Values that resonate with you and your audience

It’s hard to “add value”—our topic yesterday—if you don’t know what your values are. Before you sit down to write your next communication, spend some time thinking about it.

Take a piece of paper and make three columns, headed ME, OUR BRAND, OUR AUDIENCE. And then set a timer for 10 minutes and write down everything you can think of.

  • What do you need to live a meaningful life?
  • What would you do even if no one paid you to do it—and, more importantly, why?
  • What kinds of things never get bumped off your to-do list (and why)?
  • How do you want to relate to people?
  • How do you want people to relate to your brand?
  • What one adjective do you want in people’s minds when they hear about you? Your organization?

Evaluating your values

If you’re living in pretty close alignment to your values, you should find many of the same words popping up on all of the lists. Congratulations! But you might also find some surprises.

Say you’re a fairly laid-back person, but one thing that drives your audience is urgency. You might have to meet them halfway on that—unfurling from your serene mental lotus position to talk about a pressing issue. Or if that feels like too much of a deviation from your personal brand, deputize someone else to talk about the crisis in terms the audience can relate to.

Or you might be a super-serious person, but your audience enjoys a touch of humor. (For me, that’s always a given.) Until you learn to loosen up a little—do it right and people will respect you more for it, believe me—it doesn’t hurt to have someone with a more playful nature introduce you at an event. Your very own warm-up act.

My own values—in no particular order—include integrity, humor, respect, commitment, generosity, and excellence. I under-promise and over-deliver. I’ve structured my business around these values, and I know they resonate with my audience. In fact, one of the people who listened to my podcast interview with Joan Garry as much as told me that when she emailed me about the free gift I offered:

A thank you note to me mentioned one of my values: generosity.

There—right there in the first sentence—one of my values: Generosity. My communications must be doing something right…and yours can too.

Reputation outlives us all

The spousal unit watched the Minions movie while I was out of town, which reminded me of a blog I wrote after their screen debut in Despicable Me six years ago.

Aside from a few comic set pieces, I hated that movie. With my brain freed from worrying about the plot or characters, I found myself paying particular attention to the background details. And that led to this discussion of how a reputation can be ruined in an instant—no news there—but if it turns into enough of a pop culture moment, that reputation can stay ruined for a long, long time. Here’s what I had to say in 2010 (you can tell it’s a vintage piece because of the double space after every period):

The New York Times tells us that Wall Street is hiring again.  But don’t break out the party hats and $2,000 bottles of Champagne just yet.  Wall Street has a reputation problem: Most firms will ignore it, but the smart firms will acknowledge and address it.

Yes I know, I know – Wall Street has a reputation problem every five or six years.  This is probably the third such cycle I’ve lived through since I started working in financial services in the late ’80s.  Back then, the punchline was a survey on trustworthiness.  The good news, Wall Streeters were not the least trusted group in the nation; the bad news, they placed lower than the KKK.

How far has anti-Wall Street sentiment penetrated the public discourse in the current cycle?  I had occasion to sit through the animated feature Despicable Me this weekend (save yourselves – don’t do it) during which the evil genius, seeking to finance his dastardly plan, visits the bank to secure a loan.  Not surprisingly, the sign over the door read:

“Bank of Evil”

More surprising was the all-too-legible subhead:

“Formerly Known As Lehman Brothers”

Does it really matter what the movie-going public thinks?  Unlike consumer products companies, Wall Street firms believe they don’t need to curry favor widely.  After all, their business model doesn’t depend on millions of people buying a few dollars’ worth of products; it depends on a few people (investment managers) buying millions of dollars’ worth of products.

But there’s another constituency eyeing Wall Street: the government.  Elected officials – and the regulatory agencies they control – are extremely sensitive to popular sentiment.  As the country gears up for the political fisticuffs of a midterm election, you can expect to see financial services executives on the hot seat.

The best way to handle this onslaught of negative publicity?  Don’t fight it, roll with it.  If there was wrongdoing – or perceived wrongdoing – admit it.  That’s what I advised Bankers Trust CEO Charlie Sanford to do when some of his derivatives traders were in the spotlight, and The New York Times approved.  Then find something positive your firm does and talk it up.

Making money isn’t intrinsically evil. Without financial services firms, the world’s economy would grind to a screeching halt.  Someone needs to tell this story, honestly and compellingly.

Sorry to depress you on a beautiful Saturday. Cheer yourself up by watching the Minions movie. The spouse enjoyed it. Who knew?