Radical Translucency (another repost from long ago, but somewhat on topic)

May 8, 2015

Over at The Long Tail and at Wired, Chris Anderson has been writing and blogging about Radical Transparency, the idea that growing recognition of the power of openness will be what marks the first decade of the 21st Century.  And over on Rough Type, Nick Carr opines about Radical Opacity. For years, I’ve been talking about blogging as simply the next turn of the screw in the increasingly transparent world in which we live, and all things considered, this is a good thing. As a society, we are better off when our government is more transparent, where other institutions of power are more transparent, where corporations are more transparent. We’ve been getting more transparent for years, pretty much since Martin Luther nailed his epistle to the door. Now, it used to be the role of the media to make things transparent via investigations, lawsuits and just great reporting, but increasingly the role of making the opaque transparent has fallen to bloggers. And it’s been good. Mostly.

Of course, there is always tension. Someone or something suddenly made transparent is not always happy; governments rightly want to hold some things secret, individuals don’t want their private lives on display 24/7, corporations and businesses have a need to look after their trade secrets and plans. Somewhere, there needs to be a balance.

As a communications professional, I see this tension on a daily basis. What is the best way to balance the need to hold some things tight and disclose others fully? In what can quickly become an overheated debate, the decision to remain opaque can cause huge consternation – there is something to hide, we have a right to know, opaque = deception, information wants to be free – we’ve all seen the arguments made. And, it’s counterproductive, because it sets up a sham argument that looks at the world in a binary way – you are either transparent or opaque, one is good and the other bad.

We need to look instead at a middle way, what I call radical translucency. It’s simply the idea that an individual or company can partially disclose in a way that is helpful to all. The analogy is the shower curtain in a movie – the body is visible but not the details. J In the same way we’ve discovered that in society being totally blunt and honest all the time wins few friends (“does this outfit make me look fat” has a very limited number of right answers, for example), we need to become more comfortable with the ability to move smoothly along a continuum of opaque to transparent.

Transparent Briefing (repost from long long ago)

May 8, 2015

NB: This is from a much older post on a blog no longer active.

For starters, I am not going to use this space to talk in detail about the Wired story itself. I have my POV of course, and those who live close enough to me to offer me a pint of beer might get it out of me. But the story is out, like any piece of work there are things to agree with and not, and we’ll leave it at that.

Now, let’s talk about the briefing mail now online,  and the mention in the article of a “confidential dossier of 5,500 words.” Not true – someone is confusing a briefing with a dossier and “confidential” with “not sent to me.”

So read on – there’s nothing surprising or nefarious here, let’s be transparent and take a look. But first, re-read this blog post from January about transparency…it’s pretty relevant. I’ll wait. 🙂  Right after CES, I wrote about how to do a great interview, offering my perspective on what works and doesn’t, from a PR perspective. Here was my 5th point (bold added):

If it’s your first interview with someone, ask for insight. Seriously, I know it sounds a bit self serving, but often the PR person has sat through a ton of interviews and has a pretty good sense of what works best from a style and pace standpoint. Remember, it’s in my best interest that an interview go well. If the interview goes south, I’m the one in the room later hearing about it. 😉 From the interviewer and interviewee both, it often turns out. 

So, now let’s turn the tables and talk about how to prep an interviewee to do a great interview – and you’ll see how a briefing document comes together.

1. Story commences – sometimes with an inbound request, sometimes in conjunction with an event or other news activity. Reporter (usually) has an overall story in mind and a list of people to talk to. It’s not unusual to be looking at as many as 10 interviews for a single story, esp. a feature. The first step from a PR perspective is to draft a document that captures the story premise, who should participate in the interview and some perspective on what supporting points need to be on the table. Then it’s off to the races….

2. Prior to the first interview, you want to make sure the person being interviewed is ready to do a good job. Everybody is different – some people are naturals and can come up with great commentary on the fly, others need more time to think. Must haves include:

a. Story premise

b. Info on news outlet and reporter – circulation, focus, previous articles written, interview style (aka Barbara Walters or Sam Donaldson?)

c. Supporting facts

d. Desired outcome

The key here is that the person is PREPARED for the interview, they have thought about their role and can actually be helpful.

