Donald Trump is extremely controversial. If ever proof was needed of that fact, surely his appearance on Saturday Night Live, an episode panned by many and adored by others, serves nicely.
Stephen H. Coltrin
Chairman & CEO
Stephen H. Coltrin, Chairman and CEO of Coltrin & Associates, has given strategic counsel and communications support to executives worldwide and been the driving force behind all Coltrin’s initiatives for over 30 years. His counsel has driven growth and revenue for companies including Nintendo, 3Com, Burger King, Salt Lake City Olympics, Smiths Detection, Bain Capital and others. Mr. Coltrin currently serves on the board of directors of the International Radio and Television Society Foundation, Quantum Leap Innovations and Clinical Ink, on the National Advisory Board of America’s Freedom Festival, and on the Advisory and Advancement Council of the Utah State University Journalism & Communication Department. Mr. Coltrin has received many honors, including the prestigious Chapel of Four Chaplains Award, the Leo Hindery Media Ethics and Values Speaker of the Year, and Honorary Vice Chairmen for Broadcasting & Cable’s Hall of Fame Awards.
Top-tier media coverage is the white whale of many firms: passionately chased, exhaustingly acquired. It’s much less taxing when a company has a CEO with star power. Tony Fadell of Nest is one such CEO. Fadell’s example shows that solution-oriented visions coupled with solid execution leads to impactful top-tier press coverage and financial advantage.
USA Today’s Tech Person of the Quarter, Mr. Fadell started Nest with a fellow ex-Apple engineer Matt Rodgers in 2010. They created a product by the same name (Nest), a smart thermostat designed to save money, energy and the environment. Air conditioning and heating are indispensable, but expensive. Nest helps reduce that cost by learning when people are and are not at home, and adjusting the temperature accordingly. Nest was heralded as an exciting solution to a blasé problem and Mr. Fadell was featured in several publications.
Fadell and his team continued to refine their product, eventually leading to a $3.2 billion acquisition by Google and as glowing a top-tier article as ever was written.
Top-tier press isn’t acquired overnight, but Fadell’s is a formula for success. Solve a problem, solve it well, and watch the white whales come to you.
Disclaimer: Nest and Mr. Fadell are not Coltrin & Associates clients
Pope Francis is adeptly leading the Catholic church into the 21st century and it’s an impressive process to watch.
The Pope, Time’s Person of the Year, has brought the religious organization to secular popularity without running away from any of the church’s core values. If anything, he has publicly embraced certain Catholic values that were becoming less visible with time.
I respect the pope from a personal standpoint. His compassion and commitment to lift weary heads and grasp faltering hands is inspiring. I also see in Pope Francis two striking lessons that all public relations practitioners should observe.
Leaders and Visions
Pope Francis’ leadership is tied to his vision for the Catholic church. A leader’s vision for his or her organization is an irreplaceable communications tool. The pope is compassionately inviting all people to recommit to a unified vision of what it means to be Catholic. His popularity and the newfound popularity of the Catholic church come not from diminishing standards but dedicated vision.
A leader committed to a vision will rally, organize and drastically improve any organization. Communications practitioners need to make sure that people can see their organization’s leader, understand his or her vision and act on that vision.
Effective Social Media
The Pope has an active account on several social media websites and he uses those accounts to get people talking about his vision. His Twitter account is already wildly popular and his recently created Instagram account seems equally promising. Pope Francis is showing that while social media may not always be able to sell products, it certainly can promote and spread ideals. We knew that social media could sell the lifestyle of the rich and famous and now we know that it can promote timeless ideals as well.
Pope Francis is still relatively new to his position and he’s managed to do a lot of good so far. By making ideals visible in a way that is acceptable to non-believers he has positively impacted the ability of the Catholic church to fulfill its vision. Leaders of almost any organization that follow the same principles will likely similar results.
I work with clients based on a vision and milestones platform. I help clients voice a vision for their organization and establish milestones that will guide their progress in pursuit of that mission. But no vision and milestones platform would be complete without a charismatic leader behind it.
President Obama is tremendously charismatic. He is in so many respects presidential. He can unite, uplift and direct the nation, if he commits to and executes on a distinctly American vision and milestones platform.
There will always be partisan bickering. But when the President brings the fight to Congress instead of seeking to unite it, partisan conflict increases and escalates.
The President needs to set aside his own personal goals and take a pragmatic, flexible and bipartisan approach to politics. He needs to define a distinctly American vision, complete with meaningful and realistic milestones. A vision brings unity and milestones bring progress. The nation sorely needs both.
Fault-finding is often considered a standard part of American political culture. But a President needs to uplift Congress and remind its members of their capacity to resolve issues and move the country forward when they are united in purpose.
When Mr. Obama is courageous enough to uplift Washington and upgrade its current political culture, businesses and individuals will be inspired and upgrade their respective corporate and civic cultures. An uplifted and upgraded nation can pursue an American vision and achieve milestones effectively.
I founded Coltrin & Associates, Inc. I accept responsibility for its successes and failures, and I direct its affairs. I have learned to accept great ideas from wherever they might come. When my 7 year-old son came up with a simple but revolutionary idea in the late 1990’s, I took it to heart. The result was tremendous, and gave us the opportunity to work on the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics.
The President should take the same approach and direct the country without exercising authoritarian control. When good ideas are not regarded as the purview of the elite, but the privilege of the nation, the President will both honor the unparalleled legacy of the Unites States and encourage the bipartisan pursuit of America’s most timeless ideals.
A charismatic leader with a vision and appropriate milestones is what this country needs. President Obama’s charisma is equal to the task of turning this nation around. That said, turnarounds are not easy, and charisma is an easy trait to misuse. When the President uses his charisma to unite, uplift and direct the United States under an equally magnetic vision, history will remember him as a classic American president, and the country will thrive.
