Tag Archive: Thought Leadership

“Now if this (Ketchum, Inc. client Vladimir Putin allegedly protecting ethnic Russians in Ukraine) sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s. All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.” – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton


“Hitler makes cameo appearances all the time within American political narratives about emerging international crises. He’s an easy and recognizable shorthand that signals danger.” – Former State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley.

During the past few days, the Washington Post, CNBC and others have questioned Ketchum Public Relations representing Russia, even though the country invaded a strategic portion (e.g., Crimea) of its neighbor, Ukraine. Ketchum states its only advancing Russia’s economic development and investment goals, not foreign policy. However, a New York Times op-ed, authored by Putin and placed by Ketchum, criticized the foreign policy of the United States in the context of Syria.

When is it time for an international public relations agency to jettison a client, even one paying $55 million so far, based upon questionable at best behavior? Or does the legal tender reign supreme? Would Ketchum theoretically accept any client, telling its “economic development and investment” story, regardless of the circumstances? Does Corporate Social Responsibility apply to agencies as well? What if an international client with a difficult story to tell came to Ketchum or any other international agency…let’s say back in 1938.

Ketchum, a division of Omnicom Group Inc., would turn down the business. Right?

The scene is a large meeting room in Germany’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The time is September, 1938.

Propaganda Minster Joseph Goebbels: “Herzlichen Willkommen zu dem Vaterland und das dritte Reich, Herr Ketchum.“

Ketchum EVP: “We are delighted to have been selected from several firms competing for your RFP (Request for Proposal) to help tell Germany’s story and to facilitate understanding of what your Führer is trying to accomplish in Central Europe.”

Goebbels: “The pleasure is ours. We are particularly pleased to meet with Ketchum Public Relations. Apparently, you have a solid track record of representing nations that don’t have…how should I say it…the easiest public story to tell.”

Ketchum EVP: “It’s nice to be recognized for our track record. We are particularly good at competing in the arena of public opinion and national brand management for countries that want to insure their rightful interests are respected and understood.”

Goebbels: “As you know, earlier this year we peacefully completed an Anschluss bringing together German-speaking Austria together with das Reich. We believe this connection was only fair and just.”

Ketchum EVP: “And now, if I understand you correctly, Germany wants to do the same for the ethnic Germans that were artificially separated from the Vaterland by the Versailles Treaty and the establishment of thrown-together states, such as Czechoslovakia.”


Goebbels: “That is exactly why you are being paid so handsomely, say $1.6 million in U.S. currency every six months, to tell the Führer’s great story. He is fully aware of our meeting today, and is pleased you are joining our team.”

Ketchum EVP: “Let me get this right. Your Führer will soon be meeting with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to discuss the Sudetenland question. How can we help? We have offices in Berlin, Munich, Prague and London. We are prepared to assist both here in Germany and elsewhere.”

Goebbels: “Don’t worry about Germany. My ministry has Alles in Ordnung when it comes to spreading our message within Germany. We could use some help in New York and London, However, you may have a conflict with our account and your Prague office.”

Ketchum EVP: “Let me reiterate that we really want your business. We have already taken the steps to register our business relationship with Germany with the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act. We have a track record of placing an op-ed for the oligarch of Russia with the New York Times. We could do the same for your Führer, advancing him as a Thought Leader when it comes to hegemony in Europe.”

Goebbels: “Sehr gut, but what about the upcoming summit in Munich between der Führer and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain? We really need help with Fleet Street in the City of London.”


Ketchum EVP: “We have already taken the liberty to brand the Munich conference as “Peace for Our Time.” Our goal is to ensure that the appeasing and pleasing “Peace for Our Time” is on the lips of informed publics, particularly in London, New York and Washington. Those are our prime audiences.”

Goebbels: “And what about your Czech office in bothersome, Prague”?

Ketchum EVP: “Kein Problem Herr Minister. We will set up the Mother of All Chinese Walls. Our Prague office will not interfere with your plans for German media and our assistance in the U.K. and the USA. I trust that everything will go along swimmingly.”

Goebbels: “We will have indeed have ‘Peace for Our Time.’ Ha…”

Ketchum EVP: “We are happy to represent you in selling your assistance to the Sudetenland ethnic minorities to skeptical publics. Is there anything else we can do”?

Goebbels: “There is this matter of the Polish Corridor…Maybe we should discuss a retainer relationship.”

