It may be 98 degrees outside, but winter is coming.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a passion for period TV, and I really love “Game of Thrones.” In case you’re among the uninitiated, the series chronicles seven noble families fighting for control of Westeros, a mythical land that — among several fascinating traits — features seasons and climates of varying and completely unpredictable lengths and severities.
“Winter is coming” is the foreboding promise and motto of House Stark. The meaning behind the words is one of warning and constant vigilance. In a land where seasons are of an indeterminate length, this mantra reinforces that winter remains on the horizon even if we just wrapped what is the hottest July on record, and it very well could be a blazing-hot, ozone action day in your neck of the woods.
Uncertainty is certain: we know that we can’t definitively predict what our next business and communications “season” will be like — or even how long the one we’re in will last. Variables like the presidential election, European and Chinese economic instabilities, groundbreaking R&D and emerging cultural phenomena can shift communications and business climates overnight. But as communications professionals, we shouldn’t feel powerless in the face of unpredictability, because knowing that change is inevitable can actually center us — just as House Stark’s mantra keeps them focused and prepared.
I’m not the type to bask in the sun and deal with winter once it arrives; in fact, I’ve found that the sun’s warmth is all the more enjoyable knowing there’s a plan in place for my firm’s and our clients’ winters. I’ve found that the following steps have helped us prepare even our fastest-moving clients for the inevitable change in seasons, whenever that may occur:
- Research. We won’t launch a program, strategy or campaign without it.Competitive insights, media and messaging analysis, market expansion intelligence and consumer consumption and preferences are just a few areas where there is no such thing as TMI. We lay a foundation based upon facts and insights before moving forward; if winter hits early, we have a baseline of knowledge to revisit with an eye toward how to cope.
- Immersion. Although it’s not always easy, we gain an intimacy with the industry’s influencers, data and news so that winter won’t completely take us by surprise.Our firm places an extraordinarily high value on our staff’s continual development, via reading, formal learning and education, accreditation, networking, and deep and trusting media and analyst relationships. Events on our radar, including the PRSA International Conference, SXSW and the CPRF’s Council’s Critical Issues Forum, don’t just provide a current temperature read; they surround us with information and supportive connections that protect us — and our clients — when the winds of change blow in.
- Trend obsession. In “Game of Thrones,” the maesters of the Citadel keep a close eye on the passage of a season’s days to gauge how long the current season will last, but this is an inexact science at best. So is resting your entire marketing communications or PR program’s fate on industry trends, but it’s still critical that we closely track the variances and tendencies of both our and our clients’ industries. Patterns often emerge that inform our strategies to move ahead according to plans, hold or reconsider where we’re going.
- Fluidity. When winter strikes on “Game of Thrones,” clans — even with the benefit of their medieval predictive methods — are essentially forced into reactive mode. As representatives of technology clients, we’re impressively comfortable with situations that require us to decide now and act quickly. Simply put, we should embrace the thrill of unpredictability because it makes our jobs exciting and fresh every day. Of course, embracing change feels better when there’s no chance of losing an extremity to frostbite.
Had social media been a reality in the Bronze Age, I bet that, with the first snowflake’s fall, people throughout Westeros would hear about it pretty quickly. Fortunately, we live in an era when Twitter (with other social channels and communication strategies) foretells winter’s approach much more quickly than the black raven could.
The brats of the digital world—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and a brood of other social networks—will spend all day talking at us and listening to us if we aren’t careful. Communication pros spend big chunks of their time conversing on these social sites, treating them like kids we are nurturing, taking their pulse, measuring their height and weight, testing their temperature. We take pride in watching them grow and seeing our influence interjected in their conversations. Before we know it, however the day is shot—and then we go home and talk with the kids some more.
We can’t even escape them when we leave the house, because they’ve grown mobile appendages. Every social network worth its baby teeth has a mobile app. While we may be cautious about texting and emails behind the wheel, we’re increasingly inclined to share, follow and post photos of the idiot driver who just cut us off. The mobility upsurge has resulted in our holding hands with our social network kids—as tech vendors are inclined to say—anywhere, anytime, 24/7.
