Stanford Expands Innovation Journalism ...

innovation journalism

We don’t typically associate the word “innovation” with communications.

Instead, communicators gravitate to “creativity” and like derivatives.

Regardless of how we label it, today’s upside-down world calls for fresh approaches to communications.

The status quo no longer works.

Sure, you can do the same things and perhaps even generate results that appease your stakeholders.

But that doesn’t mean you’ve moved the needle in how others perceive your company, its products and the brand.

That’s why I was enthused when I heard that the Stanford Conference on Innovation Journalism (InJo) will include a communications track for the first time this year.

David Nordfors, the senior research scholar and founding executive director of the SCIC Center at Stanford who spearheads the InJo movement, asked Jan Hedquist, Stuart McFaul and me to serve as a sounding board for the communications section. As part of our online dialog, Jan shared a particularly insightful email that he was kind enough to repackage as the guest post that follows.

A little bit of background on Jan –

Linguistically gifted – he can counsel clients in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, French, Spanish and English – Jan spent 35+ years in the advertising industry. Former roles include VP of BBDO Worldwide, president of Ketchum Advertising and vice chairman of Young & Rubicam Europe.

His guest post truly looks at the broader discipline of communications and brand building.

By Jan Hedquist

The proliferation of electronic communication has totally changed the world.

I suggest that the video tape and fax machine had more to do with the downfall of communism than Reagan’s threats. Tiananmen Square would have never assumed the importance it did without videos and communication by the protesters to the outside world. And the events in the Maghreb and Middle East were largely made possible by mobile media.

Thus the communications “cat” is out of the bag where we had largely kept it comfortably under control since the Gutenberg press.

While people and motivations have remained pretty constant through history, technology has not. Often, people find uses for new technologies for which they were not originally intended. Today is the probably the ultimate example of this with one overriding result –

There is a great sense among corporations, governments and other influence-seeking groups that things are out of control, and fragmentation and the ensuing lack of message cohesion makes for a very “messy” environment. The herding of message “ferrets” has begun!

Technology changes.

People don’t.

Consequently, the brand and the branding process have assumed enormous and unprecedented challenges. With the fall of the “wall” and the opening of the PRC, the size of many corporations’ staff has expanded geometrically (as well as racially and culturally) and merely managing internal communications and how to treat what many now call “the brand inside” has become a huge challenge at the same time as these employees are bombarded by electronic communications from every azimuth.

The successful groups will be those of who can harness this confusion through innovation in how they manage communications, and how these complement each other in some kind of harmony.

Interestingly some of the most successful “brands” today have recognized the problem and have decided to exert more, almost totalitarian, communications control. Such is the case of Apple, which has espoused the ancient model of vertical integration controlling most of its sales through owned and operated retail outlets, very sparse press relations draconically controlled, (almost Kremlin like …) Same thing for IKEA, perhaps because they have identified the communications confusion and have decided to avoid that scene until they can figure out if they need to jump into the fray and, if so, how.

Regardless, most marketing and communication executives sit in a state of confusion.

As a “brand” guy I am scared, very scared. I like control, I like to measure results, I like trackable trends, I like to forecast based on empirical, stable data. Since all that has gone bye-bye I need to embrace the change and try to figure out how to leverage it in favor of my brand.

Innovation in communications – new ways of working today’s world – can be the only solution to this dilemma.

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