Monday, June 28, 2010

Brooklyn's PR Challenge

While increasing numbers of young families have been drawn to tonier areas of Brooklyn (such as Park Slope) to live, according to The New York Times, these same families are choosing to give birth to their babies in Manhattan hospitals. Common sense would suggest that a woman would prefer to have her baby in a hospital closest to home. So what accounts for this strange phenomenon? Why is it happening?

Because “best doctors” and Manhattan are synonymous. Think about it. For years now, New York Magazine has featured an annual “best doctors” issue; and even though it covers the tri-state area, its biggest focus is on Manhattan, across virtually every area of specialization. Further, the promotion of the New York issue year after year has resonated with many and, in my opinion, has built a perception of New York City, in general — and Manhattan, in particular — as a mecca for quality doctors and medical institutions.

Further the article indicates that the four hospitals that have had the biggest uptick in births, particularly from Brooklyn and other nearby areas — New York University Langone Medical Center, the Roosevelt branch of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center — all carry out significant advertising and public relations campaigns stressing that they have the “best doctors.”

Thus, the perception is that going to a Manhattan-based hospital will be a better experience because mothers will encounter doctors with the best reputations — in effect, the best doctors. Meanwhile, hospitals in Brooklyn have experienced a downturn in the number of families registering to give birth.

It is no doubt true that there are many exceptional doctors in Manhattan, but I have to believe that on a relative basis, Brooklyn also is loaded with talent. The problem is that Brooklyn hospitals have not been as aggressive on the marketing/public relations front and have not built the reputation Manhattan has. Brooklyn and its hospitals can fight back and change the ratio of customers they get compared to Manhattan hospitals through aggressive public relations and advertising techniques. The only thing standing between them and a turnaround is one ingredient: diligent public relations work.

Technorati Tags: New York University Langone Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center, oil spill, New York Times Magazine, best doctors

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where Apple, Google and Other Names Come From

What’s in a corporate name? Despite all the professional corporate identity folks (ourselves included) who engage in the scientific development of corporate names, many of the most famous ones were developed by the companies’ founders – based on life experiences, favorite foods, , city names, last names, inside jokes and so on. Here are a few examples from the blog:

Apple Computers
Steve Jobs was three months late in filing a name for the business, and he threatened to call his company Apple Computers — after his favorite fruit — if his colleagues couldn’t suggest a better name by 5:00 pm.

It is not an acronym as popularly believed; Cisco is short for San Francisco.

At a time when “Victrola” was a dominant force in audio, founder Paul Galvin came up with Motorola because his company specialized in crafting superior radios for cars. Intel
Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore wanted to name their new company ”Moore Noyce” — but, unfortunately, that name was already trademarked by a hotel chain — so they had to settle for an acronym of INTegrated Electronics.

The name started as a joke boasting about the amount of information the search-engine would be able to search. Originally called ”Googol” (the number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeros), the company’s name was changed slightly after its founders –Sergey Brin and Larry Page — received their first check from an angel investor … made out to ”Google.”

Technorati Tags: Google, Apple,, Cisco, Motorola, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, June 21, 2010


Nearly 50 percent of people voting online said they are boycotting BP filling stations and another 11 percent said they are avoiding them when they can, according to a poll sponsored by

This, of course, raises a critical issue: is BP getting hurt by this boycott or is the “punishment” being misdirected?

If BP’s image is the target of these protesters, all the negative publicity about the boycott is unquestionably hurting the brand value. If the goal of the protesters is to afflict financial pain on the company, based on my research, it is having little or no effect.

The boycott crowd’s greatest impact is on the family businesses that own these filling stations and their employees. According to an article in The New York Times on June 11, BP owns only a handful of the 11,000 BP-branded stations … and is trying to sell them. In fact, the article notes, the gas in BP’s pumps may not, in fact, have been extracted, refined or stored by the company. And when the public buys gas elsewhere, the purchase may come from refineries or wholesalers that BP owns outright. Author Ron Lieber reports that no retailer can guarantee BP-free gasoline for sale.

What to do? I would hate to hurt a family business that had nothing to do with the spill. And now we learn that the gas in BP tanks may have nothing to do with BP. So the filling station boycott is futile.