3. Interview happens. Let’s just assume it was good. J Prior to the next interview, recap the first one! Why? Because you don’t want to waste time on the next sets of interviews plowing the same ground again. If the first person did a good job of explaining the business problem and left a huge hole in discussing the solution, then that next interview better focus more on solution.

4. Repeat as needed. Update story premise and facts along the way for each person being interviewed. As more questions come out, and more interviews take place, the briefings at the end get…long.

Okay, there it is – in the style of the Wired issue, transparency on what goes into briefing.

Seriously, in this case, the interests of a journalist and PR are totally aligned – a great interview is always the best possible outcome. And that doesn’t mean an interview where a spokesperson endlessly repeats key messages – that’s a loss. It’s an interview where the person is prepared to talk, has the relevant data at hand, understands the story premise and his/her role, and doesn’t waste time going over the same territory as a previous interview.

We now return to our regular programming.

How Not To Do Profile

June 13, 2011

First I saw this piece in the Washington Post profiling long time PR person for Hillary Clinton Philippe Reines and thought, wow, that was sort of painful. Then I saw the Gawker take on the story, complete with a pretty good set of recommendations on how to avoid, to whit:

1. Don’t be profiled by people who have already developed a deep dislike of you.

If you are asked to be the subject of a profile, and you know that the person or institution that wants to profile you already hates you, you must either 1) decline to participate, and write it off as creative differences, or 2) try to charm the writer so much that he changes his opinion of you somewhat.

2. Don’t try to write the profile yourself.

This is a common problem with egomaniacs. They may interpret "charm the writer" as "tell the writer, in detail, exactly what to write, because he will appreciate that, and you know better than the writer, anyhow." Philippe Reines seems to suffer from this delusion.

Even as he shipped out with Clinton to an Arctic summit in Greenland, he e-mailed his profiler: "Would it be helpful if I sent you random factoids, pieces of color? For instance, I don’t ever drink D.C. tap water."

He then offered a series of bullet-point notes, including such information as "I take Pilates," "I walk to work" and "When I wear cuff-linked shirts, I wear a set that look like sink faucets, one’s marked hot one’s marked cold. It’s a self-aware reflection that I can be both."

3. Don’t be an egg-sucking self promoter.

See, if you’re going to go along with a profile by someone who already hates you, and you’re unable to keep yourself from trying to write the damn thing for them, the very least you can do is to try to refrain—during the interviews for your profile—from engaging in the very sort of behavior that earned you your bad reputation in the first place.

The whole thing is mostly right and worth reading!

Invisible Technology

August 19, 2010

Over the years, I’ve had a fair amount of what some might call gadgets…things that I purchased to help make my life easier. Here at the house, I have what my wife calls "the drawer where devices go to die." There are a fair amount of things in there…my Vadem Clio. An old Newton 110. Several pocketpc devices. Two iPods. One iRiver Clix. Each were purchased and used because I believed they would make me smarter, more efficient, more entertained, and all ended up in the drawer because in the end they got in the way as much as they helped, or in other words, they were visible to me.

Over the years, I’ve run a bunch of miles. And as you might expect, technology has been a big part of many of those runs. Starting from a simple watch and no music, to a variety of watches and GPS systems and music devices. For runners, music can be a bit binary – you either run with music or you don’t. I’ve been binary too – for a long time I nearly always ran with music, for years an iPod in a bright blue case, up until the point I twisted my ankle and dropped the thing hard on concrete and it no longer functioned. Then I moved to Rhapsody, so I could experience new music via subscription, thus the iRiver Clix, which had some pretty grim issues with DRM and had to be reflashed all the time. Then by accident I discovered that my Rhapsody account worked with my Windows Mobile 6.1 phone. I picked up a pair of bluetooth headphones, and was in heaven – one device that I always had with me now played music…it wasn’t invisible, but it was pretty close.

