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  • Controversial Communication: Incite a Riot or Facilitate Debate?

    A dominant dimension of your personal brand is your personal history. Not your baby book and photos of you at prom. Your personal awareness and actions involving the events of the day: political, cultural, social, environmental, economic and otherwise. I call this dimension “personal brand engagement,” where you develop and communicate your take on what’s at stake in the world.

    283162678_3577c6e004Part of my personal brand engagement is in public policy. During the years I hosted International Business on public radio it was my job to talk to the world’s most important people in business, politics, labor and government. That decade forced me to get smart and communicate about controversial topics.

    These days, I have less time and a bit less access because my focus is largely on business. The upside is I am a civilian; I get to feel as much as think about the events of the day. For example, I worry about Iraq and Afghanistan like they are as close by as Canada and Mexico – our neighbors. I worry about the families there like I worry about the Hurricane Katrina families. I hope the schools and roads we have built matter to them, even if it is no exchange for their personal losses – we could be talking about anywhere there’s been damage and an attempt to repair.

    I am an equal opportunity worrier. I hope the women in Afghanistan aren’t left in the dark world they can’t escape without help. I hope the newly homeless schoolchildren in America aren’t left without hope, since they can’t escape the destabilizing world of profound poverty without help.

    Sending good thoughts and money

    Because hope isn’t a strategy or tactic, I give money to people who seem to be making a difference. Occasionally, I advocate when I think an audience is powerful enough to change the world (I do speak to some very smart people). I don’t bring my soapbox everywhere.

    This week on Facebook, one of my clients posted his take on the US healthcare reform bill. Greg’s personal brand engages often on financial issues, especially when they crisscross with social programs. His most recent post was about the tax impact of insuring all of us. On that topic, I engaged on what had astonishingly arisen from the ire: the safety of the President of the United States is at stake. The marchers on Washington last week carried a sign that read, “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy.” The tenor of the demonstration reminded me of reports about Dallas when President Kennedy made his fatal visit to Texas. The town hall meeting goers with machine guns strapped on and broadcasters’ violence laden talking points this week, sounded like the days before the Kennedy assassination.  I may be wrong but I am worried about what is being fomented.

    Double dare you

    How dangerous is it to let your personal brand engage on such controversy, and with a point of view that may not be the most popular? You may not have a choice as your clients have increasing access to you – and as people look to you for thought leadership on global events.

    3796306164_9d1d2dc004How can you interact on these topics without alienating people with opposing points of view? Demonstrate the depth of emotional intelligence and maturity that thought leaders bring to controversy. Ignore personal attacks and don’t make them. President Obama is a perfect example of what to do when you are the target of venom.  As we witnessed in real time Congressman Joe Wilson slide down the slippery slope of incivility with his outburst, “you lie,” the President didn’t react.

    There’s an old adage about not talking politics and religion in polite company, but that saying is old and it hasn’t aged well. To not have a take on global climate change, carbon footprints, the economic crisis, homelessness, health care and war is to be perceived as vacuous and perhaps irresponsible.

    You, only higher up

    As you becoming increasingly important, other people will want to know you better. One of my dear friends played bass for Christina Aguilera on tour. I laughed when Michael remarked, “Think about spending 2 hours onstage but 22 hours offstage with the same people for months. You get to know each other better than you know your family.” As your star rises, people will know you really well.

    Great brands have loyal customers and great reputations. The advantage you have over soda and soap is this: you have a heart and a brain. Consider how you use them to connect yourself to the world, and how you can open up dialogues that showcase your thoughtful perspective and facilitate others to engage with you likewise.

    Always allow that you, like me, may be wrong – but we have a responsibility to be engaged in events that shape our world.

    How do you kick start your personal brand engagement?1450784505_b64ac174d1

    1.    Get smart. Read a news article a day from a website not in your home country. In the US? Try Asia Week or the London Telegraph.
    2.    Feel it. Read the article again as if you were a citizen of that locale.
    3.    Engage with it. Jot down an elevator pitch concerning the story. What would you say to a stranger, to inform them about the news – and your take on it?

    By the way, the Facebook dialogue with my client concluded with each of us urging the other to take the lead and get other people engaged – in all dimensions of the health care controversy. Because he’s the client, I may have to step up.


    Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen.

    Nance Rosen, MBA is author of Speak Up! & Succeed: How to get everything you want in meetings, presentations and conversations. She blogs at NanceRosenBlog.com. She is also on the faculty of the UCLA Business and Management continuing executive education program. Formerly, Nance was a marketing executive at the Coca-Cola Company, president of the Medical Marketing Association, first woman director of marketing in the Fortune 500 technology sector, host of International Business on public radio and NightCap on television, an entrepreneur and a general manager at Bozell Advertising and Public Relations (now Omnicom).

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