What Pearl Harbor Can Teach Us About Executive Communications

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Most people who know me well, know I’m a 1940s enthusiast, and could probably qualify for a 12-step program for over-informed History Channel addicts.  But every now and then, a special like “Pearl Harbor 24 Hours After” comes along, and it makes me not only see history in a totally different way–but the present, too.  In the case of this FDR retrospective, it also made me realize he may well have paved the way for modern crisis communications.

The show recounted the 24 hours after the fateful attack that, essentially, wiped the entire US Navy out in one stroke.  It showed how slow news travelled; how little they really knew; and how much confusion and dissention  existed among his advisors.  But as I watched in rapt attention as the story unfolded hour by hour, I couldn’t help but notice the communications lessons modern executives could learn from President Roosevelt today–in good times, and especially, in bad ones.  Here are my takeaways:

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 6.56.53 PM1)  Personal bravery counts.  A lot.

It took several hours for the full extent of the damage to finally get to Roosevelt’s desk. But when it did, his son and others who were there reported that the worse the news got, the calmer FDR became.  There were no recriminations.  No congressional committees.  No kicking the can down the road.  He knew the time to act was now. He made the decision to declare war, even though America had barely any real military left.  He convened the Congress and scheduled it for a live radio broadcast.  Newsreels rolling, this wheelchair-bound man made the decision to walk with leg braces, stiffly and in excruciating pain, from the back of the congressional chamber to the podium at the front of the chamber. He could have easily fallen flat, and shown the world a terrible message of weakness. But this symbolic act of personal strength brought Congress to its feet in deafening applause–and set the tone for one of the most memorable speeches in American history.

2)  When the news is bad, start with short, inspiring and emotionally powerful messaging.

A speech so memorable, it is part of the national World War II monument.

A speech so memorable, it is part of the national World War II monument.

FDR drafted the one page speech in just a few minutes.  His entire staff of advisors hated it.  Up to the last minute, he was being vigorously lobbied to read a very long speech that had been drafted by his speechwriters–one that laid out in painstaking detail every transgression committed by the Japanese over the last few months of negotiations.  He ignored them; and he was right.  The American people were angry and scared.  The last thing they wanted to hear now was a dissertation on the finer points of diplomacy.  They wanted to know three things: what happened;  what does this mean; what are we going to do about it? He viscerally showed the outrage the American people were feeling. Even today, little schoolchildren still know December 7th, 1941 is the “day that will live in infamy.” FDR was a transformative leader, because he was able to show us a vision of what we could be. He told the people we were going to defeat the Japanese, and he was just the man to show us how.  He knew our hearts, and he knew what we were capable of when asked.  And everyone lined up to follow him.

3)  Share the pain and sacrifice.

Screen Shot 2013-01-11 at 6.38.30 PMThough Roosevelt was a very wealthy man, he was seen as “a man of the people” because he was truly with the people.  He spent time with them, and he fought for the welfare of the common man. One of FDR’s greatest assets was his first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.  Did you know that it was actually Eleanor who gave the first radio address about the upcoming war--an emotional radio commentary that called the nation to work and sacrifice to beat this terrible threat? Later, while FDR was dealing with the war effort, Eleanor was canvassing the nation, visiting with the common folk, celebrating their successes and showcasing people who were doing great things for the war effort. Her weekly radio addresses painted a picture of a homefront at war.  She didn’t try to shellack the truth.  She admitted that things were hard, and likely to get even worse. She talked quite personally about the heartbreak of sending a son off to war because her son was gone too.  But she talked, too, of the day when it would all be worth it.

Eleanor Roosevelt congratulating the WACs, the first women to serve in the military.

Eleanor Roosevelt congratulating the WACs, the first women to serve in the military.

4)  Help people focus their energy for the common good.

Leaders often forget that in times of trouble, people want to unite. During the second world war, the government gave them lots of opportunities to do so.  Those who couldn’t fight went to work in factories building guns, ships and planes.  Those who couldn’t work in factories volunteered for the USO, bought war bonds, planted victory gardens, lived on rations without complaint and recycled rubber and metals for the war effort.  Every person, no matter how small, had a part to play. You might think this kind of altruism is a product of by-gone days.  But just look at the outpouring of volunteerism after  the 9-11 attacks, or Hurricane Katrina.  The can-do spirit is alive and well in America, and in your employees, too.  They just need the right leader to show the way.

Today, of course, leaders are under a lot more pressure.  FDR didn’t have to deal with whistleblowers, The Drudge Report, the 24-hour news cycle or online commenters on the White House Website.  But on the other hand, FDR didn’t have social media, Intranets, global vodcasts, viral video, text messaging, mobile donation campaigns and many of the modern tools we have for getting out executive messaging, either. Today, you can get your call to action out–and offer nearly limitless amounts of background information to support your case.

Some things never change.  Leadership will always be a careful combination of what you do AND what you say. Make sure you’re worthy of the podium.


The Five Questions Every Corporate Responsibility Program Should Answer

Toms has generosity baked into its business model.  When you buy a pair of shoes or eyewear for yourself, another one just like it goes to someone in need.

 When you buy a pair of shoes or eyewear from Toms, another one just like it goes to someone in need.

Looking to start a corporate giving or social responsibility program at your company? It’s not as simple as writing a check to the CEO’s favorite charities and calling it a day.  In an era of social giving programs, “social responsibility” can market your brand and galvanize your employees for good. Perhaps even more important, a good social giving program can put good will in the metaphorical “bank” for when you need it most.

The difference between a good and a great corporate giving program is all in the planning and control.  You can get that control by answering these five questions–before you start.

1)     How does your corporate giving support your overall corporate mission and business goals?

Wait–shouldn’t you give for altruism alone? Well yes, but in today’s sophisticated philanthropic landscape, you don’t have to settle just for that.  Today, it’s entirely possible to have a program that gives back to the community/world while reinforcing who you are as a company.  General Electric, for instance, recently gave $10.5 million to the school system in Louisville, Ky, where their Appliance operation is headquartered, to help develop the kind of math and science curriculum that will fuel the workforce they need in the future. Their gift has given them direct say in how curriculum is developed in the school system–a worthy investment that could pay big dividends later.  Give some thought to the local, national and international charities which line up best with what your company does.  You just might be able to pull solid business benefits from what many companies look at just as a corporate write off.

 2)  How are your employees and your leadership involved?

Surveys show that employees not only want  to contribute to corporate charity initiatives, they actively look to work for companies who take social responsibility seriously.    When you are looking for a charitable partner, look for one that allow your employees to get actively involved in large, organized groups.  Can you organize a day of giving, where employees refurbish a home or office, or complete a project in the community?  What about specialized employee giving that accomplishes a specific goal, like building a water filtration system for an African village, or fund the building of a new ball field at a local park?  Your charitable partner should be able to provide you with a framework that you can use to mobilize your employees, so they can see the benefits of their contributions.

While you are picking your corporate charities, also give an eye to the sorts of leaders who inhabit their boards and their major initiatives.  Are the people on those boards leaders at other companies that could be potential clients/customers for your business, or influential partners in other ways?  For instance, if you are a healthcare company, it would make sense to have key executives on the board of an important public health intiative, or the local bio-sciences economic development board.  Charitable activity gives your employees and leaders the opportunities to build crucial relationships outside the office.

3)  What is your protocol for incoming requests?

Once a company becomes known for its charitable activities, consider the floodgates open.  You will be bombarded with requests unless you have a clear strategy on number and type of charities you will support.  It is a great idea to add a page to your corporate website that shows the charities you are already supporting, and gives a mission statement about the reasons you are supporting them.  If your company and efforts are large enough, it’s often a good idea to start a separate foundation with its own staff to manage your charitable operations.  This offers the company tax benefits and gives you the resources to deal with your efforts more comprehensively.  Every major city has a community foundation that can help you set up your own.

 4)  How will you market your charitable program?

There’s always the obvious—plan a big day of giving and make sure you send out plenty of press releases about it to the local/trade press.  But have you considered amplifying your efforts by getting your customers involved?  You could consider donating a portion of your profits during a promotional period to a specific cause.  You could make donations optional in your online store.  Or, like Toms, you could build charitable giving into your overall business model.  However your charitable program plays out, give some serious thought to the communications channels that are available to you.  Where would messages about your charitable activities make sense?  Your company enewsletter, blog, Facebook page or Twitter accounts?  In posters in your physical stores (maybe with a QR code that takes you to videos of your employee giving day) ?  Framed photos in your lobby?  Banners on your website?  Press releases to the trade?  A video channel on your employee Intranet?   Just make sure your messages are heart felt, authentic and show real tangible results from your efforts.  Otherwise, you could get accused of being involved in your charities ONLY for the business benefits.

 5)  How will you measure success and accountability?

Most giving campaigns, even the ones for organizations like United Way, have giving targets and such.  But,real success comes from the impact of your generosity–and in this case, all charities are not created equal.  How far did your money go?  Did your employees finish building that Habitat for Humanity house?  How much produce did the community garden you planted reap?  Are the recipients of your donations monitored?  Is the money being used responsibly?  When you talk about your charitable efforts, you need to be able to tell the story of who you helped, and how much, in very real terms.  And you need assurances that the governance of these charities has their eye on the bottom line.  Sitting on their boards is not just a vanity assignment, but a crucial way to make sure your dollars and efforts and doing what they were intended to do.

Sounds like a lot of work?  It is.  But it can be one of the most important things your company does.  Do it well.

The Social/Mobile Friendly Press Release 2.0

social media press release

My hat is off to the pros at Shift Communications–a p.r. agency that created the first “social media press release” format back in 2006.  This radical new take on the time-worn press release was the “shot heard round the world” for the p.r. industry, putting us all on notice that our media contacts need more from us than 20th century flackery. They’ve now come out with some important new updates that reflect newer tools that are available for sharing.  Following their tips and making each piece sharable is invaluable advice.

