airline strategy.

madetostick

“Core messages help people avoid bad choices by reminding them what is important,” Chip and Dan Heath wrote in Made to Stick. “In Herb Kelleher’s parable, for instance, someone had to choose between chicken salad and no chicken salad – and the message ‘THE low-fare airline’ led her to abandon the chicken salad.”

Think of what Southwest (NYSE: LUV) does:

The airline offers soft drinks, pretzels and peanuts (and adult beverages paid by credit cards).

Southwest flies point-to-point primarily in the continental U.S., eschewing the annoying jammed “spoke” airports (e.g., Denver, Dallas, Chicago, Charlotte, Atlanta) that plague the legacy carriers and their passengers. Southwest only flies Boeing 737-400s.

There are no assigned seats, festival seating for all.

And the flight attendants seem to be having a great time, and really want the passengers to “enjoy” rather than endure their flight.

What does Southwest NOT do:

There is no crummy airline food to purchase.

There are no spoke systems.

Southwest does not purchase multiple models of aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus. There is one model of aircraft to service.

There are no assigned seats, but a devilishly effective way of boarding it’s A,B and C boarding groups. Southwest makes money when its planes are in the air, not on the ground. The strategy is to get satisfied passengers off the plane, quickly loading another happy group of patrons and sending the plane back into the air heading off to the next destination.

As a public relations, marketing, advertising professional, you want to work for an organization that knows what it wants to be when it grows up. When dealing with external (e.g., conventional and social media, industry and financial analysts, governmental regulators, investors, partners, suppliers, distributors general public) and internal stakeholders (e.g., all-important employees), you want to be sure of your “story.”

If your organization knows what it wants to do, and what it does not want to do (and has the discipline to stay within the confines of its resources), your job is just that much easier.

FedEx will get your package to its intended destination positively, absolutely overnight.

Tesla pours millions into R&D and cap-ex for ion batteries for electric cars at acceptable price points with sufficient range.

Salesforce.com is a pioneer in SaaS or software as a service, allowing customers to pick-and-choose, and then plug-and-play business software from the cloud.

Google is the number search engine in the world, and makes the Android operating system for mobile devices.

Amazon is the number one digital retailer on the planet, and makes the Kindle reader.

The examples are too numerous to count, but these are companies know how to answer the question: “How do you make money?” The answer is a clear strategy.

The vast majority of investors will weigh buying shares in these companies because they know these companies raison d’etre. There is no FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) when it comes to Southwest, FedEx, Tesla, Salesforce, Google, Amazon and many others.

obamastrategy

Alas, a few folks in Washington D.C. are not the only ones without a strategy… yet. And every organization without a strategy – what to do and not what to do — has a big league public relations/branding/marketing dilemma.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/08/28/obama-on-increased-action-against-islamic-state-we-dont-have-a-strategy-yet/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herb_Kelleher

http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/strategy.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategy

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Made_to_Stick

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2013/10/06/how-does-a-company-make-money-2/

 

 

 

 

Investing without research is like playing stud poker and never looking at the cards.” – Über-investor and former Fidelity Magellan Fund manager Peter Lynch

peterlynch1

Couldn’t help but note Lynch’s gambling metaphor when it comes to investing in global markets.

There are many who absolutely contend, and will not be convinced otherwise, that investing in Wall Street is nothing more and nothing less than gambling. They even talk about playing the market.

Are the Manhattan-based NYSE and the NASDAQ stock markets, Las Vegas East?

Or is Las Vegas, Wall Street West?

Can’t say the author of Almost DailyBrett is an expert about either gambling (never been to Lost Wages) or investing, but I do know enough about Wall Street to be dangerous.

And based upon this finite knowledge, let me proclaim IMHO: Investing in Wall Street is not gambling, provided that you do your homework, and as Peter Lynch has stated, “Invest in what you know.”

Strategic Business/Financial Communications

The academic paper for my M.A. project at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication provided the backdrop for the creation of an upper division college course: Strategic Business/Financial Communications. I was privileged to teach the course that I created.