Alas, technology moved on, and while I loved my (several) 6.5 phones, they didn’t do Rhapsody. I love my Zune, but it’s (mostly) in the car, and has no bluetooth. So for the past year or so, I’ve run sans music, mostly.

The other morning I got up before the sun, sighed, pulled on my running gear and headed out. I’ve learned that I need to have as few things as possible between me and my morning workout – at that hour, pretty much anything can hang me up and keep me at home. that’s why I like running – a minimal amount of gear, no dues, no place to go, no carbon to spend, shoes, shorts shoes, road. On a whim, I grabbed my Windows Phone 7 and my old bluetooth headset, because I’ve been grooving to the new Arcade Fire and wanted more.

For the moment, technology was invisible. The headset paired, the music was on the phone and I was on the road. At the midway point I took a picture of the sunrise and posted to facebook, then started the run back home.

For that morning, the technology I use was invisible. And thus, hugely useful and fun. More, please. Smile

Sticky Lies & The Speed of Truth

July 26, 2010

The last few weeks have brought a deluge of examples of how sticky lies can be, especially when unchallenged with great speed. I know, “lies” is a pejorative word, and it would be more politically correct to call them something else – bad facts, bad data, wrong conclusions, myths etc., but at the end of the day, bad data repeated endlessly, even with good motive, becomes a lie. And it damages like a lie, and it sticks like glue and is persistent over days/months/years/decades. What do I mean? Research shows that people tend to believe what they hear first, even when presented later w/ overwhelming evidence that what they heard wasn’t true. Turns out climategate wasn’t really true, that toyota cars don’t really surge out of control, that Al Gore never said he invented the internet, that there are no death panels in the US healthcare bill, and so on. Two columnists take this on today – E.J. Dionne from a political side, and David Carr from a business/journalism POV.

From a communications perspective, the outcome is super clear – the need for speed continues to grow. If we want to protect our brands and reputations from long term damage, we need to be in the same news cycle as the news itself. It’s not enough to rebut claims in a day two (or even later in the same day!) story – we have to be able to respond in that exact cycle, and with all the communications channels we possess. This means building new capacity, new ways of communicating, ensuring data is flowing internally fast enough to craft a response, and so on. It’s monday a.m. and already I’m exhausted thinking about it!

Of course, there are times when silence is the  better course of action. That is another post.

Oil & Water

July 19, 2010

Tomorrow I’m heading for Atlanta GA for a week of meetings. I like Atlanta, a fun city. MARTA, heat, peachetree aves everywhere, what’s not to like? Smile  Some years back, it was also the scene of one of the most “these things don’t go together” moments in my professional life. I was working in the wood products industry, and was there for a major trade show. We decided to piggyback some focus groups on top of the show to test some new ads. We picked a hotel near the conference, did the usual solicitation for participants and were off to the races. Two sessions, one early afternoon, one late afternoon. In the room watching with me were representatives from a number of the wood product companies who would support the ads – great way to get their input as people reacted to the ads.

First session was great.

Second session was pretty good too. Up until the point that one of my clients took a quick bio break halfway through the session and returned, white as a sheet. It turns out that the hotel we’d selected was also the hotel for the national transvestite ball.  This was a bit of a shock to his system. Some of the others, however, found the whole thing a hoot. Picture this  – a bunch of tie wearing, wood selling, outdoor life, hunting guys standing in the hall talking to a group of dress-wearing men getting ready for a ball and just having a great time.

Some of my clients slipped away quietly, others hung out for a bit, and I resolved next time to just do a quick check on what other events might be happening in the area!

Atlanta, here I come!


