Stories and Strategies Podcast
Guest, Jim Rudolph, JGR Communications
Published May 10, 2020
Listen to this episode
Doug Downs (00:00):
Does anyone really need professional communications? The average adult speaks roughly 16,000 words per day. 16,000. We’re pretty good at it. So why do we need to pay someone to communicate and what exactly are we paying for? Welcome to the podcast, Stories and Strategies, the real world of professional Communications.
Robert Plant (singing) (00:36):
Communication Breakdown, it’s always the same. Having a nervous breakdown, drive me insane.
Doug Downs (01:03):
My name is Doug Downs. Thanks for joining us. That 16,000 words per day, by the way, is from a study at the University of Texas at Austin. Now, you might see some articles online that suggest women speak more than men, just not true according to the scientific research that’s out there. So what does professional communications mean? Do professional communicators just speak better? Do they write better? Are they more convincing? Do they know the words that will get people to do the things you want? Are they spell checkers, grammar, police? Are they brand police? I can assure you none of the above. Well, well actually all of the above it. It’s kind of complicated. So joining me for episode one of this podcast is Jim Rudolph, the president of J G R Communications and my business partner. Hi Jim.
Jim Rudolph (01:56):
Doug Downs (01:57):
And are there magic words when we’re talking?
Jim Rudolph (02:00):
Do you know what? I don’t sense too many magic words when we’re talking. <laugh> I’m afraid.
Doug Downs (02:05):
And I think that’s being honest Jim, considering though that we do get paid as professional communicators to make things easier to understand when it comes to our vocation. We haven’t necessarily done a very good job explaining what we do for a living
Jim Rudolph (02:21):
Well, it is funny when I try to explain to family members and to friends who have no attachment to the communications field trying to explain it. It’s amazing to see their eyes glaze over. And when you see that, you question yourself, geez, can I really explain what it is I do? Because it is complicated. Luckily all my fellow communicators have always told me they get the same glazed eyes when they talk to family and friends about what they do. And really, words do matter. The professional writing and script writing and all those things do matter, but it’s really about strategy. It’s about planning, it’s about having purpose behind your communications. It’s about understanding your audiences, the stakeholders that you’re dealing with. So that’s the critical point, is that communicators look at the big picture for the company, look at the business objectives, look at the different audiences for communications, and build a plan, a strategic plan around that, and also think about the scenario, different scenarios for different situations and help the company navigate through that. So to me, it’s a lot more than just the right words.
Doug Downs (03:48):
A key management function is what you’re describing there.
Jim Rudolph (03:51):
It is a key strategic management function. Ideally the communications lead for a company is sitting right at the executive management table with a VP title or a senior VP title and fully understands reputation and the importance of communications and how that plays into reputation.
Doug Downs (04:15):
Okay. And have you seen instances where organizations and very intelligent leaders see the communicators as the disseminators of information?
Jim Rudolph (04:25):
Yes, all the time. And in fact, quite often that’s probably what people think about the most. Although I have seen organizations where the communications function is it is part of the executive management team and it’s strategic and the leader is strategic, and the leadership understands that communications is a strategic function. There is I some of that dissemination of information. And when you’re talking about internal communication, sometimes it is about coronavirus and sending out tips about how to stay safe, those kinds of things. But it’s all part of a plan. It’s all part of a structure. And that’s really what communicators bring to the table, is bringing structure around communication in that long term planning.
Doug Downs (05:19):
You and I use the term professional communications or communications strategist. Isn’t this all just PR?
Jim Rudolph (05:27):
Well, how people perceive the term public relations that’s probably a topic for another podcast. What I will say is that in terms of communications, I see communicators as being interpreters. They help interpret the outside world, the external world to the company or to the organization and help guide the company through what external folks are thinking, and also internal employees as well. So it’s that interpretation role. And I certainly, I always use the term corporate communications. And the reason I use that term is when you look at some of the lot of the literature corporate communications has a 360 degree view of an organization and its communications needs. And that’s where my background is being managing the communications function in organizations. And then after that, going out and taking that experience and starting J G R communications, right? 10 years ago
Doug Downs (06:34):
Well, longer than 10 years ago
Jim Rudolph (06:38):
Exactly 10 years ago,
Doug Downs (06:40):
Was it exact?
Jim Rudolph (06:41):
Exactly. 10 years ago
Doug Downs (06:42):
A decade. And that public, not to cast dispersions on that term, public relations because there they’re very valuable associations that incorporate that name right? In the Canadian Public Relations Society that you’re a member of
Jim Rudolph (06:55):
I’m a member and lots of great learning through C P R S a code of ethics. Yes. All those kinds of things that professionals need. So it’s not to cast aspersions on that as well. I guess that’s another piece of this is why I’m so glad that we’re doing this podcast, is that we can talk to fellow communicators, whether they’re other consultants and competitors or people that work in in-house corporate communications shops in-house public relations shops that we can learn all learn from each other. And that’s really, I think, the goal of this podcast and we can explore these issues together. So I’m really excited about it and excited about what you’re doing with this.
