By Helene Solomon, CEO of Solomon McCown & Co.
Last month, I was invited by Governor Deval Patrick to join his delegation of about 40 state officials and business leaders on a trip to Israel via the Massachusetts Innovation Partnership Mission to Israel. The goal of the mission was to explore economic opportunities between businesses in Massachusetts and Israel, specifically in technology, clean energy and financial services. I was honored to watch our Governor—or the “State’s Chief Salesman,” as he calls himself—in action. There were many lessons learned in his graciousness, story-telling and how he brought people together. As one of the only communications practitioners, I’d like to share some valuable lessons learned from a public relations standpoint:
1. Social media can invite more influencers to the table. Although there were just a handful of tweeters and Facebookers among us, others back home relied on us for our quick updates, insights and messages. To make social media a successful aspect of such an event, it is important to agree on a twitter hashtag upfront and encourage specific targets to follow you on twitter or Facebook in advance. I find that trying to condense important content into a brief post helps you think like a journalist, or at least a headline writer.
After spending one hour with Peres—one of the only remaining fathers of Israel—sharing his view of the world, I collected great twitter material: “We want politics to be based on the Ten Commandments. It is not a matter of publicity—it is a choice.” “Ben Gurion was afraid to be afraid”. “We had the bloodshed before we had the state.” “Today’s economy is a competition of brains not tools.” Listening to this incredible, 88-year-old man communicate with such vigor but scarcity of words made me wonder if he knew how much he was saying in less than 140 characters.
2. There’s nothing like face time. In a world where email is constant and has practically replaced the phone call, face-to-face meetings have grown in importance for relationship building. How valuable to break bread with people, especially those we have never met. Having informal time with industry leaders, some previously known only through news coverage or by reputation was invaluable. Sitting together, as part of a group, whether at Technion (Israel’s MIT) in a student-faculty town hall-style discussion, listening to President Peres, or hearing from life science leaders, created new common experiences for all of us. Learning together is also a great equalizer.
3. Some brands really are sacred. Jerusalem Mayor Barkat a young American-educated entrepreneur, who started and sold his businesses in Massachusetts, is committed to re-branding his city by creating modern-day events such as a marathon, film festival and light shows while also improving infrastructure. This really got me thinking. Will the traveling (non-religious) public respond to this? How do you communicate the new brand of Jerusalem in a respectful but exciting way?
As I walked to the Wall to connect to history and leave blessings, I wondered why the Mayor thought there was really anything to re-brand. We understood that he feels that even Jerusalem needs to attract younger travelers to stay competitive. That would certainly be a communications audit and messaging assignment that I would relish.
Helene Solomon is the founder and CEO of Solomon McCown & Co, a Boston-based strategic communications firm. She can be reached at email@example.com or follow Helene on twitter @HeleneSolomon