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International conference defines issues; offers global networking.

After three days of in-depth sessions and topical keynote speeches, three areas emerged as the issues that we'll be studying in coming months -- and all three require management skills.

* Quality management

* Diversity management

* Reputation management

Speaker after speaker told communicators that to survive this recession, they'll need to build their expertise in creative, innovative, yet highly strategic, ways to meet change. By setting sights high, they can play a key role.

San Francisco greeted more than 1,200 communicators from 25 countries at the annual international conference May 24-27.

Whether we're ready or not, we are living in a global society. And in a global society, competition is tougher than we've faced ever before. To compete, emphasis on quality will take precedence over "just getting by." A presumed captive market and job security now can no longer be assumed.

Never before has understanding cultural diversity been so vital. It's no longer a case of race, gender, age; but a far wider cross section of populations with differences of ethics, histories, biases, and "the way we do things in our culture." Understanding may not always be possible, but learning to accept differences, and moving forward through them, can be the key to surviving in the global world that is here, now.

A good name is the most important thing an organization can have. Those who spoke on this issue agreed that the communicator is in the best position to assure that a reputation is not only earned, but also promoted and maintained to gain both internal and external publics' confidence and loyalty.

Now, more than ever before, communicators must find their way into the strategic management process. Communication can bridge the cultural gaps; see that quality is a way of doing business, not a cliche, and assure publics that their organizations will do the right things right.

Sessions on hands-on skills also were well-attended. Video, writing, preparing annual reports and publishing -- both electronic and print. The basics still count.

Environmental issues continue to be vital concerns. However, the focus is more on how to interweave environmental awareness to make it a part of the overall strategic processes required to meet other pressing needs.

|It's tough to be creative, but you chose this.'

-- Richard Cobb, Ph.D., retired associate dean for student and community relations, Sacramento (Calif.) State University.

At the opening general session, Cobb spoke on the ethics of change. In today's climate, he told communicators, we tend to feel less powerful, or assured about what to do next. Communicators look for common good and common evil, and hunger for a belief in a system to lead us out.

"And we feel we should lighten up; that we should not necessarily always be |politically correct.' By editing ourselves, it inhibits us.

"It's OK to be creative. Maybe you can do things in a different way, and ethics can help build consistency and empower others."

Other points Cobb spoke to:

* Current events have led to a climate of uncertainty. These are heavy times.

* There is a need to lighten up, to forgive. Case in point: Rodney King asking: "Can't we work it out?"

* People long for a castle, with a foundation in the bedrock ... and spires in heaven ... But a castle is a prison to some.

* Organizations are not closed systems. Systems were developed as a way of helping organizations, but they can result in factionalism.

* We want equity, predictability, significance.

* There is a worldwide trend toward democratization.

* We pay a price for a fear of failure.

* We should move toward reason and argumentation, instead of sophistry.

* Reaffirm values and meanings, return to your origins, to what fired you up.

* Look at what makes you chicken out.

* Don't be afraid to risk, to go through hell.

Fosler discussed the U.S. and world economic picture in terms of some of the changes in business strategies and complex economic realities companies face now.

She noted three trends: First, the slow growth of the U.S. economy in recent years. At one percent annually, she said, U.S. growth is "barely better than stagnation." Currently, there is no sector leadership in the economy.

Second, she pointed out the shifting growth axis of the world-at-large. Europe, U.S. and Japan once were the economic centers of growth, but now the dramatic growth is occurring in Asia, India and South America.

The third trend Fosler sees affecting business worldwide is a change in operating rules. Everyone is looking at a "restructured map of global opportunity." Independent countries are developing their own free trade areas. She cited the instance Of Mexico, which is signing free trade agreements with neighboring South America at the rate of one every six months.

One of the things common to the early phases of recovery after a recession, said Fosler, is "tremendous import competition." To accelerate growth, she asserted, "we need a heavy foot on the accelerator, generally in the form of tax cuts."

