Thursday, July 30, 2009


There’s a lot we can learn from a recent study comparing the views of CEOs, strategic planners (SP) and senior public relations (PR) executives regarding corporate strategy. One of the basic findings, in my humble opinion, is that PR pros have a thing or two to learn about self confidence and strategy. For example:

What makes an initiative strategic?
CEO: It changes the market, competitive position or business model.
PR: It involves C-level sponsorship (NOTE: already we are beginning to address non-fundamental issues!)

Which initiative would usually be considered strategic in your organization?
All: New market entry (at least we have concurrence in this area!)

Why makes some strategic plans successful and others, not?
CEO: Anticipation of obstacles
SP: Correct strategy
PR : Understanding of stakeholders

How do you determine that a strategy was incorrect?
CEO: Market potential overestimated, incorrect economic modeling and/or unanticipated competitive responses
PR: Unforeseen barriers to uptake/switch

Why do strategic initiatives fail?
CEOS: Unforeseeable external circumstances and lack of understanding
SP: Incorrect strategy
PR: A lack of understanding, incorrect strategies and lack of accountability

What accounts for a lack of understanding?
All: Poor communications among stakeholders, misunderstanding about deadlines and poor understanding of costs.

Thus, all agree that communications is critical to success.

When communicators are asked to define their role in the strategic planning process, they cite acting as “a resource” once implementation begins and as “a sounding board” prior to rollouts, rather than viewing themselves as an integral part of the process from the beginning, at the same table with the CEO. In fact, while 51% of CEOs say that communicators should play an active role in the strategic planning process, only 39% of public relations professionals do, in fact, view themselves as playing an active role.

So what must PR people to do to make sure we are part of the strategic planning group?

• Start viewing ourselves as strategic contributors, rather than just as tactical practitioners. Make a case for what PR can do in the strategic planning process (e. g., inter- and intra- communications, setting up a communications structure for the strategic planning taskforce to assure that we are involved, engaged and accountable — right from the beginning — to help the plan succeed.

• Step forward and ask to be on the committee if not invited.

• Part of the planning process today is about engaging people, the hallmark of PR, so the internet should serve as a critical resource.

• Set up structures to invite strategic comment throughout the year.

• As we are experts in dialogue, set up a steady flow of feedback systems that clients will value.

Based on this study — “The Powerful Convergence of Strategy, Leadership and Communications: Getting It Right” — which was presented by Financial Dynamics at an Arthur Page Society/Council of PR Firms event last week, PR still needs to do a better job of educating corporate boards about why we should be vital participants in the strategic planning process from the get-go. I believe there is room to do that … largely because, as this survey shows, they are already seeking our help.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, strategic planners, corporate strategy, C-level, business, public relations

Monday, July 27, 2009

Linking Social + Business Value

attaining sustainable growth IBM cover There’s now ample evidence that corporations can “do well by doing good,” according to a fascinating IBM white paper, “Attaining Sustainable Growth through Corporate Social Responsibility.”

Based on a survey of 250 business leaders worldwide, the paper reveals that, while businesses tend to describe corporate social responsibility (CSR) as philanthropy, they’re much more strategic in their actual behaviors … to the extent that 68 percent of executives are currently utilizing CSR as a growth strategy. Even more telling, more than half (54%) of those surveyed believe that their companies’ CSR activities are already giving them an advantage over their top competitors.

So, how do you develop the most productive CSR strategy? One way, say the authors of the IBM white paper, is to view your company’s current objectives and activities against the CSR Value Curve (see below), which places CSR on a continuum — from a simple risk mitigation strategy to a platform that generates new products, partnerships, markets and revenues.

CSR Value curve from IBM report Moreover, a company derives the maximum benefit from its CSR activities when all the elements of the CSR Value Curve are integrated into a single strategy, with leadership from the top managers and full engagement by employees, business partners and customers, IBM reports.

The real challenge, as I see it, is finding the right strategic alignment with philanthropy. Public relations can help. Finding and forging those connections is at the heart of our business.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, IBM, Sustainable Growth, Corporate Social Responsibility, business, public relations

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Simple Lid- Please” Part II

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog titled, “Just A Simple Lid – Please.” The blog made the point that coffee containers purchased at the airport often come with lids that have sipping holes, rather than flat lids so that when you carry them the coffee spills. A “holy” cup of coffee is also challenging to carry because you cannot bag it, particularly when you have a suitcase and briefcase to deal with.

Along comes “tugo” who writes this letter to me:

“Allow us to offer you an opportunity to solve that “I need my coffee, but don’t have enough hands issue.” A lid without a hole would be helpful, but this goes beyond that, allowing you to travel through the airport without juggling your coffee along with all your other belongings.”

tugo also sent me a product sample, noted in the photo above. Guess what! tugo works, and therefore, I am recommending it to other harried travelers in need of coffee. Their address is:

Fli, LLC
P.O. Box 100459
Denver, Colorado 80250

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, tugo, coffee lid, coffee, travel, tugo

Monday, July 20, 2009


Immigration reform has always been a controversial issue, even though this country was built by immigrants and would not exist without them.

