Monolos Don’t Guarantee Political (or Education) Success

Ravitch and the disciples of Ravitch are quick to condemn Teach For America (TFA). TFA is portrayed as a band of dilettantes, individuals of privilege who are seeking to inject themselves in to the schools for a few years without proper preparation or without having paid their dues. To them, the TFA badge is thrown around as a brand of unpreparedness.

Can’t the same be said of Nixon?

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest piece for The Education Post, Cynthia Nixon’s Run for Governor is Looking a Lot More Like ‘Hypocrisy in the City’

The SPOKEie Word

I’m honored, humbled (and quite excited) that this week dear ol’ Eduflack was named a winner of the inaugural SPOKEie awards. Recognizing the best spokespeople in the field, DS Simon Media and its crew of expert judges recognized me as the top non-profit education spokesman in the land.

With so many terrific personalities in the education field, it is a true honor, particularly when I think of so many who are far better than I am. But I am proud of the work I’ve been able to do with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and proud of the continued evolution of the Eduflack platform for a discussion of all things education.

I hope you’ll wish all of this year’s winners a hearty congratulation. Despite how it appears on TV or in the movies, what we do is neither easy nor glamorous. Being a flack is fairly thankless, as you bear responsibility for the challenges and provide the limelight for others when it is time to shine. But it is necessary work and, when done correctly, incredibly valuable.

Congratulations to all my co-winners. And thanks to all of you, and those like you, for helping make communications a noble profession.

When It Comes to Online Info, We Only Have Ourselves to Blame

Even forgetting all of that, we can’t overlook that Cambridge Analytica was simply mining data (and microtargeting voters) based on the information that we willingly, easily, and freely handed over. While we may not have answered the quiz or clicked on the link to specifically provide voter targeting data to a political campaign, we shouldn’t be surprised when our information is used for that purpose. No, we shouldn’t be surprised to learn there is gambling in Casablanca.

Consider that I can learn a lot from a person based on the websites they link to from their Twitter accounts. Thanks to procedural cop shows, we all should know how easy it is to track criminals through their online search histories. Instagram can be just as reliable as a dark house in telling me if someone is home. And LinkedIn can help my employer know if I am looking to move to a new job.

School House Rock taught us that information is power. We shouldn’t be surprised when people use it to strengthen their positioning. Short of going off the grid entirely (or voting straight Libertarian), there will always be those who gather our information and use it for their own benefit.

From Eduflack’s latest on LinkedIn Pulse, Don’t Blame Facebook Data, It’s Your Fault!

Truth Should Not Be Subjective

In an era of “alternative facts” and opinion masquerading as media, the truth can be a hard thing to find. Over at LinkedIn Pulse, dear ol’ Eduflack writes on how New England Patriots QB Tom Brady’s claims that “everyone has different truths” and the recent analysis that President Donald Trump has made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims since assuming office is incredibly dangerous, particularly for the communications profession.

As I write:

No, truth is no longer evident; truth lies in the eye of the beholder. And that should be unacceptable, particularly for communications professionals. For those of us who deal in information, it becomes essential that we prize truth as our most coveted commodity. We should defend our positions and our organizations with all of the zealousness that our positions allow. But we must do so recognizing we can never, ever lie. There may be elasticity in advocacy or in flacking, but there is none in the base truths on which communications and public engagement is based.

Give it a read. I swear it is all true!

 

Donald Trump as Social Media’s Howard Stern

Our national obsession with the Twitter habits of President Donald J. Trump continues. But as we rush to critique the latest overnight bursts, as former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama recently have, maybe we need to recognize that Trump has mastered the medium that so many of us merely play in.

Over at LinkedIn Pulse, dear ol’ Eduflack explores how Trump is using forums like Twitter as they are intended, shying away from the better angels calling for editing, review, and restraint when it comes to social media.

And as usual, I take it a step further, comparing Trump’s Twitter skills to the radio prowess of Howard Stern during the shock jock’s heyday at WNBC, while Michelle Obama’s model is far more akin to slices of processed cheese.

Give it a read here.