Many students thought that Strategic Business was a math class. Ahh … I flunked geometry in high school. Screw the Pythagorean Theorem. Yours (left-brain challenged) truly cannot and will not ever teach a math class. Instead, communications’ students learned a new language – speaking, writing, hearing, reading – the lexicon of Wall Street.

There is a reason why financial communications/investor relations are easily the highest compensated segments of the public relations profession. According to Salary.com, IR directors received in the range of $97,753 to $201,565 annually in 2013. Corporate PR directors received $86,469 to $167,836 in the same year.

This is serious money, not including stock purchase plans and options. And why is that? Both jobs demand qualitative excellence (e.g., developing relationships with analysts, investors, reporters, employees) and quantitative skills (e.g., reading income statements, balance sheets and cash-flow statements).

investorrelations

Which brings us back to the point as to why Wall Street is investing and not gambling. The answer lies with responding to a basic question: How does a company make money?

Microsoft sells software and video game consoles. Boeing produces airplanes. Google is the No. 1 search engine. Apple is Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads. Nike makes athletic shoes. Amazon is the No. 1 digital retailer etc.

And backing up the answer to these questions is a plethora of facts, figures and information. Looking up a stock on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, MarketWatch.com, The Street.com and others is the easy part.

There are also the aforementioned income statements (revenues and net income…there is a major top-line and bottom-line difference), balance sheets (assets and liabilities), CEO letters, annual reports, analyst reports and more. The sheer volume of this data can be overwhelming, but it is all there, free of charge.

Leading or Trailing Indicator?

“ … Don’t care where a stock has been, only where it’s going.” – CNBC Mad Money Jim Cramer.

Cramer is fond of stating that he really does not care about a stock’s past, only its future. That answers the leading vs. trailing indicator question. Stock prices are an indicator of the expected/anticipated/projected/forecasted upward or downward direction of a company’s business prospects.

cramerbuy

How do we know whether a company is doing well or not? Certainly there are oodles of information online, maybe even too much data. There is also your personal experience.

Ever observe the perpetual line out the door at Starbucks as people queue to pay $4.00 for that overpriced grande mocha with no whip.

Ever notice that Southwest Airlines only offers peanuts and a soda; you can choose your own seat; the airline only flies Boeing 737s; and the flight attendants are actually Pharrell Williams Happy?

Ever note the high prices, superior quality, commitment to service and high-traffic stores at Nordstrom?

And did you ever wonder about all the hoopla about “The Cloud” or the access of Big Data contained in mega servers and offered in manageable chunks by a company such as Salesforce.com?

When one mentions “Hog,” your mind may conjure a barnyard or you may think about high-performance, big muscle motorcycles. Want to invest in one of the country’s great comeback stories? Just enter NYSE: HOG or Harley Davidson into the search engine.

“The House Always Wins”

When one is mathematically challenged, it is best to stay away from Texas hold-em or the black-jack table. Can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase: “The House always wins.”

wallstreetgambling

That’s not to say that there are not legitimate complaints about Wall Street, particularly as it applies to executive compensation for underperforming CEOs. And there are those who contend the market is rigged against the little guy, the retail investor.

There is no doubt that cash is king. And the buy-side (e.g., PERS, Fidelity, Putnam) and the sell-side (e.g., Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, J.P. Morgan) own the lion’s share of company shares. The respective analysts for these investment houses naturally draw the most attention from publicly traded company execs.

Having said all of the above, there are still opportunities for the retail (e.g. Charles Schwab, eTrade, TD Waterhouse) investors. The time-tested tenets of diversification, doing your homework, know who you are buying and why, still apply.

