Monday, March 29, 2010


I was judging the Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil entries last week. The Silver Anvil Award is the Oscar of our business. Sitting across from me were two judges who held leading communications positions in two Fortune 500 companies. During our break they were talking about the performance of agencies they have hired. “Lots of tactics,” one said, “little strategy — particularly from the larger agencies, where we expected more. We have found if you want to get serious strategic thinking, go to a boutique agency.”

Now, clearly, two opinions do not a random sample make (although I must admit, I heard similar sentiments recently from several pharma executives). And I know for a fact that many of the big agencies deliver quality counsel and execution to their clients, if for no other reason, because of the many Silver Anvil winners among this group. Nevertheless, the fact that a number of smart, experienced corporate leaders share the same view of the industry goliaths concerned me – because client opinion of the largest agencies can have a trickle down effect. Is it a result of the recession, layoffs, and an overall talent shortage? What can we do about it?

We can renew our focus on delivering valuable services from seasoned professionals at a fair price. My question is are we maximizing our senior professionals’ skillsets with clients, or are they too involved in non-client work?

I decided to check our own record. A recent survey of independent data culled from large, mid-size and small agencies conducted by the Council of Public Relations Firms, clearly showed that senior talent at Makovsky + Company spends more time with clients than the industry average. We know that it is value received that keeps clients.

Unexpectedly, the recession may be helping all firms in the industry. According to the 2010 edition of Spring Associates’ Official PR Salary & Bonus Report, despite significant job losses in 2009, hiring in 2010 has improved, leading to a more optimistic view of the future. The hiring trend is generally skewed toward PR professionals with more experience.

Technorati Tags: Public Relations Society of America, Silver Anvil, Council of Public Relations Firms,Spring Associates, Inc., communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How the NYT and the WSJ Part Company When It Comes to Webcasts

Sometimes, when the mainstream media embrace social media techniques, the results can be surprising. Today’s guest blogger, Clayton McGratty, an account supervisor with Makovsky + Company, examines The New York Times and Wall Street Journal’s respective webcasts — the TimesCast (a behind-the-scenes look at editorial meetings) and NewsHub (a one-minute take on the day’s key market activities) — and shares his observations.

On March 22nd, The New York Times launched a daily webcast called “TimesCast” that is designed to summarize “the big news stories of the day,” according to the Times’ Media Decoder Blog. In the four episodes that I’ve viewed since its launch, TimesCast is, regrettably, nothing more than that: a delayed and static snapshot of journalists’ views of news that is often already readily available online or via another media outlet.

The launch is another step in the direction of competing with the Wall Street Journal’s News Hub, which I think is a smart move, but TimesCast highlights a process and discussions of how editorial determines the news it will cover. This is a relatively similar process day-to-day, repopulated by new content that mirrors what is on Though it does somewhat "humanize" the journalists behind the paper, I am only really interested in that aspect with columnists as a reader of dailies. After four days, TimesCast has started to seem a little stale in its new angle.

Though TimesCast may be generating some early traffic for the Gray Lady, I think this will wane over time as viewers begin to realize that the same synopsis of coverage was available on the Time’s homepage a click or two ago. It’s a novel idea in trying something different with online video, but I think lacks the draw of live and unique commentary that its main competitor is offering at The News Hub.

Technorati Tags: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TimesCast,NewsHub, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, March 22, 2010


The Securities and Exchange Commission is a government agency with a serious PR problem. First, it failed to discover Bernie Madoff’s $60 billion in misdeeds even after receiving numerous tips questioning Madoff’s ability to generate the kind of returns he did. Just recently it failed in its attempt to get under Lehman Brothers’ problems via an SEC investigation team under the leadership of none other than Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary. This happened before the esteemed investment banking firm went belly-up. Since then it was discovered that Lehman was moving critical assets off its books before it announced earnings-- to mask its shaky finances; once the announcements were made those items returned to the books. None of this was discovered by the SEC “troops.”

Thus, the reputation of the SEC has taken a major hit. These high profile defeats I would bet have led many to believe that the SEC can’t successfully investigate anything. This is obviously not true, but confidence in the organization undoubtedly has reached a low ebb. In fact, it leads one to wonder: What kind of talent resides in the SEC? Are they well organized? Are they trained in doing investigative work? Are the investigators just a bunch of lawyers using the SEC as a way station until they move into private practice, thereby spawning a devil-may-care attitude? If the Secretary of Treasury cannot conclude a successful management engagement, what is the quality of the oversight day-to-day? Are there any conflicts of interest----investigations compromised by the promise of future jobs?

