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Communications Strategy As White Whale

Stanford Social Innovation Review and Harvard Business Review Are Talking Communications Strategy:

I love the way this recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article opens.

Strategy. It’s the white whale of the social sector. Chances are, the word is hovering in a document on your desk right now. 

Let’s have that one more time. Strategy. It’s the white whale of the social sector. (We English majors love our Melville references.)

So what does it mean?

The white whale was Ahab’s monolithic focus — so monolithic it led to destruction. But seen a new way, the implications of calling strategy “the white whale of the social sector” frames the idea that for enterprise nonprofits and social impact organizations, the best communications must be strategic. Silo-based thinking in which your PR is divided from your social media is divided from your e-newsletter is divided from your blogging, is not strategic. Rather, the re-definition of strategic communications that is leading some of the top business reviews to devote ink to it, connotes a sea change. The current has shifted between old ways and new ways of running the communications side of your nonprofit or business messaging.

The best strategic communications are models of new power, versus old power. New power communications operate with values of being “open, participatory, peer-driven.”

I can’t tell you how often I have heard from business owners that something to do with their communications is “proprietary.” Unless, dear readers, you have a trademark for a social-media sharing app that you have not yet brought to market, proprietary attitudes are actually the opposite of what works today. Peer-driven communications are participatory. This means that as one aspect of strategy, your business or organization should be identifying who to follow based in proclivities of subject matter, based in follower profiles, based in the resonance of what this individual or entity tweets about. You should be encouraging your employees and consultants to tweet using your hashtags and your Twitter handles. You should be encouraging innovative use of social media rather than hierarchical displays of message management.

Strategic communications today are the opposite of zealously guarding what you own, which includes what you know and what you passionately care about.

Consider that the word strategy stemmed originally from the Greek, meaning to win. To win the engagement of audiences you are seeking with your messaging — to win buy-in for the issues that you are working to resolve or the outcomes that you are working to improve — is the goal of best-practice communications strategy.

Tired of thinking in silos? Sound intriguing? Email hello@contenthive.net. And Follow @SeanGibbons_ on Twitter.

Bowie’s Immaculate Parting

Of all of the things that have been written and said about David Bowie since he died last Sunday in New York, I think, until today and the revelation of the letter penned to David Bowie from a Dr. Mark Taubert, a palliative care doc in England, I got the most out of what my peers and friends have written. Bowie manifest that time in all our lives, individual to collective and back again — junior high to hip replacement — when Bowie the changeling came zooming as if hugging a meteor into our consciousness, never to leave it again.

The brilliant music writer Vivien Goldman penned this on Facebook:

Bye, bye David Bowie. Changing into a different sort of star. Sealing an immaculate artist’s life, in terms of never stopping, always growing, reaching. Always maintaining the quality control. Giving us the party favour of an album on his birthday, as we leave his presence. Flash on first hearing “Space Oddity” on a transistor radio while I was a mid-teen struggling with my hair in the bathroom on Finchley Road — a moment I never forgot, as that song seemed to open the windows of my life and send a thrill of possibilities through me, a sensation I never forgot.  . . . Shine on, thanks for falling here among us on our perplexed little planet.

Saralynne Lowrey Precht, one of my best friends and cohort at many Bowie album listening sessions, wrote this:

So many memories flashing through my mind. Hearing Space Oddity in the car on the way to Horace Mann Jr. High stopped at the light at 54th & El Cajon, Dad driving, my mind being blown. Becki and I singing Starman into the night sky. My Bowie scrapbook. The Man Who Fell to Earth opening on my birthday…sure it was a sign. Sneaking a peak at an X-mas present praying it was David Live (it was.) Un Chien Andalou pre-Thin White Duke concert (mind blown again)….Thank you David Bowie for your genius. Shine on starman.

Passings of those who formed up our sense of the possible tend to leave behind a lingering poignancy. Star trails. But it should not be forgotten that the person who struck so many as magus, also chose a way of passing that in the video Lazarus enables art again to perform its job of pulverizing taboos. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you’ll take four minutes to watch it here. And the letter from Dr. Mark Taubert which said that “your story became a way for us to communicate very openly about death, something many doctors and nurses struggle to introduce as a topic of conversation,” just reinforces that art is the threshold experience that you, Bowie, you especially, always danced on, finally tripping out the open door to a place that, for now, we can’t follow.




