Monday, June 29, 2009


“What has surprised you most about the top job? What do you like most in people you hire? What message would you convey in a commencement speech?” These questions and more are asked of corporate leaders by The New York Times reporter Adam Bryant in the column titled, "Corner Office," in the Sunday Business Section. As in my last blog, I am focusing on some of the more unique observations made by the vice-chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, Eduardo Castro-Wright, and the CEO of Darden Restaurants, Clarence Otis, Jr. which I believe we can all learn from. These are lessons in communications, if ever there were ones.

The biggest surprise for Mr. Otis is "how amplified everything you say or do is." He elaborates that if you are thinking out loud, some thought you had, suddenly becomes a directive "even though ten seconds later in your own mind, you dismissed it." On the other hand, a disappointment for Mr. Castro-Wright is that business schools don't teach certain behavioral courses that are so critical in the leadership job: "how you talk with an employee you're firing" or "how you talk with an employee who comes to your office late at night to tell you that her daughter is sick, and she might not be able to come in the next day."

I feel Mr. Otis' next point is critical. He likes people he hires to be "comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty" and not unmoored by people with differences regarding the same situation. "They've got their wits about them, so they're looking as much for the opportunity that's inherent in that as they are for the risk." Wise advice. Mr. Castro-Wright also hits on a key point, noting that leadership roles require both physical and emotional energy. "You're exposed so often to decisions that are emotionally charged, you have to have the balance and the energy, the emotional strength to actually do it."

"...Provide leadership in whatever area [you] choose to dedicate [your] life to," says Mr. Otis, as his key commencement message. It is an obligation for those of us who are so privileged to have elite educations, he points out. He also notes that what the individual wants to accomplish is crucial, but the person needs to make sure “that those things have some payoff for others." Obviously, he reminds us, nothing is accomplished alone.

Mr. Castro-Wright underscores in his proposed commencement message that there is no leader who can be one "if he or she doesn't have personal integrity, or if they don't deliver results, or if they don't care about the people they lead or if they don't have a passion for winning."

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, The New York Times, Adam Bryant, Corner Office, Mr. Castro-Wright, Mr. Otis, Darden Restaurants, Wal-Mart, leadership, business, communications, public relations

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Most Important Leadership Lesson

I am always looking for novel perspectives on business leadership, or even reminders of leadership basics that are often forgotten. And lately I have been finding them in the series on leadership in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times in Adam Bryant’s column titled, "Corner Office," where various CEOs and senior executives answer some fundamental questions, such as: “What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned? How has your leadership changed over time?”

Here—based on interviews with the vice-chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, Eduardo Castro-Wright, and the CEO of Darden Restaurants, Clarence Otis, Jr.—are some points I found worthwhile that all of us can learn from.

I particularly like and believe in what Mr. Castro-Wright says. He makes two salient points: "Leadership is about trust. It's about being able to get people to go to places they never thought they could go. They can't do that if they don't trust you." But that trust, he implies, can only be built, and the consequent achievements it enables, "if you do not care who takes credit for" the achievement. As we know, business is a team sport, but the team, Mr. Castro-Wright implies, may be as important as any individual ego. It is no doubt why at Makovsky + Company, our "collaboration" value wins out over the others when we recognize role-modeling via our We Achieve program.

The point is reinforced by Mr. Otis from another angle. "Leaders really think about others first. They think about the people on the team, trying to help them get the job done...and think last about 'what does this mean for me.'" He cites his years in the theatre and his reliance on others in the cast as preparing him for his current role. "You could have your piece [lines] down, but if one person on the team [cast] doesn't, you're in trouble."

Technorati Tags: Adam Bryant, Corner Office, Makovsky + Company, Mr. Castro-Wright, Mr. Otis

Monday, June 22, 2009


Am I a petty guy just because I want to buy a cup of coffee with a solid lid – with no hole in it -- that stops it from spilling?

And what the heck does this have to do with smart public relations?

Well, let me tell you the story. It seems this happens to me mostly in airports, but it could happen anywhere.

You go to Starbucks, or any one of the others. You have a suitcase and a briefcase to carry -- and you get handed an aroma-packed tall paper cup of coffee with a lid that has a sipping hole. So you can't put it in a bag, obviously. You need a full hand to carry it. "

Do you have a lid without a hole in it ?" I ask. Of course, 90 percent of the time the answer is "no!" So then I ask, "Do you have a tape I can put over the hole so I can put this in a bag and don't have to carry my briefcase and suitcase in one hand?" You know the answer. And so now I think twice, particularly at airports, about buying the cup of coffee I so desperately want. And then there's the brewmeister's attitudes when I make my request. They don't care. How can they not get it?

Flat lids without holes could not be more expensive than the "holy ones." Are they? I refuse to be vanquished on this one. Isn't this basic customer satisfaction? Good public relations? Even if I am in a minority, it seems so logical to at least provide a choice.

Technorati Tags: coffee, Starbucks, Makovsky + Company, communications, public relations

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Combine Environmental with Economic Sustainability

In his Green Inc. blog last April in The New York Times, James Kanter cited recent research that underscores rising consumer skepticism about green advertising. The Havas Media survey of more than 2,000 consumers found that nearly two out of three (64%) people are tuning out marketing messages because they are viewed “as little more than opportunism on the part of big business.”

Nevertheless, consumers continued to show strong interest in buying goods and services from responsible sources. “It is not a case of consumers being fickle, but rather a case of businesses being perceived as unauthentic,” reports Havas.

In a speech before the IPREX Worldwide Conference in New York City, on May 14, Michael Lee, Executive Director of the International Advertising Association, described how broadening the issue can help to create more receptive stakeholders.