Ketchum EVP: “We really love retainers…”










“Everybody I know seems to know me well, but they’re never gonna know that I move like hell.” – Led Zeppelin’s What Is and What Should Never Be

Second cut, first side, Led Zeppelin II, 1969.


The fact that this song is still one of my favorites is irrelevant to everyone, but me.

The fact that I can remember this song and the entire Led Zeppelin catalogue is troublesome.

Everyone who comes into visual contact with me may instantly conclude that I am a follicly challenged, mature, white, male of the species, and some may be inclined to add the charming adjective, “privileged.”

Was I and many others that fit the perception privileged to have the resources way back then to purchase Led Zeppelin II in vinyl?

More to the point: What am I and presumably others in the same aging, white, male boat going to do about our present state of affairs? What can we do to prevent society from putting us out to pasture?

How about: Move like hell?

“I am sure there are at least 1 million white males, qualified and overqualified, in a similar frustrating situation.” – Unemployed Baby Boomer public relations pro

He forgot the word, “privileged.” My daughter, my very own flesh and blood, under the gravitational pull of San Francisco/Berkeley, repeatedly employs this moniker.

She even mentioned the dreaded “Military-Industrial Complex.” Did she realize she was quoting a Republican, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell address as our 34th president? Before you ask, I do not remember Eisenhower even though I was born during Ike’s first term.

And there are many more who were born during Eisenhower’s two terms (or earlier). Is it time for society to involuntarily retire these people, redefining (and respelling) the term pasture-ization?

Or can they overcome the odds and contribute to society, become engaged and give back to the world? I know where I come down on these questions.

“I lost my job on Wall Street and now it’s over.’ Give me a break. You’re not in Somalia, right? You haven’t lost your abilities. You can find a way to retool.” – Life Coach Tony Robbins


There are literally millions of Baby Boomer pale males…and most likely Baby Boomer females too… who believe that society has passed them over. This is the time for a cup half-full. Robbins is right. You can do it, and you are not an old dog that can’t learn new tricks.

So what can these mature knuckle-draggers do to reclaim their Mojo? How about: Move like hell? Here are some thoughts, not in any particular order but they work well cumulatively.

Cross Training. Yes, the combination of serious aerobics and resistance training in every other day intervals for each. Prove Isaac Newton’s First Law of Physics to be correct about a body in motion, staying in motion. You are not only doing yourself a big favor in terms of your health, you are going feel better about yourself and project confidence.

Be Enthusiastic about everything you do. Celebrate every victory, even the small ones. Nobody wants to hire Gloomy Gus or Negative Nancy. It is easier to be negative than positive. Be realistic, but not a Pollyanna. Having said that, always ask yourself how you can rather than how you can’t.

Get Smart. Be Smart. Is it time to go back to school? Yep those places with text books, online readings, exams, papers etc. There are ever more jobs that require master’s degrees, let alone bachelor’s degrees. Are you prepared as you need to be?

Find love. In my sixth decade on this planet, I found love again and married my second wife, Jeanne. Married people are happier. Finding a good job in this economy is tough. Marrying a wonderful spouse is even more difficult. And if you do, make sure that decision makers know all about it.

Stay current. So many give up on politics, government and business. As Charles Krauthammer, who overcame being paralyzed in a college swimming pool accident to win the Pulitzer Prize, wrote in Things That Matter, politics is an essential human discipline. Get it wrong and you can end up with Germany circa 1933. Understanding the world is pivotal to realizing your personal potential.

Keep on Working. Brandon Stanton, the 29-year old best-selling author/photographer of The Humans of New York was asked about the secret of his stunning and unexpected success. His answer was simple: “Keep on working.” His admonition reminds me of the late Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Giving up is a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Write 15 minutes or more every day. Keep your brain engaged. Everyone is a Thought Leader. Everyone has an expertise. Whether it is conventionally or digitally, transmitting your thoughts into written expression builds confidence in your communication skills and likewise about your overall talents.

Think Digital, Be Digital. The Baby Boomer generation is the last to not be digital natives. So how does that impact the price of tea in China? It doesn’t. Even though Samsung’s ads make fun about adults and technology, suggesting that kids run circles around us, the reality can be way different. Walking in to present a seminar on social media last year, some were wondering why I didn’t have a skateboard. The answer is that I know WordPress, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, SlideShare and others. The same should be true for you.

