Is remote work damaging executive communications?

Last week there were two stellar examples of what happens when senior executives fail to communicate effectively with their people.

Their communication – even allowing for possible selective editing and a lack of context – demonstrated they had lost touch with their people and misunderstood the prevailing sentiment of their organization.  Rather than providing clarity and direction, it generated anger and despair.

Mistakes happen and this was clearly not the leader’s intent.  

But, how can intelligent, hard working people fail so badly?  

Perhaps some of it comes down to context and proximity.

The daily working life of most senior executives is very different to that of their frontline workers and that’s to be expected. It’s not surprising that their perspective on the business and its priorities will differ.

What’s most important for the success of the business is that the executive can bridge that gap and put the organization’s priorities in an understandable context.

This shared context is exactly why the practice of the CEO walking the floor became so popular.  If you want to understand what’s actually happening in the company, don’t rely on middle manager bias, instead get out and find out from your people firsthand.

Understanding the challenges facing your people is incredibly valuable. But today the workplace has changed.

With much of the world working remotely, it is no longer as simple as getting out on the office floor and meeting with people, because often the people aren’t there.

I wonder if that is a contributing factor behind these tone deaf executive communications?

As communicators, our role is to ensure our executives can engage with their people effectively.  This means coaching our executives, but it also means creating opportunities – both virtually and in real-life – for your leaders to connect with your colleagues. 

That real-world perspective might just help avoid some of the executive communications disasters we’re witnessing.

Time for a LinkedIn replacement?

LinkedIn was historically a wonderfully passive social network. You kept your profile up-to-date and in return you were automatically fed changes in your professional network.

Simple and effective and a hugely useful return for very little effort.

Of course, that kind of utility and simplicity doesn’t drive a unicorn valuation or justify a $26.2 billion acquisition.

In the world of social media we all know that ‘free’ services aren’t really free. The monetization is just different. We’re the target for hungry advertisers and marketers.

So of course, LinkedIn transformed into a swamp of marketing and self-marketing and lost its way. It still retains the usefulness of timely updates from your network but the value:noise ratio is falling lower and lower.

That’s not even considering the absolutely awful, mind numbing humble-bragging or perhaps even worse the constant re-posting of fabricated social fiction with a moral ending.

Personally I’d be interested in a new venture that went back to the original LinkedIn purpose and stuck to it. No $26 billion exit but if it was done properly, hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Sounds like a lucrative non-unicorn business idea. Competition is good.

Welcome to a new blog (kind of)

A week ago I received an email from my hosting provider informing me that my blog had been suspended due to a malware infection.  I didn’t check it out immediately. Let’s be honest, I haven’t been regularly blogging for quite some time.

When I did investigate, I discovered it was a pretty bad hack.  The blog was locked down. It was a mess.  My hosting provider’s only support option was forcing me to talk to a third party security vendor who wanted extravagant payment for solving the problem. I couldn’t justify the cost.

I wasn’t concerned. It’s all in the cloud you see. I’ll just redeploy it.

To cut a long story short, my assumption that I’d just restore it from back-ups was incorrect. (Note: Make sure you regularly and formally back-up and download your blog content from the administrator dashboard). What followed was many hours re-learning the various skills required to meddle with server-side blogging software.

Thankfully I have been able to rescue most of the posts that stretch back to March 2002 (my exciting first post on my Radio Userland blog is below).  I’ve lost some formatting and images, old links are all broken, but it’s better than nothing.


On a positive note, I’ve ditched my hosting provider and my next project is trying to import the blog comments from the past sixteen years (there was a time people used to converse in the blog comment area).

It’s been interesting to review some of the old posts, to see how much things have changed in the past sixteen years. Who knows, perhaps I’ll blog a little more often.

At least the ever wonderful Way Back Machine has a cache of the old posts.

Inspect what you expect from communications (but you probably won’t)

Great communications, great PR, how do you measure it? You do measure the impact of your communications don’t you?

There is no single question that I know of that is quite as effective in getting a room of communicators to examine their shoes.

It can be a real conversation killer too.

