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Virginia Commonwealth University School of Mass Communications Commencement Address


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This is the commencement speech I delivered on May 11th to the 2013 graduates of Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Mass Communications.

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Virginia Commonwealth University School of Mass Communications Commencement Address

  1. 1. Virginia Commonwealth UniversityCommencement Speech May 11, 2013Thank you, members of the faculty and administration, parents andfriends, honored guests and graduates, thank you so much forinviting me to speak today at this wonderful Commencementceremony.Before we begin, can we please take a moment to honor those whogave support to our graduates? Whether in person or not, the paththat brought us here today couldn’t have been done without friendsand family. Let’s please give them a round of applause!It was a tumultuous journey to get to Richmond from Detroit. My tripwas filled with bad weather, delays and an AC system that wasmechanically deficient on the plane. So it’s not surprising that lastnight after checking into my hotel, I had a bad dream that I postedthis very speech to Facebook…and nobody liked it.Nobody even paid attention to it. Talk about anxiety! It got methinking about the challenges educators face today. I get to present toyou for the final hour of your journey, but to be a professor or a TA?They had to fight for your attention for four or five years – all of thiswhile swimming upstream against the waves of social media. Theinstant accessibility to distraction is a blessing or a curse dependingon which side of the podium you’re on.So scanning the audience, I suppose I’ll be able to gage the successof the words I share based on the number of graduates I see lookingdown at their iPhones. Speaking of, for those who want to followalong via twitter, you can do so using the hashtag #VCUGraduationAll jokes aside, in my due diligence, I learned a great deal aboutVCU. That the VCU School of Mass Communications is one of onlyabout 100 select journalism and mass communication programsaccredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism andMass Communications. That to accredit is to quote ―assure basicstandards of excellence,‖ with only about one in four masscommunications program earning accreditation.
  2. 2. What I learned was that VCU School of Mass CommunicationsStudents are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the faculty membersand their professional experience that they bring into the classroom.You, graduates of 2013, came to Virginia Commonwealth Universityprepared to learn. I commend you for that. You earned this right ofpassage.But it goes without saying that I’m still really nervous. Uncomfortablyso, and let’s make one thing perfectly clear. When working for aFortune 10, you rarely have time to get nervous.I really thought about how to overcome my uneasiness and as such,wrote down and wanted to share three times in my life where thebutterflies almost got the best of me.This is the only time I’ve ever told this story, but the first was on stagein front of 10,000 people when my high school choir sang back up toKenny Rogers. In a brilliant media relations move, Kenny toured thenation using local school chorales on stage. Only one problem:Members of our 15-person ensemble, me included, were strickendown with the stomach flu. I remember Kenny thanking us for gettingthe crowd swaying back and forth that night. Sadly this had little to dowith our encore performance of the ―You Are So Beautiful‖. But to mychoir conductor’s chagrin, we persevered.The second time was right here in Richmond. My Ford colleagueScott Monty had asked me to come speak to the Social Media Club ofRichmond and at the time my responsibilities at Ford Motor Companyrevolved around leading our North American digital communicationsstrategy. This so happened to include the management of our socialmedia initiatives – our objectives included outreach to local SocialMedia Clubs around the nation to share the Ford Story - so this wasappropriate. I came prepared with the topic of my presentation beingbased around Social Purpose, which we defined as the obligation wehave to use social media as a means of connecting brands withpeople in order to establish real emotional relationships.
