Winner's Edge

Focused on strategic communications

Pro-Democracy Movement in Egypt: A Convergence of Social Media and Grassroots Organizing

Much has been written and discussed about the effective use of Twitter in the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. Here is a fantastic map on the Egypt influence network on Twitter:

Egypt Influence Network

The map is arranged to place individuals near the individuals they influence, and factions near the factions they influence. The color is based on the language they tweet in — a choice that itself can be meaningful, and clearly separates different strata of society.

Many fascinating structures can be seen. Wael Ghonim, a pivotal figure in this self-organzing system who instigated the initial protests on January 25th, is prominently located near the bottom of the network, straddling two factions as well as two languages. The size of his node reflects his influence on the entire network.
The lump on the left is dominated by journalists, NGO and foreign policy types; it seems nearly gafted on, and goes through an intermediary buffer layer before making contact with the true Egyptian activists on the ground. However, this process of translation and aggregation is key; it is how those in Egypt are finally getting a voice in Western society, and an insurance policy against regime violence. Many of the prominent nodes in this network were at some point arrested, but their deep connectivity help ensure they were not “dissapeared”.
Most of those in this network speak both English and Arabic, and their choice of language says a lot about both the movement and about Twitter. Some may choose to primarily communicate with their friends, while others make an effort to be visible to the rest of the world on purpose. They want to reach out, and connect with, the rest of the global society. The structure on the bottom, near Ghonim, seems entirely composed of this free intermingling.
In a case of ironic symbolism, the far left-most satellites are the Whitehouse, State Department, and Wael Ghonim’s employeer, Eric Schmidt, who is merely a speck on the map. And that’s probably how everyone in the rest of the network would like this future to look.
The media has covered at length the effective use of Twitter and Facebook in the Egyptian pro-democracy movement. While online social media were effective tools, these elements alone did not make the revolution. And the protests did not originate as a spontaneous uprising following similar events in Tunisia. In fact, the pro-democracy movement in Egypt was founded on traditional grassroots planning and organizing. Leaders of the movement were educated by the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, an organization run by young Serbs who had cut their teeth in the late 1990s student uprising against Slobodan Milosevic.
Following is a link to a fascinating article by Tina Rosenberg at Foreignpolicy.com on the history of CANVAS.

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking through the noise of social media

Proven sources like academics and experts gain influence as people become more skeptical of peer recommendations.

Way back in the 20th century, “buzz” was the je ne sais quoi of the marketing world. Every company wanted it, but few presumed to know how to get it. Back then, corporations generally lobbed their products into the marketplace, bombarded consumers with repetitive messages and sat back and prayed that buzz would magically appear.

That, of course, changed as companies learned how to harness the Internet. And, as social media like MySpace and Facebook emerged, marketing became less of a monologue and more of a multiparty conversation. It suddenly wasn’t enough for companies and their spokespersons to speak down to consumers from the mountaintop. The new challenge was how to get consumers to say good things about a product to one another.

The rise of social media has been part and parcel of the devolution of authoritative information and the flowering of a million cacophonous voices. It not only changed the way companies looked at consumers but how consumers looked at each other. By 2005, surveys showed that when it came to the marketplace, Americans were beginning to trust their peers more than well-known authorities and experts. The following year, according to the Trust Barometer Survey conducted by Edelman, an international public relations firm, saw the emergence of “a person like me” as a credible spokesperson for companies and products.

By 2010, nearly four in five corporations were planning to move money they once spent on television advertising to some sort of social media campaign. Two weeks ago, Pepsi chose to forgo a high-profile TV spot at halftime of the Super Bowl for a social-media-driven charity campaign that will award the nonprofit organizations that muster the most votes through virtual social networks. Could there be any better proof that social media is the future of marketing?

But hold on, now comes Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer. The latest findings fly in the face of that formerly new conventional wisdom.

According to the survey, since 2008 the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of consumer and business information dropped by almost half, from 45% to 25%. Similarly, in the past year, the number of people who view peers as credible spokespersons also slipped. Even more strikingly, however, after a precipitous decline earlier in the decade, informed consumers have regained trust in traditional authorities and experts.

What’s going on? Are Facebook friends turning on each other? Did we lose faith in ourselves? Is social media just a fluke?

None of the above, says Gail Becker, Edelman’s Western regional president. After sifting through the data, she concludes that consumers are merely rebelling against all the noise and reflecting the effects of uncertain times.

