Communications strategies and the new media
By Ray Hanania — Speech to the Orland Park Chamber of Commerce on Communications Strategies Nov. 30, 2011
The media has changed but the fundamentals of communications have not changed.
In the 1970s when I entered journalism, broadcast journalism was battling with the dominant print media to take control of the hearts and minds of the public. Mike Royko used to write a column that was valued at 35,000 votes. That means his column could directly give a candidate 35,000 in a Chicago election.
Jane Byrne got elected on his columns and on the failure of the Chicago Machine to recognize how the media was changing. Byrne said it that the new precinct captain was not their loyal worker or volunteer who went home to home ringing doorbells and giving away new garbage can lids, but the TV. Television was the new precinct captain.
Today, we’ve moved from a broadcast-dominated media to cable TV and then to the Internet.
The new precinct captain is Facebook, Twitter and Social Media. You need an online presence to engage not only young people but baby boomers like myself.
I brought the first computer to the City Hall press room in 1979 to keep up with the fast pace that Mayor Byrne had in creating stories. She’d make a story in the morning, then change it at lunch, change it again after lunch and change it before going home. Then some reporter would catch her at a night appearance and she would change the story again. The only way to keep up with her frenetic pace was to use a computer. I had used a laptop. It had a 300 Baud Modem. I plugged it in to a telephone coupler and then dialed a number at the Daily Southtown and watched as each line of my text slowly crawled up the computer screen as it was sent to the office.
Today, text and images and your thoughts scream across time and cyber space with Flash Gordon technology at what seems like the speed of light.
But in all this change, the fundamentals of communications remain the same because the audience we are trying to influence is the same. We’re human beings and no matter how fast things are processed in a computer chip, we still take the same amount of time to understand things.
And when we talk to human beings, the issue isn’t how fast we speak, but the quality of what we say. People are smart. Most of them see through the bullshit. They know right from wrong and no matter how slick your message, they know when you are lying. A human gut feeling is more powerful than all the money spent on a campaign. Just as Herman Cain and Rick Perry. Poor guys. Cain wants us to believe he doesn’t have a habit of harassing women and Perry wants us to believe he’s smart.
No matter what your communications goal, it comes down to three things:
- knowing your audience, who are the people – the human beings – that you are trying to reach?
- what is it that you want to say?
- and most importantly, what are you going to write?
Add only the up-to-date methods of delivering the message.
It’s not what you say that is important but rather, how you say it.
Perception is oftentimes more real than reality. What the public thinks matters.
You can sell something to anyone, if you make them feel comfortable and that ability to identify with your audience is still the most important factor in the human experience of exchanging ideas and thoughts and communicating.
You will listen to and believe a friend, even when they are wrong, but you will always distrust a stranger.
Your message needs to connect with the audience in a friendly way, not as a combatant.
Middle East as an example
I’ll make a quick segue for a moment: As some of you may know, I am Palestinian American Christian. One of the most powerful forms of communications is humor and I’ll give you a taste later of some of my comedy which is based on my marriage – my wife and son are Jewish.
But the Arab community is a good example of how good causes are destroyed by the failure to deliver a message properly and effectively.
It’s not about speaking English. It is about speaking American. Baseball. Hotdogs. Apple Pie. Nearly every book by an Arab writer is some form of boring politics, written in a boring style of academic dissertation. Great books. Great content. But not presented compellingly.
The most effective message on the Middle East was presented in the 1960s in the form of a book called Exodus. Have you read the book or seen the movie? Just in comparison, how many have read the book “The Transformation of Palestine?”
Well, let me just say that when Israel wanted to tell their story, they chose the effective strategy. Hired a brilliant PR person – his last name was Edward Gottlieb I met his daughter years later online — who then went out to hire an author to write Israel’s story in a book. You probably even know that author’s name, Leon Uris. The book was published in 1958, 10 years after the State of Israel was created. It was a hit. It also was a novel which means that the majority of the information in the book was fiction.
And Arabs just don’t understand the power of fiction in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
They are learning, but not fast enough.
Content drives success
It all comes down to the writing. Every successful message is built on compelling content. And most of you don’t have compelling content. Why would you? Most of you are not writers and sadly, most of the communications consultants who design web pages and write press releases are not very good writers either.
Consultants will tell you that the key to an online presence is a great web site with all the latest bells and whistles. But that defies common sense. Yes, you need a good web page, but it’s not just how it looks. It has to do with how fast will it load? Is it filled with annoying disturbances and distractions? And once someone comes to your web page, what do they find?
In most cases, companies buy the bells and whistles. They have great looking web pages. They offer some services. But the real missing element is quality content. You need content that is compelling, that compels them to engage your products through intelligent thought because today’s consumers are very intelligent and aware.
They hate ugly looking web sites that are hard to navigate, but they also hate great looking web sites that offer little in terms of engaging them.
It comes down to content, what you write.
Fundamentals of communicating are so simple and easy to understand, but you need someone who knows how to write.
A consultant will tell you they can give you new ideas, but common sense drives the best communications strategies. New ideas are great but how do you communicate those ideas to the public?
You don’t have to buy advertising. In fact, outside of a the local news media, I would tell you that unless you are a large corporation, cancel your advertising in the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. You are wasting your money, enormous amounts of money that do very little except stroke your ego. Maybe you want to make yourself look good.
I would urge you to find someone who can write. And then post what you write on a blog. Link that blog in an automatic fashion to eliminate the extra work to a Facebook Fan Page, Group and to your Twitter Account. Create a dozen accounts on all the major social media including MySpace, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Use Ping.FM to post your tweets. Ping will send your Tweets to ALL of your social media at one time.
Understand how to reach people. People live in social groups in cyberspace just the same way they live in real life in neighborhoods. When I grew up, we were more race conscious. We lived in a White neighborhood that was Arab and Jewish and Irish Catholic. Near us was the Polish neighborhood. Near them was the Czech neighborhood. Near them was the Black neighborhood. And near them was the Hispanic neighborhood.
We think things have changed with regards to race, but they really haven’t. I wrote an online book called Midnight Flight that is linked on my web site at Hanania.com or TheMediaOasis.com or RadioChicagoland.com that tells the story of White Flight from Chicago in the 1960s. Things have changed a lot since then. But humans fundamentally fear strangers and embrace those who look like themselves. Friendship helps to change that fundamental dynamic.
Cyberspace and online are the same. You have to look for groups of people in different places so you need to have a presence in many places. Learning how to connect all of those social media places is an art form and a new aspect of communications. Ping.fm is a good place to start.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, media consultant and radio talki show host. His show is broadcast every Sundays from 8 to 11 am on WSBC 1240 AM radio. http://www.RadioChicagoland.com.)