Sure beats investing in a 0.02 percent passbook account, plunging hundreds of thousands into real estate that could go underwater, stuffing dollars under the mattress or even playing the Roulette wheel in Vegas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Lynch

http://25iq.com/2013/07/28/a-dozen-things-ive-learned-about-investing-from-peter-lynch/

http://www.cnbc.com/id/15838187

http://www.thedigeratilife.com/blog/jim-cramer-stock-picks-money-tips/

http://www.salary.com/

 

 

 

Let’s ask the question another way: Should left-brain quantitative types be teaching communications to right-brain qualitative types or at least overseeing their academic progress?

Recently, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) asked corporate executives if the Whartons, Haas’, Tucks, Kelloggs and oodles of other prestigious business schools should be teaching public relations to MBA candidates. The answer was overwhelming and loud and clear…”Yes!” wharton

Today, Almost DailyBrett is posing a different question:

Should the entire undergraduate and graduate sequences for the instruction of public relations and advertising (a logical extension) be taught by business schools?

This suggestion has been brought to my repeated attention by people who know both sides of the reporter/flack divide.

The thinking, which is credible, is that PR and advertising build, support and extend corporate brands. In most cases, brand is associated with a privately held or publicly traded company/corporation, directly flowing from a business strategy. Doesn’t it make sense for future PR and advertising professionals to be taught by MBAs and others holding advanced business degrees?

Strategic Business/Financial Communications

In creating an upper division college course as my master’s degree project, I was immediately struck by the opening of University of North Carolina Professor Chris Roush’s book, Show me the money: Writing business and economics stories for mass communication.

Roush recounted the story of the reporter interviewing the CEO of Humana Corporation. The CEO made several references to the regulatory SEC. The reporter asked: “Excuse me, but what does the Southeastern Conference have to do with your business?

How many students, majoring in public relations and advertising, do not know the difference between the Securities Exchange Commission and the Southeastern Conference?

showmethemoney How many more cannot explain the difference between revenues and net income?

Is gross margin increasing/decreasing or expanding/contracting?

And what constitutes accretive as opposed to dilutive when it comes to EPS?

Asking for a show of hands, there are always more than a few honest souls who openly admit they are majoring in public relations or advertising because they are not on friendly terms with numbers.

As a green public relations director back in the 1990s/2000s Silicon Valley, the author of Almost DailyBrett was asked to produce quarterly earnings releases (10-Q), the CEO letter for the annual report (10-K) and oodles of unplanned disclosures, including material  top-line or bottom-line misses, mergers and acquisitions and restructurings (8-K).

Help!

Why was I not taught how to read an income statement, a balance sheet, a cash-flow statement or how to track a stock back in college? The reason was simple: I went to journalism school.

The Five W’s, One H, The Inverted Pyramid and Who the Hell Cares?

Having acknowledged the lack of quantitative skills for the vast majority of journalism graduates, and this number definitely includes those majoring in public relations and advertising, there is still a compelling need for these students to learn journalism.

Some may differ because those who employ earned media (public relations) and paid media (advertising) are not objective. They have a point of view. PR and advertising pros want the public to do something that directly benefits their client or clients. True, enough.

Regardless, these practitioners still have an obligation to get the story right. They need to understand if a story is newsworthy or not for the intended audience(s). They need to pose the story in the inverted pyramid-style with the all-important what, when, where, who, why, how and who cares questions being answered in a concise and compelling manner.

invertedpyramid Are business schools equipped to teach journalism to PR and advertising majors? Do they want to teach journalism? Would they just outsource this responsibility to the journalism schools? They would still have ultimate oversight for these PR and advertising students.

Before these questions are all answered, let’s address another assumption, and a wrong contention as well. We are assuming that all public relations and advertising majors will be working for the greater glory and good of privately held (e.g., Dell, Subway) and publicly traded companies (e.g., Google, Amazon).

What about those who want to work in the public sector, politics, non-profits or NGOs? Yes, there are still bottom lines for all of these entities because they all have to stay in business. (Okay, the $18 trillion in cumulative debt federal government is an exception, but let’s avoid that subject for now).

