Still bleary-eyed from reading many dozens of commencement speeches and sore-armed from sifting them with a flat-shovel for the special commencement-speech August issue of Vital Speeches of the Day, allow me to indulge in a little merriment.
In a speech to graduates of the University of Arizona in Tucson, Nobel Prize scientist Brian Schmidt said:
The other way that people get derailed is through bad things that happen to them. Let's be clear. Bad things happen to everyone.
Over your career you will be maligned by colleagues, treated unfairly by your supervisors and passed over for promotion by your employer. You will be ignored, unjustly blamed and you will have bad luck.
It is in your interest to move on and forward with your life when this happens. Of course, anything illegal should be reported to the relevant body—but let the relevant body deal with it. Pursuing justice yourself will only distract you from what you really want to be doing ...
Couldn't you just thank God for inspiration like that?
It's been a few years since I last attended an IABC World Conference. Ragan used to send me to cover the show, but I don't work for them anymore, and now they don't send anybody—even the few blocks from their heaquarters in Chicago, where the conference wraps up today.
That's a mistake, I think, because just as every sport needs a culminating annual event, so does a profession. And if the corporate communication biz has a World Series, that would be the IABC World Conference.
I've covered the World Conference many times, but not since ... geez, 2007, was it? I wondered if maybe I'd lost touch with the soul of the event, and of the 15,000-member association that puts it on. In the hallways and sessions, I realized I hadn't missed a thing. But later, in an interview with IABC's new top brass, I got the sense that maybe I shouldn't wait another five years to return.
You look great!
Business is great!
My clients are amazing!
That sort of b.s. is as expected at annual conferences as at high school reunions. But the lying should stop when the sessions start.
Alas: The opening keynote Sunday was an utterly content-free motivational speaker named Kevin Caroll, who shared the spit-shined story of his hard upbringing and his subsequent unlikely rise to become ... a motivational speaker traveling the country with a trunk full of red rubber balls. If he could only reach one person in IABC's audience of 1,300-plus with his message of—what was that darned message again?—then it would all be worth it, he said. So, still alive is the IABC tradition of using members' money to pay for speakers to condescend to members by telling them not too convincingly that they have the power to change the world through the use of red rubber balls and stuff. And of course Caroll got a big ovation here, just as he probably will next week, at the National Convention of Industrial Battery Salesmen.
Other signs that plus ça change, plus IABC la meme chose: Sprinkled liberally among useful breakout sessions, dull or sheister-ish conference presenters giving purposely foggy presentations to passive and credulous audiences. In one full day at the conference, I attended two sessions, both from "IABC All-Star Presenters" that were so clearly without value that I fruitlessly searched the eyes of fellow attendees for signs of life.
In another session, a friend of mine caused a stir when he questioned a the consultant/speaker's unsupported claim that mobile apps would be "pivotal" in creating employee engagement in organizations. My friend reported that he was fairly shouted down—not by the consultant, but by the crowd, who resented any tarnishing of The Next Shiny Thing.
I spoke at this conference, too—did my Speechwriting Jam Session—and there were tense moments as I waited for a "Conference Orientation" session to end, so I could get my projector set up. I paced around the speaker ready-room speculating loudly about what sort of adult fetus could require training in order to attend a fucking business conference. Finally I forced my way into the conference room, but then had to wait until the "instructor" finished singing an apparently original song, sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells."
Yes, "Mingle Well."
What the hell?
But before I fully gave over to the idea that IABC, like Trix cereal, is for kids, I had a sitdown interview with incoming volunteer chairman Kerby Meyers, and brand-new paid executive director Chris Sorek. These guys gave me hope that IABC's culture could change to become a bit more rigorous, more open to critical thinking and more nourising to people who already know how to mingle.
Sorek has deep and long experience as both a communicator and a business guy, and he brings the smarm-free bearing of a fellow who hasn't worked in an association all his life.
Meyers, compared to many of his over-polite predecessors, is a goateed assassin. He and the board have directed Sorek to review all IABC events, programs, products and services to see if they still make sense financially. Even IABC institutions, like Communication World? "I think it's fair to review the value of a print vehicle in 2012 and beyond," Meyers said, though he hastened to add that a change to CW might amount to no more than making it into a printable PDF.
Meyers and Sorek hinted at changes to Gold Quill judging, which they acknowledge hasn't been up to snuff in recent years. They're considering improvements to the ABC accreditation program, perhaps beginning to require accredited members to do continuing education in order to maintain their IABC status (like, by attending local chapter meetings, which often ache for senior members). And they're even thinking about creating a separate accreditation designation for senior communicators.
There's actually a 25-page strategic plan organized under three pillars—Content, Career and Business—but Meyers knows nobody's listening to that jazz—not even veterans like Wilma Mathews and Mary Ann McCauley, who he said listened to his plans and said, "We've heard all this before."
"We gotta get shit done," Meyers told me—not once but three times, prompting Sorek and Meyers to joke about creating buttons for the next conference that read, GSD.
Meyers and Sorek: Will they add some GSD to IABC? I guess we'll see.
I've known Bill since I was 24 and he was 48. How I'm 43 and he's 66.
We've played many hundreds of rounds of golf together and driven thousands of miles to those golf courses, because we like to play in the country—and talk a lot in the car.