Fight Back. Every day is a personal improvement day. No one decides that your career is over, except you. If we fail here or there, the game is not over. How can each of us get better? How can we be more competitive? What skill sets can each of us gain? Can we learn from others? Can others learn from each of us?

Society as a whole may not know it, but I move like hell…and so can you.







It’s not every day that you hike the Stanford “Dish” with an ex-con http://dish.stanford.edu/.

Based upon her appearance, her demeanor, her intelligence and command of the English language, she is about the last person that you would expect to be locked up for a year in a federal pen in Washington State.

Let’s see. She worked for a Republican governor. She was a bank senior vice president. She is the mother of two college-age daughters, one going to a Catholic school in Southern California and the other to a football factory in the Deep South.

In pouring out her heart to me, she also shared about how she has learned about the consequences of choices she made that eventually led to waking up on the floor of a Seattle area prison. She recounted that she was operating from a place of stress and not knowing her true-self. She has a deep appreciation for friends, family and children who stood by her throughout this ordeal.

As a result of this experience, which she recounted with tears about two miles into our four-mile hike, she has definite feelings about law and order, crime and punishment, and most of all whether the United States is doing enough to prepare its nearly 2.4 million convicts (those eligible for parole) to reenter society.

Listening to her story and contemplating that she was never allowed outside for a year, I realized what it must mean to her to be able to once again walk four miles and admire the rolling hills around the Stanford campus. I will never take this experience for granted ever again.

More importantly, I came to the conclusion that she represents a classic man-bites-dog story. How could someone with so much going for her end up in such a bad place?

This experience gave her something that every blogger needs, standing. Isn’t “standing” a legal term? Sure is. http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/s064.htm

The legal right to initiate a lawsuit. To do so, a person must be sufficiently affected by the matter at hand, and there must be a case or controversy that can be resolved by legal action. There are three requirements for Article III standing: (1) injury in fact, which means an invasion of a legally protected interest that is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a causal relationship between the injury and the challenged conduct, which means that the injury fairly can be traced to the challenged action of the defendant, and has not resulted from the independent action of some third party not before the court; and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.

Consider that my hiking friend wrote resumes for inmates at the federal prison. She was helping people in trying to not only reenter society, but maybe, just maybe, reclaiming their lives. Do you think she has the “standing” to comment with authority of recidivism issues? What about the right of ex-convicts, who have paid their debt to society, to participate in the electoral process? Or how about plight of children when mommy or most likely, daddy, are behind bars?

Just as the average citizen cannot file a suit against BP because they don’t like reading about the oil spill, bloggers really can’t gain traction commenting on subjects in which they have little or no personal experience. Yes, yes…everyone has First Amendment Rights to free and unfettered speech, but will anyone listen if you do not command your subject?

Conversely, if a blogger has a unique experience, a hard-earned perspective, an emotional tie to a topic, then it is almost imperative that she or he use the digital ones and zeroes to bestow this knowledge to help others. I am actively urging her to use her precious “standing” to tell her story and to provide her input into making the world a little better place.

Blogging should be more than “conversational marketing,” “thought leadership” and “branding” that PR agency types love to talk about and will charge $240 per hour (not including OOPS or out-of-pocket expenses). Blog posts should also be a source of knowledge, wisdom, advice and comfort for those who are facing the worst that life can offer and hoping for a better future.

Almost DailyBrett note: Today marks blog post #52. One year ago, I began this blog wondering whether anyone would ever read my meanderings, let alone comment on them. To my readers and respondents, thank you so much for your time and patience. I will continue to do my best to never let you down.

Are contributed articles overrated?

Are blogs overhyped?

Why even compare a traditional/conventional PR approach with digital social media? The answer lies in the increasing number of times that under-the-gun PR directors shun blogging in favor of contributed articles. Many assert that blogs are bandwidth hogs in contrast to contributed articles. Really?

Before I delve too deeply into this conversation, keep in mind I am not talking about guest commentaries or op-eds for major publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today or the New York Times. They have their own distinct and celebrated value based upon the power of their mast heads.

What I am assessing is the value of preparing contributed articles, particularly for technology, health care and financial trade publications by company executives, technologists, engineers, marketers and sales representatives. And then I am contrasting this marketing and brand management practice that almost goes back to the Book of Genesis to redirecting a least a portion of this time and effort to self publishing through blogging.