“Consumers define sustainability more broadly than marketers and they care more about social and economic issues such as poverty, employment and health care more than environmental concerns by a substantial margin,” he said, describing a new approach to communicating sustainability developed by shopper-marketing agency Saatchi & Saatchi X.

Green marketing may be tired but “blue marketing” — which encompasses environmental with other social, cultural and economic concerns — will work better.

Technorati Tags: Green Inc, The New York Times, James Kanter, Havas Media, green advertising, Saatchi & Saatchi X, blue marketing, Michael Lee, International Advertising Association, IPREX, Makovsky + Company, communications, public relations

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Role of Retailers in the Green Equation

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its list of the top 50 Green Power Partners — those organizations that are the leading purchasers of electricity produced from renewable resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and low-impact hydroelectric power.

Some of the findings may surprise you. Here is a list of America’s top 10 green retailers:

1. Kohl's Department Stores
2. Dell
3. Whole Foods Market
4. Wal-Mart California and Texas
5. Starbucks
6. Staples
7. Lowe's
8. Safeway
9. Sprint Nextel
10. Coldwater Creek

According to Michael Lee, Executive Director of the International Advertising Association and a guest speaker at the recent IPREX Worldwide Conference in New York City, consumers — often confused when it comes to green claims — look to retailers to be the arbiters. What’s more they don’t just look to green-positioned retailers, such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s; they also look at companies, like Wal-Mart, “that have been working hard to burnish their green credentials.”

Technorati Tags: Environmental Protection Agency, Green Power Partners, renewable resources, Kohl's Department Stores, Dell, Whole Foods Market, Walmart, Starbucks, Staples, Sprint Nextel, Lowe's, Safeway, Coldwater Creek, Michael Lee, International Advertising Association, IPREX, Makovsky + Company, communications, public relations

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Where Do C-Suite Execs Go for Information?

Here’s an interesting nugget of information to share the next time you hear a colleague or client say that the best way to cut costs in a recessionary environment is to prune the social media elements of your communications program: The Internet is by far the most important source of information for C-level execs, more than three times as critical as newspapers. TV is ranked 5th at 3%.

Internet 67%
Newspapers 18%
Magazines 6%
Trade Publications 3%
TV 3%
Radio 2%

On average, C-level executives spend 15-16 hours a week on the Web; in fact, the Internet is where most of their media consumption takes place.

These are among the useful—sometimes surprising—findings of a 2008 survey of C-level and senior management executives commissioned by GartnerG2 & and conducted by Insight Express.

Here are the top six ways C-level execs spend their time online:

• Check e-mails before I do other work
• Online research
• Forward interesting online articles to co-workers or friends
• Read business/financial site e-mail newsletters
• I visit sites for business/financial news before I do other work
• Research competitors and industry trends

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, recessionary+environment, social media, Internet,, GartnerG2, Insight Express, business, communications, public relations

Monday, June 08, 2009

Bloomberg: Where The Money Comes From

“We have minute-by-minute connections to our customers. And that is really what distinguishes us from The Wall Street Journal,” noted Marty Schenker, an executive editor at Bloomberg, who recently led a seminar at the IPREX Worldwide Conference in mid-May. Representatives of independent PR firms from 16 countries were in attendance at the conference, which was hosted by our firm. (I was a founder of the global public relations partnership, in 1983.)

“We may think a story is important, but if our customers aren’t reading it, it’s not,” said Marty Schenker. “Our customer measurement tool covers every story category: finance, sports, medicine, etc. We remove poorly read stories on a dime.

“Our business model won’t succeed if we don’t provide customers with an edge: market moving news…news that leads to good trades…news that enables a customer to make money because of us. At bottom, that is what really differentiates Bloomberg News.”

Technorati Tags: GM, The Wall Street Journal, Marty Schenker, Bloomberg, IPREX, independent PR firms, Bloomberg News, Makovsky + Company, business, communications, public relations

Thursday, June 04, 2009

GM: The Message for Now

Shortly after GM’s bankruptcy filing, the company unveiled a new ad campaign on television and the Internet entitled, “Reinvention,” which seeks to explain what the “new” GM will be. A goodly amount of time is spent recounting the company’s past sins (e.g., too many brands, an unsustainable cost structure, etc.). While “confession is good for the soul,” these “sins” have been dissected by the media ad nauseum and, I hazard a guess, virtually any one could recite them by heart. The balance of the ad describes the new GM in rather general terms (e.g., cars with greater fuel efficiency and technology and so on), which, in essence, is what virtually every car company has been talking about.

What does the situation call for? Certainly not ads featuring “feel good” images of the moon landing and sports scenes – these serve as diversions. The situation calls for “plain speak.” GM would have been better served if its ads featured CEO Fritz Henderson discussing his plans for fixing the company, using him much the same way as Chrysler used its iconic CEO Lee Iacocca at a time when that company was staving off bankruptcy through government guarantees of its loans nearly 30 years ago. Those ads featured Iacocca intoning the line: "If you can find a better car, buy it."

Thanks to the media’s reporting of GM’s calamities over the past several months, we don’t really need history lessons. Instead, the American public and, certainly the car-buying public (not to mention the taxpayers whose money is invested in GM), need to know the specifics of its turnaround plan, milestones by which to gauge its progress and, of course, that the company will stand behind its brands by honoring warranties.

Technorati Tags: GM, bankruptcy filing, financial, Reinvention, fuel efficiency, technology, Fritz Henderson, Chrysler, taxpayer, Lee Iacocca, turnaround plan, brand, business, communications, public relations