Can business schools effectively teach issues management? Can they teach community relations? Can they really convey corporate social responsibility as opposed to fiduciary responsibility? Or will all of these subjects be taught by journalism schools? Do they want to teach these subjects and more? If not, why move public relations and advertising students to business schools?

The End of Journalism Schools?

If public relations and advertising students are transferred to business schools, what happens to journalism/communications schools?

First, the demographic makeup of business schools becomes more XX-chromosomes by means of the influx or public relations and advertising students, and the percentage of XY-chromosome journalism student bodies increases. Whether these results are demographically important or not, Almost DailyBrett will leave that analysis to those with higher pay grades.

Second, one must ask whether the tasks for already hard-pressed journalism school development (e.g., fundraising) professionals will become next to impossible if they lose students and graduates from two highly compensated professions?

Third, university and college politics are thorny enough without posing this transfer public relations/advertising students from J-schools to Biz schools. Is this a fight that anyone really wants to undertake? Would one jump into a venomous snake pit, if it was not necessary?

Maybe the answer lies with a hybrid approach? Keep public relations and advertising students under the J-school/Communications-school tent, but require them to take essential strategic business classes, particularly those that focus on brand management, reading income statements and balance sheets.

In return, business students should learn effective writing, grammar and persuasion skills offered by J-schools. The result may be more students, hailing from business and journalism schools, who are qualitatively and quantitatively equipped to serve as corporate public relations and investor relations technicians, managers, directors or vice presidents.

Heck, they will at least know the difference between the top-line and the bottom-line.

One can always dream. Right?

http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/mba-admissions-strictly-business/2011/12/16/why-b-schools-need-to-teach-pr

http://www.socialbusinessnews.com/should-public-relations-be-taught-in-business-school/

http://www.businessweek.com/business-schools/public-relations-coming-to-a-bschool-near-you-12072011.html

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/are-public-relations-pros-journalists/

The shattered pieces of the glass ceiling may lie on the floor, but no one is partying.

In case you haven’t noticed it, women dominate the profession of public relations.

When I was a senior vice president at A&R Edelman in San Mateo, CA, there were 134 on our staff, 110 were women.

There was no line for the men’s room; physiology had nothing to do with it.

Teaching and lecturing upper-division public relations courses at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, more than once I entered a classroom and there was not a male face to be found.

Who invited me?

The ratio of women-to-men students majoring in Public Relations at UO is north of 7-to-3. Similar women-to-men out of balance ratios can be found at other university PR departments.

gender1

Women may be dominating in numbers, but compensation is sadly a very different story.

San Diego State School of Journalism & Media Studies Professors David M. Dozier, Bey-Ling Sha and Hongmei Shen reported the pay differentials between men and women in public relations in their Why Women Earn Less Than Men: The Cost of Gender Discrimination in U.S. Public Relations.

The quantitative study of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) members, published in Public Relations Journal, revealed that male public relations practitioners earn on the average $84,368, compared to women at $76,063. That amounts to an $8,305 difference in annual salary between the two genders. At first glance, that figure sounds relatively close.

However, the magnitude of the different pay for equal work comes into play when you multiply the $8,305 over the course of a 40-year career, bringing the total to a staggering $332,200 loss of earning power for women practitioners, their children and their families.

That’s serious money.

You could outright buy a very comfortable house in Eugene, Oregon with that amount or maybe make a down payment for a home in Silicon Valley. More than $300,000 is the difference between a comfortable retirement, and being forced to flip hamburgers in your Golden Years.

Dozier, Sha and Shen offered several potential explanations for this inequity including differences in experience, career-interruptions (e.g., babies and family) and simply because of gender.

gender2

One area that was studied by these San Diego State profs that still needs more attention are choices of specific jobs made by the two genders. The academics noted that corporate PR shops ($88,823 average salary) had more men, while non-profits ($62,275 average salary) were composed of more women. There is a major difference in pay and yet more women gravitate to non-profits than men. America is a free country, but are non-profits the right choice?

