Monday, June 26, 2006

Communications: Things are Changing!

I have been trying to figure out what accounts for the recent growth in issue-based documentaries that are showing in nearly every multiplex today and bringing in major money. The fact that a substantial number of consumers are choosing documentaries over comedies for Saturday night fun suggests that there is a big hunger for “infotainment” — information that entertains.

It all started with Fahrenheit 9/ll, which earned a record breaking $24 million in its first weekend. That was followed by The Corporation, Super Size Me and now An Inconvenient Truth, about Al Gore's efforts to draw attention to the issue of global warming.

Perhaps slightly different, but along the same lines, another thing that caught my eye was a story in Friday’s New York Times about the fact that some best-selling authors are giving readings from their books — not at the library or a branch of Barnes & Noble — but at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun Casino. It’s true that Janet Evanovich, creator of the Stephanie Plum series (who addressed 1200 fans at Foxwoods), Erica Jong, Robin Cook and Augusten Burroughs are not reading from weighty tomes on constitutional law or dishing out complex philosophies. But — just think about it — gamblers are leaving slot machines and black jack tables to listen to novelists.

People are defining themselves according to their very personal interests, joining up with others who share those interests and actively finding the media — films, books, clubs, websites, blogs, podcasts or whatever — that express those interests.

The Simmons-sponsored National Consumer Survey noted that 55% of Americans belong to a club or organization with a specific focus. Research undertaken by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg School, found nearly 72% of Americans say that the online communities to which they belong are "very" or "extremely" important to them. Those communities could be as diverse — and as specific — as fans of a certain composer, author or director; people looking for mates, running partners or apartments; political activists on the left, right and center; cat fanciers and amateur astronomers; scuba divers and quilters; foodies and Francophiles.

So certain authors have discovered that they can find their audiences in casinos. (And some casinos have found that prospective guests are avid readers.) All the documentaries mentioned above have a strong point of view, one that not everyone agrees with, but certainly one that has growing support among significant segments of society. The previously noted surveys show that people increasingly want to join forces with like-minded people to have their own perspectives reinforced. And they want to be emotionally engaged simultaneously with others in an easy to reach venue.

What does this mean to institutions and corporations who want to get their messages across? I would suggest that they:

  • Study the extracurricular interests and activities of your audiences

  • Study more deeply where your audiences are going to get information (also think of the non-obvious venues)

  • Engage your audiences emotionally, as well as intellectually
Here is an interesting indicator of what’s happened already. In April, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences created the first new Emmy in 20 years. This new, digital-age Emmy is for Outstanding Achievement in Content for Non-Traditional Delivery Platforms. The award recognizes programming delivered wirelessly to cell phones or online to iPods and other portable devices. (For more info, go to

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Monday, June 19, 2006

MakTalk: "Closing the Gap"

Last Friday, Steve Cody, managing partner and co-founder of Peppercom, and I recorded our first joint installment of RepChatter and MakTalk. The first podcast in the series is called "Closing the Gap."

My firm surveyed Fortune 1000 senior executives on corporate blogging, which revealed their hesitancy about the medium, and Peppercom surveyed PR and Marketing Directors, who were strongly in favor of executives blogging; hence, the gap.

Our focus was on how we close the gap.

To download MakTalk for use with your iPod, iTunes, or other MP3 software, right click the link below and click "save target as." Then load it into your favorite MP3 player and enjoy!

Download MakTalk: "Closing the Gap" (19:25, 8.89 MB)

Podcasting: Closing the Gap

Think what else the internet has wrought: two friendly competitors joining forces to optimize creative thinking for those on both the corporate and agency sides. It’s pretty revolutionary … and we all can only be the better for it!

Steve Cody of Peppercom gave me a call last week and said, "Ken, let's do a joint podcast. Makovsky surveyed Fortune 1000 senior executives on corporate blogging, which revealed their hesitancy about the medium, and we surveyed PR and Marketing Directors who were strongly in favor of executives blogging. How do we close that gap?"

I thought it was a great idea. And so, last Friday, we recorded our first joint installment of RepChatter and MakTalk: "Closing the Gap."

Listen to the podcast posted on our website for a lively discussion between Steve and myself and hear our proposed solutions as well as some irreverent off-the-cuff banter!

As we know, podcasting is a terrific opportunity from a branding standpoint. In effect, podcasting is a chance for our clients to help PR firms like ours shape our brands and reinforce the values we espouse. And it’s not just a one-off communications initiative; podcasting can actually help us enhance our service offerings. As podcast guests, prospective clients can dialogue with us, giving us a live "needs assessment."

In fact, in the next installment of our joint podcast, Steve and I will be inviting a corporate PR director to help us interpret the "gap" and share their views about how best to close it.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Truth is Cheaper in the Long Run

"Mistakes Were Made," an "Op-Quiz" and editorial, late last month in The New York Times, contends that "the public apology has established itself as a staple of our national discourse, a required ritual to be endured by anyone caught saying or doing something inappropriate."

I've said before in this blog that in a crisis situation, it's essential to tell the truth. If you're at fault, you should apologize and show remorse. Many careers of business and public officials would have been saved had they applied this strategy. But public contrition is not enough. To redeem your reputation, you have to learn from your mistake and take steps to prevent a recurrence of the problem.

Let's dip into the medical community for an interesting, but less typical example.

At the Lexington (Ky.) Veterans Affairs Medical Center, doctors and nurses who think they've made a mistake immediately call a special review committee and admit what happened. A high-level physician, representing the entire VA staff, goes to see the patient, reveals that a mistake was made and describes the steps that will be taken to ensure that no mistake like this will ever happen again. Moreover, the doctor tells the patient that if the patient thinks he was damaged by this mistake, he has a right to legal damages and should see a lawyer.

As a result of this approach, malpractice costs have gone down at the VA! Despite the fact that more people sue (because they know about the mistakes), the hospital does not fight the lawsuits when they have admitted error. On the other hand, if a review shows that no error was made, many lawyers will not even take the patient's suit. The attorneys are so impressed with the VA's self-policing of its own errors that they believe it's a no-win case.

It's a terrific model for all of us. Tell the truth, say you're sorry — and mean it! — then go and sin no more.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

The Value of Talent

Talent rules! Nothing trumps talent.

When critical client and company decisions need to be made, you want your smartest people making those decisions. While loyalty and commitment are attributes that are often equated with talent, those qualities do not replace talent and cannot effectively exist without it. Having loyal, committed staff that permit "a ship to sink" does no one any good.

What is talent? I did not check Webster's, but to me it is a natural endowment: a special gift for solving problems, successfully completing essential tasks or finding creative solutions to business challenges.

I passionately believe that putting the most talented people in every spot is key to building an effective and successful organization.

Thus, bosses should hire subordinates that are smarter than they are. Subordinates should be free -- and even encouraged -- to "show up" the boss (in a tasteful way, of course). Skills on teams should be dissected so that the best and brightest in each category stand out. Consultants who bring a special expertise should be retained to shore up a weak spot.

Everyone should recognize that talent is king and rewards should come accordingly. People should be "big enough" to recognize the specific talents of others that they themselves do not possess.

Where talent goes, success follows. At Makovsky, our mission is "Smart people working in harmony to help clients and the agency win." But at the foundation of our mission is talent ... with commitment, loyalty and integrity right on talent's heels.

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