Fosler described the successful companies of today as the multinational corporations (defined as having foreign sales, foreign plants, operations overseas), and especially those with a presence in the Pacific Basin and western hemisphere. She said the multinationals gain from the changing rules of trade in that markets formerly closed to national corporations have been opened by international expansion.

Some of the issues that are affecting communicators in this changing business climate are ethics and risk. Foster said, "There will be increased public and political scrutiny based on equity of management -- all aspects of business: price, manpower training, racial policy. This scrutiny will increase in the business world as well." She added that "companies will be increasingly accountable to standards of the home country of operation."

In terms of risk, she says she counsels people that opportunities today are in "what we call |messy markets.'" But rather than avoid that risk, she has urged people to do business in those countries. "No country doesn't have risk," she said, noting that it is very difficult to select a market with opportunity but without risk. She balanced this viewpoint by noting that sometimes the political or social risk is too high in that it is unethical to do business in certain countries at certain times.

She concluded that the complexity of the world economy means that communicators deal with changes rapidly, and aggressively to "get ahead of the curve."

Strategic Interest Group roundtables launched

In a variety of formats, communicators met for the first time in Strategic Interest Groups.

Conference attenders networked and exchanged information in 11 roundtable sessions of one-and-one-half hours each. In addition, the Consultants/Communication Services Strategic Interest Group held an all-day session aimed at people entering the consulting field or relatively new to it. And, the Educators Strategic Interest Group held a special three-hour session with a nine-member panel including representatives from business, communication consultancies and academia.

Typical of the one-and-one-half hour roundtable sessions was the one on Marketing Communication which set out to identify the issues facing the practice, the barriers to resolving the issues, and the solutions and recommendations for improvement.

The group of some 50 participants identified the five key Marketing Communication issues as being:

* Hiring and using outside service firms

* Tying communication efforts to marketing goals

* Distinguishing your products from the competition's

* Developing niche-oriented marketing strategies

* Measuring and evaluating results.

The group broke into five roundtables with each table discussing one of the key issues. After discussing the barriers to success and possible solutions and recommendations, a spokesperson from each table reported the findings to the audience. This allowed the entire group to benefit from the discussions on each of the five key issues.

The Strategic Interest Group roundtable sessions and their moderators were: Communication Executives, Angela Sinickas, ABC; Community Relations, Lynda Stewart, ABC; Communication Research, Ruta Skelton, ABC; Employee Communication, Pixie Malherbe; Financial Services Industry, Diane Siegel; Healthcare Industry, Mary Ellen Seitz; Marketing Communication, Jacque von Drehle; Media Relations, Dave Jensen, ABC; Nonprofits/Associations, David Janoff; Publishing/Publications, Doug Wolfe; Utilities Industry, Moses Kanhai, ABC.

|Sometimes the client is buying your energy after theirs has been depleted by playing office games...'

Nearly 150 consultants and prospective consultants attended the full-day session, which offered four panels. No-host lunch groups allowed attenders to share information and experiences on six topics ranging from how to set fees to how to arrange a partnership.

John Aspery, ABC, who heads his own consultancy in the U.K., and Bobbie Fischer, a self-employed consultant from Walnut Creek, Calif., told attenders how to change hats from working in a large company to going on your own.

"Focus your energy -- be clear on who you are and what you do," said Fischer. "Sometimes the client is buying your energy after theirs has been depleted by playing office games, or hearing the CEO announce another round of layoffs. You offer a fresh perspective."

"If you are going into business with a partner," said Aspery, "establish ground rules from the start, not after you've been in business and things are going awry. Is your prospective partner a good practitioner? Look for complementary skills--if you're a strategic planner, he or she should be a street-fighter."

|Don't go above the client's head to get your foot in the door ... '

The consultants also learned what clients really want and appreciate from outside vendors. A panel of two typical clients provided some client-side perspective. "Avoid low-ball budget estimates," said Sydney Kapchan, VP of public relations for VISA U.S.A., San Francisco. "Id rather know what a project is going to cost up front, rather than have to increase the budget once it's underway."

