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Archive for September, 2008

I’ve been following the current U.S. financial situation with a mix of horror, fear, and fascination.

As an investor, I am naturally concerned. I’ve worked hard for my money and tried to invest wisely for the long term. Constant breathless reporting of “immediate collapse of the U.S. economy” and “the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression” doubtless stoke the fears of the average person, whether or not he or she is a regular investor in the U.S. stock market.

As a strategic communication/PR/IMC professional and college instructor in same, I am also fascinated by how our brothers and sisters who work in the financial sector are fairing these days. Recent events constitute the most dramatic scenario in Wall Street’s 216-year history. Household name brokerage firms with 100-plus-year histories like Lehman Brothers have filed for bankruptcy. Merrill Lynch’s 94-year practice as an independent brokerage, the nation’s largest, ended with its acquisition by Bank of America. Giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are now nationalized and owned mostly by taxpayers.

Like many of my readers, I have friends who work in these organizations. Fannie Mae was a client of my consulting firm, LES POTTER INCORPORATED, years ago. The dramatic recent events are unprecedented to a large degree. Our financial situation is a perfect storm of forces coming together to create the state in which we now find ourselves. Some of the factors contributing to our current situation began a long time ago.

Could a strategic communication/PR/IMC professional have truly been prepared for this? No, not completely. But to me, the situation in which we are in cries out for communicators to learn as much as we can about business in general and finance and economics specifically.

One of the major roles I think communication/PR/IMC professionals play is to help our publics understand what is happening and how it affects them. That calls for one of our most valuable skills — taking complex matters and breaking them down into understandable information.

Knowledge of business, especially finance and economics, helps tremendously. But beyond that, it is critically important to be able to explain the complex in clear and simple ways in order to effectively communicate with sometimes frightened audiences.

For example, employees will be concerned about everything from continued employment prospects to retirement plans. It’s our responsibility to help them understand what’s happening, to help put things in context, and to show how it might affect all concerned.

We will get through this. But there are doubtless long days of hard work facing many communication professionals right now. Our hearts are with you.

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We had a wonderfully enlightening discussion in my PR for Nonprofit Organizations class today. A student asked what I thought were the necessary personal traits for success in a communication/PR/IMC career. I threw it open for class discussion, and after a lively interchange for most of an hour, this is what the class came up with:

A gregarious nature.

Confidence.

Drive, motivation.

Flexibility.

Creativity.

Quick thinking, quick on your feet.

A professional demeanor.

Communication skills.

Organization/management skills.

Accessibility, approachability, openness.

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I had an experience Friday, September 5, that combined my 30-plus year communication/PR/IMC management career, my love for and career-long involvement in professional associations, and my new teaching career. I designed and facilitated a leadership workshop and strategic planning session for the incoming officers of Towson’s PR Group, comprised of PRSSA and IABC student chapter members.

It was extraordinary. The officers for 2008-2009 are highly motivated to begin with. They consistently exhibited enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, and dedication during the all-day event.

The morning was devoted to the study of management and leadership, contrasting the differences and skills needed for both. This will prove valuable to these leaders as they assume responsibility for the organization and its day-to-day management challenges.

Management involves planning, organizing, leading, and controlling the use of organizational resources to achieve results. We isolated and captured what this means for the Board collectively and for each individual position on the Board.

But leadership is another matter. Managing successfully day to day is at the heart of organizational officers’ responsibility. But to be a leader involves interpersonal influence that gets individuals and the group to act. That is like herding cats.

These leaders explored what it means to achieve coordinated action as a leader and manager. The quality of their thought and the depth of their commitment was exemplary. That came clear as we conducted strategic planning in the afternoon. While the planning will be ongoing, we made a great start Friday. We will build on it in the days to come.

As I pointed my certified pre-owned, fully-optioned Buick Park Avenue home to Virginia for the weekend, I smiled all the way. It was a magnificient day seeing these fine young leaders dedicate themselves to a cause greater than themselves and do the hard work to be competent at it.

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