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July 2013

Cropped 2011 head shotHappy Fourth 


While I shy away from jingoism, I have to confess to feeling rather emotional about the United States, and particularly, the Fourth of July. The more I travel, and the more I learn about my family, the more grateful I am that my ancestors decided to travel half-way around the world to a place where they didn't know the language--but did have relatives and friends--to secure a better future for their children. It worked. Spectacularly well. At the very least, they avoided the most horrific genocide the world has ever known--but they couldn't know that in 1885. But they DID know that their situation in Europe was not good, and there was little chance of its getting better. So they took the risk of going to the little-known with the confidence that they'd be better off. This has led to my theory that the "American personality" is that of the risk-taker. That is why entrepreneurialism is so strong here, and why we have had so many stunning innovations in science, industry, education and the arts.


Happy Fourth, everyone! 


What It Is And Isn't  


IABC World ConfThis past week I experienced professionalism in two very different environments, but I discovered some common threads. The first situation was the International Association of Business Communicators' World Conference, held in New York City. The second was the Tony Award-winning production of "Sasha Vanya Masha and Spike," a comedy playing on Broadway, starring Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce, and a supporting cast that garnered two Tony Award acting nominations.


First, the conference. This was a gathering of more than 1,300 communications practitioners from (literally) all over the world. It affords the opportunity to meet people from diverse cultures, and to learn how this function works in various places. "Communications" is also multi-dimensional: internal communications, external communications, public relations, investor relations, community relations,  strategic development, as well as support functions like research, video production, etc. This gathering, with presentations and seminars on a variety of relevant themes, underscores that a profession is more than a job. It has a set of core principles which organizations like IABC support and promote. 

  • Ethics--standards to which members subscribe which enhance respect.
  • Strategy--identifying opportunities and challenges which help one's organization achieve its mission and goals. 
  • Analysis--gathering and evaluating information that will produce recommendations for initiatives and plans, whose results can be measured impartially.
  • Context--understanding the organization one represents, its industry, market environment, social and cultural milieu in order to more effectively represent it and interact with other organizations.
  • Engagement--identifying and communicating with all stakeholder groups of the organization--employees, customers, investors, government agencies and community groups--to garner support for the organization and thereby assist in achieving its mission and goals.
  • Consistency--expressing consistent messages to the various stakeholder groups (including governmental agencies and community groups) to provide an unambiguous "story."

These rigorous principles give structure and status to the profession and elevate it above pejoratives like "spin doctor" or worse, "propaganda." Moreover, this association, like other professional groups, offers professional certification to those who want to emphasize their commitment--Accredited Business Communicator.


The second experience was with the theater. There are all kinds of artists, but not all are really professional. The six cast members of "Sasha Vanya Masha and Spike" exemplify the mystifying ability to truly be someone else; to don a different persona and a different life (memories, experiences, relationships) as you would don a coat. They threw caution to the wind, as they pranced around the stage, engaging in absurd behavior, ranting like a hound baying at the moon, imparting the understanding that everyone has stuff to deal with, but not everyone actually deals with it. Kristine Nielsen (Sasha) does a spot-on imitation of Maggie Smith that is fantastic to watch, but also changes the character's life. Sigourney Weaver (Masha) is deliciously self-absorbed until the denouement gives her insight and eyesight. David Hyde Pierce (Vanya) rants about the loss of innocence in his childhood and the loss of opportunity in his adulthood with humor that masks real pain. Two newcomers--Billy Magnussen as Spike and Shalita Grant as the housekeeper, Cassandra--were just a joy to watch. Altogether, these professionals exhibited the same core principles as IABC outlined for communicators. Their adherence to the ethic of honestly and fully portraying someone else was apparent--there were no half-measures here. They had analyzed their characters, strategized how to play them, internalized their contexts, engaged with each other and the audience, and executed their performances with consistency. That's how it's done, regardless of the discipline.

Culture Wars

Is America Becoming Balkanized?         Political map     


We used to know the American brand, what America stood for: liberty, freedom, and prosperity. It was a beacon to people from other places (as mentioned above) and a haven for folks that nobody else wanted. And they thrived here and contributed to our economy, culture, and treasure.


Sadly, there was a dark underbelly of all that nice stuff--racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. The images of the mid-20th century often hid the fact that many Americans lived in the shadows, and did not experience liberty or freedom, much less prosperity. Then came political assassinations and Viet Nam, and the end of innocence. Folks came out of the shadows and demanded that we live up to our "brand." It took a while, but it seems we are "getting there." And that scares a lot of people.


Martin Luther King talked about "two Americas," but it's not just a racial issue. Some folks want to go back to a time when they felt safe, when they knew what to expect, when they trusted authority to maintain the status quo. There are still two Americas, today, but they are different: one that trusts people to make valid decisions for themselves, and one that doesn't.  But you can't stuff the genie back in the bottle. Those who have been empowered to seek liberty and happiness, even when it defies traditional roles and laws, are the cultural pioneers, the risk-takers. THEY are the ones who exemplify the American brand, not the people who are afraid of folks who are different from themselves, or who believe differently.  Not the ones who take comfort in the familiar, no matter how it may impede their ability to progress. Importantly, it is young people who are the most likely to be risk-takers, and who will inherit our brand and our treasure.


I have often said that this is a business newsletter, not a political one, but sometimes you can't separate business from culture. From a strictly pragmatic viewpoint, it is difficult to create two different brand strategies for a give product--one that appeals to a progressive culture and one that speaks to a more traditional one. For some brands, it may be like global marketing--think globally and act locally. For others, it may mean a niche market strategy. This is partly a matter of the products themselves, but often, it is the imagery and messaging used to communicate with a given population, and the strategic plan chosen by the marketers.


Either way, these are challenging times, but creative minds will find a way to figure it out. Too bad those creative minds do not populate Washington, DC.

Upcoming Events
August 21st, 11:30am-1:30pm


IABC/LI is planning a webinar at the end of August to get us back into the business mode as we embark on another "season." Check the website for more information on this program, and others in the Fall.
July 30th, 6-8pm
Women In Communications presents its 7th annual "Ladies Who Laugh," an evening of raucous entertainment featuring women comics and benefiting the Women In Communications Foundation. For more information and registration, click here.
July 22nd, 6-8pm
The WICI Night Out, in conjunction with Advertising Women of New York (AWNY), offers an evening of socializing and networking at New York Beer Company, 321 W. 44th St. For more information and registration,  click here. 

This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman