The Great Communicator Tom Clark

Tom Clark designed the Williams College of Business’ business profession program and is director for the entrepreneurial center. But for many, Clark is best known as the instructor who taught them how to write clearly—a skill being lost as a result of the rapid proliferation of computers, text messaging, e-mail and Blackberrys. We asked Clark to weigh in on the art of clear, concise, written communication.

 

“The key to successful communication is the ability to look at yourself through the eyes of the person you’re communicating with. That requires you to actually think about and get a better understanding of how that other person’s mind works.”

 

“At P&G, where I also teach business writing, the one-page memo is kind of a model for how the company thinks, and it’s reflected not only on paper but also in how people communicate orally. Good writing at P&G reflects good thinking. So does good public speaking and any other kind of oral communication.”

 

“One of the critical issues we’re facing now is being in an instant communication society. When somebody sends you e-mail, they probably expect you to respond within 24 hours. That’s a big difference from when we had paper communication and somebody might not expect a response for two or three days. The impact of that is people may not put in the level of thought and reflection as they did before.”

 

“We teach Xavier business students the same thing we teach at Procter & Gamble: If you are writing in a short communication environment, there are three things that have to go in the beginning of every document: the what, the why and the when. ‘This is what I want you to do in response to this document’; ‘This is why we have a shared interest in this topic’; ‘This is when I need a response.’ In a voicemail, you follow the same process, except you put your name and phone number first so that if the person doesn’t get the phone number they don’t have to wait to the end.”

 

“It looks like today’s students do not get the same kind of fundamental training in spelling, grammar and diction earlier students had. Now, fortunately, you have tools like spell-check and grammar-check that catch those things, but you have to understand why it’s a mistake in the first place before you can understand whether to push ‘accept’ or not. That’s one of the things that you see is that those skills seem to have been diminished coming into college.”

 

“With Blackberrys, you have a screen that is even smaller than you get with e-mail. And so again someone is expected to communicate with even fewer words. And the criticality of being able to say what you think first is absolutely essential. You cannot have flowery introductions; you can’t start with background or anything of that nature.”

The Good Books

After some Chopin, a little Debussy and a bit of Beethoven, music education major Tracey Book lightened the mood for the finale of her senior piano recital last fall with a rendition of Errol Garner’s jazz tune “Misty.” Joining her on saxophone was grandfather Robert Book—a 1955 graduate who once played in Xavier’s marching band. “He had me listen to old recordings of the piece so that I would loosen up and stop playing the piece so classically,” Tracey says. Although the duo only rehearsed together twice, as the elder Book lives in Rochester Hills, Mich., they gave a smooth performance. “I was honored to have my grandfather play in my senior recital,” Tracey says. “It was a very meaningful event for him and me and my entire family.”

Telly Time

“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” the landmark exhibit that debuted at Xavier in 2005, continues to draw attention. In November the Xavier University television center received a silver Telly Award—the highest Telly possible—for its 12-minute marketing video promoting the exhibit. Shot while the exhibit was on campus, the video includes narration by WCPO-TV news anchor Clyde Gray.

Established in 1978, the national Telly Awards recognize the best local, regional and cable television commercials and programs, as well as video and film productions. According to the Telly Awards web site, there were more than 13,000 entries—representing all 50 states and five continents—competing for the 2006 awards.

Since leaving Xavier, “A Blessing to One Another” has been on display in Pittsburgh, New York and Washington, D.C. The exhibit is also set to travel to Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Augustine, Los Angeles and Boston, and negotiations are underway to take it to Israel and Poland.

Taxing Time

For the fifth time, Xavier’s tax team of four undergraduate students entered the Deloitte Tax Case Study National Competition and came out a winner. This time, the team racked up a fourth honorable mention, which netted the University a $1,000 scholarship award and $100 for each student.

Held at Ohio State University in October, the regional competition named a top team and a second place honorable mention after competing teams worked on solving a complicated tax case. The top six winners in the country went on to the finals in Orlando in November. Xavier won the regional once, in 1997, and competed in the finals. But this time, the team had to settle for being one of the top 10 in the country, says accountancy professor Priscilla O’Clock, the team’s coach.

“These students are in competition against top schools across the nation, and it’s really a credit to our students that we have scholars able to compete against any program in the U.S. and do well,” O’Clock says. “The whole purpose of the program is to stimulate interest in a career in taxation, and students that do it learn a lot and tell me it helps them down the road in passing the CPA exam.”

She added—and she wasn’t joking—that taxes can be fun. “It’s not easy to make it fun and exciting, but we try.”

Swimming and Winning

With each stroke April Kerley’s shoulder burned with pain. Born without her right hand, she often overcompensated on her left side, putting a lot of stress on the rotator cuff. However, this was an important race, and Kerley was determined to finish strong. At age 27, it had been about seven years since the 2000 graduate had swum competitively. Now she found herself at an international competition in Belgium as a member of the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team—a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee—swimming against challengers with similar physical disabilities.

 

Kerley first heard of the Paralympics in the summer of 2005. “Initially, I thought it was geared toward people in wheelchairs and I didn’t think I would be able to relate or be on the same competition level,” she says.

A competitive swimmer since grade school, Kerley was hesitant to hit the pool again. “I didn’t want to have happen to me what happened in college, which was burnout,” she says. However, it didn’t take long to get back into competitive mode. By October, she attended the first qualifying meet for a Paralympic competition, and things snowballed from there.

After the Belgium competition, Kerley revamped her workouts with the help of Ohio Northern University swim coach Peggy Ewald to alleviate shoulder problems.

Today, Kerley is a Paralympic American, Pan-American and World record holder and world-ranked swimmer on the U.S. Paralympics Swimming Elite Team. She won her first individual World Championships medal—a silver—in the U.S. Paralympics Swimming World Championships in Durban, South Africa.