Doug Downs (07:43):
And part of the formula of the podcast is we want to play clips from songs, TV shows, movies. The first one is a clip from the TV series, mad Men produced by Lionsgate Television. And it flows into what the public has perhaps, or many have seen as the negative connotation of the term PR. It’s because of this sixties magic words kind of scenario that doesn’t exist. And yet television at least has suggested that back in the sixties, it was all about the perfect pitch. In this scene, Don Draper and Company are pitching to a lipstick company. They’re pitching the slogan, mark your man to a client to convince him these words are the magic elixir to greater sales.
Actor One (08:26):
It’s as simple as e pluribus unum from many one. From many shades of lipstick, one that belongs to her. From a basket of kisses she picks one, it makes her unique. It colors her kiss. And her kiss well, it colors her man. Belle Jolie lipstick, mark your man.
Actor Two (08:50):
I only see one lipstick in your drawing. Women want colors, lots and lots of colors.
Mark your man.
Don Draper (08:59):
It’s pretty cute.
Actor Two (09:00):
Oh, you like this? Well, maybe we should cut down to five shades or one.
Kenny (Mad Men) (09:06):
I’m not telling you to listen to anyone, but this is a very fresh approach
Don Draper (09:09):
Okay, Kenny, I don’t think there’s much else to do here, but call it a day. Gentlemen, thank you for your time.
Actor Two (09:18):
Is that all?
Don Draper (09:19):
You’re a non-believer. Why should we waste time on kabuki?
Actor Two (09:25):
I don’t know what that means.
Don Draper (09:27):
It means that you’ve already tried your plan and you’re number four, you’ve enlisted my expertise and you’ve rejected it to go on the way you’ve been going. I’m not interested in that. You can understand,
Actor Two (09:39):
I don’t think your three months or however many thousands of dollars entitles you to refocus the core of our business
Don Draper (09:45):
Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. Either he lives in your heart or he doesn’t. Every woman wants choices, but in the end, none wants to be one of a hundred in a box. She’s unique. She makes the choices and she’s chosen him. She wants to tell the world he’s mine. He belongs to me, not you. She marks her man with her lips. He is her possession. You’ve given every girl that wears your lipstick, the gift of total ownership.
Actor Two (10:28):
Don Draper (10:29):
Doug Downs (10:30):
Yeah. So there you go. Is that how it actually works with that kind of bitch?
Jim Rudolph (10:36):
People do you want, I think most people in 2020, they understand when they’re being advertised to and they understand when they’re being pitched. And I think we all understand that, right? Because we are bombarded with messages every day. So in my view, it’s far more than that. And it’s about being authentic and it’s about understanding audience needs, and it’s about trying to create to me, it’s about trying to create true dialogue between an organization and it’s, it’s publics, it’s audiences. So it’s far more than just the right words. And that’s not to denigrate the right words because words are important and that’s part of our lives as communicators, but it’s it. There’s more behind it than just using the right words. And that’s going to magically be the silver bullet to solve all issues
Doug Downs (11:30):
So a time to pitch, a time to listen, a time to analyze, a time to take action
Jim Rudolph (11:35):
Very well said,
Doug Downs (11:37):
Wait, I wonder we should put that down on paper. Those are good words or something close to that. Anyway okay, let’s play another clip from the movie. Thank you for smoking by Fox Searchlight Pictures. And this again flows into another aspect of PR in this scene, Nick Naylor, our hero, played by Aaron Eckert, is a tobacco industry lobbyist whose only strategy appears to be bridging any conversation to values about choice. In other words, look at the shiny bobble over here. Don’t pay attention to the conversation at hand. He’s on the Joan London show at the beginning of the movie, surrounded by anti-tobacco lobbyists and a teenaged boy named Robin who has cancer from smoking. Nick takes command. Look at the shiny bobble over here with some slight of hand.
Aaron Eckert (Thank You For Smoking) (12:24):
It’s just like a John Grisham novel without all the espionage. Most importantly, we’ve got spin control. That’s where I come in. I get paid to talk. I don’t have an MD or law degree. I have a bachelor’s in kicking ass and taking names. That guy who can pick up any girl, I’m him on crack.
Joan Lunden (Thank You For Smoking) (12:50):
This is obviously a heated issue, and we do have a lot that we wanna cover today. Nick, do you have a question?
Aaron Eckert (Thank You For Smoking) (12:58):
Joan? How on earth would big tobacco profit off of the loss of this young man? Now, I hate to think in such callous terms, but if anything, we’d be losing a customer. It’s not only our hope, it’s in our best interest to keep Robin alive and smoking. That’s ludicrous. Let me tell you something, Joan, and please let me share something with the fine concerned people in the audience today. The Ron Goodys of this world want the Robin Willers to die. Why? So that their budgets will go up. This is nothing less than trafficking in human misery. And you, sir, ought to be ashamed of yourself. I ought to be ashamed of. As a matter of fact, we’re about to launch a 50 million campaign aimed at persuading kids not to smoke because I think that we can all agree that there is nothing more important than America’s children.
Joan Lunden (Thank You For Smoking) (13:57):
All right? Now that’s something that we’re going to wanna know more about, but I have to take a short break. Hang on. A lot more coming.