"Don't go above the client's head to get your foot in the door," said John Onoda, director of communication at Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco. "I'll meet with you and be polite, but it definitely puts you at a disadvantage." Onoda said going to the CEO, for example, would probably get you an interview, but probably not the business.

The final panel addressed marketing the consultancy. "One of the most effective ways of marketing your services is simply to say to the client: |Can I help you reduce that stack of papers on your desk?'" advised Andrea Hecht, who runs her own company in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

"One of the reasons people in our field fail at marketing is because they don't follow up," said Lee Hornick, president of The Corporate Edge, New York City. "Don't even mail a direct mail piece if you don't intend to follow up by phone or in person."

The five top reasons for choosing a communication consultant were offered by Karen Lee, ABC, president of KJ Lee Associates, Burnaby, B.C. The reasons, based on a recent survey of her clients, were:

1. Ability to identify a problem

2. Ability to suggest creative solutions

3. Cost

4. Consultant's knowledge of client's industry

5. Customer service.

|We all know 1992 is coming -- the question is when?'

-- Larry E. Snoddon, president and CEO of Burson-Marsteller.

Snoddon told attenders that many organizations have already started taking the lead in Europe. And not by chance, but because of fundamental change. Business is driven by ideas which represent a new form of capital. Snoddon calls this the age of cerebral service, and communicators are the key enablers.

* Communicators can empower through understanding marketing.

* Customers in Europe are more complex; European manufacturers made essential products with choices limited. The theory of the global market was based on the idea that development could be standardized with similar products for all at a low price. However, the change to emphasis on quality, and differences in style and tastes vary from one country to another. These are hetero-consumers that want to select from a variety of offerings.

The challenge is how to meet this new market:

* Redefine how to understand it; develop cross cultural values; find similarities and analyze differences to link across borders.

* Build long-term, service-oriented relationships. A service-oriented approach is the best way to solidify market. "McDonald's is an experience, not just a place to eat. For long-term success, build brand loyalty."

* The revolution in retail distribution systems means better management of shelf space, meeting supply and demand quickly and targeted to specific market needs. Europeans historically are purveyors of fresh foods with many small stores offering specialty products. Large marketers such as Procter and Gamble have turned this to their advantage by offering high quality products in a specialty-store-within-a-store environment. Products are developed with emphasis on quality and developed for a specific area. As another example, Chanel, Armani and other specialty products are offered at mini-shops under the roof of the huge Galerie Lafayette in Paris.

* After the large number of corporate restructurings, many companies found divisions pulting in different directions. Through horizontal, not vertical, communication many of these companies are putting together teams to create new strategies with action plans to build a strong corporate identity program for both internal and external publics. This requires expertise that communicators are strong in -- training, bonding and offering a consistent message.

* Businesses must not resist and react, but create and participate. They need to build strong relationships with allies and activists. The key is in relationship building toward a common goal.

* New alliances will have a multidimensional aspect. European management of public affairs is a merging of methodology toward networking: "Order and harmony as in music, but individual instruments are playing the score. These same principles apply."

The task is to create a multi-country team of nations and allow each company to participate in the communication and political processes. It is a new age in the history of business. The prospects and strategies will be different. Ideas will be the key factor. Relationships, understanding, partnerships, and people who support the company will orchestrate. Communication will be at all levels for business to survive in this new European market. Strategy must be unified, and tactical execution created for different applications.

|Language is a reflection of cultural values; as a taxi driver in Rome said as he drove through a red light, "Machines are there to suggest."'

Rodriguez described three generations of defining cultural diversity.

* In the '60s it was called equal opportunity. "I treat everyone the same. When I meet someone (I like) I know they're equal." Most of the times people are lying if they say this. We make distinctions. Everyone makes up their mind on what you (or they) are. Even the definition of race is culturally bound. Equal opportunity is a liability because it is an attempt to treat people identically. We know we all have some degree Of bias; and we are not all the same.