July 11, 2010

I’m packing up and heading out for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Always one of my favorite events of the year! SteveB, Kevin Turner, tons of partners (biggest ever this year!). And in DC no less, one of my favorite cities to boot. It is hard to believe, but my first ever Microsoft experience was at the second partner conference, in 1996. I had just started working with an agency supporting the training & certification and channel partner work, and although I hadn’t officially started yet, it seemed like a good idea to come to Seattle and experience the fun. Boy, talk about culture shock! Breakout sessions on selling Windows NT, competing with Netware, MCP certification,  as a new guy, I was totally lost. I scanned the sessions desperately, looking for something I could actually understand and that would (hopefully) help me insight into  the days and weeks to come. Eventually, my wandering eye settled on a session titled “Microsoft Outlook 97.” This was my ticket to understanding. It was 1996, and here the company was going to give perspective for what was happening in 1997! Eureka and other words, and I was at the session early, front row, pen in hand.

Of course, I had no laptop, too expensive. And if I had one, I’d be using Microsoft Exchange Mail, it was state of the art.

You know how this one ends. My session, the one that was going to give me direction for the year ahead, was not that at all. Instead, it was a demo for a new product – Outlook ‘97. Crushed though I was by not getting the inside scoop for what was coming, I was captivated by the software itself, and after the demo accosted the presenter, demanding a copy. “It’s alpha code,” he said. “Are you sure you want it? I have a disk.” Did I know what alpha code was? no. Did I still want? Yes.

Back in Portland, I installed on my one and only computer, and I was off to the races. Until the first time Clippy appeared. I was not amused. And there were performance issues; my machine, which previously had sung like the angels grunted and wheezed like an asthmatic runner. After a bit of this, I called the guy who had given me the code. “I hate the clippy thing, and the dog is even worse. How do I turn them off?” He gave me bad news…there was no way, but if I deleted a set of dlls, I wouldn’t see them anymore.

Which I did. Of course clippy and merlin and the pooch were gone, but now instead of them, I got an error message “dll not found.” I was not sure this was an improvement, and another call ensued.

him: “it’s alpha code, remember? You are not running on your production machine, are you?
me: “I don’t think I am, it’s running on the only machine I have.”

And thus was I introduced to the concept of wipe and reinstall. Smile

What wonders await me at WPC10? The mind boggles, but crack of dawn tomorrow I am on my way! Hope to see you there.

Building & Maintaining Trust

June 5, 2010

This article in the NYT today about politicians, exaggeration and YouTube reminded me of some presentations I’ve done on building and maintaining trust in an era of social media and transparency. For starters, despite all the talk of how much things have changed, it’s always worth noting what hasn’t changed as it comes to things like trust. Trust is built the same way it always has been – by having a company or an individual do what they say they will do. Nothing more, nothing less. And it is lost the same way it’s been lost in the past, either slowly w/ little chips and cracks, or all at once in some sort of cataclysmic event. In my line of work it’s easy to focus on the second one as the biggest issue (crisis communications), but today the real threat is the slowly over time, and the NYT story shows why.

If we accept that we live in a more transparent, searchable, blogable, video heavy world, then we have to accept that the transparency makes it easier than ever to find those smaller and smaller gaps between said/did, and bring them to light. Politicians are finding this out more and more frequently. Years ago, it was pretty easy to get away with some whoppers, simply because LexisNexis was really constrained to a pretty small group of (professional) users, and it was harder to find what even a public figure said. Today, it’s a snap for anyone w/ access to the web and a search engine to not just find but publish. Politicians who grew up in the old world have too much faith in their ability to dissemble ("I never said I was a maverick” for example) and not have it be challenged. It will be interesting to see what the next generation of public figures does – my sense is that we’ll see much less of this, just because growing up transparent drives different behavior.

My advice? Do what you said you would do. And in the cases where that is not possible, when situations and events change, when there is a course correction required, leave a trail of bread crumbs along the way. Say, I know what I said, this is what changed, this is what I’ve done. And like it or not, acknowledge that our world is more transparent, and we are all, to some extent, public figures.