A few years ago, when peer-to-peer trust was at a peak, social media was still relatively new and its circles were manageable. But since then, the number of friend networks has exploded and every kind of business, for-profit and not, has sought to harness — we might say, exploit — them for their gain. That, according to Becker, has made people more skeptical of peer recommendations.

“Social media is more professionalized now and less organic,” says Becker. “It’s harder to know who to trust.”

And in troubled times, such uncertainty is magnified. All of this explains the rise in the number of people willing to pay attention to sources like proven academics and experts. After indulging the thoughts and opinions of anyone who was “just like me,” it seems that people are now looking for a firmer guarantee of clarity, objectivity and accuracy.

Although these findings are mostly about business and financial matters, they surely also have broader significance. They suggest that the flattening of authority may not go on forever, and that there are limits to Americans’ belief in Everyman.

I’d like to think that this bodes well for one of the old, authoritative sources of information, the traditional media. Unfortunately, so far the survey also shows that the credibility of television and radio news and newspapers continued to take a beating over the past two years.

Cacophony and crisis prove the need for objectivity and expertise. What a relief. Call it old-fashioned, hierarchical or elitist, but in an era in which issues are only becoming more complicated, it’s about time.

(reprinted from Los Angeles Times. OpEd by Gregory Rodriguez)

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public Opinion: Offshore Drilling

While public opinion on offshore drilling may still be somewhat divided, recent survey research shows increasing support for its expansion, both in California and in Florida, which have been known for their opposition to offshore drilling.

A series of surveys conducted in Florida during the summer of 2008 found support for offshore oil drilling to be around 60 percent. More recently, surveys in California have also shown support for offshore drilling to constitute a slight majority of public opinion. For example, a July 2009 Public Policy Institute of California survey found 51% of Californians in support of expanding offshore drilling, the same as in their July 2008 survey.

In addition, one of the research firms I frequently partner with, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin &Associates (FMMA), recently conducted statewide research in California regarding a new offshore drilling project proposal. Fifty-three percent of respondents indicated that they would favor the project, with just 36 percent opposing it and 11 percent undecided.

Interestingly, while there has been speculation that support for drilling is being driven largely by high levels of concern about dependence on foreign oil imports and high energy prices, the results of the FMM&A survey showed that support was strong across the board, regardless of whether respondents have a high or low degree of concern about foreign oil dependence.

Other attitudes and factors may be at play in both California and Florida – two states where the current economic downturn has played havoc with balancing state budgets – such as the desire to capture a portion of offshore drilling revenues for state coffers. For example, in the California case, mention in the survey of billions of dollars in new state government revenues from offshore drilling drives the numbers for support for the California offshore drilling proposal to nearly two-thirds. Further, there is simply the passage of time. It has been 40 years since the Santa Barbara oil spill galvanized offshore drilling opposition nationwide. Perhaps as memories and concerns fade, economics are taking over.

February 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Telling Your Story: Translating Tech Talk into Plain Talk

You know you’ve got the facts on your side. You’ve spent millions on a world class environmental study, investing in top notch science and data collection. Or, perhaps your team has spent thousands of hours compiling exacting documentation of the law and economics that support your regulatory case. Whatever your situation, you’ve put major resources on the project because the upside potential — and perhaps the downside risks — could be enormous, maybe even a game changer for your organization.

Having made the up-front investment to get this far in the game, and with so much at stake, it’s time to ask yourself whether you’ve done everything possible to enhance your chances of success and reduce the risk of failure.

Here’s the question: Can you tell your story in a way that’s so compelling that you will win the day? Policy makers, legislators, regulators, juries, the general public — these decision makers control the destiny of your project, but they generally do not have the technical background to understand massive volumes of data and reams of argumentation. You must help them understand and believe in your case — in your story.

Every set of facts can be summed up by a compelling story, a logic train that makes clear why your efforts – your facts – should matter to those making a decision. A compelling story opens up a gateway of understanding, making it possible for your audience to easily grasp the gist of your case, and to achieve emotional buy-in.

Finding the story behind volumes of technical information and crafting that story into compelling words, diagrams, charts, pictures and video — while remaining true to the underlying facts – these story telling skills are the essential element in the process of persuasion.

How do we go about developing and telling your story? It’s a multi-step process, customized to each client’s needs, but based on some fundamental principles developed over decades of work on hundreds of complex and challenging public affairs situations.

To begin, we study and absorb all the details of your fact case. Only when we understand the nuances can we craft the most compelling story that will win over sometimes very skeptical audiences.