* The second generation was Affirmative Action protection of classes. This concept has problems; it creates unprotected classes. It's hard to have a degree of passion within that concept. At best it is a base-line analysis and purely numerical. It runs the risk of making people uni-dimensional when every human is more complex in cultural values.

* The third is Diversity. This has become a very trendy term, but by definition, it is passive. Very few people can define the concept. It is a better word than the old ones, but we have yet to develop an all-inclusive agenda. Diversity is very us-them. Very few can make a good business argument for diversity. "It's a good thing to do, but what does it have to do with business?"

Rodriguez added that as groups we create stereotypes; we tend to focus on self (internally). Very few really know values of other cultures, their origins or how to accept them. Origins are less important, it is more important to know what we have and interpret this to groups of people.

* Generally, expression of values creates tension. We are learning that absence of difference creates a negative business situation. We must coach and mentor. We also must know our customers. How can we satisfy them if we don't know their values? We have a common humanity, the same needs, but we get in trouble when we express the same needs differently.

|Are there good generalizations about groups?'

-- Thomas Kochman, retired professor of communication at University of Illinois, Chicago, and Celia Young, president, Celia Young Assoc., Inc., Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Kochman led the presentation by discussing African-American and Anglo communication patterns. In the second half, Young described Asian styles and cultural values.

Kochman's opening explanation of the terms "stereotype" and "archetype" were helpful in thinking about these patterns. A stereotype, he said, is a restrictive judgment about a group, often used to shame people publicly. A non-accusatory archetype, on the other hand, allows for differences within the groups, and provides a framework for open discussion.

One basic difference between communication styles among the groups Kochman and Young described is the length of the pause in conversation before the next speaking turn. Anglos speak one at a time and take about half a second between turns; Native Americans and Asians take longer pauses. For blacks, the rule is "come in when you can," Kochman said, adding, "The rules of a jazz ensemble can help you understand the rules for getting in and out of a black conversation." Hispanic-Americans, when in the presence of a supervisor, might look to that person for approval before speaking in a group.

When a touchy subject arises in discussion, Kochman said, Anglos are more likely to drop a hot topic in a discussion to preserve peace and avoid polarization, whereas African-Americans might explore the topic in conversation to "find out where a person is really coming from."

And avoidance of a discussion topic might mean completely different things to different groups. To an Anglo, changing a topic might signify a willingness to put differences aside; to an black person, the same action might signify insincerity or a lack of commitment to the relationship. To an Asian, avoiding a topic might be a means of preserving peace, or might signify that the individual had not come to a completely thought-out conclusion about that topic.

Putting |Excellence' to practical use

Communication professionals must learn to manage their function, or top management will find someone who will, David Dozier, Ph.D., warned conference attenders.

Dozier, a professor of journalism at San Diego State University, led a breakout session reporting on practical applications of the IABC Research Foundation's "Excellence" research project. Dozier is a member of the international research team studying communication practice in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

The research has discovered that CEOs regard communication as a significant contributor to their organizations' strategic planning. Moreover, CEOs value the communication department more than other departments, on average, and the dominant coalition -- top-management decision makers -- support the communication function.

Why, then, do communicators so often lament that they are not respected, or lack credibility in their organizations?

According to Dozier, only excellent communication makes an organization more effective, and CEOs value that contribution. Mediocre communication does not help an organization achieve its objectives. The research has found that most practitioners are unable to provide excellent communication. And attenders noted the increase in M.B.A.s assigned responsibility for the function, rather than practitioners.

The most important factors in creating excellent communication are the ability to use two-way communication models, and the top communicators filling the manager's role. (The two-way communication models are outlined in the study's first volume, "Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management," which debuted at the conference, and is available for purchase from the Foundation.)

Excellent communication, therefore, must begin with the practitioner's own knowledge and expertise, Dozier said. It needs the support of the CEO and dominant coalition to thrive, and benefits from a positive, participative organizational culture. "But the process starts with the individual"' Dozier said.