Recently I was talking to a senior PR professional leading a large team driving global PR for a multi-billion dollar business in a related industry. Super smart, we had a great conversation, great insights. As always I learned a lot. The conversation was going very well until I popped the measurement question. I felt the room temperature drop. Eye contact was broken. An awkward silence reigned.

“Do you want the honest answer?”

I nodded.

“If the boss is happy then we know it’s going well.”

In a world of readily available big data, online metrics and artificial intelligence, where companies are investing scarce resources in communications, it shocked me. How can we not be seeking insights into our audience, into the impact of our work on the business? It’s not just about measuring results, but on garnering insights that will make your future work more effective.

We should be. But then this is a long and winding road for PR and communications.

As long as PR agencies treat measurement as a competitive advantage we have a problem.

As long as people are willing to put forward opinions on the effectiveness of communications with no data to back it up, we have a problem.

I’ve heard all the arguments. Communications is hard to measure. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the budget.


If you want communications to have a seat at the table, you better bring insights.


Thankfully it’s not all bad news. There is progress being made to bring insights to communications.

I was heartened to see some of the tweets coming out of the AMEC 2018 conference. (AMEC is an organization that deserves more profile and credit in the PR and communications world. It represents organizations and practitioners who provide media evaluation and communication research in 86 countries worldwide).

The conference showcased some of the work being done across our profession to upgrade how we think about measurement and insights. (Bonus: check out the sketchnotes from the various sessions)


Here are some posts that will give you a flavor of what was discussed:

As communicators we need to embrace big data, measurement and insights, not fear them. Better understanding the effectiveness of your work will help you make informed decisions, allow you to experiment and learn, and last but certainly not least demonstrate the value of what you do.

Want to get started? Read the posts listed above. Take some time to peruse the AMEC site. Reach out to other practitioners. Start thinking. Embrace data. It’ll improve your creativity, your work, your results and your credibility.

There’s no judgement here. I along with every single communications person have much to learn around data, insights and measurement. Technology is changing every day. As a result so is our ability to use that data to understand how our programs are performing and how we can have an impact on the business. Let’s commit to learn and use those insights.

To ignore data, insights, and measurement borders on professional negligence.

Mistaken Identity

My parents weren’t terribly creative in the naming department. In our global connected world there are a lot of Tom (Thomas, Tommy etc.) Murphys.

In hindsight, I made a classical error rushing to get the obvious Tom Murphy email address on many of the major email services as they launched.

You see, my fellow Tom Murphys share a characteristic, email address amnesia.  Each day my inbox is deluged with emails for someone else.

I try and do the right thing.  If it’s personal correspondence I let the sender know, but if it’s newsletters, or sign-ups for services I just unsubscribe.

I was once pulled into a bitter divorce battle where the partners in question would apparently only communicate via email. The estranged wife refused to believe that I was not in fact her (soon to be ex-) husband.

The variety is mind boggling. And for the record, we’re a diverse bunch that buys a lot of new items during December:

  • Retail store loyalty cards
  • Parent/Teacher associations
  • Sports clubs
  • Telephone (especially mobile) subscriptions
  • Social networks
  • Dating sites – including sites whose name (and I imagine but I never checked) and purpose would make your eyes water
  • Warranties for every kind of product you can think of
  • Business communications
  • Random friend and family emails

It reached it’s peak this week. I received a ‘test’ email from a Tom Murphy with a different address.  As per policy I replied and let him know that this wasn’t his email address. Then he replied.

“Oh yeah I know it’s not my email address but I think I used it to sign up for X about three months ago, can you search through your folders and find my password?”

So I have become an email research service for errant Tom Murphys and their correspondence.

Serves me right.

Brevity takes time

In a world of instant communications people often want to understand the shortcuts. 

How can you drive great results faster, with less effort?

The truth is – for the most part -  you can’t.  You get what you put into it.

Effort shows. 

Your investment of valuable time let’s people know you care.

“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter." Blaise Pascal, The Provincial Letters, 1657

How often have you received a long, confusing, rambling email about something important? It’s a missed opportunity.

If something is actually important, invest the time.

Ironically, brevity takes time.