Men, We Can Do Better

With new allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault rolling in on a daily basis now, it is time for men to have a very real discussion on what is appropriate – and what is not – when it comes to our dealings with others.

This isn’t about being a better husband or father. We need to drop the qualifiers. Thus us about being a decent human being.

As I write on Medium:

Finally, if you have to ask if something is appropriate, it is a good bet it is not. If you have to defend your actions because so-and-so also did it, they what you did is indefensible. If you justify what you have done by stating that it isn’t as bad as what someone else did, you really have no justification for your actions.

Please give it a read. Sadly, these are the conversations we need to have these days.

What I Learned While Lecturing At College

There is something rejuvenating about speaking on college campuses, particularly when it offers the opportunity to reflect on your profession and your career choices. In our day-to-day world, we can often lose sight of why we do what we do, letting the frustrations of the day get in the way of the successes of the career.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with students at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri about strategic communications. Heading in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve spoken at public and private universities. I’ve presented at Ivy League institutions and community colleges. At HBCUs and foreign universities. Each one is different, each comes with its own set of questions and its own frames of discussion.

Over the years, I’ve learned I’m an effective storyteller. Anyone in the communications profession can go onto a college campus and describe what their job is like. Speakers can approach such scenarios as if they are going in for a first round job interview or talking to someone at a cocktail party that they will never see again. They can provide a “just the facts” approach, as if they are describing the work to a crime scene investigator. Me, I prefer to tell old war stories.

It’s easy to get someone’s attention when you are able to talk about defending bomb-detecting dolphins trained by the U.S. Navy or flacking for a company that allegedly employed paramilitary death squads or managing an “angel of death” scenario at a local hospital or doing rhetorical battle with a brand name like Bill O’Reilly. Such tales make a communications job seem glamorous, taking away from those countless days and years in a cubicle cold-calling reporters and begging them to attend an event or review a release or the reams of paper and the countless drafts before a commentary meets the approval of the cast of thousands who may need to OK it.

Such stories, though, can often be the easy way out. It is one-way communication, with the storyteller (me) simply informing my audience. Even when one opens it up for questions, those answers are often simply more stories, or the expansion of the existing ones.

But in my discussion at Southwest Baptist University, I found a different discussion. Yes, the tales were entertaining (at least I thought so, but I’ve heard them all before). But the questions asked of me were illuminating. I was forced to go into my personal recesses and find answers to questions I haven’t asked myself in a long time. And in a few instances, explore some topics I have never consciously explored as a communications professional.

These were questions like:

  • What are the similarities in working in communications in fields like politics, government, healthcare, education? What are the differences?
  • Compare working in the private sector with working in the public sector? Working for for-profits versus not-for-profits? Which is better for a young professional? Why?
  • Is it better to be a communications generalist today or to specialize in a specific skill, like social media?
  • How does one measure the success, or failure, of communications initiatives? How do you know when you are doing it right?
  • How do you find the voice of your boss or your client?
  • I found that last question of particular interest and intrigue. I’ve been fortunate to be an on-the-record spokesman for more than two decades. I’ve also ghost written hundreds of commentaries for individuals over that time. In all of those years, I’m not sure I had ever thought about HOW to find that voice, I just did it.

When I worked for Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, I got there by watching his floor speeches and trying to parrot them. With Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, it was by reading his basketball memoir, Life on the Run. With the African-American national not-for-profit leader, it was from speaking one-on-one with him. With the former college president, it was from watching him speak to small groups. While each experience was different, each also shared a common thread. It was about finding voice in the setting where the speaker was most comfortable, most him or herself.

These were the sorts of questions that my 22-year-old self would never have known to ask. Heck, these are questions that my 30-year-old self wouldn’t have asked either. But these students were not just hearing the stories, but they were listening to them. And they were trying to distill these tales into useable lessons that would help them secure the jobs they sought and enter the careers they dreamed of.

At the same time, they reminded me of why I do what I do, what drew me to it, and what brings me the joy that keeps me from chucking it all and opening that cupcake shop on Grand Cayman. In teaching last week, I learned – or re-learned – a great deal.

(The above was also published in LinkedIn Pulse.)