As I was watching snippets of the Kim Kardashian wedding
with my wife and daughters, I realized that Kim and her entourage could teach
managers a thing or three about communications.
I have seen projects large and
small fail not because they were intrinsically the wrong thing to do, or that
their teams were incapable of executing with quality. I often see projects fail
because they are undersold by teams that under communicate. It’s all well and
good to understand strategic intent and tactical performance measures. But if
the stakeholders, and perhaps more importantly, the larger audience of people
who need to adopt the outcomes of a project don’t feel in the loop, then your
project is probably heading for the edge of an abyss.
Kim, meanwhile, knows how to stay on message, to amplify that message through partners, and to make everything
Here are ten lessons from Kim Kardashian’s communications
juggernaut that managers should consider adopting to make their project- and
change-management initiatives more successful.
1. Don’t be afraid to
emphasize your biggest asset
Kim knows people talk about her rear, and she
isn’t opposed to showing it off in tight-fitting couture. She bats her lashes at the paparazzi and flaunts her curves. She knows that if first impressions matter, you need to lead with your strengths. I
have seen many a presentation intended to convince me of something turn into a
history lesson or a plea, a complaint or a backhanded compliment, rather than a
pointed exercise in making me care. Things that matter have intrinsic value. Managers should design
presentations to transmit that value so the recipients of the message can
experience empathy, eventually leading to their support for the idea, and in
the best of circumstances, their advocacy for it.
I was asked this morning, “Why the Kardashian phenomenon?” In
tough economic times, people have always looked to glamour and wealth with an
admiring eye. Literature teaches us that we experience great joys and deep
sorrows through literature. The media is the literature of today, and the
Kardashians unapologetically represent America’s version of royalty. They hold our
attention as such (as long as they don’t have to compete with a real British princess
vacationing on their home turf).
Before you start a project, or attempt to sell an idea,
understand what it is you are selling at the fundamental level and the value
that it represents to those you are speaking with. Lead with that message, with
that perspective, and close with it as well. Kim’s biggest asset is being
Kim, which is why she spends her time honing her image and aligning with brand-reinforcing partners. If all managers and leaders knew what they represented
and focused on the value they want to deliver, the business world would be a
much less muddled, much less abstract place in which to invest our future.
2. Let the momagers lead
We all have our talents. In many companies, staff reductions
have led to many people being overloaded with tasks for which they may possess
few talents and little passion. Regardless of how much hard work Kim and her
siblings perform off camera, it is momager Kris Jenner who keeps the show
running. She is the proverbial fire under her daughter’s collective asses.
Managers, even those overburdened by hand-me-down assignments
from long-lost colleagues, need to recognize that they can’t do everything
well. If they find themselves in a situation where they have a strong
internal marketer to lean on, then let her do her thing. And unlike
the Kardashian clan’s model of matriarchal dominance, in many companies that
may mean letting someone more junior take the lead. The junior person may not
initially be responsible for marketing, but given the tight availability of
talent inside many firms, a junior person may be the only person with enough
slack in his day, and enough flexibility in his assignment, to take on
something that looks like overhead. Combine that with passion, social media
expertise, and the opportunity to stretch beyond his current role, and a junior
staffer may be just the right person to nurture a communication plan.
3. Use all available channels
and repeat your message regularly
How often have you heard a project manager say “I sent out
an email” after being admonished for not communicating? Of course he sent out
an email. But in this attention-starved culture, an email doesn’t cut it. Kim knows this. That is why her team broadcasts her message across traditional
media like television, radio, and print, but also effectively uses new media
channels, like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and a blog. Check out her Twitter page–with 9.5 million followers and counting, she’s doing something right.
If you want people to hear your message, be it the value of
a new ERP implementation, adopting a social media platform, or launching a new
product in the market, you have to use all the channels available to you, and
you have to repeat yourself until you see a visible groundswell of dialog.
Kim’s messages are about attention, not transformation, but if you don’t get
people’s attention about the transformation, then you will never start the
transformation. Good managers need to start with marketing and communications
plans that understand where their audience seeks information. They need to be ready
to be discovered at the right time, in the right circumstance, with messages
that reinforce the needs, the expectations, but most importantly, the value they
bring to their audience.
4. Recruit Sponsors
Some estimates put Kim’s recent wedding price tag at $6 million.
Only the Kardashian clan didn’t pay anywhere near that, because the wedding had
multiple sponsors providing everything from reduced priced wedding bands to wedding
gowns. And anything that wasn’t covered directly probably fit into the budget
provided by E! and People, which forked over a combined $17.5 million for exclusive coverage of the nuptials.
