Thursday, September 24, 2009

Medium UnRare: The Risk of Obama Overexposure

Back when I was a much younger public relations guy for a major corporation, I was advised by a higher-up of the danger of making the CEO your spokesperson all the time. "You must use your top guy sparingly," he said. "If the press and the public get used to the CEO as your spokesman, no one else will ever suffice again. And then over time, he just becomes another guy." In other words, you diminish the power of that office.
This past Sunday, President Obama was on five -- count them, FIVE! -- talk shows to tout healthcare reform. How effective could that have been after a while? Let me make clear, the man can be masterful in a public role. Just look at how charming he was on David Letterman's show this past Monday, comfortable with the audience, the host, and perhaps more importantly, in his own skin. And with one phrase -- "I was actually black before the election" -- he defused Jimmy Carter's tin-eared and unwelcome assertion that opposition to Obama was race-based. He said very clearly and pointedly, "Don't call the American people racist. They elected me knowing I was black." But I digress.
Obama is risking the diminishing of one of his most powerful assets -- his power of communication and persuasion. This was so evident in his campaign, whether talking about race in America at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, or articulating a creative, economic solution to the economic meltdown. Now, by overusing this skill and becoming the ubiquitous promoter of healthcare reform, he is counter-intuitively not strengthening it but diminishing it. As my advisor said, he is becoming just another guy. Plus he is not addressing the concerns of the sizable number of people who are against him, the man. As long as he is THE face of healthcare reform and h
e is inextricably tied to it, its chances are diminished.
I'm not promoting healthcare reform here. My views are immaterial, and in fact, I have many problems with it as presented. I'm simply looking at this as a marketing and public relations exercise. Where are the other voices promoting healthcare reform? There was much talk about "death panels" and "letting Grannie die." Why haven't we heard more about the AARP's support of the plan? Non-medical people on talk radio are given free rein to denounce the plan, but the American Medical Association -- the real medical experts -- have endorsed it. Why are their view not heard?
I often go back to the effective communications successes of the Reagan administration, and I imagine how those folks would have handled this. I suspect that they would have kept their President a bit more in the background and found other credible supporters to tout their plan. They used the power of the Great Communicator with discretion. Obama should pay attention to this.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

At the end of the day, it's still a cliche

It seems I've been reading this article for nearly three decades: a list of the most overused, banal sayings in the business world. Well, here's just the latest version of the story that never seems to end:
Accountemps recently published a survey of business executives' least favorite/most annoying phrases and buzzwords (plus I always thought "buzzword" itself is overused). Here are my top picks from this litany of lexicon losers:

  • "Reach out" -- A synonym for making social contact with someone: "I'm glad you called. Thanks for reaching out." The first phrase is enough. I thought we retired this after AT&T's ubiquitous TV campaign beat this phrase into pabulum in the mid-1980s. But you know what I really hate about it? I've been duped into using this one myself, thanking people for contacting me through the social media (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, et al) after they might have assumed that I passed away.
  • "Disconnect" -- This noun, previously known as a verb, replaces the perfectly useful "disconnection," meaning two different interpretations. Such as, "I think you and I have a disconnect as to what was said at the meeting," when "You and I heard two different things today" would be more direct, although less politically correct in its directness.
  • "Interface" -- Ah, an old favorite reappears, as unwelcome as ever. This was popular when IT terminology was polluting our language in the early 1980s. "You need that information, so please interface with Hal when you have a chance." Folks, computers interface; humans talk, discuss, meet... but we don't interface. Unless we turned into cyborgs along the way, and considering the technologies we attach to our heads, perhaps we have.
    By the way, when "interface" is coupled with the once-popular, always-hackneyed, "touch base" (i.e., get together), it makes for a trite expression that actually rhymes: "Let's touch base and interface."
  • "It is what it is" -- Honest to God, I have heard this one for about 15 years, and I STILL can't figure out why people think this is at all expressive. I mean, this is just about the LAZIEST expression I can imagine. It sound like something you say when you have run out of words. A good friend of mine described his upcoming bout with prostate cancer, told me his options, and ended with, "Well, it is what it is." Such a meaningless phrase for such a potentially serious situation. An exasperated sigh would have spoken volumes in comparison. But at least I can imagine why he was speechless at that point. What else IS there to say? (By the way, he's healthy today.)
My buddy, Tom Patano, who has his own opinions on communication, also hates the phrase "step up," as in "We have to step up this campaign." So I throw that in for good measure. I guess that is more palatable than "We better improve this campaign, or we will lose our jobs," but again, that sort of directness probably makes me a curmudgeon.
While we're at it, can we retire the term "solution?" As in, "I offer you linguistic solutions through my blog?" What happened to offering products? Or services? I knew this term had reached its zenith (nadir?) when I heard a local jeweler advertise himself as the "provider of your jewelry solutions."
To put this into some kind of perspective, linguists noticed a decline in the German language as Nazism was rising in that country. Can we draw a similar comparison between the quality of American business communication and the quality of American business competitiveness as well? As always, I'm interested in your thoughts on this. Please circle back to me and reach out with your own opinions on this game-changing post of mine. You can leverage the feedback feature of this blog and give me your own cutting-edge thoughts. At the end of the day, if we all think outside the box, we can find a language solution, and then we'll all be on the same page. Maybe my blog will be viral as a result. Now that would be value added.