Only when communicators take responsibility for assuming the management role and organizational function appropriate for excellent communication will the professionals achieve the credibility and respect they want, Dozier advised.


--Per Arne Totland, senior vice president, Dyno Industries, Oslo, Norway

During "Environmental face-off: Prepare yourself now" Totland said that the world is experiencing its second environmental revolution. The first, he said, took place in the 1970s. It focused on growth, limits. The revolution of the '90s, be said, revolves around the concept of sustainable development, popularized several years ago by the U.N. "Bruntland Commission." The difference between the two revolutions, he said, is that the first focused on local pollution, the second focuses on global survival.

A few years ago, said Totland, the corporate focus was on not being caught, and communicators were used as make-up artists. Now, he said, people are taking environmentalism seriously: First, because people in the board room are concerned about the issue, and second, because people in the marketplace are concerned.

"Communication can't solve environmental problems," said Totland. "You have to clean up your act first. You can explain why things are the way they are, you can explain what you are going to do about them, and you can draw attention to the positive side of what your company is doing for the environment."

Here are elements which Totland says are key to successful environmental communication:

-- Give a true picture,

-- Communicate objectives/standards.

-- Focus on improvement.

-- Demonstrate action.

-- Be proactive.

-- Document activities.


-- Lawrence F. Mihlon, President, California Council on Europe, La Crescenta, Calif. We're rapidly approaching a time when there won't be any flags flying over anybody's company, because all flags will be flying over it, Mihlon said during "Corporate communication in the new Europe."

Gennady A. Shiskin, San Francisco correspondent for TASS news agency, pointed out that even though Western Europe is becoming more integrated because of the European Community, Eastern Europe is becoming more splintered.

"After the collapse of communism, do we see the integration of Europe, and peace dividends?" asked Shiskin. "No, we see the collapse of the Soviet Union, and states pulling away from each other," he answered. The Commonwealth of Independent States is unstable, he said, because the founders With each other about the role it should play. Russia wants to be the first among equals, he added, and its need to be the center of the commonwealth makes it heir to the role of the former U.S.S.R.

Eastern Europe, said Shiskin, cannot expect much help from the European Community because that body is interested in deepening its own power and is reluctant to become involved with Eastern Europe. He described the European Community as a concentric-circle model, with itself at the center.


-- Kathy Chupls, Levi Strauss & Co., San Francisco

Chupls told participants at "Communicating without paper" that her company is trying to persuade employees that working at Levi Strauss involves more than making pants; it also involves processing information. "If you're not in the information game, you're not in the game at all," she said.

Key to this ability to process information, she said, is a mastery of new technologies that allow information to be transmitted electronically, instantly and interactively.

Electronic mail, computerized databases and video-conferencing were among the technologies discussed by Chupls and fellow speakers Kyra D. Storojev, western regional manager, TargetVision, Inc., and Joe Lee, industry marketing manager, GE Information Services, San Francisco.


-- D. Michael Crozier, executive creative director, YAR Communications, Inc., New York City.

In "Pitfalls of translation," Crozier said that there are six cultural factors which should be considered before communicating globally; the family, social relationships. business relationships, religious beliefs/traditions, the status of women, and non-verbal communication.

Crozier said that, rather than developing new communication campaigns for each region, or using one undifferentiated communication approach in all areas, communicators should try a hybrid strategy: coming up with a core global campaign (a strategy, creative concept, art and copy), while at the same time adapting this campaign to local needs.

How do you create copy that will work all over the world? Here are Crozier's guidelines for coming up with copy that can withstand cross-cultural stretches:

-- Keep copy short (some languages take up more space than others).

-- Keep sentences and paragraphs simple.

-- Beware of words with multiple meanings.

-- Don't create new words.

-- Avoid specialized terms.

-- Don't change a word's part of speech.

-- Avoid vague/meaningless headlines.

-- Use acronynms carefully.

-- Avoid abbreviations.

-- Write honestly.

-- Take humor seriously (often it doesn't translate well).
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; Connections 1992
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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