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Archive for February, 2009

Looking back at my own resume, three of my previous employers do not exist independently anymore. They were involved in either a merger or acquisition. Frequently, these two different business terms are used together and abbreviated to M & A.  But legally, they are different transactions.

Whatever they are called, when deals like these are struck or even anticipated, the organizational communicator’s skills are much needed. But all too often, communicators are not included in the management process. That’s wrong, because in my experience, strategic communication is crucial to the success of the venture.

What are your thoughts on the proper role and activities of organizational communication in M&A?

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In studying narrative inquiry as part of my Qualitative Research Methods class, I was struck by some similarities with my training in communication/public relations. The shared essence is storytelling.

The qualitative researcher seeks out the narrative, which may be oral or written and may be elicited or heard during fieldwork, an interview, or a naturally occurring conversation, according to Susan E. Chase, writing in Denzin and Lincoln’s Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials (2008).

Chase says a narrative may be a short topical story about a particular event or specific characters such as an encounter with a friend, supervisor, or physician, or it may be an extended story about a significant aspect of one’s life like schooling, work, marriage, divorce, childbirth, illness/injury, war, etc. Or, narrative can be on a person’s entire life.

Throughout my career, I have embraced the concept of  “communicator as storyteller.” For example, if the employee communicator is trying to explain why safety on the job is important to both employees and to the organization, then one of the best ways is to find a person who is actively engaged in safe operation of equipment and let him or her tell the story.

In this example, the narrative is crucial to credibility and, I believe, readability as well.

My valued textbook Public Relations Writing (2008) by Thomas H. Bivens, discusses the information strategies of exposition and entertainment. Bivens says two of the most-used forms of exposition are narration and description. As Bivens explains, narration is simply storytelling. Storytelling is useful for both informational and persuasive strategies.

But is there a difference between how the qualitative researcher gathers and uses narrative inquiry and how the communicator gathers and uses stories for organizational media?

Chase views contemporary narrative inquiry through five analytic lenses:

First, the researcher treats narrative, either oral or written, as a distinct form of discourse. It is retrospective in making meaning, for it shapes and orders past experience.

Second, researchers see in narratives verbal action, as in doing or accomplishing something.

Third, stories are both enabled and constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances.

Fourth, researchers treat narratives as socially situated interactive performances that are produced in a particular setting for a particular audience and a particular purpose.

Fifth, the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry views herself or himself as narrator developing interpretations and seeking ways to present and publish the narratives studied.

This is instructive for the communicator as well. The communicator frequently seeks out a narrative that is retrospective, such as how an employee learned to operate equipment safely over a period of years. This is, as number two above says, verbal action of how the employee accomplished safe operation.

Are stories in the workplace constrained by a range of social resources and circumstances as stated above? You bet they are. In using the narrative of an employee, the communicator might find out that the culture of the organization, and the resources it provides, are not conducive to safe operation of equipment.

Workplace stories are indeed interactive performances of time and place and audience, as in number four above.  The employee narrative is a snapshot in time and can have tremendous value to the organizational communication audience.

Finally, the communicator definitely interprets the collected narratives in order to edit them and publish them in organizational media. Here the organizational communicator has an advantage over the qualitative researcher — the communicator often is responsible for his/her own media and has full authority to publish, whereas the researcher must seek publishers.

To me, the efforts of both the qualitative researcher using narrative inquiry and the organizational communicator using storytelling are similar. I believe that each can learn from the other, making each practice that much stronger.

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In entered two of my classes Thursday to find most of the class reading our student newspaper, The Towerlight. That’s odd. Only one or two students are usually reading the new edition before class. And they don’t read the textbook assignments, so why the sudden interest in the printed word?

“It’s the article on flavored condoms,” a student explained.

All the attention was to the article, “Taste test informs about oral health” with the subhead, “Health Center and LGBT promote safe sex through flavored condoms.”  The above-mentioned groups recently sponsored the second annual Condom Taste Test on campus as part of  National Condom & Sexual Health Week.

How enlightening. But wait, there’s more.

The Towerlight also devoted its regular column, “Word on the Street,” to the subject. The column is a collection of six student photos and their answer to topical question. The question was, “what would be your favorite flavor of condom?”

My favorite response was from the psychology freshman who answered, “crab.”