So what is the SEC to do to strengthen its standing and reputation among business and the general public? An op-ed, “A Foreign Service for Wall Street,” which appeared in Saturday’s New York Times (3/24) by author Scott McCleskey, suggests “alongside reform, we need to overhaul the way regulatory agencies are staffed” and cites the Foreign Service as a perfect model. The latter builds and trains career professionals who spend lifetimes there, and the SEC needs the same, rather than inexperienced lawyers to conduct investigations and other core tasks. As McCleskey notes, establishing this kind of institutional program “would be a lot cheaper than another financial crisis.”

With the SEC’s mission focused on protecting the investor, it also is incumbent on the leadership to speak out on its missteps and explain the system breakdown. If such explanation has indeed occurred, I have missed it. A top SEC representative needs to travel the nation speaking before business groups and being interviewed by the media to reach both business and the individual investor -- to tell the SEC story, how they plan to strengthen the organization, clarifying their activities and responsibilities, while shedding light on the Madoff and Lehman cases. These same messages need to be converted into op-ed pieces which appear in target media and then be placed on the SEC website. There is nothing on the current website home page that I can find that addresses these confidence-diminishing issues. The campaign needs to carefully integrate the Internet to garner feedback and allow for questions and answers --- influencing actions and enabling accountability.

Technorati Tags: The Securities and Exchange Commission, Bernard Madoff, Lehman Brothers,The New York Times, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Back in January, I wrote a blog about the unique approach that Domino’s Pizza took when it aggressively relaunched its new formulation.

What I found extraordinary about the whole marketing campaign was its focus on how awful Domino’s old recipe was, describing the “classic” Domino’s pie as “mass produced, boring, bland,” with a taste like “cardboard” … worse even than microwave pizza.

“Suggesting that you’ve been cheating your most loyal customers for the past 50 years by selling them a second-rate product is just not the strongest platform for future growth,” I wrote at the time. “It’s a risky approach — and not one I’d recommend to a client — but it just might work. We’ll have to wait and see.”

Well, early returns suggest that Domino’s CEO, J. Patrick Doyle, does indeed know his product — and his market.

According to a recent article in USA TODAY Domino’s more than doubled its fourth-quarter profit — to $23.6 million, or 41 cents a share — as curious customers tried out its new recipe.

It was a risky move, but it seems to have resonated well with the general public for the time being. I’ll be very interested to see if they can sustain this level of profitability over the next few quarters when the campaign has faded. I must confess that I remain skeptical.

Technorati Tags: Domino’s Pizza, marketing, J. Patrick Doyle,USA TODAY, communications, public relations, Makovsky

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Monday, March 15, 2010


A definite yes! I always thought it was an American tradition to admit a mistake. “I am sorry…I made a mistake” gets high marks in my book…and might even get you through the debacle, if not carelessly used. I’d venture to say that most Americans would also give the offender a pass for a sincere apology.

But when you probe deeper, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Saying “I’m sorry” in business, if a legal matter is at stake, can mean the loss of a suit. Thus lawyers may advise: say nothing. A doctor or a hospital admitting medical error can mean a malpractice suit.

So, are things changing? Are there benefits for both parties when a genuine apology is offered — and accepted?

According to The New York Times, Gerald Levin, the former Time Warner chief, “dropped jaws” by taking the blame for putting together the “the worst deal of the century,” the merger of Time Warner and America Online, despite the fact that it happened ten years ago, in 2000. The same article quoted Sandy Weill, who built the Citigroup empire, saying that he was “’sad’ about the state of Citi and had made some mistakes.”

Sydney Finkelstein, a management professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, has found that that heads of Fortune 500 companies almost never apologize for poor performance. The one exception, the article said, was Andy Grove, former chief of Intel. That may be one of the reasons why we remember his name.

It may be big egos or just stiff upper lips, but it is not a good tradition, in my opinion. However, it is reassuring to know that an increasing number of medical centers, according to an earlier New York Times piece, are taking a different tack and “encouraging doctors to apologize to patients for mistakes and to explain what went wrong.”

“Doctors say that such accountability can help patients feel more cared for and empowered, as well as enhance the reputation of the doctor and the medical center as honest brokers,” writes reporter Natasha Singer. I would say the analogous situation would be true on the corporate front. Surprisingly, several medical centers, according to the Times, “have reported that the approach has reduced malpractice suits.” Amen.

Technorati Tags: The New York Times, Gerald Levin, Time Warner,America Online, Sandy Weill, Citigroup, Sydney Finkelstein, Tuck School of Business, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Communications is Saving Lives in Chile

"Urgent. In Constitucion an eight-year old boy named Ivan Lara showed up alone. He's looking for his family," read the tweet.

