Transparency and Handling

Transparency happens to be the number one search term for this blog. Don’t ask me how it happened. I’ll simply say that I talk about honesty and transparency quite a bit. The reason is that it is the cornerstone for business and brand.

Today at the Interact 2008 conference, AOL founder Ted Leonsis dropped a bomb on a largely communications oriented audience. Having a “special place in my heart” for public relations and marketing, I can tell you that your industry is the one that is most in need of transparency.

Of course, your industry is not the only one needing transparency. Anyone in business needs transparency as it is the cornerstone of trust and brand loyalty. However, public relations more than any other industry in my book needs to be transparent. Transparent with customers. Transparent with the press and bloggers. Transparent with clients.

Ted notes that many of your [Public Relations] clients are asking for handling. What they don’t realize is that the more handling they have, the more they will be rejected.

Pure and simple, handling eliminates flaws. It’s the photoshopped model on the magazine cover. It’s plastic. It’s memorex. And, let’s be honest, consumers see right through it. It’s deceptive and in todays age of user-centric communications, plastic is the downfall of traditional communications. It’s all about transparency.

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Contrived Transparency

There is way too much talk about transparency going around. Seriously. I’m guilty. Apparently, 40,292 other people are also guilty.

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Transparency is one of those buzzwords people like to throw around to demonstrate that they’re savvy in the business of social media. If we have a blog, says one marketing strategist at XYZ company, we’ll be seen as transparent.

Transparency. See through. Invisible. In social media, it means that we’re open and honest. We don’t try to pull the wool over customers, or users, or readers eyes. We trust openly and want to be trusted openly.

However, this is more often than not, contrived.

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Contrived transparency indicated that this notion of being honest and open is not a culturally accepted thing in a company. It’s a strategic decision made to drive sales. It’s a devious, and by it’s very nature, non-transparent way of saying, “You’re stupid enough to believe that I’m a great person to do business with because I’m doing all the right things and sending all the right signals”.

Yep. Contrived transparency.

Guy: Maybe when we’re done here, we can go back to my place.
Girl: Sure, but you do know that I’m not going to sleep with you on the first date, right?
Guy: Oh, I wasn’t thinking that at all!

Yeah, right.

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Lessons in Brand Management from Barack Obama

Note: This is not a political post, nor is it a political endorsement.

Wednesday morning. Just about twenty-four hours have passed since Barack Obama addressed the nation on the issue of race and his relationship to firebrand pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. If you’re American, you’ve probably heard the speech by now, or at least heard excerpts. Even if you’re not American, given the high profile nature of this political campaign, you’re probably more than aware of the circumstances surrounding the Wright-Obama relationship.

In summary, Wright is the spiritual mentor and long time pastor for Obama, and has been the catalyst for tremendous questions surrounding Obama’s ability to be a uniter, and the life principles that drive his decisions. As the spiritual advisor to Obama, multitudes of sermons denouncing the United States and white people has created significant controversy and question about Obama’s ability to be qualified for Presidential office.

Watching the reactions of pundits, bloggers and listening to radio call ins, it’s apparent that the field is split as to whether Obama knocked the speech out of the park and put aside the concerns of critics, or if he didn’t do enough and that “true bigoted colors” shown through.

Regardless about how you feel about his success, I personally feel like he painted a beautiful picture of how to manage brand. Listening to critics, it’s apparent to me that those who didn’t think he did enough feel that way because they want politicians to play a political game. Obama has to say just the right thing. He has to do just the right thing. And if he doesn’t, he’s not fit to be President.

I’m of the mindset that politics is not what we need in politics. As I’ve said many times before, brand is about authenticity and trust. Relationship is built on authenticity and trust. I’d have more distrust of Obama if he came out and threw his spiritual advisor under the bus, because his spiritual advisor is part of who he is! Whether he threw Wright under the bus in public or not, Wright would still be a significant part of who Obama is! And that cannot be denied or covered by politics. Faking it will always cause distrust.

A difficult part of blogging, particularly professional and corporate blogging, is the balance between what makes sense in terms of transparency and what could ultimately be detrimental to your company or personal brand. The beautiful thing about Twitter is that the flow of real time conversation allows people to put themselves on display. We see folks for who they are, if you’re like me (and I’m guessing most of you are), we like people and trust them more for it. That’s brand. It’s trust. It’s relationship.

At the end of the day, I don’t know how much the Obama speech helped or hurt him in the polls. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know if that makes him electable or not. Time will tell. The transparency of a man who is under fire regarding a very sensitive socio-relational issue in America, makes him more electable, in my opinion, than any politically charged and correct speech he might have otherwise made yesterday.

Again, this is not a political endorsement, but it plays well to the things we deal with daily.

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