Transparency. It’s Time for a Little Dialoguin’

Written on July 24, 2010

Back in the ‘90s while I was at Portfolio Center in Atlanta learning the ad trade, I had the ongoing indelible experience of discourse with the school’s Design Director, Hank Richardson. It was intriguing stuff. Hank didn’t just design with type, color and image – he designed with spoken language. In Hank-speak, the definition of words was irrelevant. He used words to tap into some sort of mystical, cognitive space where they enjoyed nebulous layers of meaning.

Hank threw words together like Pollock slung paint. The result was a beautiful, obscure, glorious obfuscation – delicious vagaries of prose that made your mouth water and your brain hurt.

But, for all of his inscrutability, once in a while, Hank nailed something. Dead nuts on. Dialoguin’ was such a notion. This verbified noun was Hank-speak for frank conversation, and it was the nature of discourse between instructors and students at Portfolio Center. When Hank said, “Hey, Hotrod, it’s time for a little dialoguin’.” It meant you were about to engage in some good old fashioned deconstruction of your creative work. Dialoguin’ was about getting to the candid bottom of things – its single rule – brutal honesty. Transparency. If the “work” didn’t work, you said so. You sought resolution. By dialoguin’, you uncovered the best work through constant revision. Only through that diligent introspection and dialectic did the work become strong. And the best pieces shared an open-eyed, honest, simple appraisal of the human beings with whom you were trying to communicate. Yes sir, Cowboy, that’s what we did. We did dialoguin’. And it was all about straight shootin’.

Hank, was, in his own right, visionary. He saw the death of corporate monologue long before I could feel it. A great student of McLuhan, and an early adopter, Hank heard, in its infancy,  the global village  beating its collective, digital drum. He saw that the membrane between sellers and buyers in the world of commerce had been pierced – would soon be in tatters. He foretold the end of corporate monologue. Coincidentally, monologue – formal lecture – was something you didn’t see much at Portfolio Center.

Monologue in the corporate world is what advertising has been for many, many years. In fact, most of external corporate communication (and often, one might argue much of internal corporate communication) has been one form of monologue or another. Companies told you what they wanted you to think or feel about them, their products and services. And they weren’t looking for a response. Advertising was almost a creative, even entertaining form of lecture. It found its voice in traditional media – and still does. Effectively, I might add.

But the world is changing ­at the speed of electrons. Look out into the ether and it’s one great raucous world of social networking, information sharing and storytelling. PRIZM clusters are disappearing – demographic groups – shattered to smithereens. As Chris Locke, author of Gonzo Marketing, would tell it, the world is becoming made up of millions of “micro-markets” called “individuals.” And companies are engaging them – one-on-one. Candidly. Openly. In these instances, consumers aren’t looking for you to “craft a message” anymore. They want to engage you in conversation. The world wants you to do some dialoguin’ because dialoguin’ is what’s happening out there in that big Internet village, Hotrod. Listen up, companies: if you want to talk “out there,” you’d best look inside and decide if you’re ready to do some dialoguin’. Because that’s that this Internet thing is starting to be all about. And there’s just one rule: brutal honesty – transparency. It’s all about straight shootin’, Cowboy.

– Monroe