Yes, it’s all about influence – and data

I’ve just read this article by Stephen Waddington in the CIPR‘s online blog Influence.


Well worth a read – and I ask a few questions in the Comments section at its end, which I repeat and expand on here:

  • how widespread is rigorous data analysis in our profession?
  • can we ever advise clients or colleagues without data to underpin that advice?
  • how many of us actually do this?
  • do we factor in the resources (analysts, PR professional and budgets) to make this real and meaningful?
  • how do we convince management that what they thought they wanted to hear might not be what people are actually saying?

Food for thought. And thank you Stephen.

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The hunting of the Snark


Businesses are besotted with extracting what they see as more efficiency from their operations.

The instant they repeat their first success, most try to become “more efficient.”

It’s an occupation that generates its own jargon (efficiency is a perfectly acceptable word without further embellishment) and has, over the last 30 years or so, created a subsidiary economy of organizations seemingly expert at helping their clients (the original organizations) become more efficient (often with little direct experience in the host market).

It’s akin to Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, a fictitious animal that is never actually caught, but which becomes an obsession with a barrister, a broker, and a banker (as well as a butcher, a baker and a beaver, among other persons and creatures).

I’d love to see data plotted as a curve showing returns on efficiency gained and costs seemingly saved, compared with returns on new products or services created and sales and profits gained.

As Seth Godin reminds us, the biggest danger in obsessively seeking to save a dollar is that we might eventually win, creating the worst product for the cheapest input price.

Markets (and the customers within them) always seek new products and services, and often better services and products. Value can always command a competitive price. Creating a competitive advantage other than price will always pull ahead, and always out you in command of your own destiny. And reinventing a market segment or product or service definition on your turns gives you advantage.

Saves you hunting mythical beasts.



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Malcolm Turnbull’s Crazy Ivan

Today’s announcement by Australia’s Prime Minister to recall both the Australian Senate and the House of Representatives, and serve an ultimatum – pass legislation or witness a double dissolution of both Houses, and an early Federal Election – deserves analysis.

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the media after announcing his plan for a double-dissolution election if industrial relations legislation is not passed. Photograph: Rashida Yosufzai/EPA/Guardian Australia

What better way to do so than to run the Playmaker Systems ruler over the Turnbull strategy.

And what we see is a high-risk, no-prisoner Preempt Play invoking the Crazy Ivan and the Trump (not to be confused with another high-risk political playmaker currently running for power).

The Crazy Ivan is the deliberate acceleration of an impending threat. In quintessential Aussie terms, it’s running straight at the opposing front row forwards, seeking to crash or crash through.

It’s intent? To re-set the agenda, to short-circuit stifled process and debate, and to do both in a way that totally overwhelms the opposition.

Gone is negotiation and caution: Turnbull allowed the Senate last week to pass laws to change the rules for how senators voted (after, it will be recalled, a pyjama-party all-nighter). Now we know why. The Senate must pass the legilstaion seeking to introduce a construction industry watchdog, or have its bluff called.

In fact, his play was crazy enough to blindside his Treasurer, who had to re-set his forthcoming budget date almost on the hoof on the radio.

Alongside the Crazy Ivan play sits its stablemate the Trump: the act of usurping an opponent’s own position. Turnbull’s political opposition, the Australia Labor Party and the Greens, are opposed to the new legislation. Now they have a simple choice: stare down the Coalition, or blink.

Both Plays are high-risk/high-reward.  We can expect, over the next three weeks, and then, if called, into the election lead-in proper, our fair share of Labels (the application of a memorable word by one party on another – blackmailer seems to be the best bet right now), Call Outs (mock indignation – form a line) and Deflects (the evasion of an attack by an opponent – look out for an early Deflect counter-play by Labor leader Bill Shorten, perhaps seeking to reclaim the agenda with accusations of weak tax policies within the Coaliation to  move attention away from his party’s support of the construction union under attack).

Of one thing we can be certain: Canberra’s playmakers are only just starting to sharpen their drafting pencils.

What a start to the week.