Next, we use our understanding of your information and your story, on the one hand, and the interests of your audiences, on the other hand, to bridge the gap between you and them. Every communications situation, no matter how dry or technical, offers themes that help us forge this bond.

We do this by weaving your facts and themes into a story that is designed to appeal to your audiences on multiple levels and lead to understanding of your efforts and agreement with what you are trying to achieve.

Finally, in presentations, fact sheets, white papers, brochures, website materials, speeches, documentary films and other communications tools we tell your story in a manner that optimizes for success and protects against failure.

December 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Added Value

Most companies are eager to stretch their advertising budgets as far as possible – which is why media buyers frequently negotiate perks for their clients beyond the price of the advertising itself.

15 second television ad

15 second television ad

These benefits – known collectively as “added value” – can come in the form of bonus commercials, sponsorships, free PSAs, on-air promotions, public relations opportunities and/or online links. How much value they add to a paid advertising campaign depends upon their execution and their relevance to the company. In many ways, it depends upon how well the media agency knows its client.

With careful planning, thought and collaboration, a small “added value” benefit can not only add tremendous value to a specific advertising campaign, it can transcend its immediate purpose and support other business objectives as well.

Case in point

As the agency of record for Southern California Edison (SCE), Winner & Associates produces branding commercials and seasonal commercials for the utility’s various energy-efficiency programs – for example, tuning up central air conditioners in the spring, recycling refrigerators in the summer, and switching to CFLs in the fall.

In 2008, when SCE began seeking new ways to tie their discrete seasonal programs together to raise awareness of the many ways customers could save energy, money and the environment, Winner & Associates negotiated added-value air time with TV stations running SCE’s branding ads. The result: we produced a handful of 10- and 15-second spots starring three SCE employees delivering energy-saving tips.

Soon after the spots began airing for the general market, SCE expanded the program into six ethnic markets. The award-winning ads were well-received – both internally and externally – and helped SCE exceed campaign goals for all three seasonal campaigns.

Buoyed by the success of the initial energy-saving tips campaign, Winner & Associates expanded the tips campaign in 2009. For one week in April, Winner & Associates and SCE auditioned nearly 600 employees. “We really only expected about 100 employees to be interested and were thrilled by the overwhelming response,” the utility’s corporate communications manager said at the time.

In the end, 37 SCE employees were selected as “on-air” talent for the 2009 campaign, and Winner & Associates produced a total of 80 spots in six different languages – English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean. Already, the tips have increased traffic on SCE’s website by 50 percent, and they’ve enhanced employee morale.

“All I could hear when walking anywhere in the office was, ‘Good morning, superstar,’ and ‘Can I have your autograph?” said one SCE engineer who appeared in the ads. “I was bombarded with all kinds of questions concerning the filming and the audition. It was a great experience.”

Now that’s added value.

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trust in California State Government Reaches Record Lows

A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that Californians’ trust in their state government has reached a record low and their desire for change is high.

Californians are cautious about the types of reforms they are willing to support. Huge majorities are willing to support a shift to an open primary system (70%) but only 23% favor reducing the legislature to part-time status.

The research by the PPIC shows deep distrust in state government on the part of the voters. Nearly three-fourths (73%) say it is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, a new high in the 11-year history of the PPIC Statewide Survey. Just 20 percent say that state government is run for the benefit of all of the people.

Residents retain more confidence in their own abilities to make policy decisions. A small majority (56%) say that decisions made through the initiative process are probably better than those made through the legislative process and only 28% say they are probably worse. Californians continue to feel that Proposition 13 and term limits—two constitutional changes made by initiative—have mainly been good for the state.

Not surprisingly, Californians are in agreement that the budget situation is a problem and two-thirds see it as a big problem–78 percent seeing it as a big problem and 18 percent calling it somewhat of a problem. The 78 percent figure matches a record high first reached in September 2008. A majority (60%) are very concerned about the effect of spending cuts on local government services—far more than when PPIC asked a similar but less detailed question five years ago (35% August 2004).

80% see the budget process as in need of major changes which marks a steady increase since March of 2008. This view is held across political parties, demographic groups, and regions. Californians were asked to consider three fiscal reform ideas under discussion:

• Spending cap: Most (65%) say it would be a good idea to strictly limit increases in state spending each year (28% bad idea).
• Two-thirds vote to pass a budget: A majority (53%) say it would be a good idea to lower the threshold needed for budget passage to 55 percent of the legislature (38% bad idea).
• Two-thirds vote for local special taxes: Half (50%) say it would be a good idea to lower this requirement to 55 percent of voters (42% bad idea).