Although some marketing teams still have the luxury of
drawing attention to themselves with lavish parties and the delivery
of best-selling keynote talent, inside the enterprise, bargaining chips
and the communications budgets remain scarce. One of the few bargaining chips
left to managers as hierarchies transform into networks, and the ability to
make people do things evolves into coaxing people to do things, is time.
may be the most precious asset for today’s managers. With fewer workers to get
things done, any time spent talking about off topic items and not executing
reflects in lost productivity. Time spent away from the task must be really
important. Managers who want to see their projects or ideas adopted need to
recruit other managers to sponsor them with time. Time in meetings. Time
mentioning them on an internal blog or email. Time adding an appropriate
key performance indicator to their team’s scorecard. By yielding time to
another manager’s work, the sponsoring manager broadcasts that he or she sees
importance in the work, and even if they can’t use draconian methods to get
their direct reports on board, leading by influence and respect is often a
better tact anyway.
So even though you don’t have world-class jewelers or
celebrity designers to contribute to your success, if you effectively partner
with your colleagues and convince them to sponsor your project or idea with
time, you may find your project receives more attention. Then it is up to you
to assert your position.
5. Assert your position
Kim Kardashian is not bashful. I don’t think there is a
bashful Kardashian, or for that matter, a bashful Jenner. There are, however,
bashful managers. I use the term manager
here rather than leader because I don’t know many bashful leaders. Leader is an
earned title, manager is an assigned one. If managers want to become leaders,
they need to assert their positions and stick to them. Kim is clear about her place in the world and she opens doors for
herself and her siblings, never asking permission, just initiating and doing. Kim and her family have turned the fame of being famous into real economic assets
with retail stores, clothing lines, and designer jewelry.
Managers who want to add the title leader to their unofficial honorifics need to push boundaries,
challenge assumptions, and confront both arrogance and ignorance in their
communications. This “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” approach models
courageous leadership, a key principle to those that assert their positions.
6. Align with other
Projects and ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. The only reason
your project or idea exists is to enhance the overall effectiveness, revenue, or
perception of the company you work for.
One of the reasons you seldom hear a Kardashian dissing
another celebrity or brand (outside of each other, which reflect playful
infighting, a Kardashian brand attribute) is because they know they can’t
afford to create situations that could potentially jeopardize their wealth-generating machine.
Inside enterprises, wealth is projected through the adoption
of ideas and the accumulation of organizational influence, either directly
through organization chart alignment or through leadership. Good leaders know
that their influence can be extended through alliances that mutually augment
the value of all parties involved. Those seeking to enhance their success need
to align with projects and with people who will help them achieve their goals,
while they offer reciprocal assistance to those partners.
7. Get other people to
pay for your PR
With small budgets, organizations have little hope of
covering all communications needs within the communications budget line.
Welcome to Word-of-Mouth-Marketing and its social media ancillaries. If you
communicate to those who are listening, assertively lead with value, let
people’s talents align with their roles and team with good partners, you will discover
that positive message reinforcement derives naturally from a well-designed
project or campaign. The accumulation of positive attributes will lead to amplification.
Kim gets paid to be Kim, sometimes upwards of $50,000 to visit a nightclub. The
Kardashian PR machine is paying for her PR. Internal alliances, value-based
communication, and actually delivering on expectations, will result in others
talking about things you as a leader find important. When the VP of a division decides
to highlight your project in his keynote at the company meeting, you can bet
that his directs will reiterate that message in their follow-on meetings–and
so on and so on.
8. Always look beautiful
Even in sweatpants and with little makeup, Kim knows that
her fame begins with beauty, though it certainly doesn’t end there. Kim knows
that people may watch the train wrecks perpetrated by the likes of Nick Nolte,
Lindsey Lohan, Mel Gibson, Britney Spears, or Robert Downey, Jr., but she also
knows the decline of beauty reduces the value and influence of those personal
brands. The same is true for companies
like Bank of America and Toyota, who are trying to rehabilitate their brands
after ugly, and very public, gaffes in trust. Smart celebrities, and those who
have pulled themselves up from the D list, realize that rehabilitation begins
with order, and order is beautiful. Spears is fit again, delivering hit songs
and glamming it up at awards shows. Robert Downey, Jr. is dapper and heading
toward fatherhood as a responsible adult. Kim’s low point, her 2007 sex tape,
was also her launch pad, and she has done a fine job of distancing herself from
If I enter a conference room and discover a disheveled
manager fumbling with the overhead or unable to find the “Share my Screen” menu
item on Skype during a videoconference, I don’t think beautiful. People in
business often refer to people and meetings that don’t go well as “wrecks,”
“messes,” “f**k-ups,” and many other derogatory terms. Those who design the experience will
end up with a beautiful product. Kim’s team manages details, and good managers
focus on details as well. From the template used in PowerPoint, to the
effective use of graphics over 8-point type, to being brief and bright, to
understanding the audience’s needs and not just their own, good managers design
beautiful experiences that enhance their credibility, their trustworthiness,
their personal brand–and ultimately the success of projects, campaigns, and
initiatives they are responsible for delivering.