Almost DailyBrett has scars resulting from my efforts to convince many well-respected public relations practitioners to adopt a blogging program for their internal/external clients. Sometimes I have been successful, more times I have not. In these latter cases, the PR pros express SEC Reg FD (Fair Disclosure) concerns, worries about releasing proprietary information or cite time restraints in favor of contributed articles.

What is so curious is that contributed articles can take up to 8x the amount of time as a blogging program. Ever hear of the term, “re-spins?” A contributed article program is the Mother of All Re-spins.

Let’s see. First you contact the trade editor (who is awake at night wondering about the fate of her or his position/publication) and pitch the idea. The editor may like it or not. If so, s/he will ask for an abstract. You will then prepare and submit the abstract. Sounds good. Oops, the editor wants you to amend the abstract. Back to the drawing board (first re-spin).

Now it is time to re-submit your abstract. Whew, it was approved. Now comes the actual article, 1,000-words? 1,500 words? 2,000 words? You now submit the article internally for review. “Re-spin please.” Ugh. Another rev is completed, which is approved by the Powers That Be. Time to submit to the editor. Oh no, s/he wants some changes, time for the next re-spin.

Finally, your freshly amended contributed article is complete and it has been accepted by the editor. The only problem is three articles are ahead of your piece in the queue. Your submission will be published . . . next month. So how many months does a contributed article consume from initial pitch to actual publication? Three months? Four months? Five months? . . .

Yes, your contributed article has the advantage of authenticity that comes from being published under the imprimatur of a respected trade publication, but at what cost in terms of time and effort?

Now contrast that amount of time compared to digitally posting a conversational marketing piece by selected engineers, technologists, executives etc. via a company hosted blogging site is as little as one day? Can you build thought leadership and enhance the company brand via a blog? Certainly. This is particularly true when a blog post results in an on-line conversation with a prospective or established customer, an analyst, a supplier, a partner or a journalist.

Is there a realistic worry about a Reg. FD violation? That shouldn’t be a problem, if you have asserted and imposed control over who blogs and on what subject. And isn’t it common sense that you do NOT use a blog to publicly discuss next quarter financial results or anything else that may constitute a “material” event? What about proprietary information? Ditto when it comes to company controls, and besides how much can you really reveal in four or five paragraphs?

If a company has the horsepower, resources and talent, I would recommend both contributed articles and blogs and have the two be complementary pieces of your marketing and brand management tool kit.

For a start-up with very few of these attributes, self-publishing in the form of blogging is the easiest and most cost-effective answer to establishing thought leadership, building brand and painting a corporate portrait.

In the end analysis, contributed articles and blogging should not be mutually exclusive.

PowerPoint Chutzpah?

You prepared a winning resume taking a prospective employer quickly down memory lane, quantifying your results and illustrating your achievements. Check.

You wrote a killer cover letter outlining your specific value add to whoever would be so fortunate to have you on the team. Check.

You have carefully surfed the website of the target company, agency, NGO etc. and cross-referenced with related Google and Wikipedia searches. Check.

You assembled a portfolio of your work, showcasing your message development, presentation and social media skills. Check.

You prepared at least four thoughtful questions that demonstrate your knowledge about the employer’s business and communications strategy and interest in the job. Check.

Wonderful. Hasn’t everyone else done pretty much the same in this consummate seller’s (employer’s) market?

What else can you do that separates you from the pack? How about a technique that takes a little old-fashioned Chutzpah, maybe a tad presumptuous, but definitely exudes confidence?

Why not bring along a PowerPoint “Action Plan” presentation to the interview, specifically tailored for that particular prospective employer?

Political pundits get almost giddy assessing the first 100 days of a new administration in Washington, D.C. What about your first 100 days on the job? What would you do? What are your ideas? How will you be part of the team? How will assist in an organization’s evolution (stay away from “revolution”)? What tools, both conventional and digital, will you employ to build thought leadership?

As communicators we are adept at choreographing communications plans with objectives, goals, target audiences, strategic messages, deliverables and time tables. By crafting a PowerPoint presentation for an employer you are showing them how you would advance their cause and tell their story to influential internal and external audiences.

In this case, you are providing them with your impressions of their strengths and weaknesses and how you intend to move the dial, enhancing their advantages and mitigating their disadvantages.

Before utilizing the PowerPoint, politely ask the interviewer(s) if she, he, they have any objections to you taking them through a short-presentation (six pages minimum, 10 pages maximum). If there are only one or two people conducting the interview, then hard copies are appropriate. If more than three or four, you might want to drive the presentation off your laptop.