With 9.5 percent unemployment, however, most Americans, I would assume, are not interested in bringing over more foreigners to compete for jobs in a declining job market.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the program we do have for bringing over highly educated and skilled workers is based on an artificial cap rather than being tied to individual industry needs. The H1-B visa program is capped annually at 65,000 for people with a bachelor’s degree or higher and an additional 20,000 for those with a master’s degree or higher. This is a policy that doesn’t take into consideration what the tech sector needs, what manufacturing needs, what higher education needs or what professional services require--whether more or less than the relatively arbitrary caps in place today.

This is not only impractical from a competitive standpoint but from an image one, as well. It doesn’t help our reputation abroad or at home to pursue such an illogical approach.

An article in The Wall Street Journal, on April 1, 2008, “The Immigrant Gap,” speaks of the multiple industries in this country that were founded by the foreign-born and how significantly they have contributed to our standard of living. “They bring human capital, brimming with new ideas for new technologies and new companies. They bring financial capital as well, with savings and resources to develop these ideas. And they often bring connections to business opportunities abroad, stimulating exports and affiliate sales for multinational companies.”

The solution, the article says, is to eliminate the cap and tie our policy to need. I second that.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Immigration reform , unemployment, job market, H1-B visa program, The Wall Street Journal,financial capital,multinational, business, public relations

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


When the economy stinks, as it does now, and customers are backing off, companies have to look for every way possible to touch their hearts. And often doing caring little things is the magnet to attract them back.

This occurred to me when a broker who is trying to get my business, after an in-person pitch, sent me a handwritten thank-you note (via the mail) on a card with his name engraved on the front … and without the instantly recognizable logo of his famous company. Such intimacy touches the emotion and that, in and of itself, can power conversation. I think we are going to see more companies encouraging this type of thing.

Or another vendor whom we currently retain called not only to thank me for a recent meeting, but also to ask if I was satisfied with the way the meeting went. Did I have any questions? I don’t think it is routine for agencies or other service firms to do that following a client meeting. In this economy that extra bit of caring may save the business.

Our Quality Commitment Program falls in this category. We retain an outside auditor to call our clients two or three times a year to check on their satisfaction with four questions: Are you happy with our service? Are you getting value for your money? Do you like your team? Is there anything we should be doing that we are not doing now? This is done in good economies and bad, but it may have particular impact now.

Occasionally, I believe, we even have to give our clients gifts. That may be in the form of non-charged billable time, a contribution to their favorite charity, or a free strategic consultation. This helps build the relationship, which may even be more valued when times are tough.

The principle is that today, no matter what you do in performing client service, think beyond the service itself. Think about how you can positively touch emotion and do the nice things that will be remembered. Integrity and sincerity must be at the foundation, however.

Technorati Tags: client service, Quality Commitment, business, Makovsky + Company, communications, public relations

Monday, July 13, 2009


I sense there is still a lot of airy-fairy feeling out there in the corporate world about the real impact of blogs.

Everyone recognizes that they are a fact of life as a matter of personal expression and for building personal relationships, and corporate blogging policies are springing up all over the place. But as a marketing tool, can they really convince someone to buy your product or service? Does their “conversational” approach really deliver?

Well, a study which appeared in The New York Times late last year answers this question.

It revealed that 50 percent of blog readers felt blogs were useful in a purchase and 52 percent of the 2,210 polled actually consulted a blog before making a purchase. It is important to note that the study shows that blog readership has gone up by 300 percent between 2004 and ‘08.

It is not clear from the study whether those polled were referring to consumer or business products or whether they were acquiring professional services. But we can draw several conclusions: 1) blogs are influencing purchases, 2) people are relying on peer opinions to influence buying decisions (perhaps, some studies show, more than celebrities) and 3) a natural conversational mode is persuading potential buyers— a marked change from traditional advertising.

By the way, the study also shows that more blog readers (25%) trust ads on blogs than those (19%) who trust ads on social networks like Facebook.

Technorati Tags: corporate, The New York Times, blogs, social networks, Facebook, Makovsky + Company, communications, public relations

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Seems we have a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum here.

Corporations are spending less on marketing in this turbulent economy, both inside and outside the organization, at a time when the collective reputation of corporate America has fallen to its lowest point in ten years, according to Harris Interactive’s 2008 Corporate Reputation Quotient Survey. And, meanwhile, misconduct within the corporation remains extremely high. Nearly half of the 5,000 employees in KPMG’s 2008-09 Integrity Survey say they have observed wrongdoing which, if reported, could cause a serious breach in public trust.

