Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Actions will speak louder than words August 2, 2010

Speech and Discussion August 2, 2010

As the Economy Recovers, Actions Will Speak Louder Words

More than two years since the start of the worldwide economic crisis, we still are struggling with some of the new language of the downturn. For instance, universities continue to increase tuition well beyond the inflation rate while providing “negative and zero salary increases.” Service providers are “decreasing the increasing rate” of fees. And the press seems to easily accept politically conjured framing words, like “public investments,” as a substitute for taxes.

These are examples of how some institutional leaders sought to mollify us with words during a time that created real pain for real people. Yet, in my mind, such language misses the real point of wordsmithing which is more like blacksmithing – based on action– and it illustrates why public relations will be essential as we enter the economic recovery.

PR professionals and experienced leaders know communications is not simply persuasive words or selling language, as so many traditional marketers believe. Rather, communications is how humans build relationships; learn to trust one another; study new ideas; and more fully understand the actions of economic, political, religious, educational and other institutions. All of these will be essential both in adjusting to a positive economic shift and in helping make it happen.

How can the PR pro help marketing and management?

As a management profession, PR can help organizations understand that communications is just part of the message. The words we use to talk about an improvement in the economy or in a company’s bottom line must be tied to actions and must speak clearly about those actions.
Did you ever try to drive a car or a single engine plane by only looking at the dashboard or instruments. It doesn’t work.

We must look not just to the financial dashboard but outside the dashboard for windshield management.

To do this most effectively, today’s PR practitioners have a four-part communications model at their disposal – one that includes stakeholders, technology, metrics, and numerator and denominator management.


Recently a senior Chicago-area executive, confronted by stakeholders who have challenged every aspect of his normally well-run business, summed up his need for help with this gut-felt statement: “I need someone to tell me how to deal with all these groups out there.” We call them stakeholders.

For more than 25 years, I have tried to teach my colleagues in schools of business and in schools of journalism where advertising and PR are taught that we need to consider more than customers for building relationships. In a very rough metric, Google counts the two words “stakeholder” and “Obama” together with more than a million hits.

It is the era of the stakeholder, and someone has to manage the relationships with dozens of organizations that directly affect a business or organization’s survival. More than any other marketing discipline, PR is uniquely positioned to do this.


Technology has given PR and its stakeholders a gift that keeps on giving new strategies and new tools. No other organizational field has been so richly endowed over the past decade. PR has the tools to build relationships and continues to lead in their application of nearly every new communications format.

Social media may not be the right term for management or business but, as soft as it is, it is the right term for building relationships with stakeholders. PR always has found a way to fully use the inventions of Web 1.0 and 2.0. We will be there for 3.0.

If you think you might need a fan page on Facebook, a blog, a Twitter site, even a more interactive website, the usually younger professional can not only tell you why you should use the tool but how to use it effectively.


Basic research at universities (Wisconsin-Madison and Northwestern) and think tanks like SRI International created the theory and early models. Factiva, Lexis-Nexis and Google assembled the words. Companies (Biz360, VMSInfo, Radian6, and Growth Concepts) now offer relatively sophisticated programs.

They track what reporters, experts, columnists, bloggers, competitors, customers, elected officials, tweeters, Secondlife participants and others are saying about a corporation or other organizations.

The charts, graphs and nearly real-time tracking of broadcast, print and digital media sites can give communicators early and frequent access to boardrooms and a heads-up on potential crises.

Numerator and Denominator Management.

My academic friends might be thrilled by this notation: (∂/∂t) (ν/δ). It represents the simple idea that both the short-term and long-term value of an organization increase as the increased numerator value is divided by a reducing denominator value. To capitalize on this in a way that goes beyond academics, PR professionals can use communications to identify and eliminate denominators, i.e., actions that

(1) undermine trust in a brand,
(2) increase recalls due to failed quality systems,
(3) create employee turnover and loss of intelligence, and
(4) ignore prevention of costly crises.

Just as important, communications can help identify and build up numerators that will drive revenue growth – such as brand assets, trust, new competitive alliances, new solutions and a highly motivated workforce.

Numerator and denominator strategies are more than words, and managing them effectively will lead to stakeholders and media that view communications as a trusted precursor to actions.

Like the economic downturn, the recovery undoubtedly will introduce language of its own. As we all begin to look for words that work to talk about the economy, our companies and our brands, remember this: Actions speak louder than words.