An Asian international relations student said, “egg roll with duck sauce.”

But the winner of Towson’s  second annual Condom Taste Test was strawberry, beating out cola, banana, chocolate, and mint, among others. I am not sure if crab and egg roll with duck sauce were actually contestants.

Our education dollars at work. But seriously, anything that promotes safe sex is a good thing. Well, as long as it’s tasteful.

The article does accomplish some other worthy goals, along with treating that most pressing of national concerns, safe oral sex. Chief among them is getting students to read.

Given the sad state of journalism these days (dead by suicide), it appears student journalism is alive and well. As the New York Times slides toward professional and financial bankruptcy (its stock price, at about$3.75, is less than a Sunday edition), it is refreshing to see students reading a newspaper.

Perhaps the secret is to add flavor to the reading.

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For thousands of motor racing fans, including me, today is a very special day. The running of the Daytona 500 is Super Bowl and World Cup and World Series and Stanley Cup and Masters all in one spectacular event.

But in these times of economic turmoil, which has hit the auto industry particularly hard, would it be as big a deal as in the past? From the look of things today, you bet.

The event was sold out. Over  200,000 race fans were on hand to see NASCAR’s biggest event.  Even though rain stopped the race with about 50 laps to go, veteran race car driver Matt Kenseth sobbed over winning this premier event. It’s ironic; a guy like Kenseth who can race a car three-wide on a high-banked oval at 190 miles per hour inches from the next cars, breaks down and weeps over winning this prestigious event.

This is the Daytona 500. It’s Ben-Hur versus Messala with 600 horses powering their chariots.

Detroit’s Big Three, GM, Ford, and Chrysler, have all cut their marketing budgets, but they only trimmed their NASCAR expenditures. I’ve read estimates from auto analysts that GM cut its spending on NASCAR from a high of approximately $125 million a year to about $85 million. Ford is reported to have cut its NASCAR spending by approximately 35 percent. The auto companies usually won’t disclose the information. But there is no way they will abandon NASCAR.

Savvy auto marketers know that stock car racing remains a great way to attract buyers. It’s simple enough to see why NASCAR and the auto makers are so dependent on each other.  A winning Chevy or Ford or Dodge or Toyota brings buyers into the showroom. To withdraw from this scene might surely mean loss of market share.

NASCAR-related expenditures for advertising and promotion pay big dividends for a wide variety of products, not only autos. NASCAR fans are traditionally fiercely brand loyal to products that support NASCAR racing. Just read the drivers’ racing suits and the decals on their cars. You’ll see all types of products that marketers know have hugely loyal followers because they support their beloved racing.

The Daytona 500 kicks off the NASCAR racing season. The show of loyalty and enthusiasm over today’s race was startling given the economic gloom and doom that surrounds us. Perhaps people need the race to forget about the hard times for a while. Or perhaps, as with a hint of spring, there is some optimism creeping in.

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“Shovel ready” is the hot new buzzword for projects that, once congress funds them with our hard-earned tax dollars, are ready to begin.

Communication/PR/IMC professionals need “shovel-ready” projects right now, too. So here goes:

1. Update your resume and generic cover letter. In this troubled economy, you never know when you will need them.

2. Activate your professional network. If you aren’t active in IABC and/or PRSA, get active. Your professional associations are a gold mine of information, networking, and opportunity, especially in troubled times.

3. Learn all you can about economics and finance. Communication/PR/IMC professionals must know what is happening in the economy and be able to explain it to all publics and customers.

4. At work, look for every way you can be more efficient and add value to your organization. Employers need employees who are committed to and expert at helping the organization survive the economic turmoil (see number 3 above).

5. Stop spending money needlessly. Save for that proverbial rainy day because it sure is cloudy outside.

6. Retire all the debt you can, and do not add any. Be especially careful using credit cards. They will kill you.

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Students in my Master’s class recently discussed the communication of organizational trust as “a fundamental leadership responsibility and a growing area of responsibility for communication professionals” as stated in the IABC Handbook of Organizational Communication  (Gillis, 2006, p. 44).

I think we’d all agree that trust and building trusting relationships are important to contemporary organizations. But we are in a severe recession. Jobs and budgets are being cut, and fear is rampant. Can an organization build trust in such an environment? If so, how? What is the communication professional’s role?

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