Community relations pays on the average $63,437 annually. In contrast, financial relations provides the highest rate of compensation in the industry, an average of $117,233 per year. Are enough women focusing on investor relations and corporate public relations? IMHO, they should. Not only do these categories pay extremely well, they also require one to be talented both qualitatively (e.g., developing relationships with buy-and-sell-side analysts) and quantitatively (e.g., reading income statements and balance sheets).

There is also the question of the technician vs. manager divide as the former will most likely always be compensated in five figures, while the latter potentially leads to the six-figure salaries. Every profession needs worker bees, but there is no justification for one gender making up the majority of subordinates.

What can college and university instructors do to help rectify this inequity? The word “mentoring” comes immediately to mind. What if…

● We encourage women public relations majors to take Strategic Business/Financial Communications and other business communications classes to have a better understanding of businesses. Every organization – for profit or non-profit – operates on the basis of an income statement and a balance sheet. Remember GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) is your friend.

● In group settings, more times than not, it is the male of the species that is clamoring to be the group leader. Why don’t we quietly encourage more women students to lead these groups? If this experience is positive, it could spur more women to pursue the road-to-six-figure managerial jobs. Yes, industry always needs its technicians, but skilled managers as well.

● Another huge positive that comes from group leadership is the management of people. Keep in mind, not everyone is cut out to supervise and encourage employees. Having said that, organization management is a skill that will always be in demand, and it cannot be effectively outsourced.

● We present the full gambit of positions that are available in public relations, not just community relations, internal communications and non-profit communications, but corporate public relations, investor relations, reputation/brand management and crisis communications.

Guess which ones pay the most?

● The same also applies to chosen end market. There is more to life than just non-profits and PR agencies (I served in both), but also corporate and government (I toiled here and there as well). Where is the compensation the greatest? The answer usually revolves around where the supply is the smallest; the demand and challenges are the greatest.

gender3

Almost DailyBrett wishes for a magic wand to wave away the last vestiges of ugly and flat-out wrong sexism and racism from global societies.

Absent supernatural powers, we can instead take positive mentoring steps to help close and eliminate the pay inequity between men and women in public relations. Today is a great day to start.

http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/Documents/2013DozierShaShen.pdf

http://womeninbusiness.about.com/od/sexual-discrimination/a/Corporations-Sued-For-Gender-Discrimination-Against-Women-And-Men.htm

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/05/01/pr%E2%80%99s-endangered-species/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/where-are-the-guys/

 

 

 

“You only have to go through one or two communications debacles as a senior executive to understand the importance of communications.” – PepsiCo chairman and chief executive officer Indra Nooyi

State Leadership: An Opportunity for Global Action: Michael Froman: Indra Nooyi

“Corporate crises often do manage to stick in people’s minds because business has such low credibility in the first place, reinforced by incessant media images of ruthless and profit-hungry corporations. A public that was already predisposed to hate big companies could not be completely surprised by what happened to the Exxon Valdez.” – Dartmouth Business Professor Paul A. Argenti

I flunked geometry in high school.

It was my one-and-only “falcon.”

I flunked it big time…and vowed to never take another math class for the rest of my life.

So far, I have kept my promise.

The obvious question that arises is why am I teaching J410 Strategic Business/Financial Communications at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication starting today? And why was the creation of this course the basis of my master’s degree in journalism?

Does not J410 Strategic Business/Financial Communications involve the very numbers that I so despised?

The answers are that I could have used this class repeatedly during the course of my professional career.

Many go into journalism, public relations and advertising because we don’t like math and/or we lack confidence in our arithmetic skills. The problem is the numbers will find us. We can run but we can’t hide from these little buggers.

We should remember that behind every number is a story. As communicators, we are trained to tell stories. Numbers do not appear out of thin air (okay, they disappeared at Enron…but that is a different tale).