Further, with the company’s newly declared $20 billion fund to help those whose jobs have been affected and its determination to clean up the mess, antagonism against BP’s image may impact the value of its stock and thereby the availability of funds to get the job done.

Technorati Tags: BP Global, BP plc, oil spill, Tony Hayward, Ron Lieber, offshore drilling, Gulf of Mexico, crisis, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Telling Real Life Stories

Communicating history through paintings? In a sense, doesn’t every artist do that — capturing and freezing a moment in time?

But no artist that I have ever observed has focused on capturing America’s social history over a 70-year period as consistently as Norman Rockwell, whose museum collection in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, has utterly captivated me. Born in New York in 1894, by the time he was 18 Rockwell produced his first magazine cover for “Boys’ Life,” the leading scouting magazine.

Of course, he became famous for his Saturday Evening Post covers — and there may be over 100 of them in the museum. In fact, he had cover illustrations on nearly every popular magazine of the time. Many of these illustrations — actually, museum quality paintings — touched on American social and family life. Rockwell said, “I showed the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”

To me, what made him unique was his storytelling ability: whether depicting boys running from a swimming hole, an old man teaching music to a young boy, 15 folks gossiping, performers playing checkers behind stage at a circus or a boy being examined by a doctor, and so on.

But he also looked beyond small town America, portraying the civil rights struggle, depicting the domestic side of World War II (such as Rosie the Riveter) and more. He touched upon moral issues. He painted portraits of the leading figures of the day, including Charles Lindbergh, Neil Armstrong and Harry Truman. Possibly his most famous historical paintings were his depictions of the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship and Freedom from Want and Fear.

Nearly 400 works by Rockwell are known — and I doubt that there is another artist whose paintings and illustrations penetrated the American home with the essence of our heritage and social fabric as Norman Rockwell. This is visual communications in a very unique form.

Technorati Tags: Norman Rockwell, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Saturday Evening Post, America, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Flash Crash" Follow-up

My guest blogger today is Travis Ferber, Senior Account Executive,
at Makovsky + Company.

On Thursday, June 10, the results of the May 6th "flash crash" hit the nation's securities exchanges once again, this time in the form of circuit-breaker rules.

What do these rules do? Well, in the event of a security's rapid and extreme price change (10% or more in five minutes), all trading venues (exchanges, markets, ATSs) must halt the trading of that security. In theory, everyone gets a chance to figure out why the price of a security is changing.

If you're like most, when you think of people trading stocks you probably envision a bustling floor of jacketed individuals yelling out buy and sell orders at the direction of some institution. And that's how stocks were traditionally traded. These people understood everything about a stock, all the information available in the market would go through them and they could control the speed at which securities traded. They were the hub, the central communicators of the market.

However, high-speed trading and black box models (computer programs using algorithms to pick stocks to buy or sell) have changed the way the vast majority of securities are traded. Today, a stock trades in 250 microseconds, or 0.00025 seconds! At that speed, prices can change rapidly (as May 6th demonstrated, stocks can lose their entire value in a matter of seconds).

With the circuit-breaker rules, we're forcing markets to slow down and communicate at a more human speed before things get out of hand.

After the past decade's obsession with speed, it's a relief to see the value of information, interpretation and communication reasserted — even if it took a "flash crash" to make it happen.

Technorati Tags: high-speed trading, flash crash, algorithms, regulations, communication, Wall Street, public relations, business, Makovsky

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

“I Would Like My Life Back”

My guest blogger today is John McInerney, Vice President, at Makovsky + Company.

“The first thing to say is I’m sorry,” Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, told reporters, when asked what he would like to tell locals whose livelihoods have been affected the by the oil spill. “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.”

Many words have been written about this gaffe. It’s one thing to have compassion for those who are suffering because of what went wrong (a good thing), but as a CEO it’s over the line to equate your own loss of control with others who are affected.

First, Hayward signed on for the possibility of ‘losing control’ by taking the job as CEO. Gulf residents just expected to show up for work. Second, control—or the appearance of it—is essential for leaders to remain credible. This slip shows how easily control can vanish and how hard it can be to get it back.