Michael Jordan spent countless hours practicing the most basic shots. He practiced them until he could make them cleanly, consistently and when he was under pressure. He was one of the best basketball players to have ever lived. Fundamentals make the athlete. Communications, like basketball, relies on the execution of fundamentals to be effective.
The White House should be looking to Michael Jordan’s example. President Obama is terrifically charismatic and is capable of tremendous leadership, if he, too, will get on top of his fundamentals. The most effective public relations plans are always anchored in transparency and reliability. These are two of the most visibly proclaimed cornerstones of the Obama administration as well. It is now clear these two fundamentals weren’t given proper attention in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
From its initial launch on October 1st until the current day, healthcare.gov has had crippling issues. President Obama compared the devastating glitches to the relatively simple ones found in Apple’s first release of iOS 7. But as the President himself admitted, Apple’s iOS 7 glitches were fixed within a day or two. In contrasts healthcare.gov’s problems have been ongoing for upwards of 50 days with little improvement.
The Obama administration has transparency as a key goal. But transparency isn’t denying problems and giving curt or evasive answers. It’s owning up to the problems and fixing them. Downplaying major problems as unimportant glitches ultimately alienates people more than simply fixing the problem. The naked truth is always the best spin.
“If you like it, you can keep it”
The other tremendous communications failure of the ACA is the promise of every American being eligible to keep their current healthcare plan if they like it. Failing to keep any promise, let alone a central point of major legislation prevents publics from trusting an organization. When Obama broke his promises and then admitted failure on a number of levels, he may have calmed some. But, on a grander scale, breaking his promise to the country, especially as a president who was elected with slogans like hope and change, has only given America one more reason to distrust the government.
What the White House needs now is to focus their game plan on the fundamentals. It worked for Michael Jordan, and it can work for them, too.
Maintaining the status quo of either your organization or your industry is often the course of action most easily digested and most easily defended. But from time to time it becomes necessary to break the status quo. When these decisions are made, they are often controversial and it is often forgotten that to most controversial decisions there will be controversial reactions.
This doesn’t need to be a bad thing.
But it can be.
Not long ago, Marissa Mayer, relatively new CEO of Yahoo! decided to change the company’s telecommuting policy. News outlets and employees portrayed that decision as quite controversial and CNN’s front page had a different story and opinion piece about it each day. Marissa Mayer drew fire for the decision, and when the face of the company is under fire, so is the company.
Before making any sort of potentially controversial decision, organizations need to decide how they will:
1. Tell their side of the story
2. Tell others why the decision needed to be made
3. Tell others why the decision will benefit the organization
People inside and outside of your organization catch your organization’s vision when they hear your side of the story first. These same people will be less critical as they understand why the decision needed to be made. You will also keep investor confidence high as you explain how the decision benefits the company.
Public relations professionals need to discuss these strategies with lead management. With firm strategies in place, negative consequences can be minimized. In some cases, these controversial business decisions can even lead to positive effects in the court of public opinion.
What do you to strategize before your organization announces a potentially controversial change?
When an organization chooses a new leader for whatever reason, it has the opportunity to redefine, rearticulate and reinitiate their organization’s objectives and focuses. All newly chosen leaders can do this, but many are too slow or too imprecise when it comes to defining their organization’s objectives. Most should take a cue from Pope Francis, who hopefully will prove to be one of the most effective leaders of the Catholic church yet.
Newly elected Pope Francis is a fantastic opportunity of a newly-elected leader who is making the best of his opportunities to affect his organization positively in this time of leadership transition. One specific example of his most recent announcements sticks out to me.
In what may well be one of his most cited statements to date, Pope Francis announced that it was not for the Catholic church to forget the poor. He has talked about how his name was chosen, in part, out of his desire to send a message to the world that the church had not and would not forget the poor .
Pope Francis, in this heartfelt and sincere statement, has made excellent use of one of the largest opportunities available to new leaders: the opportunity to define, to both internal and external publics, an organization’s mission statement for the next few years. If you didn’t know that the Catholic church had a vested interest in caring for the poor, you do now. If you were a leader within the church who was not making the care of the poor a priority, you surely are now.
Pope Francis isn’t just saying that it’s important to remember the poor and be simple, either. He’s making sure that this philosophy of simplicity is reflected in his ring and coat of arms.
Media relationships occupy the focus of many public relations professionals. These relationships rightly their attract interest. They absolutely deserve priority treatment. But, media relationships should not absorb their focus to the exclusion of other relationships. Shareholders and interest and advocacy groups demand just as much attention if the organization wants to remain an active presence in its sphere.
Shareholders affect the valuation of a company. If they lose confidence in the organization’s vitality, shareholders are likely to sell their shares and invest their money in companies they feel are more likely to succeed. If shareholders see their company as successful, the company’s valuation is almost certain to increase. Anything material to the longevity of a company and the realization of its mission should be shared with shareholders just as quickly as it is shared with the media.
Interest and advocacy groups often wreak havoc on the reputation of organizations. Communicating with these groups, valuing their input and notifying them of an organization’s activity pertinent to their focus firmly plants an organization in a position to prevent potential damage caused by these groups. An organization can avert destructive consequences with this formula. It can also garner deserved praise and trust, not simply with the interest or advocacy groups in question, but from many others. Following this formula, people will see that the organization is dynamic and responsive, two sure signs of longevity and success.
As noted in previous posts, it’s important to always be completely honest when communicating with any individual and any group of people.
Other groups that deserve attention include law enforcement, political groups and customers, among others. Next post, I’ll focus on how to communicate tailor your communication to fit the needs of each of these groups.