9. Live the plan
Most people live quiet, private lives. The Kardashians live
loud, public lives. For most brides, a wedding is their most public moment. For
Kim, it was just another day at work, and unlike many other days, and perhaps
more private than most given several months of editing are ahead before the
public gets all the details. It isn’t
just because Kim is a reality star that she lives her plan, but that she
recognizes herself as the icon of a brand. Every choice she makes reflects on
future opportunities, future perceptions, and future earnings.
Managers need to commit to their work and understand how to
weave their objectives into the objectives of others, to offer synergistic
value. But more than that, they need to recognize they too are representatives
of their projects and their ideas, brand representatives that project the value
they are trying to communicate. Communication becomes a whole body exercise and
one that doesn’t revolve around a clock. After-hours behavior that is
observable by coworkers is just as important as attitudes and demeanors
projected during working hours. Living the plan means being authentic and
consistent, and of all the tips shared here, it may be both the most important,
and the most difficult to attain.
10. Understand where you
have permission to lead
Brands have permissions. Microsoft, for instance, has
permission, through its Office and Windows brands, to drive industry
dialogue about the future of work because it is the leader in desktop operating
systems and productivity software. Kim has permission to talk about clothing,
food, perfume, leisure activities, sports, and a host of other consumer goods
and interests, but she probably won’t be a serious or meaningful draw at a
project management or application developer conference.
Managers need to understand where they have permission to
lead based not just on their project assignment and what it is supposed to be
about, but through their personal brand and personal reputation. A great coder
gets to talk to other coders about methodologies and memory allocation. He or
she probably doesn’t have much input to the design of a workspace used to
coordinate the bringing together of two business entities into a single
accounting system as the result of a merger.
Understanding where you have permission to lead underpins
much of the advice above because it informs likely affiliations and influences,
what topics people will listen to you about when you communicate, and even
perhaps, how other people perceive and evaluate your beauty (whatever that
means in your own personal context).
Bonus: Strike while
the fire is hot
KimK knows that starlets, even more than stars, fade in
Hollywood. She may be a franchise now, but her torch only sports limited fuel.
that take forever to accomplish become a dull, burdensome monkey on people’s backs, dragging down morale and bringing into question the
professional credentials of the managers associated with the project. Kim lives
in the now. Her projects are very short in duration and have clear goals: Show
up at a club and get people to drink more. Bring my friends with me to a fund
raiser. Drive sales through personal association with a brand.
and the curators of corporate memes need to think about how to chunk up their
communications so that even big projects appears as a series of punctuated
moments of meaning and accomplishment. Avoid lethargic bulk that makes the
future seem like a meaningless blur of endless chores. Figure out how to get
people excited every day about doing a little something to push the needle
forward. That is another distinguishing feature of leaders from managers: Managers try to keep things moving in a don’t-rock-the-boat way, and leaders
disrupt and insert excitement.
In today’s world of uncertainty and fast-paced
change, businesses need more people to step up as leaders and fewer to be
satisfied with cultivating the status quo. So go out next week and figure out
how to make people engage with what you’re doing, and at least for a brief
moment, appreciate that they are involved with you, your project and your idea.
And while they’re still happy, get them excited about the next thing on your
list. You’ll have more fun and they’ll have more fun if you design experiences
rather than just let work happen.
Kim Kardashian clearly understands her alignment to the
family business, and she knows how to engage her partners, her entourage, and
her audience in tactical communications that unambiguously reinforce the
messages she is charged to carry, and the image she needs to portray. If
managers take these ideas and apply them to their work, they will start acting
like leaders. And that leads to another Kardashian axiom: Acting like a
celebrity pretty much makes you a celebrity. So start acting like a leader. Who
knows, maybe next week people will start to think you are one.
If you are interested in learning more about how to better design communications for effectiveness, innovation, and excitement, see my book Management by Design, which examines work experience through the lens of design.
[Image: Flickr user Beacon Radio]