(Photo credit source/copyright acknowledged. The author no longer has any formal affiliation with Alan Kelly’s patented Playmaker Systems methodology: I just love applying it, especially to the political scene. He does too: read his Plays for the Presidency analysis.)

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Book review: Tim O’Brien’s Inner Story

Disclosure: I’ve known author Tim O’Brien since university. We even share the same birthday (although, as I always remind him, he’s always older than me.)

So rest assured, this review has to be the most-objective I’ve probably ever written.


Looking to be a better leader, or improve team performance? Time to discard populist texts in favour of a learned one.

Time to buy this book and have it on your desk – whether you’re a manager, leader, sports coach, parent, or even international rock star.

Because O’Brien goes back to clinical, behavioural and observational basics about the psychology of the mind, and then makes it comprehensible and relevant to the rest of us.

Written in an accessible but slightly formal style, he establishes and explains, over 11 chapters, what’s going on inside your head, and how that necessarily affects everything you do, and everything you seek to do.

And then explains how you can change those internal references, world views and anchor points, and focus them anew on what you seek to achieve.

It feels like I’ve made a career of reading management books on performance and leadership. None comes close. How could they? Because every single one of us is an individual, so it’s impossible (for example) to corral us into one of four, or eight, behavioural or leadership styles. We, and those we work with, and those we manage, deserve better.

O’Brien explains why, and how.

His chapters cover the following subjects: the inner story your psychological sub-conscious creates inside your brain, understanding the behaviour it influences, where fear play its parts (as well as how to manage and redeploy fear), being more successful, happier, and confident, what being a better leader actually should mean, being a higher-performing team, and finally, a chapter on understanding how each of us changes continually – how none of us is static, but constantly reappraising what’s going on around us, and seeking to map those external inputs to our inner frames of reference.

If what I’ve described here sounds faintly alternative, rest assured, it isn’t. His text and experience is rooted in clinical psychological evidence and training.

A couple of examples: higher performing teams never get to “the end”, never get to being definitively “high” performance. and those which are truly high-performing understand this, as individuals within the team and as the more-complex, cohesive group. He also emphasizes the benefits (and need) for effective communication in high performing teams, and that lack of effective communication signifies a team not performing well.

But he also posits the concept of the “soul” of a higher performing team, that empathetic understanding between team members that allows them to construct a single team perspective, with mutual support. To achieve that requires every individual to understand their inner story, and for the team managers or leaders to understand how these various motivations and perspectives work together.

The second example is O’Brien’s analysis of how we construct personal perspectives in each of our minds, subconsciously and consciously. The subconscious perspectives are of course often submerged, and it takes work to identify what’s really going on there. This is important, because until the two are aligned, dissonance is likely.

He also asks the reader direct questions, ones he expects us to answer, and leaves space in the text for us to write down those answers. (I chose not to do this, not wishing to make my copy of the book untidy – I’m sure he’ll have a field day with this.) So he expects us to use the book as a training manual, and we should.

His style, as noted at the outset of this review, is slightly formal. No surprise, given O’Brien’s academic background rooted in teaching and research. That’s why his book makes you think, which is what I like about it the most.

Thinking is perhaps what all of need to do more: about what we want in life, what we want from our teams, colleagues, families and friends. Getting leadership and performance right is not a two-day seminar or a one-hour psych. test.

In any case, every team will, from time to time, fail, or not achieve its potential. Every performer, manager, teacher and individual will, occasionally, be faced with self-doubt. To assume it won’t happen, and to assume it’s a weakness when it does, is neither helpful nor realistic. None of us can predict what will happen next. What we can do is prepare ourselves to manage, overcome, and emerge from those moments better prepared and performing to our best. Understanding your inner story makes this possible.

Read this book. Then have it on your desk, and use if often enough to make it dog-eared. Its contents worked for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and rock star Sir Elton John, so you’ll be on good company.

My review copy of Inner Story was provided by the author. Published by Ideational, available from Amazon.)

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Social breaks out, social selling takes off… and social data still rule

What did 2015 deliver in social?