One day I woke up as the press secretary of the Governor of California. Yes, the largest state of the union with approximately 37 million souls. Soon I was writing the news release for the state budget (12 agencies and 250,000 employees), about $70 billion (including bond funds) in the late 1980s. A quick Internet check can reveal the size and scope of California’s exploding budget and related bureaucracy today.

My job was to tell the story of the state budget, how it was balanced, how it did not require new taxes on the citizens of California, and how it even contained (gasp!) a $1 billion reserve for emergencies. Almost seems quaint when compared to the present day.

Shortly after arriving at LSI Logic (NYSE: LSI) in the mid-1990s, I was assigned to write the 10Q (quarterly earnings) releases, the 8-K (crisis communication) releases and the 10K CEO (annual report) letter to investors, customers, employees, partners, suppliers, distributors and other stakeholders.

Help.

What is market capitalization? What is the top line? What is the bottom line? Why is gross margin expanding (does it need to be put on a diet?). And is it better that a deal is accretive or dilutive…dilutive of precisely what?

Reading Professor Chris Roush’s book, “Show Me The Money,” I learned about the editor of a Kentucky newspaper, who was interviewing the CEO of Humana Incorporated, a major managed care company. The CEO referenced on several occasions the regulatory Securities Exchange Commission by its acronym, SEC. This prompted the editor to ask: “Excuse me, but what does the Southeastern Conference have to do with your business?”

roush

One of my academic colleagues recalled a day when she was interviewing a business executive who kept on referencing the S&P 500. She resisted the temptation to ask, what does a car race have to do with the executive’s business? (Do they use Indy Cars or Formula One in the S&P 500?)

There are approximately 5,000 publicly traded companies on the NYSE or the NASDAQ and each one has strict SEC mandated reporting requirements. There are also requirements to preclude the selective disclosure of “material” information…Factoids that would prompt someone to buy, hold or sell a company’s stock.

There are regulations that mandate that GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) are given greater or at least the same precedence as Pro Forma (Latin: “As a matter of form”) accounting. At LSI Logic, we reported using both methodologies with GAAP always coming first. One reporter from Reuters took issue with us employing both methods, prompting yours truly to reply: “You are the first reporter I have ever met that complains about more information as opposed to less information.”

I wish someone had taught me the rules of business communications as opposed to learning it in the School of Hard Knocks.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) announced in December 2011 the results of a quantitative survey of more than 200 corporate executives (vice president or above) on whether corporate communications/reputation management should be taught at leading business schools. Ninety-eight percent of these corporate leaders believe that U.S. business schools need to incorporate corporate communication and reputation management coursework into the standard MBA curriculum.

In addition, the PRSA survey revealed that 94 percent believe that corporate management needs additional training in core communication disciplines. Only 40 percent rated recent company MBA hires as “extremely strong” in responding to crisis situations, building and protecting company credibility.

I bet ya they would have similar sentiments about the business acumen of J-school graduates. It’s time to change these opinions through action.

The goals of J410 Strategic Business/Financial Communications is to instill in future journalists, public relations and advertising professionals with the quantitative abilities to tell the story not only about the numbers, but behind the numbers. For business majors, who are adept at numbers and spread sheets, the mission is to help them in storytelling.

The Securities Exchange Commission is a fact of life. Whether we like it or not, publicly traded companies must communicate (at least every 90 days) and they must instill confidence and conduct themselves in a manner that conveys trust. These skills cannot be outsourced with all due respect to the outsourcing nations.

SEC

The result of seven months of labor over a computer, churning out 61 pages, 15,000 words and more than 140 citations (and just about as many rewrites) becomes reality today. And if all else fails, I will always remember: Buy low, Sell high.

Almost DailyBrett Note: Roush deserves full credit for “Behind Every Number is a Story.” I will never forget this clever use of the English language.

Roush, C. (2004). Show me the money: Writing business and economics stories for mass communication. Mahwah, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Pages 1-407.

Argenti, P., Forman, J. (2002). The power of corporate communication. Crafting the voice and image of your business. New York, N.Y. McGraw-Hill. Page 250.