On a heartbreakingly perfect summer day Friday, we went around twice at our very favorite course in the world, the nine-hole Pine Hills, in Ottawa, Ill.
And on the way back—for all two hours—Bill read aloud the Robert Caro biography of Lyndon Johnson—mostly the scene on Air Force One in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963—and we each fought back tears at many points and roared laughing at others.
Now, it's a really good fucking book, but ...
They say you find out who your friends are in tragedy.
You can idenitfy them in joy, too—the peculiar joy you feel when you know you are the only two nuts in the country that consider this the perfect way to spend a perfect day.
You were weirdos to begin with, you acknowledge. But through twenty years of communication, you've made each other even weirder—and in exactly the same direction.
And that's where a measure of pride begins to creep in.
In my latest post at McMurry.com, I argue that would-be providers of compelling corporate content have a staggering task. Unlike traditional corporate communicators, who have only to keep pace with their audiences' perceptions of the industry and company, content marketers "have to get ahead of it," and convince weary and wary readers this really isn't more corporate content with an edgy look.
Before my most recent motorcycle ramble, a 700-mile round trip to Des Moines, Ia. over Father's Day weekend, my friend Paul gave me a look that haunted me in the days before I left.
The look said, "You are a deranged fool or a selfish fucking asshole for riding a motorcycle when you have an eight-year-old kid. It is one of the things I have to overlook in order to like you. And I do overlook it. But you're still a selfish fucking deranged foolish asshole for doing this."
(Between good friends, a look can say a lot.)
And he's right, of course. Once my wife asked me whether, if I die on my motorcycle, she can tell people I died doing what I loved. I told her she could tell them whatever she wanted, but she should know that as I'm hurtling through the trees, if it comes to that and if I have time to think, I will be full of regret, will be counting up, until I hit the tree, all the other pleasures in life that this one pleasure will now snuff out.
And yet I do it anyway, and so do many other people with heavy responsibilities to other human beings, and a lot to lose.
I spent much of the Des Moines trip creating this answer to Paul's silent question, Why?
Here, with no expectation of convincing anyone of anything (least of all Paul), is "Why."
My sister reminded me of when my dad went to the doctor and told him he wasn't sleeping.
The doctor asked him if he was depressed maybe, or anxious.
Dad searched his mind and said. "No, Doc. I think I'm just excited about life!"
That's how it is for me these days.
I was trying to outrun a storm on my motorcycle or I would have stopped and taken a picture: of a tumble-down roadhouse on an Illinois country road. Pool and darts. The sign out front that should have advertised two-for-one happy hour Miller Lite pitchers said, "Like us on Facebook."
Laughing into the wind, I thought of a friend who called the other day. She runs a little marketing business and she's tired of writing proposals for clients who say they want a social media plan but who don't have the time or energy or personality to transform some unsuspecting group of busy human beings into avid "followers" of their organization, on social media.
"Then it becomes a failed campaign," she said, wearily. For her, I thought I'd write this post as something to show potential clients in lieu of a proposal. It's a rundown of the sorts of companies that should not bother with social media—and should not bother my marketing friend for a social media proposal.
1. Ziggy. The day I moved into my condo seven years ago, the Eastern European guy who installed my furnace took a Sharpie pen and scrawled his name, "Ziggy" on my furnace—it's short for Zigauskas or something—along with his phone number. When my furnace fucks up, about once a year, I take my cordless phone and pad over to the furnace and dial Ziggy's number. Between these incidents, I do not want to get industry news from Ziggy, exchange views with Ziggy, consume creative content from Ziggy or think for one goddamn minute about Ziggy. The feeling, I imagine, is mutual.
2. Your name is Garoon. In an out-of-the-way factory on the north side of Chicago, you run a company that braids little wires together to make big cables. You aren't passionate about cables, and you certainly don't bother to dream up branding slogans about how cables connect the whole world together. And you sure as shit don't want to exchange information with the broader cable-knitting community, otherwise known as your competitors. You're a regular guy trying to make a dollar, and all the people who work for you are in it for the same unlovely but honest purpose. That's it, and that's all. But if you haven't updated the lobby since 1962, I don't reckon you'll update your Twitter feed much either.
3. My old college roommate Gillespie, who once turned to me and, at rock bottom on a Wednesday afternoon couch rot, said, "Wash my hair." Now, he's a businessman who has learned how to delegate everything except social media. And so he has no social media presence. Generally, if you have made it this long without a social media strategy—seriously, you're like four years late for being two years late for being a year behind—you probably don't fuckin' need one. And hiring a marketing person to give you a strategy is kind of like asking a popular kid to tell you how to make a bunch of friends and build a busy social calendar. They can sort of tell you how—in a tentative way that says, "You really don't know how to do this?" But they can't even begin to do it for you. You can't outsource—or plan, for that matter—the essential elements of your social media presence any more than you can outsource your socializing.
I respect you Gillespies, you Garoons, you Ziggies. I'm grateful to you—for the useful work you do, and the unpretentious way you go about it. But quit bugging my marketing friend for social media proposals.
She can help you with media. But she can't make you social.
I'll be singing this song over the engine and the wind.
Back from the back roads by the rivers of my memory, on Tuesday.