Time magazine recently crowed:  “We have entered a new golden age of advice.”

We beg to differ. 

Opinion-givers like Deloitte and McKinsey have prospered for years (depending on the economy), providing corporate America recommendations and hands-on work for everything from downsizing to strategy, benefits to supply chain re-jiggering. 

Individually, and for quite some time, many of us have sought career direction and personal coping ideas from not only the famed columnists but also from live chats, videos, podcasts, and one-on-one/group conversations.

One truth remains:  No matter what the reason for the help search, it’s sure difficult to figure out who’s right, who’s a bit off-kilter, and who might be in it just for glory and dollars. 

That’s where the advice (and consent) factors in.  Business wise, consultants are referred; references checked; and work scrutinized.  Beyond those preliminaries, the guidance sometimes gets a bit, well, squirrelly.  Many a company has launched a project with a brand-new Sherpa/group, finding (perhaps years later, perhaps in a few months) the relationship has gone south.

It’s happened to all of us.  Yet true advisors are not a dime a dozen; they’ve got to put your interests above theirs.  Here are a few good telling signs:

  • After one recommendation is nixed, your consultant provides two to three other options – with factual pros and cons.
  • When asked “what do you think,” your guide tells the truth (okay, it needs to be delivered with politesse).
  • Secret means secret.  And cone of silence.

We’ll open this to our readers.   What have you encountered in the advice column?



Jack Welch was wrong.

But at least he admitted it.

The notion of shareholder value, espoused by this former CEO/chairman, was first ponied up in the early 20th century by two accountants, expressing that corporate books should be prepared from the perspective of corporate proprietors.  Milton Friedman furthered that idea in 1970, with his epic New York Times magazine headline:  “The social responsibility of a business is to increase its profits.”

The rest is, simply, old news.  Now many businesses are struggling to balance short- with long-termism, to weigh market demands with younger employees who no longer work solely for money but also for meaning and social value.  That change will take some time.

But why not begin to introduce, in concert with Cornell Law professor Lynn Stout, the concept that shareholders are contractors?  As are debtholders, suppliers, and employees.  In her viewpoint, the only special considerations to shareholders are during times of takeovers and bankruptcies.  In other events?  Take a card, please, and call us in the a.m.

Seriously, the employee value strategy is one we’d embrace, 150 percent.  Answer these questions:  With little or zero motivated employees, how likely are positive returns?  Given limited business understanding (and a tenuous link to the bottom line), could associates truly contribute to the best interests of any corporation?  As possible individual investors, do company workers also belong to the “shareholder value” class?

In these days, there are a number of companies who still slavishly follow the “owner is king” philosophy.  But not for long.



Shame on us communicators and advertisers and content developers (ad nauseum).

Our learning and development colleagues know this principle of knowledge acquisition by heart:  10 percent relies on actual training, 20 percent, from others.  And the 70 percent?  From on-the-job experiences.

Recently, the experiential part of learning has been ramped up. 

Thanks in no small part to start-ups and tech businesses, blackboard-painted walls and tables on wheels act as inspiration and experience vehicles. 

Software developers, eager to understand why clients do what they do and what they want, hold what’s been called ‘participatory market research.’ 

And august institutions such as Harvard regularly conduct hands-on courses, from a prison studies project learning about criminal justice (in tandem) with prison inmates to re-engineering medical devises with doctors close at hand.

Why don’t we practice first-hand learning?  In other words, when there’s an issue that demands not just awareness but also the action to do something, communicators and colleagues need to seriously consider increasing the do-it-yourselves and how-tos. 

Take performance management, for instance.  A number of today’s more progressive organizations are killing the old ranking system and mid and year-end talks, replacing both with ongoing dialogues between boss and individual, team and individual.  At the same time, our high-tech reliance means many employees aren’t accustomed to conversations, with many preferring text, Instagram, Twitter, and email over traditional face to face.

The solution?  Show them how to talk, to handle difficult encounters, and to really listen and hear and learn.  It’s as much our goal as it is our L&D colleagues.



It’s always puzzled us why there’s so little fertilization among our communications disciplines.

Take the creative brief, for instance. 

A staple of advertising agencies, somehow the brief seems to have skipped corporate, public relations agency, and consulting worlds.  Outside vendors that take on, for instance, an annual report or the re-do of a Web site may, indeed, pull together some sort of framework that guides the project.  It’s considered a necessary (okay, even mandatory) road map, the architecture that not only keeps the messages aligned but the people as well.

When it comes to those internal professionals managing a major deliverable, we haven’t seen that kind of detail.   For sure, key messaging will almost definitely be established.  But the straightforward language and the thinking behind a brief isn’t always developed.  Such as:  Brutal honesty about what stakeholders believe and feel.  Visual and verbal statements that truly define the brand without ambiguity.  And identifying what’s important, what’s not and the metrics involved. 

Sure, there are templates to follow.  Lots of questions to be answered, from the whats (the project), and whys (reasons for being) to the whens, wheres, and hows. 

On the other hand, it’s not a deck or a massive tome.  In our heads, a creative brief needs to be true to its definition:  something that inspires (creative) and something that’s short (brief). 

What’s been your experience, dear readers?




It had to happen.

Brands are getting into the emoji business, big time.

These graphics, originally created to add context to text, now live by themselves.  Ford promoted its latest Focus with ‘em.  Unilever’s Dove just rolled out a series of curly-haired faces, customizable by skin tone and hair color.  Domino’s uses its visual as a way to text an order. 

Entrepreneurs are making the most of this emo-design, from a 2013 “translated” edition of Moby Dick housed in the Library of Congress (yeah, called Emoji Dick) to software that suggests emoji as you type.

What’s more, e-statistics are seductive.  As is the psychology behind these hieroglyphics.  Like these:

  • The richer the array of emotions, the happier and healthier the users.
  • People who use emoticons are more popular and influential than those who don’t.
  • Children today recognize corporate logos before they can read.

Now, speaking through pictures is, in short, an almost necessary adjunct to our social media conversations.  Plain language doesn’t cut it anymore.

Perhaps we need to blame Paul Rand who created a rebus of the IBM logo (think:  eye-bee-M).  Or networks like Facebook and Instagram that thrive on communicating in cartoons.  Even Apple which, late last month, announced its first emoji with a cause – against cyber-bullying. 

We have zip against winkies and smileys.  Certainly, as visual communicators, we can’t complain about the explosion of new pictures.  What we miss, really and truly, are the conversations between people, among groups, that rely on faces and sounds and tones and gestures to communicate.

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