Comms Challenge – Goldman Sachs & The Pope

April 30, 2010

In a tweet earlier today, I wondered who had the bigger comms challenge – Goldman Sachs or the Vatican? This was spurred by this Memo From Vatican City in the NYT today, plus other coverage looking at criminal and civil charges for Goldman. What’s interesting here is that at the core both organizations have the same challenge – their internal culture of secrecy is increasingly at odds with a world of more transparency in the way decisions are made. Let’s look at the challenges they both face:


  • Clearly has systemic values failure and is dealing poorly with coverup by blaming the media (next up: “lamestream media” tag applied).
  • Is losing money and followers in much of the world.
  • Has divisions between central authority and distributed delivery
  • Discussion strikes totally at the core of the organization – trust and faith have been compromised.

Goldman Sachs:

  • Did not live up to core values (long term greedy, clients first).
  • Has governments around the world zeroed in on them as poster child for finance reform.
  • Discussion strikes totally at the core of the organization –trust is critical.


My take: the Vatican has a bigger problem long term, GS the bigger problem short term. Both could help themselves. Here is what they should do:

Vatican: You have to find a way to declare the crisis over. There have been people who have resigned, now is the time to do a clean sweep, regardless of cost. Anyone aware or associated with the abuse cases who did not immediately act needs to be removed from their position. Those directly associated need to be moved to positions where the rest of their careers are spent in prayer for the future of the church. The leaders in the Vatican need to step up activity, set up a more transparent process that involves laity (not just Vatican officials) and pledge to implement changes recommended by this group. Model would be commission style – study, recommend and implement.

Goldman Sachs: Find a sacrificial lamb (hint “Fab”). Make minor changes to systems, but trumpet them loudly. Show just a smidge of remorse. Stall for time. Find a part of the finance regulation bill you can support and do so loudly. Revamp internal ethics training, make it public, make it stick (find another sacrificial lamb).

Votes on twitter and FB indicate that people agree…Vatican wins this one. But not in a good way.

Bloomberg & Gizmodo –See Any Difference?

April 26, 2010

Courtesy of the NYT, a great (inadvertent) comparison between the way Gawker Media operates and the new Bloomberg BusinessWeek operates. First up, Gawker and the iPhone. Turns out that Gawker pays for scoops:

“If a news organization is open about its methods, what’s the criticism?” he (Denton) said to me and others. Other media organizations, he added, “only get into trouble over checkbook journalism because they’re so preoccupied with respectability — and they contort themselves.”

By this point, we have become inured to the fact that The National Enquirer greased some palms to bring down John Edwards, that TMZ, the gossip blog owned by Time Warner, will pay for news and that weekly magazines pretend they are paying photo fees when they are actually paying for celebrity news. Mr. Denton said that as exclusive news becomes an ever rarer commodity, the tactical aggression will grow in all corners.

They also incent their bloggers by showcasing how their stories drive traffic.

How obsessed is Gawker with traffic? It has a Big Board, a name conceived in now-lost irony, in its Manhattan headquarters where individual writers and their posts are monitored for real-time heat, which at Gawker is all about unique visitors.

“When a writer’s byline is on the Big Board, you see them sometimes just standing there in front of it. Even though nothing is changing,” Mr. Denton said. You can almost imagine Alec Baldwin roaming the room, offering steak knives to the second-place finisher.

Next up, Bloomberg! Of course there can’t be very much in common between the faddish speed and celeb obsessed Gawker and Bloomberg, right? Well, culturally, not so much. But how about this:

One speaker was the head of Bloomberg’s “speed desk,” who was especially proud, according to people at the meeting, when the desk published a headline seconds ahead of Reuters, and a young trader had made enough money from that lead alone to buy a Hummer.

A Businessweek employee raised her hand. Why, she asked, would a journalist be proud of that?

At Bloomberg News, where writers’ salaries are tied, among other factors, to how many “market-moving” articles they have produced, Businessweek is fitting in like — well, like an 80-year-old print magazine in a company that is all about terminals.

Well, I mean other than that focus on speed, and you know, traffic (however defined) to individual articles.