There have been increased calls for review and perhaps revision of the constitution, but the survey does not show support for this among the voters. Only 33 percent of Californians say major changes to the constitution are needed, while 36 percent say minor changes are needed and 24 percent say the constitution is fine as it is.

Two landmark initiatives are seen mostly as a good thing for California. Proposition 13 (55% mostly a good thing, 30% mostly a bad thing, 12% don’t know), which limits property taxes on both residential and commercial buildings, and term limits (59% good thing, 15% a bad thing, 23% no difference), which limits state legislators’ terms to six years in the assembly and eight in the senate.

However, the survey found that residents also support changes to these measures. A majority (58%) say it would be a good idea to tax commercial properties according to current market value, known as a “split roll.” A majority (65%) also say it would be a good idea to modify term limits by reducing the total number of years lawmakers could serve—from 14 to 12—but allowing years of service to be in either house or a combination of both.

Even though residents are pleased with direct democracy, overwhelming majorities favor two possible reforms to the initiative process:

• Increasing public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and campaigns (81% favor, 14% oppose)
• Having a period of time in which the initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to see if a compromise is possible before putting the measure on the ballot (80% favor, 15% oppose).

Support has grown since March for a change in the state’s primary system that would allow voters to cast ballots for any candidate, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election regardless of party with 70% favoring support regardless of party, region, and demographic group. But residents’ negative views of their full-time legislature do not mean they see a shift to a part-time legislature as a solution: 44 percent say it would be a bad thing, 23 percent a good thing, and 27 percent say it would make no difference.

Californians’ perception of the economy has improved since July, perhaps in response to recent positive economic indicators. But residents’ views are far from positive: 67 percent say the state can expect bad times financially in the next 12 months.

The negative views about the direction of the state are reflected in views about state leaders. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating (30%) is near his record low in July (28%), and his disapproval rating has hit a new high of 61 percent. The legislature’s rating (21%) inched up from its low (17% July). Californians’ approval of their own legislators (34%) remains near its lowest level (32% March 2009).*

*Information in this post based on a recent article in California Progress Report

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Media Training Before You Make the News

If your company has ever been in the media spotlight, you already know it’s hard to control news coverage. But most companies underestimate their ability to influence what’s written or said about them. Whether preparing your CEO or spokesperson for a television interview, a legislative hearing or a high profile event, or responding to a crisis, you have more control than you might think.
Prepare Before you make the news…
It all starts with an understanding of how the news media function, and what is likely to attract their attention. Now is the time to do a thorough assessment of your company’s strengths and vulnerabilities, and prepare for unexpected events or crises that could damage the company’s reputation or its brands. In the Internet world and the 24-hour global news cycle, even a seemingly small problem in a far-off location can become a significant national or international issue within hours.

An invaluable part of your preparation is media training for your company’s senior management and primary spokespersons. Their performance under pressure can create long-lasting impressions on the media and public.

At our firm, Winner & Associates, our one-on-one or group training focuses on communicating about issues strategically and not just reacting to events. We emphasize developing and implementing communications strategies that support your company’s business goals and objectives. Our formula for success in media interviews and speaking opportunities is:

Preparation + Practice = Performance

We recommend that before you talk to the media, you should identify three or four key messages and practice how you would deliver them. Regardless of any reporter’s agenda, it is your job to deliver these key messages persuasively several times during any encounter with the media. Your ability to do this is enhanced through careful preparation, including mock interviews.
The time to prepare for the media spotlight is before you make the news.


Winner & Associates has had more than 30 years of experience training clients, including senior executives from numerous Fortune 500 companies, for some of the most challenging encounters with the media and other vital audiences. We prepare our clients by showing them in advance how to communicate strategically on issues and by simulating one-on-one interviews, press conferences and other events. We give them the tools they need to understand audiences, anticipate tough questions and craft effective messages.

To schedule a media training session, or learn more, contact Zach Winner at zwinner@winnr.com.


July 7, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What is the “Smart Grid” that Obama and Congress Want?

We’ve heard about the “smart grid” in the news and advertising. It’s a part of the new Waxman – Markey Energy Bill, and the President even mentioned it in his inaugural address. It all sounds promising, if a little short on details. So what exactly is a smart grid?

Dictionary

First a quick review of how electricity gets to us.