Doug Downs (14:06):
So change the conversation with shifty words. Is that, or is that not, a strategy?
Jim Rudolph (14:12):
It’s certainly a diversionary tactic. <laugh> a tactic that I don’t think works very well anymore. It’s interesting. When I first started in communications, I think there was more people that were enamored by the rhetorical devices that you can use to change the conversation and divert people’s attention away from a real issue. Again, I think most communicators have moved away from that. We still see a lot of that in politics, and that’s where a lot of this comes from is spin doctoring in politics. However, if we’re, I just don’t think it’s something that works for an organization and to build long-term trust with your audiences, with your stakeholders to have a sustainable reputation and solid reputation. You can’t be doing things like you have to be able to address issues head on and be able to start a dialogue with people who may be concerned about what you’re doing and try to communicate in as honest to fashion as
Doug Downs (15:21):
Possible. I know you’ve heard them described as Jedi mind tricks sometimes pay no attention to this issue here. You do not care.
Jim Rudolph (15:28):
Well it’s funny and I think I had a potential client one time even refer to that, can you use your Jedi mind tricks to help get us out of this? And of course, the answer to that was, well, you can’t make chicken salad out of you know what, right? Yeah.
Doug Downs (15:45):
<laugh> lipstick on a pig
Jim Rudolph (15:46):
I wish, in many respects, I wish I had the Jedi mine tricks to be able to change persuade people to do exactly what I want them to do all the time. But it’s more complicated than that.
Doug Downs (15:58):
I remember early in my professional communications career, and I just crossed over from being a journalist and I was attending a conference of the radio and Television News Director’s Association of Canada or R T N D A, and they’d asked several of us in communications now who were former journalists to speak on a panel. And I had a very good friend with me, I’ll leave their name out of the story. I had a very good friend. My message, because I was really on the key message concept. I was really just getting into communications. So key messages were a big deal. So my message to these news directors was, I develop key messages, speaking points, things to deliver, and my friend took the absolute opposite approach and said, well, I tell the clients I work with to just tell the truth because I won’t have to remember what they said. He absolutely won the day. The irony here is that I was actually telling the truth and he was delivering a key message that he knew that they would love. You see the sort of paradox and all that.
Jim Rudolph (17:05):
Doug Downs (17:05):
Jim Rudolph (17:07):
<laugh>. It’s a good, great lesson to learn, though, early in your career.
Doug Downs (17:12):
Strategy, we both agree, communications has to be strategic. Have you seen mistakes by not being strategic in your communications?
Jim Rudolph (17:20):
Yes, all the time. And in many respects, as communications consultants, we live off those mistakes. But the biggest mistake that I see organizations making again, is not being planned about their communications, not understanding the stakeholder groups that they’re trying to deal with, not understanding the audiences. And in some respects underestimating, say, a level of discomfort or even outrage that might be there with a particular decision or with a particular direction that a company is going in. And what happens is companies will realize this, and organizations will realize this when it’s al already, in my view, in many respects, too late, in many times, too late. And then you almost have to start back from the beginning and start to rebuild dialogue, rebuild trust with those groups. And it can take a long, arduous trail. And so my advice to organizations is, if you start to sense that there are issues, work with your in-house corporate communications team or in-house public relations team, if you don’t have one of those, go talk to a consultant and start to address it. Or else the project that you want to build may not go ahead or may be delayed or any other kind of initiative that you’re working on maybe delayed or not happen at all. And you see it all the time. If people just wait too long to communicate and communicate early, communicate often.
Doug Downs (18:59):
And that ultimately comes down to the value that you place on communications, which is actually up to us as communicators to prove the value. How do you prove the value? How do you provide the measurement?
Jim Rudolph (19:11):
Well, part of it is understanding the company or organization that you work with, understanding the business plan, understanding those objectives. There’s lots of different ways to demonstrate that you’re helping meet those objectives. But a great starting point and in terms of value is you know, ask an organization that has a corporate communications group, corporate communications team and ask, what would happen if you took that group away? What would that mean? And you start to talk through that and realize the implications. I think a lot of people will see the value. Obviously intangibles with communications, lots of other measure, lots of measuring tools as well. Lots of ways to show that. I mean, it’s typical measuring options but really ask yourself that question. What if we didn’t have a strategic communications function? What would that mean to our organization? And I think that’s always a great starting point because there’s so many different aspects to it so many different intangibles that go into it.
Doug Downs (20:23):
You and I speak almost every day as business partners, so it’s hard for me to say thank you for your time. We just don’t wrap up conversations that way. But this was a different conversation for you, for us. So I do very much appreciate your time.
Jim Rudolph (20:36):
Well thanks Doug for moving this along and keeping me on track.
Doug Downs (20:40):
Perfect. If you’d like to send a message to my guest, my business partner, Jim Rudolph, you can email him at Jim, and it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. If you liked what you heard in this episode, would you do us a favor? Recommend this podcast to one friend. And if you have an idea for an episode or just wanna tell us something, send us a note at email@example.com. Thanks for listening.