To move the needle back, corporations should be listening to their customers and employees via organized programs of surveys, meetings, online discussions and other techniques to better understand what their constituents need from leadership. Getting the messages right may be more than half the battle. Getting the message and the substance right may help turn this problem around.

For example, according to the Integrity Survey, the percentage of employee respondents who reported working in an environment in which people feel motivated and empowered to do the right thing doubles from 43 percent to 90 percent where there are comprehensive ethics and compliance programs.

A further example: Harris reports that 90 percent of Americans give some consideration to sustainable business practices when purchasing a company’s products or services.

To bring this full circle, another recent study, carried out for the Institute for Public Relations by Professors Lan Ni and Robert L. Heath at the University of Houston, shows that “high performance and high integrity are good for the bottom line.” The study cites corporate social responsibility as a key management tool, and suggests implementation through the “triple bottom line (financial, social and environmental).”

Technorati Tags: economy, corporate America, Harris Interactive, KPMG, leadership, Institute for Public Relations , Professor Lan Ni, Professor Robert L. Heath, corporate social responsibility, business, communications, public relations

Monday, July 06, 2009

PR Trumps Advertising at Int’l Ad Festival

In a stunning coup, it was a public relations campaign that won the ad industry’s highest honors — Grand Prix awards in the categories of PR, direct and cyber campaigns — at the annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival last month.

This public relations leadership victory at an international advertising awards competition clearly demonstrates the opportunity for client businesses that are willing to commit to social engagement as a core strategy. Social media is all about relationship building with credibility – the technique that has made public relations tick since its inception.

The “Best Job in the World” campaign for Tourism Queensland centered on an AUD$150,000 six-month contract to serve as “caretaker” of a pristine island on the Great Barrier Reef. Also included in the “compensation package”: round-trip tickets and free use of a gorgeous, multi-million-dollar oceanfront villa. The successful candidate would be responsible for reporting his or her experiences to a global audience via weekly blogs, photo diaries, video updates and traditional media. This is public relations, not traditional advertising.

"The way the world is heading is voluntary engagement," said David Lubars, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of BBDO North America and head of the Cannes Film and Press Juries in a recent interview in Advertising Age. "The work has to be a magnet."

This event may mark the death of the solo ad campaign (without other techniques), where the same messages are shouted over and over to your stakeholders. You have to attract, engage and dialogue with them. This is something public relations has been doing — and doing well — for a very, very long time.

I predict that with the decline of traditional ad venues (and especially, newspapers), smart marketers will increasingly be turning to public relations as the dominant technique to build brand and demand.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Grand Prix awards,Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, The Best Job in the World, Tourism Queensland, David Lubars, BBDO North America , Advertising Age, business, communications, public relations

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


It has been an adage for as long as I can remember: who you know is more important than what you know. It is relationships, the adage suggests, that really get you somewhere … in fact, relationships trump wisdom or any systemic knowledge central to your organization.

It is clear to me that knowledge and relationships have equal weight and both make important contributions to the success of every company. Nevertheless, the reality is that, sometimes, the "I know X" phenomenon carries such weight that it can indeed supplant a systemic approach which, in the long run, might be better for the organization by fostering healthier operations and a better communications platform.

Nevertheless, it can be challenging to persuade some people that knowledge has equal weight, since we’ve all been brought up to believe in this adage. Here is a case in point: the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) recently conducted a study — reported in The New York Times — which showed that more than 100 foundations that lost 30 to 100 percent of their assets in the Madoff scandal had four or fewer board members. Now what is wrong with that?

Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the NCRP, notes that one or more people on a small homogenous board either knew — or knew someone who knew — Madoff and were aware of the fact that he paid great returns for a sustained period of time. But, Dorfman points out, “it's not enough to allow Uncle George or Grandpa to say Bernie Madoff is a great guy and (then) make an investment." Dorfman believes, and I concur, that a larger, diversified board would not have accepted this casual approach and would have instituted a system whereby criteria were established for an investment policy. According to the NYT article, the median size of the boards of foundations that are members of the Council of Foundations is 11.

If there is a system in place that reflects the size board needed for a particular organization and enables the knowledge and facts to meet the entity’s goals, then the entire board can take responsibility for decisions regarding investments or any other matter. The end result might be the same, but the solution will be arrived at because of agreed-upon criteria, rather than someone’s general impression that so-and-so is a great guy and performs well.

This appreciation for systems, regardless of what needs to be achieved in business, is not to be confused with the very fact that public relations is all about building relationships with an organization's constituencies who can make or break a business. How well you get to know the people in these constituencies is fundamental to the success of that organization. But public relations, indeed, is a system in and of itself.

Technorati Tags: National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, The New York Times, Bernie Madoff , Aaron Dorfman, organization, Makovsky + Company, communications, public relations