Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Siegel’

Right and Wrong, Black and White: Conventional Wisdom vs. Current Wisdom

January 29, 2013

A lot of what we learned as children has turned out to be misinformation. Not only have the facts changed, many standard right and wrong ways of doing things have also evolved over time.  Both science and language are examples of how right and wrong have changed over time.My grandparents were taught in school (probably around 1910) that there are eight planets. However, in 1930, Pluto was discovered and added as the ninth planet.  But what my grandparents learned in school turned out to be correct after all (at least for now), Learning Right and Wrongsince scientists agreed in 2006 after years of debate that Pluto really did not meet the criteria for a planet. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet and plutoid (also called an ice dwarf).

Another scientific fact we learned in high school is that the atomic weights of elements on the periodic table of elements are constant numbers that do not vary. In 2010 scientists discovered that some of the elements’ atomic weights actually do vary in nature, and should be expressed as a range. For example, the atomic weight of oxygen is slightly more in the air than it is in seawater.

Perhaps it’s not a good idea to categorize scientific theories as right or wrong, since there are grey areas in between. Science is obviously a work in progress. Scientists offer theories, and other scientists offer revisions of the theories.  Theories that are proven wrong may just be proven right after all in the future.

Our use of language is another area where right and wrong shifts over time.  Most of us were taught that it’s incorrect grammar to end a sentence with a preposition.  Most grammarians now disagree with this old rule because using a preposition at the end of a sentence reflects the way people actually speak. For example, it’s uncommon to hear people say, “With what did you open that wine bottle?” It sounds pretentious. The normal way of expressing this is, “What did you open that wine bottle with?”

One language issue now being widely discussed is the spacing between sentences on a typed page. We were taught that sentences should be separated with two spaces, a rule that goes back to the time when typewriters were first used. The spacing on a typewriter was the same for all characters, whether a narrow “I” or wide “M.” As a result, typewriting looked uneven, making it harder for the eye to see the end of one sentence and beginning of the next. Two spaces were used between sentences on typewriters to mimic the spacing by traditional typesetters. Now, however, the computer has provided proportional spacing. The readability problem that existed with typewriters has disappeared. The rule has evolved and now one space between sentences on word-processed material is considered proper.

Human beings tend to feel comfortable with absolutes – right or wrong, black or white, true or false, good or bad. But most things are neither right or wrong, black or white, they are shades of grey. This is as true for moral absolutes as it is for scientific theories and language use. When we’re young, we’re taught moral absolutes of right and wrong, often based on the 10 Commandments. As we get older, we learn to live with the vast grey areas, based on circumstances and human frailties.

In the public relations profession, we are frequently faced with a need to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s truth and what’s not, and sometimes are at odds with our employers or clients over this. We can’t live with the grey areas if it’s obvious that something is actually black or white.

Senior PR professionals surveyed in a recent study by a Baylor University researcher and a professor at the University of Texas at Austin believe they have a responsibility to be independent voices in their organizations not weighed down by politics or the perspectives of their organizations, and to criticize the decisions of people in senior management  when they believe them to be wrong.  The participants in the survey noted that it takes courage to disagree with the boss or the client on ethical issues. Some who did this were demoted or fired for refusing to do something that was blatantly unethical, and some resigned when their advice was rejected, including one who refused to include false information in a press release.

One thing is for certain: popular opinion is not the judge of right and wrong. The majority can be and have been wrong, time and again.

Lucy Siegel

Find out more about Bridge Global Strategies here.


Five Key Lessons We Can Learn from Mike Wallace

April 10, 2012

In May, 2005, I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience when Mike Wallace took the podium as keynote speaker at the annual “Big Apple” awards celebration of the Public Relations Society of America – New York Chapter. Then 87 or 88 years old, he must have been the oldest speaker PRSA-NY had ever had. You could hear a pin drop as he spoke.

In the public relations industry, Mike Wallace was one of the most respected and at the same time, most feared journalists ever. He could reduce public figures to blubbering idiots with just one simple question.  Even the rumor that Mike Wallace had a research crew investigating a company was enough to send executives and PR departments into a tailspin. ABC News’s George Stephanopolis commented that Wallace became more famous than most of his subjects by mastering the “in your face” interview. ABC News reporter John Donovan, in a story about Wallace, noted that Wallace “had a gift for making the unaskable askable.” Just one example: he had the nerve to ask Nancy Reagan how much President Ronald Reagan got paid for visiting Japan after he left office.

Much has been written about this legend of TV journalism in the last few days, but from a PR perspective, the best piece I’ve read was by Larry Thomas, president of Latergy, a video services firm. I direct you to his article in a communications industry publication, “Remembering Mike Wallace: Lessons from a Master Interviewer,” which summarizes the influence Wallace had into five key lessons for public relations, corporate communications and investor relations professionals .  Thomas ends his blog by saying, “RIP, Mr. Wallace. I’m glad I was able to see you (on TV, not at my office door).”  I can certainly echo that.

Lucy Siegel

Six Reasons Flexibility Helps Start-ups

March 20, 2012


Lord knows, start-ups have plenty of disadvantages (never enough money, limited staff to do all that needs to be done and low visibility compared to established competitors, to name just a few). However, there’s no point in looking at a half-empty cup when there is, after all, still half a cup left. Start-ups have some important advantages over Goliath competitors, many of which involve the ability to be more flexible. Small companies love to talk about flexibility as an asset they have over larger competitors but seldom explain why it’s an asset. Here are some of the advantages of flexibility:

1. It’s easy for start-ups to change direction. Making a big change can be done quickly and far more efficiently than in a large company. Think of turning around a small motor boat compared to an ocean liner.