  3. 3. What I wasn’t counting on was being lead to the stage and seeing mypresentation projected on your Richmond Science Center’s 4 storytall IMAX screen. My social purpose quickly changed that night – tostop from hyperventilating and getting through my presentation. Iwas asked back to Richmond today and I assure you, the firstquestion I had for Bill (Farrar) was, ―No projectors, right?‖The third and final time was interviewing with my employer, FordMotor Company who quickly set the tone for what became the mostharrowing 8 hours of my life. This included the birth of my twochildren. See I can say that because my wife is back in Michigan anddidn’t accompany me on the trip. Though I’m sure this is going to endup on Youtube – there’s irony in that. Setting the scene: I was a brash, confident marketing executiveworking in Manhattan. Armed with my resume and a two pagehandwritten case study that I was asked to bring with me - that Iadmittedly wrote on the plane to Detroit, I walked into the ballroom ofa local hotel for a ―Getting To Know You Pre-Interview Banquet‖expecting to see the 500 plus candidates who flew in for theirrespective departmental interviews.I was taken aback to find nothing but a single table surrounded byvast emptiness.Maybe I was in the wrong ballroom I thought. Until I saw others walkin with the same look on their faces.―Oh no…this is bad.‖It was like a scene from the Shining.I was horrified when two executives entered the room and took theirseats, with the remaining ones filled by my direct competition for theposition. What commenced was a rapid fire round table series ofquestions followed by an emphasis on the following day’s case studypresentation, where we were to be judged on our argumentative skillsand a need to convince our fellow competitors and a group of Fordemployee judges that the solution we outlined to solve the problemsof a fictitious automotive company was the correct one. Did I mention
  4. 4. we had to convince the very people we were pitted against to takeyour side?The rapid-fire question and answer session didn’t bother me much – Iwas familiar to the cadence given my clients back in the city. I’d say Iwas doing fairly well until one of the executives called me ―Chris‖.Chris? Who’s Chris? My name’s Craig. There was a moment of slightembarrassment and a passing joke of ―You can call me any firstname you want as long as I get this job!‖But in reality, a switch flipped in my head. This was game on.Needless to say, I quickly excused myself from dinner, took a deepbreath and spent the night rewriting my case study. The followingday, it took but 20 minutes to convince the group and judges that theposition I took was the correct course of action concluding with thecommonly attributed to JFK phrase ―A rising tide lifts all boats!‖I was later told that the factors that went into my hire were:1.) How well written my case study response was2.) The request to retire to my room early so I could edit andrevise3.) The passion and seriousness of which I took the assignmentI hope you take something from each of those stories. For example,in the case of Kenny Rogers, you’ve got to know when to hold’emand know when to fold’em.I’ve waited twenty years to say that. Sorry, I know it was horrible.In the case of Kenny Rogers, don’t be afraid to let improvisation leadyour way to success when you find yourself singing for your life.Or when speaking in front of the equivalent of a Broadway Billboardin Times Square, when you’re the center of attention, make the mostof the opportunity.And finally, in regards to the interview and job I subsequently foughtto win, I quote Arthur Ashe when he said, ―One important key to
  5. 5. success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence ispreparation.‖And in today’s media environment you always have to be prepared.The paradigm that exists today isn’t going away. With my sincereapologies to the fine faculty at VCU, we’ve gone from MassCommunications to Minimal Communications – Generations whogrew up receiving their news from a picture box in their living roommay soon be wearing their news as a fashion accessory if Googlehas their way with Google Glass or as my parents call it ―TheGoogle‖.Generations who listened to carefully crafted editorial copy correctedmessaging – are struggling to adapt to a real time society. That’sright, news is spilling across scanning eyeballs literally in real time.The key variable in this change in behavior? Well obviously theInternet. But the Internet is a platform, it doesn’t generate news. It’sfor all intents and purposes, a dumb pipe. It’s agnostic to itsapplication.So this goes beyond the Internet. This is actually about people. TheInternet has enabled, no empowered communication. Empoweredpeople to share ideas, to exchange critical information, to startrevolutions. To build connections and relationships agnostic togeography, race, religion and gender.Think of it like this - Ten years ago the media generated media.Today, in addition to the media developing content, people generatemedia. And in its current construct, established outlets such as CNNhave evolved in a marriage of mainstream media meets citizenjournalism.But even CNN’s iReporter, with scale, is miniscule in comparison tothe critical mass of the total eyes and ears of the Internet. Look nofurther than social news site Reddit. According to Quantcast, awebsite analytics and measurement company, Reddit’s traffic hasincreased by over 10 million people from April 2012 to April 2013.Today Reddit, whose appropriate tagline is ―The Front Page of theInternet‖ serves user generated news to over 26 million people. Incomparison, serves to 19 million.
