Monday, March 08, 2010

Oscar lowlights

Bringing together my two worlds, if I was to conduct a seminar on effective corporate communications, I'd point to the Oscars broadcast to illustrate some of the worst practices and habits -- the things that undermine good communications.

As usual, this year's ceremony was undisciplined, inward-looking, politically-driven and committee-developed. That means including in the broadcast lots of categories that most viewers don't care about. (And attempts to help the general audience better understand things like sound editing and screenwriting were not particularly enlightening and only served to take up more time). Along with endless montages and other fluff and filler.

This is the equivalent of the corporate annual report or presentation that has to include every division and credit every person. For fear of alienating some constituency, you get a long, flabby, uninteresting mess. Instead of asking, "What does our audience want/need to know," and focusing on those things, the emphasis is on "What do we want to tell them about ourselves?"

On the other hand, the stuff that worked the best is often what's most overlooked in corporate communications -- the human touch, and appeals to emotion. In the Best Actor/Actress categories, the tributes to each nominee from colleagues were genuine, meaningful and specific. Importantly, they told STORIES instead of merely reciting qualities and achievements. Much more powerful and effective.

The source of all these problems is lack of a clear objective. Or, more likely, competing objectives that lead to a compromised product. What's the point of the broadcast? Is it to celebrate achievement or is it to promote the industry (i.e., get more butts in seats)?

Honoring achievement means being more inclusive and giving everyone their moment in the spotlight. But selling more tickets means attracting big ratings with an entertaining broadcast. Doing both equally well is probably not possible, resulting in an inevitably flawed production.

Of course, we live in the real world. And almost always, disparate constituencies must be pleased and competing objectives must be balanced and butts must be kissed. And just as the the Oscars ceremony is not art, neither are most corporate communications.

The closest I've ever come in the business world to creating the perfect product that almost qualifies as art is the book for Freeborn.

But this isn't about me. It's about me pontificating.

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