In earthquake torn Chile, there is one language that connects everyone, regardless of where they are from. Social networking is the lingua franca.

Your life might well have been saved if you were lucky enough to have had a BlackBerry or iPhone with you when the 8.3-magnitude quake struck. Twitter and Facebook have been critical resources for help: coordinating rescue for individuals buried in the rubble, finding food and water, and reuniting families and friends.

According to a recent article in USA TODAY , Chile ranks fourth worldwide in terms of social networking penetration among its home and work internet audience. While traditional media have focused on hard news, the piece said, Twitter, Facebook and some Google applications have been key for communicating locally about personal needs.

If we ever doubted the universal utility of social networking, this should put those doubts to rest. It’s not just about chat. It’s also about the instantaneous delivery of critically important information, which has enabled a quantum leap in personal safety.

Technorati Tags: Chile, earthquake, Ivan Lara,social networking, USA Today , communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, March 08, 2010


He was humble. He was kind. He was deeply devoted to his family. He was a leader in his profession. He always shared his knowledge. He was a strategic thinker. He was conscientious. He cared.

And the list of Harvey Greisman’s virtues goes on and on. But everything came to a screeching halt about a week and a half ago. For Harvey Greisman died suddenly while he was on a trip to Florida to attend his father’s funeral.

The suddenness of it all left everyone frozen in their tracks.

His death was shocking for me, as Harvey was my friend. I had just had dinner with him a couple months ago. Professionally, I had served on a number of panels with Harvey and most recently had invited him to participate as a member of our IPREX global panel on the financial crisis last May.

The respect for Harvey was broad and deep. He served in leadership positions at IBM and GTE. He was on boards of organizations like the Arthur W. Page Society and the Institute for Public Relations . Most recently he headed global communications at MasterCard.

“But he never saw himself, I now understand, as others saw him,” noted his wife. “He never thought of himself as an industry leader, and I never knew that he was. And rather than focus on the great things he did do, Harvey always thought about what he didn’t do and didn’t say – at meetings or assignments on or off the job. He was never truly satisfied with his contribution.”

This was a sad revelation about the man. I always admired Harvey and was disappointed to learn that he was not aware of the esteem in which he was held. As professional communicators, we need to be more forthright in communicating our positive feelings to colleagues both about what they represent to us and mean to others.

Technorati Tags: Harvey Greisman, Mastercard, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Financial Value of Reputation

Call them whatever you want, but one thing is certain. When Goldman Sachs talks, people generally listen. That’s why I found a statement from Goldman’s just published annual report to be nothing short of monumental: for the first time, the bank added “adverse publicity” to the laundry list of financial risks it faces going forward.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal ,arguably the most respected voice on Wall Street has acknowledged that negative press coverage could have a material impact on its financial results – or, more to the point, that corporate reputation possesses tangible financial value. This follows on the heels of a study a number of years ago by Ernst & Young that found 35% of a typical public company’s valuation relates to intangibles like brand awareness and regard.

Goldman’s insight, which is unparalleled in investment banking and, in my opinion, would have been impossible just a few years ago, suggests that the Great Recession may be convincing financial leaders that risk management involves more than investment portfolios. That’s good news for public relations professionals who have long argued that intangible assets like corporate reputation have genuine impact on the financial statement – and should be valued and managed accordingly.

Technorati Tags: Goldman Sachs, annual report, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, March 01, 2010


hello my name is stickerThe answer to that question? Everything. Among the people who know you, when they hear your name, they think of everything about you. Your character. Your appearance. Your relationship with them. Your usual behavior. The terrific or horrible things you have done. Your demeanor. Your reputation. And the list goes on.

If you are famous, then all of those things are magnified among those who know of you. Apply the above factors to Tiger Woods, Angelina Jolie, Barack Obama, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Mark McGwire, Bernie Madoff.

Well, I think you get the idea. Thus, it was not surprising to read in a recent New York Times article that people with the Madoff name, whether relatives or not, feel the need to change it—or proclaim “not-related”—because of the stigma. (Madoff carried out the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time, causing client losses of more than $60 billion.) His daughter-in-law, Harriet, asked the court to allow her and her children to change their name to Morgan, noting that she cannot get a decent dinner reservation with the Madoff name, today synonymous with evil. And in the financial services world, she noted, the name is a real “horror show.”

Further, a guy I know who worked on the so-called legitimate side of the Madoff brokerage operation, has been out of work for months because of the stigma on his resume which, he says, is holding back potential employers.

However you stack it up, and whether you are an individual, a corporation or an institution, your name IS your total identity. It stands for all that you are. Your deeds and presentation create the perceptions that make your reality. May you build a name that anyone would be proud to bear.

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