2015 saw social continue to break out from marketing-only thinking. More senior management embraced and exploited the social web. We saw it first-hand in the financial services, logistics and energy efficiency services sectors. CEOs were part of many of these discussions, in some cases driving the strategies personally.

Surprisingly, CFOs were missing in action, but as sales revenues and ROIs go up on the back of social engagement and social selling, they will undoubtedly be happy to come to the social party.

More sales teams now embrace social selling, and make it work. Those that still don’t continue to realize that they are being left behind. We saw integrated social selling and prospecting across sales engagement, sales management and social media channels, creating single views of what sales teams were doing.

Clients used the social web to generate engagement, increase brand presence and drive consumers to their web sites to make sales.

Value, relevance and engagement count for more than ever, even as sponsored and paid media engagements and channels (and constraints) continue to grow. Our experience in 2015 with clients is that organic (earned) media still lead the way. Consumers can still spot advertising, whatever it’s name.

And into 2016?

More businesses will use the social web to drive revenue. The ROI equation becomes clearer each year. Great news for businesses of all sizes, not just large ones. More SMBs will make social work for their sales and brands.

COOs, CEOs and CFOs will realize that the social web gives them the hard data with the answers on ROI, win rates, sales opportunities, customer satisfaction. The result will be bigger spending on social, reduced spending on advertising. Why shout when you can engage?

Social will kick-start more disruption, especially by upstarts on incumbents. The upstarts can afford to invest in the social web because it gives greater returns for a lower outlay, with faster results from customers saying they are ready to engage, ready to buy. The incumbents will learn to fight back.

Sharing and engaging are great, and will remain the essential precursors to what really counts: buying. We think that the process that starts with discovery and ends with sales via leads, insights, engagement and creation will accelerate.

Mobiles will still rule, but don’t write off the desktop It’s still a portal to the social web and the real-time insights into customers and prospects that can be found there.

Whatever your preferred device, create your social selling strategy, tap the power of the social web to discover the insights you need, engage and sell.

Have a wonderful festive break, and a fulfilling and social 2016.

(This post also appears at

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VW’s reputation up in smoke: the first global brand crisis?

Obviously not.

But Volkswagen’s handling of the crisis that exploded following the revelation that the company had deliberately installed software that reduced exhaust emissions only at the time of scheduled services, reminds every organization that life is now too fast and too connected – to consumers, customers, regulators, journalist, activities and legislators, around the world – to rely on outdated attitudes to communication, and outdated policies that stifle agile crisis responses.

Companies can no longer wait for head office to catch up.

Companies can no longer wait for the legal team to review every sentence.

What’s right and culturally relevant for one country is not right for another. One corporate size – and one response – does not fit all.

That VW is large in America, but a cultural and economic icon in Germany, as one example, creates two distinctly different contexts and challenges. One is a market, one is a political minefield. Each requires an almost-instant response.

Local language means just that (and more) – in tone and nuance as well as actual language.

For decades, professional public relations practitioners have counselled clients and employers on the need for crisis planning, and the benefits and value in having such plans.

We were not crying wolf.

One might argue that shareholders should demand that companies provide meaningful and current crisis plans to mitigate, explain and respond to crisis. The town of Wolfsburg, VW’s home, is reliant on the company for most of its revenue, and the State of Lower Saxony owns 20% of the company according to the Guardian. Both might well revise their shareholder demands in due course.

This will likely become the defining crisis communications case study, not least because of its willful initiation. (Even BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill was an accident.)

Five take-outs from me? Almost impossible to know where to start, but I suggest the following ( to start with):

  • don’t marginalize the corporate communication function
  • define, develop and mutually agree protocols that connect the CEO’s office, the legal department and the corporate communications department
  • create a definitive framework for fractured, empowered global communication: build a framework that embeds the abandonment of a crisis command-and-control culture
  • factor in all the services needed in a crisis
  • HQ must  develop protocols that allow subsidiaries to ‘go early’, and the subsidiaries must understand that, with this freedom, they now operate in a connected world

None of these are easy or quick to achieve.

None should be set in aspic.

All should be started tomorrow morning.


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