One note of warning: The PowerPoint must begin with assertions that are likely to meet with agreement by the interviewer. We are not talking about stating the obvious. It may come in the form of quantitative polling data, media reports or recent financial or market analyst comments about the progress of a company, agency, organization in accomplishing its business strategy or issues management goals.

Your presentation can potentially backfire, if the interviewers disagree with your initial assessments prompting them to wonder what else is wrong with your conclusions. Don’t put any blood in the water for the angry sharks to go into a feeding frenzy. It is imperative that you get off to a good start.

Complete your presentation with a set of goals and measurable accomplishments and respond to questions. You can reinforce your presentation by sending a soft copy for their records along with your thank you note. By taking this approach, you can virtually guarantee that none of your interviews will be a mere courtesy.

An editor’s note is important at this time. While I have not been successful to date in reaching the Promised Land in this very tough hiring climate, I know from hard experience that it really boils down to a numbers game. There are literally thousands upon thousands of great communicators around the world. We have so much to offer and not enough places to fully practice our skills.

To be successful in this post-recessionary environment, we need to break out of the pack. More to the point, when we secure these vital in-person interviews we need to separate ourselves from our peers. Why not crystallize our thoughts, systematically outline our plan and demonstrate through our work and preparation how much we want the job and what we will do once we secure our new six-figure responsibility.

When it comes to senior communications practitioners this question is a no-brainer.

The 401K destroying recession of 2008/2009 gave employers/hiring managers the definitive upper hand when it comes to hiring and firing senior communicators. It’s a classic seller’s market that’s for sure.

And what about those who are skilled in corporate positioning, product marketing, executive counsel, thought leadership, employee communications, public affairs, crisis communications and social media? Are they now a dime a dozen?

Regardless of the answer to this question, there is no hard evidence that this equation will be turned completely on its head anytime soon. What does this mean for three groups? 1.) Executives and their hiring managers/recruiters; 2.) The fortunate professional communicators that have jobs and 3.) The huddled masses on the sidelines representing an incredible amount of underutilized talent.

Many executives looking to cut and/or contain costs are simply not investing in strategic communications and that means they are not hiring or keeping hiring to a minimum. That leaves company PR pros essentially trapped for at least the time being. Regardless of whether corner suites are investing or not investing, hiring or not hiring, executives need to realize that the ground is shifting beneath their feet.

Even though the NYSE once again pierced the 10,000 mark (albeit the wrong way), the economy is no longer in actual recession. The next six-to-nine months will be critical for the retention of the best and the brightest and for laying the ground work for capitalizing on an improved business climate.

Are the pre-recession branding messages going to work in an expanding economy?

Will a competitor usurp thought leadership in a company’s area of expertise?

 Are competitors gearing up for a customer, media, analyst, social media push in 2010?

Executives should be sure of two things in particular: The regulators, including the SEC, (and the plaintiff’s bar) are watching. And social media is not going away.

The cases of Bank of America, Intel, Toyota and others point to the need for talented PR counsel, both internally and externally sourced. Harnessing the social media tools to effectively communicate to restless internal populations and to external revenue sources will require PR pros that not only talk about social media but actually embrace it in their daily lives.

For PR professionals with existing jobs, whether in an agency, corporate, association, NGO or public sector setting, this is not the time to get comfortable. The threat of layoffs has not gone away. Most are doing the work of at least two people, maybe more. The pressures on your bosses to reap benefits from an expanding economy, enhance thought leadership and to harness social media tools are definitely being thrust upon you. Your career is hanging in the balance.

For job seekers, this is precisely the time to remain encouraged. This is the time to adopt and project a positive attitude. If you have an opportunity to compete for a position, fully expect that you will have to become proficient in the phone interview. In a seller’s market, employers have the luxury of inexpensively screening candidates through 19th century technology, the humble phone. Securing that much sought after in-person interview is simply getting harder and harder.

And if you do not succeed, don’t be surprised if you are told simply by means of a terse e-mail. Is it fair considering the time and effort you put in preparing and participating in six or more interviews? Nope, but e-mail is the easiest and most painless way to convey bad news.

Just like real estate, the neighborhood never remains the same. Ask the folks who thought that California, Arizona, Nevada or Florida real estate would never go down. In far too many cases that cash-cow house is now worth less than the unpaid balance on the mortgage. Yep, the buyer’s market did not go on forever. And you can be sure that at some point  the employer seller’s market will come to an end as well.

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