Electricity travels through wires, sometimes hundreds of miles, from power plants, solar panels and wind farms to homes and businesses. If you imagine these wires are roads, the high voltage lines you see strung on huge metal towers are eight-lane freeways with the capacity to move a large volume of electricity.

Substations are off-ramps, where the high voltage electricity is stepped down by transformers before moving out on lower voltage distribution lines into neighborhoods and commercial zones. Think surface streets.

This complex system was built over decades and has grown with each new wave of development. The responsibility for maintaining the extensive grid belongs to the utilities that use it to deliver electricity. Utilities act both as road crews – building and repairing lines and other system hardware – and as traffic cops – monitoring and controlling the flow of electricity as demand varies by region and fluctuates hour to hour. It’s a big job that includes everything from the critical (finding the source of power outages), to the technical (gathering information about supply and demand throughout the system), to the routine (measuring the amount of power delivered). All these functions have been performed by individuals since electric utilities first began.

Enter the digital age of wireless Internet connections… and the advent of the smart grid.

The smart grid combines technologies, hardware and software applications that make it easier to gather and relay information and respond more quickly to changing conditions.

For the utility, the hardware includes sensors positioned at regular intervals along the lines and transceivers to relay reports of downed lines or points in the system where congestion is occurring, so power can be re-routed. New software will calculate availability of renewable energy sources – when the wind is blowing and where the sun is shining – and factor that into the overall picture, so utilities will be able to maximize the use of renewable sources in the power they generate.

On the consumer side there are a number of “smart home” components that interface with the smart grid. Smart appliances will let you monitor your power usage from any Internet-connected computer and program them to run during off-peak hours or put them on standby when you’re away. Smart fueling will make it possible to charge up electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles at night when electricity is in lower demand and return some of that stored power to the grid at times of the day when it’s most needed. Smart meters will replace meter readers, and price electricity based on the time it’s used. That way, consumers can save money by conserving power and using certain appliances during “off-peak” hours. By logging onto your account with your utility, you’ll be able to check your consumption and decide where to cut back or change usage habits.

That same instant information from the new meters will also be useful to the utility.  A direct connection with your smart appliances will allow utilities to power them down for periods so brief you won’t even notice.  And the cumulative effect over millions of households will help to balance supply and demand, avoid system overloads, and prevent brownouts and blackouts.

Simple, but ingenious, smart grids represent a long range vision for electricity that will make this indispensible service more efficient, responsive and easier on the environment. For those who struggle with change, it’s important to remember that one thing won’t change; At the end of the day, when you turn on the lights, the lights will still go on.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Public Opinion: Raising Local Taxes May be More Acceptable to Californians Than Higher State Taxes

California’s perennial struggle to balance its state budgets has national importance. Among the issues with which the nation’s most populous and socially diverse state is grappling are:

How to define and pay for quality public education.
How to sustain a safety net for the economically desperate
in a period of shrinking state and local revenues.
How to overcome structural obstacles to efficient budget making.

The resolution of these and other issues could have significant political, economic and social impacts across the country in the years ahead.

California’s fiscal process, as well as its social priorities, will have a lot to do with this and future years’ mix of service cutbacks and new taxes and fees. Since the 1930’s, California has been Constitutionally required to adopt the state budget by a two-thirds Legislative majority. Because of a 1978 initiative statute, the Legislature must also agree on any new taxes by the same supermajority. Thus, in recent years disproportionate influence over these decisions rests with a minority of tax and spending-averse conservative Republicans, in spite of large Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature and a 44 to 31 percent Democratic advantage in the state’s electorate.

But do California voters want to change the rules to adopt state budgets and to make it easier to pass new revenue measures? Recent public opinion research says, “No”, as shown in the first three sets of bars in the graph below. This explains, in part, why California is having such a difficult time balancing its 2009-10 budget. However, the fourth set of bars, on the far right, suggests that under certain circumstances Californians might support raising revenues.

It would seem that California voters are much more likely to end the two-thirds supermajority for new taxes if the lesser vote requirement were to apply to issue-specific local taxation proposals. Thus, California may eventually see financial responsibility for education, public safety and social welfare — which in the past three decades has been increasingly concentrated at the state level – devolve to local governments, where voters seem to feel more immediately connected and believe there would be greater accountability. If this devolution occurs in California, it could be echoed in other states, much to the inconvenience of national policy makers and interest groups, which look to state government as the principal conduit for Federal aid and support.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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