Argenti, P.A., Howell, R.A. and Beck, K.A. (2005). The strategic communication imperative. MIT Sloan Management Review. Spring 2005. Volume 46. Number 3. Pages 83-89.

http://media.prsa.org/article_display.cfm?article_id=2383

http://www.businessweek.com/business-schools/public-relations-coming-to-a-bschool-near-you-12072011.html

Even though my Master of Arts diploma has been on my wall for the better part of two months, I took full advantage of the opportunity today to parade around in my gown, hood (not to be confused with “hoodie”), mortar board and tassel. This is my second graduation in 34 years.

This day meant the culmination of another of life’s journeys, but it is not the end, not even close…just another beginning.  In other ways, I have been very fortunate. In many ways, I have been very unfortunate. I will not whine. I will not complain. I will keep plugging on, and on, and on.

Two days ago, I indulged in upscale, sustainable, organic, free trade, shade grown coffee with a colleague of mine. He is 10 years younger and was noting that he is getting old as evidenced by his aches and pains. I didn’t want to hear it.

Am I in denial about age? Some can easily come to that conclusion, but frankly I don’t care.

Instead, I think back to the fall of 2010 taking Pro Seminar at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.  The class was a deep dive into the philosophical writings of Descartes, Foucault, Marx, Locke, Mill, Kant, Hegel, Socrates, Plato and even more dudes who have been pushing up the daisies for many, many moons.

descartes

The nightly readings (about 50-100 pages) were dense, turgid, laborious and relentless. Miss one day, even a Saturday or a Sunday, and you were hopelessly behind. I had to learn to keep reading, regardless of whether I understood a paragraph or not. The goal was to be a sponge and absorb, and eventually a little light went on. One was starting to comprehend and understand.

Before taking the plunge into after-50 academia (not exactly the traditional response to a “mid-life crisis”), one of my best friends said I would do well because I am, “So good at bulls…” Alas, this particular “talent” doesn’t work in Pro Seminar: Either you know the readings or you don’t. BS is not an option as it will be exposed after the second sentence has left your mouth.

About mid-way through the 10-week quarter, our professor with an über-Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Illinois said that he was concentrating on each student’s “intellectual growth.”

“Intellectual growth?”

Me?

As I dived deeper into Pro Seminar I was coming to the realization that in my days as an agency PR team supervisor and as a corporate public relations director, I was only using a fraction of my brain. In carrying out my responsibilities, I was running so fast in delivering deliverables to clients there was absolutely no time to reflect, no time to contemplate and no time to smell the flowers.

Academia was demanding that I slow down, even though there were still deadlines for papers, abstracts and presentations. There had to be wood behind the proverbial arrow in the form of thought, application of theory and references for all cited work. Post-graduate work naturally teaches you how to write an academic paper as opposed to a business memo. There is a world of difference. The first is inflexible with rigidly prescribed rules. The second actually affords more flexibility as long as return on investment (ROI) is observed.

Another facet of academic work is the need for humility and to check one’s ego at the door. My master’s project, creating an upper division course, Strategic Business/Financial Communication, required about 12 iterations for a 61-page paper with about 140 citations and more than 15,000 words. At one point, my academic advisor cut-up my paper and taped it back together again to help me with my organization.

scissors

Today, it all became worth it as that very same academic advisor placed my master’s hood over my mortar board in front of 450 other students and all their parents, friends and significant others.

What made it the most rewarding is when one of my students and her parents came up to me after the ceremony. Her parents told me that I was her daughter’s favorite teacher, and they even invited me to dinner. My mumsy, sis and daughter were there to hear the accolade.  Have to report: I was beaming from ear-to-ear.

Guess that makes all the nights reading about Hegelian dielectrics worth the effort.

University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small. — Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Three Crucial Questions for the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf

Henry the K may be a tad too strong in his assessment about college and university politics, but behind every exaggeration is a usually a strong element of truth.