Comms: It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it

The Wisdom of Crowds has always been a concept that concerned me.  The behavior and knowledge of “crowds” too often resembles the Stupidity of the Flock.


There are often benefits to the Crowd, but in a connected world, this groupthink often results in the mass adoption of falsehoods with no basis in fact.

There’s a lot of this behavior in discussions about communications.

Let’s take email as an example.  I was at an event where the ‘wisdom of the crowd” was that email was at best dying and at worst dead.  However, some precision questioning on this topic found that email was still the most used way to communicate.  People proclaiming the death of email didn’t actually measure whether it was working or not.  It was a hunch – at best.

Now don’t worry I’m not going to try and mount a defense of email.  Email may or may not work for your communications. That’s not the point.  The point is that today, more than anytime in the past, we have access to data that helps us to gain insight into what’s working and what’s not.  Reading it on Twitter doesn’t count as insight.

Before you take a position on the effectiveness of a tool or channel, measure it.  If you’re not measuring it, how can you tell?  Your gut?

Secondly, once you’re measuring a tool or channel, invest time and care in how you execute.  Too many communications today are lazy, sloppy and unimaginative.  Yet people blame the tool without honestly looking at the execution.  Too many templates and not enough energy in experimenting with new approaches, with design, with creating something that might be compelling or engaging. Experiment and measure.  See what happens, then start to form a thesis or a opinion.

Thirdly think about multiple tools and channels.  Think about how people prefer to consume information – or better again ask them.

Do yourself a favor. Before jumping on the latest bandwagon, develop your own opinion.  Your boss will thank you for it.

Great communications requires great measurement…

I recently attended an internal communications event. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to meet and hear from other communicators. You’ll always pick something up.

This particular event included a panel with four internal communications practitioners.  They each covered a range of topics from what was working best for their organizations, to using social channels with internal audiences.

The moderator’s last question addressed that most notorious of topics for communicators everywhere – measurement. 

Here were the responses…

Panelist 1 (PR agency): “Well with our client <name redacted> we’re buying access to employees on Facebook.”

My take: OK.  That’s a tactic and many companies are investing in Facebook to engage their employees.  But it’s not really measurement….

Panelist 2 (In-house private mid-sized company): “Our company is just too small to measure communications.”

My take: Eh.  Your company is too small to measure communications but big enough to pay the salary of a full time communications person? How do you justify your existence if you’re not measuring your work?

Panelist 3 (In-house large national company): “Well we’ve a big team that looks after measurement but I don’t really get involved in it.”

My take: Where do I even start with that?  So the company is measuring communications but the communications person never asks to see the results? Oh my….

Panelist 4 (In-house high profile (relatively new) public technology company): “Well our company is all about data.  We’re a completely data driven company.  But to be honest, I don’t use data to measure internal communications. I know what’s working and what isn’t”

My take: Sorry I can’t even address that one…

I sat there quietly.  I’m not sure if I was rocking back and forth in my chair, but I could have been.  I was trying to work out how I could respectfully address just how ridiculous, misleading and wrong these answers were.

I did, respectfully.

But here’s the thing.  The experience worries me about the communications profession.

How, in the 21st century, can a communicator not measure the impact of their work?  How do they get budget? How do they make decisions on the right tools, channels and content to use?  Do they stick their finger in the air?

Back in the early 1990s where there was little or no digital tools or channels, we measured communications.

Today, everything is digital.  Data is everywhere. It’s not expensive. It’s not complex – unless you consider using a search engine complex. How can you not measure the outputs and outcomes of your communications?

I realize that, on the whole, we communicators aren’t mad about numbers, or data and analysis, but today this is central to your job.  Central to understanding the people you’re communicating with. Central to understanding what’s working and what’s not working – where to invest valuable time and resources and where not to invest.

Not measuring communications isn’t a failing or a missed opportunity. Not measuring communications is gross negligence.

If you don’t know about measurement then research it on the web.

Start with Katie Paine or the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications.

If you want some food for thought listen to this great podcast from the FIR Podcast Network on ROI and measurement.

Measurement isn’t just about justifying your existence, it’s about learning, doing a better job, driving better results. It’s simply a non-negotiable.