Way too many years ago – in our memories at least – the late great Ella Fitzgerald starred in advertising for a product from a long-gone company (now part of Imation).

The tag:  Is it live or is it Memorex? 

The pitch:  No one could differentiate the quality of the music – live versus tape – in listening sessions.  It was so real, the copy exclaimed, that Count Basie himself couldn’t tell the difference.

Our minds made this decades-old connection during the always-continuing discussion about “authenticity.”  Someone at a recent meeting asked:  “Well, how can you know who’s or what’s authentic?”  Answerers talked about true selves, no hype or hyperbole, candor, and a feeling of knowing.

We don’t think that’s good enough. 

After all, what many communicators and advertisers and others in our profession are now even more aware of is the cry for the genuine-ness of brands and conversations, thanks to the social media avalanche.  Consumers are ever quick to criticize in public those people and things that don’t mean what they say – or what is said for them.  Just calling a product or service or person authentic is missing some opportunities for definition and measurement.  And in the kind of ironic twist everyone loves to point out, MBA admissions directors are launching applicant team discussions to probe group dynamics and individual genuineness.

It ain’t easy.  In True North, Bill George, ex-CEO of Medtronic, realized there was no one profile of authentic leadership.  Authenticity depends, he says, on executives who know who they are, show passion for their purpose, demonstrate their values consistently, and lead with hearts and minds.  Not on imitating a Jack Welch or Sam Palmisano or Herb Kelleher.

How do you tell the fake from the real (and we’re not talking pleather or snakeskin, margarine or butter)?  Can a true-to-you self also be impulsive?  How do we, our clients, our employers and our colleagues best reflect the sincerity the world craves – and balance other real corporate demands?

We’re listening … at