As I prepare to “defend” my MA project paper this week, I am appreciative of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication for offering me a Graduate Teaching Fellowship…it was an offer that I simply could not refuse. The fellowship is basically a free master’s degree, the provision of full-medical, dental and vision for my family and a small stipend. In exchange, I served as a teaching assistant for five quarters including lecturing at least three classes per quarter, which is invaluable experience.

Several of my colleagues have asked if I am contemplating going on and pursuing a doctorate in Journalism, my response: Let me defend my MA first; and I didn’t know that psychedelic mushrooms were still in vogue.

Looking back at the past 18 months, there are facets of the academic experience that standout in my mind, particularly for a middle-aged, Anglo guy pursuing my second degree 34 years after the first one (the average grad student is 29-years old).

● Are we instilling students to be social justice activists or are we preparing them to get a job? What is more important in the long-term? Blow-by-blow accounts of the epic “victories” of the Occupy Wall Street or lecturing students about return on investment (ROI), cover letters and resumes? You have probably already figured out by now where I come down on this point.

occupywallstreet

● Why do some students, teaching assistants and even tenured faculty absolutely detest Wall Street? On several occasions, I have been asked why I am creating a course called, “Strategic Business/Financial Communications.” The questions seem to imply that I am guilty of aiding and abetting corporate monsters. Certainly some antipathy to corporate greed and excessive CEO compensation is justified. At the same time, a large percentage of these very same social justice advocates are also part of the Apple cult (i.e., iPads, iPhones, iPods and Macs). Gee, isn’t Apple a multi-national enterprise (MNE)? Whatever.

● Even though completion of a second full-year of foreign language is required for a master of arts degree, I have to question why is foreign language study not recommended or downright discouraged by a professional school? Was ist los? Ich verstehe nicht.  I have no clue why this is the case. Learning to read, write, hear and speak another language makes you better at your language. Aren’t we learning how to tell the story and aren’t language skills essential to telling these stories?

● And while we are the subject of telling stories, why is there not greater emphasis on the analog skills of writing, grammar, style and editing? There is no doubt that the digital software skills of audio and video production (e.g. Final Cut Pro) and importing and cropping of photos (e.g. Photoshop) are increasingly vital, but written and verbal language skills are the essence of telling the story and telling it well. These skills are not easily offshored and outsourced.

● Even though I was pleased as punch to serve as a teaching assistant, I was stunned by the massive egos of a few, certainly not all, of my colleagues. There are some cases in which teaching assistants are injecting their personal political agenda and subordinating the course. There are other cases where they dominate a classroom with an outpouring of verbal diarrhea that would make a filibustering US senator blush. Didn’t your mother teach you to share?

foxhole

● What is the worst grade that you can give to a student? F? D-? How about an A- or even worse a B+? Get ready to climb into your fox hole and fix bayonets when you give out one of these grades. Expect to be told about how hard the student worked, how another instructor said the assignment deserved an A. And be sure to be prepared for an onslaught of negatives in your teaching assessment evaluation. Every quarter somebody gets me real good. It simply goes with the territory. As mumsy said, you can’t please everyone…yep they even put Jesus Christ up on a cross.

● Diversity is celebrated with one big exception. Let’s hear it for differences in ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexual orientation and non-Western creeds. The notable exception to “diversity” is those poor souls that harbor an annoying political disposition. It’s the one that believes that rapidly expanding government is not the automatic answer to all questions, wants to keep taxes reasonable, supports private enterprise and a strong national defense. You may have heard of these folks. No, I am not surprised. I went to school in Eugene. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have at least one registered Republican on a professional school’s faculty? What a novel idea?

Even though I humbly raise some issues that someone may consider to actually be important, I am thankful for the advanced degree, the opportunity to receive the Zertifikät Deutsch, to team on a ghostblogging research project and to receive an academic award for that same project.

As a friend who knew me from my Bay Area days and knows me now said, “You seem calmer and happier.”

I will buy into that.

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