On one of my Southwest flights returning from a media market trip, I had a chance to pause and ponder: What business are we really in when we distribute and promote our PSAs and public relations packages on campaigns to traditional media and throughout the social networks?
Yes, these are wonderful messages designed to change behavior for the common good.
Yet, while management consulting firms give the Ad Council great guidance on how to traverse the mega- digital transition, is there a bigger picture to embrace as we enter the brave new media world of 2010 where social networks take more prominence in distributing our messages?
Then I thought about the legendary management guru, Peter Drucker, whom Time Magazine once called, “perhaps the most perceptive observer of the American scene since Alexis de Tocqueville.”
Lofty praise for a cranky professor, and author of 28 books, who hung up on me and refused to grant an interview for a magazine article back in 1997. Now deceased, the legendary Drucker nevertheless lives on at The Drucker Institute in Claremont, CA (www.druckerinstitute.com). Despite the snub, I combed through many of his books and articles to glean the essence of his management philosophy. And sure enough, it was brilliantly perceptive.
When Drucker took on a consulting assignment for a company or a nonprofit, he would approach each one with an open mind and simple innocence before he began his “brush-clearing operation” through a client’s “mists of passion and self-interest.”
“What he brings to his analysis is not so much his knowledge, but his ignorance,” wrote C. Northcote Parkinson in The Man Who Invented Corporate Society. “A man absorbed in the routine of an industry has a mind littered and obstructed with prejudice and mental habit, current sayings and tired jokes. His cluttered blackboard has no space for any new calculation.”
For example, when Drucker walked into the boardroom of a new client that manufactured glass bottles, he first asked, “What is your business?”
Befuddled, they said, “Glass bottles for soft drinks or beer.” To which Drucker replied, “No, you are really in the packaging business.”
By independently asking the essential ground-zero question that every company or nonprofit should ask itself, Drucker stripped away a very narrow definition and gave a crisper, more accurate and sophisticated perception of their business that later influenced their decision-making in all aspects of the company.
Taking Drucker’s cue, then what is the business of producing and distributing public service announcements to effect social change? Is it the communications business? Is it the business of public service? Is it the business of trying not to be annoying?
After settling into this particular Southwest flight winging my way to LAX, it hit me.
We are really in the “persuasion business,” in every facet of what we do.
Whether seen on Facebook or heard on a local Smooth Jazz station, our messages are meant to persuade the public to change their behavior or take some action; Media teams have to persuade all forms of media to place PSAs in the public eye; Communications Department have to persuade the Today Show, The New York Times and other major media to cover launches and other breaking news; and Fundraising Departments have to persuade corporations and foundations to donate funds for sustainability.
By embracing that most every phone call, meeting, email, blog, News Release, Power Point and PSA is created for the primary purpose to persuade an individual, group or mass audience, then seemingly we can adopt this fresh perspective on our “business;” think through the day-to-day tasks with that goal constantly in mind and achieve higher results.
In the meantime, thank you, Mr. Drucker, for rejecting my phone call to interview you. By that action, you persuaded me to dig deeper and find out why you achieved such high status throughout the world. Even without fresh quotes from you, I persuaded the magazine to publish the article for which they paid $2000. Lesson learned.