I  can’t do a better round up than they did in their original articles on the social media press release 2.0, and the mobile friendly press release.  But I do have a couple things to add.  The level of attentiveness and personalization they recommend in their follow ups can sound rather hard to achieve for time-strapped media relations folks. This is particularly true if you are putting together special Evernote albums or such, based on the platforms each reporter uses personally.  This can be managed pretty easily, though, with updated media relations databases like Cision, MyMediaInfo and Vocus, all of which allow you to make notes on your media lists about your contact’s preferences and platform memberships, then share them with everyone on your media relations team.  If you can’t afford that, survey your contacts, create a detailed media list in Excel.  Either way, there’s no excuse for spamming your media list with information they don’t want, in formats they can’t use. The extra work is worth it.  Personalization is the key to getting the eyeballs and respect your releases deserve.

Is Healthcare Ready for Technology’s “Threshold Year?”

It’s the start of the new year–high season for social media punditry. There’s a lot of Internet chatter that 2013 could be “the threshold year” when content marketing becomes king, mobile technologies gain critical mass, social media matures fully and the online world becomes the thread that ties all marketing together.  Exciting stuff.  But for the healthcare industry to fully take advantage of all that these new tools have to offer, they’ll have to work a little harder to get over that threshold. Here’s my take on the issues that need to be overcome:

Yes, you can do a patient community.  Mayo did.

Yes, you can do a patient community. Mayo did.

Issue #1:  Legal and liability issues.

How can a healthcare organization possibly provide useful patient information without handing out unqualified medical advice? Organizations like The Mayo Clinic have begun to crack this nut with its online community site, which encourages patients to share with each other, while they enjoy the organization’s vast medical article archive and one button access to the Mayo Clinic online appointment reservation tool.  Other organizations, like MD Anderson, have focused their attention on offering referring physicians greater access to their patient’s test results and reports, in addition to a truly unbelievable trove of oncology journal articles, trial reports and conference presentations.

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 9.51.46 PMMany smaller organizations are making use of their social media clout by allowing patients to celebrate their progress, like Boston Children’s Hospital’s “Thriving” Page on Facebook.  If you have a solid social media policy and enough disclaimers posted; and the medical professionals who contribute to your site keep all their comments general; it is easy to keep legal liabilities in check.

Issue #2:  Physician time/expertise.

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 10.07.30 PMLet’s face it.  Most physicians don’t go to medical school just so they can spend their precious downtime dealing with patients on Facebook.  The days when hospitals or other organizations pressure working physicians to be on social media as an “add on” are over.  I think most people can agree that it’s a good idea to having a real nurse or physician blogging or shepherding the patient conversations in an online community or social site.  Organizations have to realize the value in this, and pay and schedule physicians accordingly.  The good news is, more doctors are looking for reduced schedules and flexible working arrangements.  Seattlemamadoc is a good example.  — works for Seattle Children’s Hospital, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she sets aside paid time for talking to her patients online, posting important stories to social media, and blogging for Parents Magazine.  Fully online-enabled physicians like this will be the wave of the future. You can bet they will provide greatly amplified value to their employers.

Issue #3:  Putting useful content first.

This may require a total rethink for many organizations, who think only in terms of marketing, and not teaching and supporting.  For instance, how many messages have you gotten from healthcare organizations telling you about a national ranking, a new facility, a new pill to take or a new insurance product to buy.  How many of them help you address your underlying conditions and make the choices you need to live better? Few, to none.  And many of the ones that do, do so in a very cursory and paternalistic way.  Is it any wonder that patients are flocking to national forums or Web MD, when they could be getting the information they need much closer to home?

Issue #4: Harnessing the power of partnerships.

This is one of the key ways healthcare organizations can pool their collective credibility and resources to create truly useful patient resources. What if public health agencies, big pharma and insurance pooled money with local hospital systems to create local online patient communities for disease specific conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and cancer?  What if on these communities patients could find and make appointments with specialists in their area, talk to other patients like them in their area, register for health education classes, join support groups, and get access to breaking health news and even get local discounts for healthy foods and medical supplies?  Granted, a partnership like this is incredibly ambitious, but it illustrates the point.  The more healthcare organizations pool their resources, the more attainable the goal of providing localized, useful information for patients. Perhaps a start might be a joint enewsletter, or blogs written in community forums where patients would see them.  The point is, it’s time to get started.

 Issue #5:  Making the most of mobile.

Triple digit percentage rises in smartphone use mean that by 2015, more Internet traffic will come from mobile devices and not laptops. Smartphones now rule as the dominant cell phone platform, and the explosion of sales for tablets mean more patients will be getting their information from mobile sources than ever before.  Healthcare organizations must get serious about making every website and online community accessible and easy to read, no matter what device is being used.  Big strides have been made on this front in 2012, as innovative organizations like The Boston Globe have used jquerty to not only conquer universal web design standards, but have provided a beautiful online publishing model that may be the blueprint for online newspapers and magazines in the future.  With mobile platforms now more secure and predictable, now is the time to take stock of every online property, and bring it into line with modern standards.

Getting over the threshold.  That’s my wish for the new year.  What’s yours?