The Two Things #TheDress Can Teach PR, Communications and Marketing Folks

Let’s be clear: I’m not a fan of hopping on an Internet meme and turning it into publicity for publicity’s sake.

But I’m going to step into the #TheDress fray for two minutes. Won’t you join me? I hope so, because I think it teaches us all — but especially media and media relations folks — two very valuable lessons.

The first lesson is, by far, the most important:

Reasonable people can disagree.

Say it with me again, just to absorb it:

Reasonable people can disagree.

From the Tumblr site that started it all: shock at this simple concept is the very fuel that’s keeping this dress dialog going. Two people can see the exact same object — or image on the same screen at the same time —  and cognitively receive it very, very differently. No one cares about this dress; what we care about is the fact that the world around us can be interpreted by other people — people we’d usually categorize as people like ourselves (a partner, a co-worker, whoever) — very, very differently.

It’s an important lesson for people in PR, marketing and communications: our audiences may not see things like we do, even if it seems insanely obvious to us. And, often, our job shouldn’t be to convince people that the dress is blue and black (which it usually is to me) or white and gold, but to find the common ground in the dialog and move on. After working in-house for four years, I’m especially cautious about this, as things from the inside out rarely look the same as they do from the outside.

The second lesson: the longer something is on the Internet, the less you can trust it.

When the dress was originally posted to Tumblr, it was a relatively unfiltered experience. Just one Tumblr sharing her genuine surprise about an image. But then, as that genuine surprise gets commoditized and shared by individuals, their interpretations shape the dialog about the original, sometimes to the point of obscuring it almost entirely. Those explanations, Photoshop jobs, GIFS, etc. can happen out of a desire to explain, for fleeting popularity on the Interwebs, to push heretofore unrelated agendas or for pure general snarkiness.

That’s also important for folks who make a living immersed in public dialog. It’s really, really tempting to get caught up in a wave of interpretations and interpretations of interpretations, but our job should be to frame issues in ways that are authentic and reality based; sometimes that means getting back to the core issues, acknowledging that reasonable people can disagree and finding common ground.

Until, of course, the original image of the dress is exposed as an image-based technological conspiracy designed to tear society apart at the seams.

At which point: trust no one.

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YOU THERE: Want to Change the Future of Healthcare Communications? Here’s How

Health PR people: now is the time to take the reins. And it’s actually not that hard. All you need to do is tap your own enthusiasm and talent and channel it.

Let me explain.

I remember the late nineties. For a lot of reasons, it was a time of what seemed like limitless potential, and nowhere more than technology and PR.

HATwitter_400x400I was in love with my first PR agency job, but at the same time, friends (and friends of friends) were suddenly riding a wave of energy and innovation and economic success in the technology sector. Nobody knew exactly where it was going, but it was clear there were ideas and enthusiasm and potential to spare, enough to literally change the world.

There were lots of needs in the marketplace that weren’t getting addressed, but there were ideas out there to alleviate them. There were problems that needed solutions – some crazy, some sensible. Moreover, there was a sense that change was coming and it was big.

Sound familiar?

The technology boom of the 1990s is a lot like what’s just about to happen in healthcare very soon. And it’s up to us to get ahead of that wave and not just surf the momentum, but to channel it.

I remember missing out on that wave of innovation and watching it go past me. This time: not so much.

I hope you’ll join me in channeling that momentum by getting involved in PRSA Health Academy leadership. Not tomorrow. Not soon. Today.

And here’s how: nominate yourself for the ballot of the PRSA Health Academy Executive Committee. I promise it’s not that tough, especially if you have a bio already prepared.

By running, you’ll be making your own voice heard and representing all the communications, marketing, social media, PR, branding professionals that are changing the way that hundreds of millions of people are thinking about their health. And you’ll be part of the movement that’s helping those professionals move up the executive food chain from simply promoting ideas handed down to us to shaping them and making them more effective.

There’s some immediacy to this. Submissions are due Friday. But the good folks at PRSA HQ make it easy. All you have to do is go to the PRSA Health Academy home page and click on “Become a Health Academy Leader.”

More to the point, you’ll be making the entire profession better – and glossing up your resume at the same time.

I look forward to seeing your name on the ballot soon.

Context: I’m a member of the PRSA Health Academy Executive Committee and Associate Vice President for Communications at the Society of Hospital Medicine in Philadelphia. I worktweet at @BrendonAtSHM and tweet for fun (fair warning) at @bshank.

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What I Want for My Birthday

I’m pretty good at answering questions. It’s kind of my job.

But there’s one question I’m always always ALWAYS bad at answering: “what do you want for your birthday?” [editor’s note: it’s my birthday today, so this problem was especially apparent in the days & weeks leading up to today.]

I never NEVER know what to say. It always comes from the people with the best of intentions and who love me the most, like my wife and my mom. This year, I even sifted through online gift lists and ThinkGeek, in case there was something I really needed, but just didn’t know it.

Still: nothing.

Then, it clicked for me this morning as I was walking through my neighborhood of Graduate Hospital in South Philly.

What I want for my birthday is the Taney Dragons to have a good time at the Little League World Series this week. I want their families to be there to support them — if they can — win or lose. I want all of the kids on the team to know that their neighborhood supports them, win or lose. That their entire city is rooting for them, win or lose.

I’ve been amazed by the love and interest for this team, from local restaurants and bars hosting parties, to the twitter-storm created during the Sunday night game, to the local and national media coverage for the game. I want to add my little piece of local love and support for the Taney Dragons.

That. THAT’s what I want for my birthday.

And, so instead of a Google Play gift certificate or the promise of a beer in the near future, what you can do is donate here. Donate to the Taney Baseball program. As they say, “all donations go to assisting our teams and improving our programs.” They’re taking donations starting at five dollars, which — lucky for you, given my snobby beer tastes — is less than the beer you’d buy me.

Starting this week, this bunch of actual neighborhood kids will be staring down teams from all over the world — many of them better resourced from the get-go. I can’t make Mo’Ne Davis a better pitcher (let’s be serious, very few of us could). I can’t give them a high five before the game. I won’t make it to Williamsport at all.

But I can ask you to help them out. And I hope that donation makes their experience a little more fun and shows that we have their back on Friday afternoon. And that’s what good neighbors do.

That’ll be my favorite birthday present this year.

If you do donate, let me know — either in the replies below or hit me up at @bshank.

EDIT 2:48PM ET: NO MORE $10 CREDIT CARD FEE. Props to whoever and however they made it happen. And to the people who told me about it.

EDIT 2:40PM ET: the donation site is currently asking for a $10 credit card fee. the payment administrator has told one kind contributor that it’s not supposed to be there and they are “working out some kinks”. Hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.


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