Get in line!

As noted a few weeks back, I have recently been invited to join the IABC Commons blog as a commentator on branding. I’ve posted a couple items, but haven’t yet jumped in with both feet. I have a few things planned, though.

Anyway, if you flip over to the About the Authors page, you’ll notice that I’m still not there. Thanks to a variety of hitches, they’ve not gotten my pic and profile posted. This evening, though, I got a note from the woman who runs things there saying that they’re on it.

However, she says that:

…the photo is an issue. It’s not going to pass with our web master. Do you have a more typical photo that we can use?

Hunh. The photo in question is a variation of the one that accompanies this post. Not exactly the stuff revolutions are made of, but at the same time, there’s an obvious attempt on my part to make a certain visual communication statement.

Here’s my problem. My value in the professional world stems from my aptitude as an innovation marketer. I’m creative. Inventive. Unorthodox. I come at problems from unconventional angles and help those I work with and for develop genuinely think-forward solutions to their problems. I’ve made my name and reputation as the guy you call when the standard way of doing things isn’t working anymore or when you run across a problem you’ve never seen before.

I’m pretty solid at the compulsories, I like to think. I can write a darned good press release and produce a snappy piece of marketing collateral that a sales guy can use to move a discussion along. So can a lot of other people. And a lot of them are better than me at it.

But when I say I’m all about finding new ways of doing things, I mean it. I won’t bore you with all the details, but over the past few years I have by god been the first or one of the very first to do several things. It’s my professional identity. It’s who I am and what I do.

Innovation is, if you will, my brand.

So it was a pretty deliberate step sending a photo that looked a little different than the rest (for better or worse – I know I ain’t no runway model). That was part of my self-branding, and since my purpose in being a part of this blog is to think forward about branding issues – at a time when the old modes of professional communication are failing on an unprecedented scale – it seemed appropriate that my bio and image cue the reader that “this guy sees things a little differently.” No need to be radical – no blue mohawks or pierced nipples – just a simple, clear visual statement that suggests something a little novel to a site visitor.

Instead, the picture is vetoed by the Web master – who may be a communications pro but probably isn’t – because they need something more typical.

When I look around the public communication landscape I see more companies than I can count who might as well be flinging bags of money off the top of the corporate headquarters building for all the opportunities their obsessive clinging to convention is costing them. (That is, I see them when I actively look for them – in this media-saturated world, you have to work hard to even notice a lot of companies. They’ve become white noise.) Did I say “companies”? Hell, there are entire industries that might as well close up and go home (*cough* newspapers *ack*).

The last thing in hell the world of marketing needs is more typical. Typical is the problem (especially when paired, as it so often is in marketing and branding, with mediocrity).

Look, I’m not trying to blow this out of proportion. If I couldn’t convey my thinking without this one picture I’d be the very definition of suck. They’re not wrong to pay attention to the messages flying through their wires, and these are people who have been very successful at what they do. As is always the case, I have more to learn than to teach. So this isn’t the end of the world.

But it is an awfully interesting little exercise in symbolism, I think. From where I sit, the irony is so thick you’d need a chainsaw to cut it. Bring aboard a guy who’s an innovation expert. Then have a non-communicator technical functionary demand a more conventional visual branding element. All within the context of the branding forum of one of the world’s most prominent professional communication organizations.

I’m pondering doing a blog about it on the IABC Commons. So far I’ve managed to talk myself out of it, but I’d damned sure not be where I am today if I had much ability to control my own worst impulses, now would I?

Oh well. Time to go shave and dig out the digital camera…

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13 comments

  1. sigh
    Not really sure what to say except that I also find it exasperating how limiting seemingly inconsequential decisions can be and there tend to be no processes in place to improve them. Maybe it is a personal bias but it seems that IT departments and folks like the web master tend to wield a lot of decision power without being accountable for the limitations of their decisions. We had a situation last year where IT decreed that they were going to strip off any software not on an approved list they put together. Most of the scientific/engineering software R&D was using was not included and no one outside of IT was consulted on the decision. Not the way to drive for improvement, collaboration, or innovate.
    Good luck and maybe you can compromise and create a striking backdrop with a “normal” headshot. Give yourself a data halo or something 🙂

  2. Mass communication
    The whole point of the advertising business is to sell you soap. The whole point of the marketing business is to make you want newer, “better” (and more expensive) soap. Anything that detracts from that–such as the individual identity of the communicator–must be excised and trimmed to be “normal.”
    That’s why people so stridently resist advertising. That’s why everyone watches the Super Bowl commercials but never buy any of the products. That’s why commercials on movie reels get jeered, and why GM’s recent “customer-driven” advertising program got boned so badly.
    People know when they’re being fed shit. You do it enough and eventually we barf it back up your way. Even smart, innovative guys like you are going to be forced into compliance.
    And for what it’s worth, government IT departments are ten thousand times worse than ANY private-sector tech team. Imagine a bunch of middle-aged, antisocial (or asocial) nerds with power fixations, OCD en masse, and job security.

  3. I’ve been in situations before where tech people had authority over communications operations, and it never goes well. Good tech and good comm folks have to work together, but if they don’t know the limits of their expertise it won’t go well.

  4. well, i guess he could have said “extreme”. but you need to take it to the next level. how about the next extreme generation of thinking outside the box?
    i still like my kilt idea. 🙂

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