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NOTIONS: It's no rant; we need to have a conversation

September 24, 2007

If you're reading this column in ink on newsprint, thanks. It's the medium that inspired me to be a journalist, the one that still lands on my driveway each morning and the one I recycle each Friday afternoon.

If you're reading this column on a Web site, thanks. It's the medium that's revolutionized communications, the one drawing droves of ad dollars and the one I can turn to any time to learn what I want to learn as it happens-long before the newsprint hits my driveway.

If you're reading this column via permission-based e-mail, thanks. It's the medium that lets you request and receive only what you want; delivered to your desktop, laptop, iPhone or Blackberry; so you can read it at your convenience. It's also a medium that allows easy forwarding to others who might be interested.

If you're listening to this column via podcast, thanks. It's the medium that lets you make the most of your commute or workout time, and the one that renders dyslexia moot.

If you're reading this column on a blog, thanks. I'm glad it's found its way (with permission, of course) to some online community of interest to you.

Finally, if you're compelled to comment on, or converse about, this column, via e-mail, blog, text messaging, instant messaging, Facebook, LinkedIn, fax, snail mail, phone or some other mechanism, thanks. Because today's communication is far less about sending messages at people and far more about building relationships with people.

But too many leaders and organizations still haven't figured that out. They continue to wallow in an increasingly irrelevant, paper-or-plastic debate: Shall we "get our message out" by print or e-mail?

I sit on volunteer boards where folks still argue over whether to send out a pricey printed magazine twice a year or, for less money (and fewer dead trees), communicate via interactive media monthly or more.

I still receive reams of unrequested, unwanted print newsletters that invariably go straight to the recycle bin. Meanwhile, the online information I've actually requested gets read, watched, listened to, responded to and, occasionally, forwarded to others who might be interested.

Many organizations still spend six figures or more creating, printing and distributing glossy annual reports that toooften get skimmed and pitched. Sadly, they fail to adapt the same information for Web sites where usage is higher, shelf life longer, content searchable and readership measurable.

Behind-the-times result: I participated in a prestigious university PR conference last year at which the moderator asked: "In this new, cluttered, communication world, how do we get our message out to our audiences?"

As Mr. Spock used to say to his boss on "Star Trek," "Irrelevant, Captain."

Instead, we must ask: "In this new, Burger Kingish, "have-it-your-way" world, how do we continually engage interested communities in mutually beneficial conversations?"

Then an oracle enlightened us. "If it wasn't on TV, it didn't happen," he said. And we looked at the ratings, and behold, most of our constituents were getting their information from the boob tube.

For while print and broadcast media-on the mass scale and in organizations-still play vital roles in sending some messages, the monologue is largely passé, the conversation cause célèbre.

And the conversation increasingly occurs via online social networking sites where millions of us are finding, defining and engaging communities of our own choosing, rather than those imposed on us by geography or birth, education or employment.

Our teenagers flocked to this phenomenon first, of course, with MySpace, Facebook and more. But now, Baby Boomers, elders, business people and industry-specific professionals are piling on-by joining the kids in their online spaces or opting for up-and-coming demographic-specific sites.

But enough rant. I want a conversation.

If you'd like to partake, "friend" me on Facebook. Connect via LinkedIn. Send an email requesting the e-version of this column, then reply. Weigh in on IBJ's Web site. Weigh in on my company's Web site. Send a letter to the editor. Or make like Alexander Graham Bell and call.

And hey, if you just want to read it in the paper, share your copy with a friend or colleague when you're finished. And be sure to recycle.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears twice a month.To comment on this column, send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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