2. As small businesses, it’s easier for start-ups to respond to employees’ needs by allowing less rigid work rules. If someone wants to work at home one or two days a week or come in a couple of hours early and leave a couple of hours early, there aren’t layers of bureaucracy and paperwork to go through to make this possible.

3. The founder of a start-up doesn’t have to live by anyone else’s rules. Start-ups begins with no rules and no well-established business structure, and can make up their own rules and business structure.

4. Let’s say you have a revolutionary idea, and if your company is successful, you’ll change your industry forever. Chances are that someone in a big company somewhere has had the same idea, but big companies can’t be as flexible about making revolutionary changes. They have a lot more to lose than you do: market share, customer trust, brand recognition, public preconceptions about what they stand for. Meanwhile, you’re starting from scratch and can create something revolutionary without worrying about what you’ll lose in the process.

5. The communications and management infrastructure at start-ups are much more informal and allow more flexibility to individual employees to make themselves heard and have an influence on the overall company. There’s nothing more empowering to employees than the knowledge that what they do really counts, and that their ideas and input will be listened to by senior people (who may be sitting in the same room they are) and can have a big influence the success of the company.

6. The definition of success is up to the entrepreneur. It is not predefined as generating shareholder profit. Founders of start-ups can set their own goals. There is flexibility that comes from not having to worry about short-term shareholder benefits. Some civic-minded start-up founders place heavy emphasis on the goal of helping their communities. Some founders are determined to stay small enough to allow themselves the satisfaction of doing hands-on work with clients.

Lucy Siegel

New International PR e-Book Just Published

January 24, 2012

I’m pleased to announce the publication of “Public Relations Around the Globe: A Window on International Business Culture,” an e-book for Kindle.  The Kindle file also works for the Mobipocket reader (which can be downloaded free and can be used on many mobile devices as well as on PCs).

“Public Relations Around the Globe” is a collection of essays and articles about PR around the world edited by me. Each chapter was originally developed as a Bridge Global Strategies article or blog post by our staff  and me or as a bylined contribution by an international public relations executive.  The book is divided into geographical sections and topics, including Europe and the Middle East,  the Asia/Pacific region, the BRIC countries and a section with observations, insights and advice about international public relations. There are chapters on communications in Australia, Japan, China, Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, India and the United Arab Emirates.

The book is available as a download from Amazon for $2.99.  I have some copies available at no charge for people who would like to review the book. If you’re interested in having a review copy, please email me.

I hope those of you who read the book find it useful. I would welcome your input on it.

My next book will be aimed at start-up companies, with tips for maximizing communications dollars and building a reputation. If there are topics you’d like to see in the book, please let me know!

Lucy Siegel


You May Have to Invent Your Next Job, Says Tom Friedman

July 19, 2011

New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman wrote a column last week headlined, “The Start-up of You” in which he described some of the factors behind the persistently high U.S. unemployment rate. He concluded there is something different about the unemployment we’re seeing today from high unemployment in the past. The companies with the biggest growth are Silicon Valley technology giants such as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn. Yet, compared to yesterday’s leading companies, these new corporate giants aren’t giant employers: they don’t hire many people. The rest of the business world has cut back drastically on hiring, depending instead on outsourcing, using robotics and deploying software.

Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, wrote in this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek, “What took 1,000 people to churn out in 1950—the dawn of a golden age for blue-collar work—now requires about 185, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.”

We are hearing from economists that many large companies are making excellent profits now. They can afford to hire, but they’ve learned how to get by without hiring. In addition, Wartzman wrote that a third of the nation’s joblessness results from a discrepancy between the skills employers seek and those of the workers available (figures he attributed to Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Minneapolis Fed).

This “jobless recovery” has created a very unstable employment environment. The spoils go to those who can’t be easily replaced by outsourcing or robotics. Those who are irreplaceable are “people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever,” Friedman wrote.  He was not only talking about young people fresh out of college, he was referring to everyone looking for a job.

Friedman quoted from a soon-to-be-published book by one of Silicon Valley’s star entrepreneurs, Reid Garrett Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and on the board of Zynga and Mozilla: “…You should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business…For entrepreneurs, it’s differentiate or die – that now goes for all of us.”

Differentiate or die. That’s exactly what we in public relations and marketing tell our clients.  We had better learn to apply this maxim to our own marketing and communications careers, because it’s not just blue collar jobs that are disappearing. A few years ago New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that when she was in Pasadena, Calif., she was told by a publisher of a local news website that the company planned to outsource reporting positions to India.  About a year ago I heard from an extremely reliable PR industry source that at least one of the very large international public relations companies was outsourcing media relations to India, also. 

Both of these were shocking revelation to me, since I firmly believe that local reporting can only be done well by people in the community who understand local issues and attitudes.  I also believe that a good job of media relations requires a clear understanding of both a client’s business goals and of the mind-set of American journalists.

An employee at a big international management consulting company told me that his firm has two New York offices – one in New York, and one in India. I’ve also read that some medical centers have outsourced part of the work that local physicians used to do to doctors in India. They read the results of CAT scans and other such tests while doctors in the U.S. sleep.

If local news reporting, PR, management consulting and medical jobs can be outsourced to India, then just about any job can be.

I began to think about what kind of upbringing best prepares people to think critically and constantly reinvent their jobs.  Certainly, growing up in an authoritarian culture can’t be helpful. Parents and teachers are stifling, not rewarding critical thinking when they tell children, as many do, “It’s not your place to question me, you do what I tell you!”. Quite a different message is communicated by adults who treat children with respect, feel that they deserve to be listened to just as much as adults, and are comfortable allowing them to deviate from the norm.

One formative experience that provides a lot of practice in adapting is spending some time working overseas. Those who learn another language and experience first-hand the cultural differences that affect business style not only differentiate themselves, they also learn that there is more than one “right way” to do something.

Lucy Siegel

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