There’s a perception within the business community that promotional media needs to be carefully crafted and presented with a high shine.  The focus is typically on senior executives that are positioned as the face of their companies while reading scripts that are refined to add a poetic wax to the talking head visuals.  We’ve seen a lot of this over the last twenty years as high-quality production services have become increasingly affordable.  The result is that corporate communications have become increasingly Hollywoodized.

As more companies flock to social media and discover the power of text, audio and video content on the Internet (whether podcasted or streamed) we’re seeing more of that same approach to corporate communications.  The difference is the public has more power to choose the content it wants and very few of us want to listen to or watch a senior executive talk at us from his or her expensively decorated office — particularly in an age when many of their peers are in the press for unusual accounting practices, bankruptcies, use of corporate jets for personal reasons and, what the heck, Ponzi Schemes.

People relate to other people, not companies.

As exciting as a company may be, its personality is actually the personalites of its people and their ability to engage with others.  In my view, dressing the company and its management team in Hollywood production actually buffs off the humanity and showcases the marketing budget.

Having said that, many companies are actually making great efforts to embrace the social media culture.  I’m not talking the ones that are using every available tool (and there are many) and pumping out as much content as possible.  I’m talking about the companies that understand people want more meaningful information and ideas and they want the presentation to be engaging; even entertaining.

Be real.

One such example is Microsoft.  They began publishing their audio-based IT Manager Podcast in February 2007. The IT Manager team’s purpose is to be the connection point (with no strings attached) for the broad ICT community in Canada, from student to CIO. For about a year-and-a-half, they delivered slick and informative interviews which were scripted and read by both the hosts and guests, all of whom are experts in their fields.  The programs were recorded in an acoustically pristine studio and the performances were directed, sometimes requiring participants to do multiple takes of what was supposed to be a natural dialog.  You can’t disguise that as real.

I was contracted to reinvent the IT Manager Podcast and I’ve worked closely with the Microsoft team to transition them out of a recording studio with a script, to a meeting room using discussion points to impromptu discussions on the floor of a gaming conference.  Getting out of the recording studio has allowed host Rick Claus and his guests to relax and have a fun while adding energy to what some might consider to be dry topics.  And they don’t have a coach telling them how to be themselves.  You can hear how real it is.

Where do you connect with others?

This week we released something unusual for an enterprise-level podcast; an experiment.  Rick recorded a discussion with two information security experts in a coffee shop, the activity of which increased their energy.  After listening to the recording I suggested we make the coffee shop part of the story and pitched the idea of weaving together a narrative about the topic and guests with the sound of Rick ordering his coffee and pastry, adding cream and sugar and then waiting for his guests to arrive.  That led into a conversation about an important corporate issue in an environment where many business people like to conduct off-site meetings.  The result is real and relate-able, especially when the clerk at the coffee shop runs the vacuum — something we made light of in the show.  Mainstream media has conditioned us to think this kind of activity is unusual and unacceptable.

Don’t just use the tools to communicate; know how to use them to connect.

Just because a company or enterprise can afford to do big budget productions, doesn’t mean they should.  Certainly never at the expense of presenting real people and relevant information.  They must choose their media and tools carefully and then produce something as authentic as possible.

The real fun is in revealing the personality while delivering the message.  Making that happen and working with people that care about relating to their audience is why I love my work.