Now, Kerley is training for the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, China, and building awareness about the program. “The message is that kids and adults, no matter what their circumstance, can be competitive, be healthy and do things to maintain their fitness.”

Rules Rituals Routines

Move over, Mister Rogers. Tom Knestrict has arrived. The professor of early childhood education has entered the digital world—pure fantasy when Fred Rogers was starting his popular, child-focused TV show in the late 1960s—with DVDs and audio CDs of his special program aimed at saving troubled children.

The program grew out of Knestrict’s experiences teaching severely emotionally disturbed children in a Cincinnati area school district, and from research he gathered on the theory of the attachment needs of children. He concluded the values practiced in the home are as critical to children’s healthy development as their need to bond with a primary caregiver.

It’s all built upon a theory he calls the three Rs—rules, rituals and routines: Rules based on simple values like kindness and respect give children guidelines for their own behavior; rituals such as celebrating birthdays together help them feel connected; and routines such as regular bed times give children a sense of predictability and safety. Pretty simple stuff, it seems, but Knestrict says he’s amazed by the number of families he meets whose homes are chaotic and lacking values.

“The chaos at home sets them up for failure at school,” he says. “I’m interested in changing their behavior. You can’t do that unless you impact the home.”

Knestrict made his first video in 2005 to accompany his workshops. It shows him working with children and their parents. Then a company that produces educational videos asked him to create a video for them last fall. In it, actors portray his theory. He sells the videos at the workshops and on his web site, www.tomknestrict.com.

Since the videos’ release, the number of workshop invitations has increased. He’s sort of surprised by the popularity of the workshops and DVDs, but he believes there’s a need for sound parental advice in an increasingly chaotic world. “I want to really make an impact on families,” he says. Just like Mister Rogers.

Now Showing

It’s not unusual to see a few brand names pop up in the middle of a TV show or movie—ET eating Reese’s Pieces, a Delorian in “Back to the Future,” Junior Mints on “Seinfeld.” Now, instead of occasional guest appearances, products are taking starring roles in TV shows that are being scripted around them.

It’s a growing trend in the product placement industry—something Andrew Chismar knows a lot about. A 1996 graduate with a B.A. in advertising, Chismar is a television producer with experience in producing shows that focus on advertising products.

“It’s up to people like me to visualize how these products could intermingle with each other on TV,” Chismar says. “Even though we do have products on our show, we try our best to tell a themed story.”

For example, he created a back-to-school show that included education software, Internet sites and athletic companies. He brought aboard more than 20 companies for product placement for that one episode, such as Wrangler, Swatch, Georgia Pacific and Loews Theatres.

(Article updated October 2013)

Minor Leagues

When Steve Brice graduated in 2004 with a degree in sport marketing, he was ready for the working world. Unfortunately, the working world wasn’t ready for him. He knew finding a job in the sports industry wouldn’t happen overnight, so he found work where he could—at a grocery store, in a credit office—until something surfaced. Finally, in early 2006, Brice took an internship with the Memphis Redbirds, the AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. As the only not-for-profit professional team in the country, the team relies heavily on interns to take on everyday tasks.

“They were having us do everything a full-time staff does,” Brice says. “We were getting a well-rounded experience.”

As the internship neared its end in August, Brice approached the team’s general manager about open positions on other teams. Weeks passed without confirmation, and Brice returned to Cincinnati. A few months later, however, the owner of the Burlington (N.C.) Royals, a minor league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, offered him an interview. A week later, Brice packed up and headed to Burlington, where, at age 24, he became a general manager. As the GM, Brice overseas everything from promotions to ticket sales to pulling signs off the field when the wind blows them down. It’s certainly not his final destination, but it’s definitely a good start.

“My co-worker and I joke around that we’re not really going to the office,” Brice says. “We just go to the stadium.”

Manresa, 1989

Students in blue and white T-shirts inscribed with the words “It’s Your Move” descended on the cars of unsuspecting freshmen on Aug. 25, 1989, to welcome them to their new home. Volunteers hauled mini refrigerators, Pink Floyd posters and cassette players into the dorms with the same excitement and enthusiasm of today. Orientation assistants organized small group sessions, administrative talks and a luau on the mall. Students spent the rest of the weekend at St. Francis Retreat Center where friendships began to form despite some rain during the outdoor Mass. “Fond memories will be held by many, as Manresa 1989 fades into Xavier’s past,” wrote one student. “Hopefully, the spirit generated will last long into the future.” No doubt it has.

Imagining Success

Mike Kohlbecker’s attraction to advertising was simple: “Getting paid to hang out with my imagination all day … how could I refuse?” Imagination is paying off for the 2002 graduate, who’s just completing his first year as an art director for Crispin Porter + Bogusky, an international advertising firm that was twice named agency of the year by Communication Arts magazine and is responsible for some of today’s more distinctive television ads, including the adventures of the Burger King and Miller Lite’s “Man Law” spots.

Following graduation, Kohlbecker spent six months working odd jobs and traveling around Europe. He then worked as a freelance graphic designer for a year before going back to graduate school at The Creative Circus in Atlanta. He graduated in May and moved to his current position. Now based in the Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s Boulder, Colo., office, Kohlbecker is working on television spots for Volkswagen set to air this spring.

“Our team was involved from the concepting of the idea to overseeing production,” he says. “It always strikes me as amazing how a crude sketch in my notebook can blossom into a major production like this.”

Interestingly, Kohlbecker looks back and says his creativity and career can be traced to what he learned at Xavier. “This is a business where people thrive by being curious; feeding their creativity by cramming their subconscious with as much info about as many things as possible,” he says. “That core curriculum laid the foundation for me.”