The first transformative step is always the riskiest.

I remember how nervous I was when I walked into the Newhouse School at Syracuse University on that August morning in 1999 — I was about to meet 20 other communications professionals who were also accepted into the prestigious Syracuse Communications Management graduate program. I’m not embarrassed to say that I felt like an impostor — a public relations consultant with no formal undergraduate training in the practice, just 13 years of experience on the frontlines of crises, risk controversies and community relations management. Surely my new colleagues were much smarter, more talented and had greater experiences and expertise then I did.

Little did I know that all the other students were feeling the exact same — “do I really belong here” — “I’m not worthy” (ok, no one really said that but just an homage to Mike Myers and Wayne’s World). We all felt like impostors, not worthy of our acceptance into a top-tier communications school.

And then, our collective mentor, Professor Maria Russell, assured us that we were there not by luck but by choice (ours and Syracuse’s choice).

The anxiety began to immediately subside as our comfort and trust in one another grew over that first residency week. The fear of failure fell away as we met our legendary professors (Toth, Shukla, Kinsey, and Longstaff — to name a few) as we realized that they were more our coaches, facilitators and cheerleaders — they all wanted us to succeed.

Newhouse Communications Management Class of 1999.

Fast forward to October 2019 — as I greeted and welcomed our 13th cohort into the McMaster-Syracuse Communications Management degree program. I watched them all walk in and nervously introduce themselves to one another. The tension and anxiety in the classroom was noticeable — the same as each of the 12 cohorts before them.

These students, just like the 125 before them in the program, took a tremendous step forward in their own personal learning journey, to apply and be accepted into this program. It was the first step in a two-year transformation that will forever change their lives — in a very positive and meaningful way. As we gathered for our first orientation session, I recounted my own journey and my fear of being seen as an impostor. Almost on cue, their heads nodded in acknowledgement of their impostor syndrome feelings and their shoulders started to relax as the the tension in their necks began to disappear.

I gave them the same encouragement that I received from Professors Russell, Toth, Kinsey and Shukla on that first day 20 years ago. I am now their mentor, their coach and a facilitator in their own learning journey.

Please welcome our Class of 2019 — our 13th cohort.

Here’s to their success!

MCM Cohort #13 — Class of 2019

Reflections on 2019 Page Annual Conference — Transformative Change At The Speed of Now

I’ve just arrived home after spending three days listening, reflecting and engaging with a world-class list of speakers and presenters at the Page Society annual conference. From digital communications agency guru, Sir Martin Sorrell — now with S4 Capital and formerly with Saatchi & Saatchi and the WPP Group — to Amy Weisenbach, SVP Marketing of the New York Time, to Titus Kaphar — an artist who, as he says, seeks to dislodge history from its status as the “past” in order to unearth its contemporary relevance (one of his works that he displayed — ‘Behind the myth of benevolence, 2014′ literally, metaphorically and politically draws back the curtain on the myths that we have created and continue to believe — to the last presenter of the conference, Vikram Mansharamani, author, Yale and Harvard lecturer and futurist — who painted a picture of a rather challenging future ahead. His 2011 book Boombustology provides a framework for understanding the boom and bust economic cycles that our world has faced (and is now facing) and how we could do a better collective job of identifying and evaluating these trends on our personal and professional lives.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

Sorrell — the digital communications market place is now worth $1.7 trillion USD with a projected 20% growth rate. The big three digital companies account for about $225 billion (Google — 125; Facebook — 52; Amazon 12). Asked what troubled him most — “the lack of speed and agility of organizations”. S4’s philosophy is now: faster, better and cheaper — faster — responsiveness; better — technology; cheaper — efficiencies in buying and placing. He said that the biggest issue facing CEOs today — is “getting people inside their organizations to face the same way at the same time. How do you harness your people to work together”.

Weisenbach — Amy’s presentation focused on the NYT’s ‘The Truth Is Worth It’ campaign. Here’s one example based on their reporting on what happened in the Rohingya in Myanmar. This campaign launched in 2017 and it was the first brand campaign for the NYT since 2007. David Rubin, CMO and head of brand for the NYT, challenged the marketing communications team with one simple task: to create marketing communications that is as compelling as the NYT journalism.

The objective was to build an emotional connection to the NYT brand. When it launched two years ago, the theme was “what is the role of the truth in society”. Today the theme is “what does it take to deliver the truth”.

Amy said that NYT journalists are now pitching the marketing team for their work to be the subject of ‘The Truth Is Worth It’ campaign.

Kaphar “The political is personal.”

One of the most inspiring and passionate presentations that I have heard (15 September 2019)

The power of art, the visual and the movement to amend history. I couldn’t begin to do service to Titus’s presentation – so here is something similar from his Ted Talk. If you are near Tuskegee University in October — do yourself a favor and see his exhibit “Knockout”

Mansharamani — another engaging presentation. Vikram identified four major trends (or lenses that he suggest that we view future global pressures): China; technology; energy and demographics. He cautioned that we may be approaching a global economic crisis because of the following deflationary pressures: currency wars; inequality and populism; civil unrest; protectionism; and slobalization — the reversing of globalization. Here’s a short cut to his message — an interview with Brendan Coffey in Forbes Magazine from May 21, 2019.

I’ve been a member of the Page Society for more than 10 years and more recently a member of the Board of Trustees for four years. I’m inspired by the organization’s commitment to thought leadership and pushing CCOs to be more global, organizational thinkers, leaders and problem-solvers.

At the conference we launched our newest thought leadership report: The CCO as Pacesetter. Let me know what you think so that I can share it with our leadership team.