  6. 6. Reddit, Twitter – they offer access to information that previously tookhours to produce in seconds. Imagine if these channels existed whileyour grandparents were teenagers. This was a huge ―what if‖ to me;something I thought worth exploring in preparation for today.Fortunately, I discovered author James Widner’s World War IItimeline leading up to the reporting of one of America’s greatesttragedies. Yet how ―instant‖ was the news of almost 70 years prior?I preface that before you all bare with me while I try to detail hisresearch and keep your attention through this ceremony, I did myhomework – to stand before me today, it was a requirement that all ofyou take History 103 and 104, Survey of American History. You alsowere required to take the History of Advertising – so think of this as afinal refresher before going out into the world as graduates!Okay here we go. Let’s do this!In the 40’s, radio was the mass medium and it was a channel intransition. The impeding war was the catalyst for the industry weknow today as broadcast journalism. We’ll be focusing on four mainradio networks: NBC Red Network, NBC Blue Network, WOR, andCBS.As history tells us, the bombing of Pearl Harbor took place on a lazySunday morning on December 7, 1941. Eyewitness reports claim theair raid alarm went off at 7:58 am local Hawaiin time, 1:58 pm EasternStandard Time.Meanwhile that afternoon, the east coast was listening to a footballgame, yes football, between the New York Giants and the BrooklynDodgers that had an approximate 2:00 PM EST kickoff. Atapproximately, 2:26 PM WOR broke into the game with the surprisebulletin about an attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. 28minutes after the first alert went off in Hawaii.WOR’s competitor, the NBC Red network was wrapping up itsbroadcast of the music program - Sammy Kayes Sunday Serenadewhere it broke the start of the following program, the Round Table,with its first bulletin on the Pearl Harbor bombing at 2:29 pm.
  7. 7. At the same time, NBC Blue Network interrupted its Great Playsbroadcast of "The Inspector General" with the same bulletin.Over at CBS, where the only regularly scheduled news broadcast onSundays was about to begin, things were in disarray as the wireservice news poured in about the bombing. The 2:30 P.M. programwas The World Today. Normally, this program would have gone onthe air to report current world events. But this day, they began almostimmediately with the bulletin by announcer John Daly of Pearl Harborbeing bombed. CBS continued with additional commentary on theimpact of this event. But NBC Blue returned its regular programming.That’s right – it kept to its regularly scheduled programming.At 2:38 P.M. NBC Red offered another bulletin that Manila was beingbombed (which later proved to be false). The Round Table moderatormentioning that Burma was being bombed followed this at 2:52 P.M.again, false.At CBS at 2:33 P.M., Washington D.C.-based newsman AlbertWarner speculated on what possible steps FDR would take given thatthe Japanese envoys were meeting with Secretary of State CordellHull as the bombing was taking place but hold the phone! At 2:39,Warner interrupts his own analysis with a bulletin that the Japaneseare bombing Manila – sensing a pattern here?Probably surprising today, but not then, as CBS did, NBC Red wentback to regularly scheduled broadcasting as at 3:00 pm after a quicksummary of current events, ―Chats About Dogs‖ airs. Could youimagine? The first time we have been attacked on American soilsince the Civil War and we decide to stick with the 1940’s equivalentof Caesar Milan the Dog Whisperer?Call it a hypothesis but perhaps the rigidity of programming wouldn’tallow us to do an about face. Radio was still nascent and while thewire services were readily available to provide updates as quickly aspossible, maybe the audience wasn’t prepared for this suddeninvasiveness of change in format.Fast forward to today. In contrast to the heartbreak that took placejust a few weeks ago, as initial reports streamed out of Boston aboutan explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, mainstreamnews – this time cable news - was chastised for being far behind on
  8. 8. the story. While reports on Twitter streamed out almost instantly, allthree cable news networks seemed totally unaware of whathappened. Both Fox and CNN broke into their programs to report thenews more than 10 minutes after the first reports on Twitter.Ten minutes. This is the world you’re entering, graduates. A worldwhere ten minutes may have been the equivalent of 10 years.Yet where were the eyes of the Nation? If not the world?I had a friend of mine, Will Bottinick, who’s the Director of SocialInsights at Converseon, a social media consultancy, conductresearch on my behalf. In the hour prior to the tragedy, there wereapproximately 15,000 unique English speaking public records onsocial media referencing the Boston Marathon. Between 2:50 pm and3:00 pm? Over 515,000. Those 10 minutes lead to instant scale andglobal awareness of what took place.With the pure global pervasiveness of a social media basedcommunications platform – 140 characters and all – you couldconclude that this was news you simply couldn’t avoid.Regardless of whether you’re going to buy and plan media, go intojournalism, or public relations, you need to be prepared to deal with amedia world that is more fragmented than it is whole. You must beprepared to go further to tell the story.Going Further. This is our mantra at Ford – going well beyond somefancy tagline born in the basement of an ad agency. To us, it signifiedthat we were no longer turning around an industry but in contrast,moving ahead.As part of our everyday business, Ford and its employees, dealersand suppliers are always pushing harder, going further—that good isnot good enough. Individually and collectively, we at Ford Go Furtherin everything we do, so that our customers can go further in theirlives.In my department – Communications – we push ourselves daily toshare our stories with key stakeholders, the public, suppliers andpartners. It’s a true labor of love.