Now, we love our kids, but sometimes we have to get them—and what they have to say—off the phone and inject ourselves back into the real world we can touch and feel. The problem is not with the kids—they were born to consume time and make new friends around the clock—but with the way we relate to them. Like our own children, social networks hold a priority position in our lives; but if we focus solely on them, we become merely isolated, doting parents.
We should consider “mobility” to encompass not just smartphones and tablets, but also heads and shoulders, knees and toes. Instead of constantly communicating with employees and clients via networks—be they social, IM or AT&T—we need to visit them much more often. We should be not only learning what their products do but also watching them being made. We should have more face-to-face meetings with client contacts on their site and on ours so we can engage fully in the chemistry that is only possible when humans put down technology and pick up cues from body language and small talk.
Social networks make terrific research tools—if we’re selling Packards, we can ask a thousand people who own one—but we still need focus groups for deeper context. We still need surveys of carefully segmented and statistically significant populations within the marketplace.
Furthermore, social media by their nature prompt in us a desire for immediate feedback, a thirst we tend to quench by measuring everything we see and hear every which way. We fall into the hazardous habit of many investors, looking for short-term results at the potential expense of the long-term growth of our client relationships.
Above all, we need to avoid the ironic temptation toward “introversion” that social networks can generate. There’s a potential danger in spending so much of our lives in virtual space. Doing so allows us to listen only to those who make us feel better; to react as angrily as we wish, for the most part with impunity; to ignore the social graces that helped us succeed in the first place; and to wall ourselves off from large portions of the real world that we feel we no longer need to confront—whether those be real in-person conversations with employees or direct responses to clients.
We need more “real-time people-time.” We need to put down our handhelds and put our faces forward to talk with clients and customers. Let’s spend some time on the phone with our kids, sure, but not all day and all night. To paraphrase Timothy Leary—the leader of a previous addicted generation—we’d all be a bit happier if regularly we’d “log off, step out and wise up.”
As someone who travels all the time, I watch a lot of TV. As CEO of a technology public relations firm, I love all that is “fast” and “new,” but somehow I gravitate toward series that take me back in time. One of the things I love most about retro shows is when I realize that the language, clothes and culture may change, but so many things stay the same.
For example, awesome ideas are timeless. I’m a rabid “Mad Men” fan, and Peggy Olson is the kind of risk taker we love at Airfoil. In her shellacked 1960s bouffant, twin sets and cone bras, she’s come up with campaign concepts I only wish I could have thought of myself — today.
But after reading an article about what life was really like for 1960s-era “Mad Women”, I understand the show doesn’t necessarily reflect the significant number of women who were actually moving-and-shaking on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s. Without the incredible social networking resources women in business have access to today — not to mention a decidedly greater social emphasis on gender equity — this is a real testament to the brains and guts behind these mavericks. I wonder if Peggy would have stayed at Sterling for so long had she been able to put out feelers for opportunities via LinkedIn, demonstrated her industry expertise through Twitter or broadcast her creative ideas and process on a blog.
Even with the assistance of social media, Peggy’s skills would earn her those opportunities (just more rapidly). Her ad concepts work because they speak the truth, plainly but powerfully. She would have no way of knowing, but a Peggy classic — the straightforward “Take it. Break it. Share it. Love it.” for Popsicle — is the essence of a great social media discipline:
- Take your message.
- Break it down into digestible chunks.
- Share it with people who care.
- And love it.
We counsel clients to demonstrate “love” for the relationships they form online with constant nurturing and genuine, dynamic dialogue. While a Popsicle will disappear, we’ve seen time and again how social media channels that are cared for with relevant content, customer exclusives and thoughtful, timely responses can dramatically grow a brand’s influence and customer loyalty. I mean, what’s the point of social media — or a Popsicle for that matter — if you’re not going to love it?
Whether we’re crafting messages, brainstorming campaign themes or mapping out social media plans, we must remember that audiences really don’t want something complicated. They want relationships with brands that are rooted in truth and, very likely this summer, a Popsicle.
Also shared on PRSA’s blog ComPRehension.
Last week, our very own Margaret Booth shared some creative insight with PRWeek for their Insider blog. Take a look at her series!
1. Stale Workplaces Make for Stale Thinking (link)
2. Generating the Best Ideas (link)
3. Selling in Great Ideas (link)
Sneak peek: … if the story is told the right way, it often portends the perfect ending.