Unconscious Bias: Bringing Hidden Agendas to Consciousness

I recently interviewed a Stanford University neurobiologist, Dr. Jennifer Raymond, about unconscious bias for a segment on the KUNM-FM radio show, Women’s Focus.

Unconscious bias, also called implicit bias, is a very hot topic in the workplace today. It describes buried biases we don’t know that we have, which influence behavior as well as opinion and point-of-view. Implementing workplace safeguards to dispel or reduce unconscious bias is turning into a significant business. Silicon Valley venture capitalists have put $20 million in venture funding toward startups that are positioned to implement recruitment and hiring improvements that can reduce unconscious bias in the workplace and in hiring decisions.

In Dr. Raymond’s case, our ranging conversation traveled between what unconscious bias is, to the way that media begin very very early to perpetuate stereotypes. These stereotypes turn into single experiences that of themselves can alter the human brain and influence,  unconsciously, our senses of potential and whom we can become at work and in the world.  The actor Geena Davis authored an essay recently in Insights, a magazine of the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. She observed that the ratio of male to female characters in film and TV shows remains 3:1 . Studies of how boys perceive female characters reveal that boys as young as three and four years old begin to look derisively at the female characters presented.

Doesn’t it seem almost unbelievable that media leads four-year-olds to internalize gender bias?

If stereotypes lead to codifying experiences, it is also true that neuroscience has shown that even a single experience can shape the psyche in a way that can lead to enduring lacks of confidence and even opting out of competitive work situations, Dr. Raymond explained.

What does this have to do with the work that businesses have to do to sell their products or services? It certainly may have to do with how people are perceived in sales presentations. It also may have plenty to do with the way a story should be told to prioritize authority in storytelling that in turn dispels biases toward who is speaking.

What Is Indie Philanthropy?

Ellen Berkovitch’s first segment aired on Women’s Focus on February 14, 2015. She interviewed Sadaf Rassoul Cameron, executive director of Kindle Project, about indie philanthropy and how young people of wealth have helped give a name and a forming principle to outside-the-box grantmaking methods. Please listen below.

Journalism versus “Brand Journalism”

In October 2014, Columbia Journalism Review published a story under the title, “Should journalism worry about content marketing?” (Link here.)

The article opened with an anecdote about a publication, The Daily Growl, that generates 10 posts daily and is the content arm of Nestlé Purina PetCare’s content marketing department. Where this news feed differentiates from, say, that of the Atlantic, lies in the fact that what is published is in the interests of Nestlé Purina PetCare’s content marketing. Journalists justifiably worry if the distinctions are clear to audiences. Audiences are widely portrayed as being fallible and even gullible consumers as apt to share a cute pet video that bears some implicit branding strategy as a cute pet video that just shows the way that, say, husky dogs in Japan mimic a baby learning to crawl.READ MORE

Curators’ Introduction for Unsettled Landscapes

Ellen was tapped to moderate the curators’ panel that opened Unsettled Landscapes: New Perspectives on Art of the Americas at SITE Santa Fe in July 2014.

The participants included: Irene Hofmann, Phillips director and chief curator of Santa Fe. Irene is director of the new biennial series, SITElines, that the exhibition titled Unsettled Landscapes launched. Janet Dees is curator of special projects of SITE and SITElines Center program director. The guest curators of Unsettled Landscapes were Candice Hopkins, who holds a master’s from the Center of Curatorial Studies at Bard and whose curatorial gigs have taken place at: National Gallery of Canada, the Western Front, the Banff Centre’s Walter Phillips Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Native Art in Santa Fe. Lucia Sanroman is an independent curator and writer who was associate curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego from 2006-11. She was awarded the 2012 Warhol Foundation Curatorial Fellowship for Citizen Culture: Art and Architecture Shape Policy, an exhibit that took place at Santa Monica Museum from September 13-December 30th, 2014.

Questions included collaboration/”collective bargaining” by four individual curators on this new project; the scope of the “landscapes” they sought to define as unsettled; a new model deviating from a “pavilion” or country-to-country approach to biennials; and sensitivity to local conditions as they did their curatorial work.