  9. 9. I’m simply estimating but in a single year, we’ve produced and placedapproximately 200 written stories on topics that range from ourinnovations in using soy foam in our seats to announcing the 50thanniversary of the iconic Ford Mustang. We’ve developed at least 50video essays highlighting a range of topics from how to use Pandorathrough SYNC – our in-vehicle hands free voice activation technologyto Electric Vehicle public charging etiquette. And have developedinfographics sharing tidbits of information from Our F-Series SuperDuty truck dominance to quantifying the recyclable materials in ourall-new Ford Escape to highlighting our most unique engineeringoccupations at Ford, bringing my colleagues to life in the form ofcomic book superheroes. Trust me when I tell you that ourergonomics engineer Mike Kolich needed some adjusting to ourreferring to him as Dr. Derriere!He was a great sport about it!When I mention the media volume of materials we produce, it’s not astrategy of all news for all people. We use segmentation andqualitative judgments to determine who we share our stories with.Similar to all of you determining whether you put your Aunt Evelyn ina limited profile on Facebook – you want to share stories of interestwith her and save the ones about post-finals Bar Night for your fellowcollegiate friends. We know which stories resonate with each specificaudience we craft them for.Where there’s commonality however is not what but how we performour jobs on a daily basis. Using our mantra of Go Further to tellstories using the tools of tomorrow – from text, to imagery to video.We push ourselves to innovate every day in the workplace.But our tools of tomorrow you use in your daily lives. You, graduates,are living in a time where the personal channels you choose tocommunicate with overlap in a communicative venn that intersectsboth your professional and personal lives. Facebook in the workplaceis an every day norm, as is twitter. Instagram photo galleries? You tellstories every day, just through different platforms.Culturally the impact technology has had on our ability to bothcommunicate without barriers and blur the lines of mass andinterpersonal communication is unfounded. We’re charting new
  10. 10. territory by the second, and you’re living through it! For generationsprior we ask how does it work? For you though, it’s almost instinctive.I think that’s pretty awesome.As I look at all of you in front of me, I think back to the nervousness Ifelt prior to uttering a single word. All of you will have the opportunityto do great things in your lives.I could be speaking to the next great reporter at The Gray Lady.Or the next David Ogilvy.Or maybe I’m speaking to the next Paull Young.That might be an unfamiliar name to many of you. Paull Young is afriend of mine. He grew up on a drought stricken farm in Australia andmoved to New York in 2007. He followed his passions, leaving asuccessful position as a social media executive to join charity: water– a non profit whose mission is to bring clean and safe drinking waterto people in developing nations. Through his creativity andenthusiasm, Paull has delivered a number of award winningprograms to help bring even more awareness to the organization heworks for. In doing so, every day he helps the one in nine people inour world gain access to the most basic of human needs. Somethingwe cant imagine going 12 hours without: clean drinking water.Regardless of the aspirations you may have – whether it’s injournalism, public relations or advertising - after leaving thisceremony today, I ask but one thing of all of you:Don’t focus on what you can achieve, but on how much you loveachieving it.Find your passion and don’t let it go, even in the face of adversity.When you hear no, try harder, Go Further. Embrace the hard roads tovictory.This, Virginia Commonwealth University class of 2013 will be thesecret to your success.Congratulations to all of you and your accomplishments. Thank you.