Hayward clearly made the comment because he was fatigued. Obviously, any extended crisis will fray nerves and requires stamina. If you’re an executive in a crisis, check yourself for battle fatigue because weak moments get preserved online. You have to rise to the occasion, no matter how you feel. Even if you’re not in a crisis, presenting while fatigued can cause inadvertent and potentially irretrievable errors.

Technorati Tags: BP Global, BP plc, oil spill, Tony Hayward, U.S. Department of the Interior, offshore drilling, Gulf of Mexico, crisis, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, June 07, 2010

Crisis Planning: A Government Mandate?

I said it in my last blog, and I say it again, how does a company that drills for oil, such as BP, not have a crisis plan? And why would our government permit oil, chemical, mining or other similar companies to operate without one? At a minimum, government regulations should require such a plan before permitting operations in this country.

BP CEO Tony Hayward, in an interview in the Financial Times, noted: “What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit” – a blatant admission that BP lacked the plan and the wherewithal to act when the crisis occurred. At least he told the truth, in contrast to BP’s playing down the size of the spill and the environmental damage that occurred.

What should be in a crisis plan? First and foremost, a range of scenarios that could occur and how to respond to each of them; and the response must be put to paper in detail—step by step—so that there is no hesitation to act and act quickly. This forces a company to gather, in advance, the tools needed to clean up any mess created. Further, each scenario must be acted out and people must be trained to solve the problem. All the relevant people and their contact information at any time of day must also be included in the written plan, which is circulated to all concerned.

To keep a crisis plan up to date, companies should have periodic meetings to examine where they are vulnerable, and whether they are equipped to deal with changes as they occur. Scenarios should be ranked in terms of their probability and importance.

It is possible that if the right precautions had been taken, BP’s CEO wouldn’t have had to worry about apologizing to the families of the 11 men who died on the rig for having callously said in another context, “You know, I’d like my life back (from all the hassle).”

Technorati Tags: BP Global, BP plc, oil spill, Minerals Management Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, offshore drilling, Gulf of Mexico, crisis, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, June 03, 2010

BP: The U.S. Government’s Omission

Only two months before the catastrophic drilling explosion on April 20, BP filed a 52-page exploration and environmental impact plan with the Minerals Management Service (MMS), an arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees offshore drilling. The plan stated that it was “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.” And, in the event that an accident did occur, since the well was 48 miles from shore and “response capabilities” would be implemented, “no significant adverse impacts would be expected.” After concluding that a massive oil spill was indeed unlikely, the Department of the Interior exempted BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact study.

Next, even after a whistleblower report to the MMS, just one month later, revealed that “over 85% of [BP’s proposed rigs] lacked final engineer-approval, and that the project should be immediately shut down until those documents could be accounted for and are independently verified,” the approval was not reconsidered.

And, for the record, according to an AP report, “the leader of botched containment efforts in the critical hours after the [Exxon Valdez] tanker ran aground wasn't Exxon Mobil Corp. It was BP PLC, the same firm now fighting to plug the Gulf leak.”

Thus, doesn’t it strike you as strange that BP apparently did not have a crisis plan?

It’s now been two months since the incident, and there is still no explanation for what triggered the explosion; the leak has yet to be plugged; and a huge underwater oil gusher continues to spill into the Gulf, disrupting the area’s economy and wreaking environmental havoc.

To survive this catastrophe and keep the company intact, BP must practice full immediate disclosure … on everything. Here are some examples:

• Reveal the true magnitude of the leak, as soon as is feasible and make publicly available any data and other information related to the oil spill that has been collected, as soon as it is collected.
• Enable reporters’ visits to the beaches and the Gulf for reports on the disaster.
• Disclose the results of its tests of chemical dispersants used on the spill.
• Continue to make live video feeds of the oil spill available over the internet.

In a recent CNN/Opinion Research poll, 76% of Americans say they disapprove of BP’s response to the spill and 51% say they disapprove of the way President Obama is handling the crisis.

Hopefully, this disaster will be a beacon for our government for its own standards and the need to make crisis planning a regulatory requirement for all oil, chemical and other companies that could potentially endanger the environment.

Technorati Tags: BP Global, BP plc, oil spill, Minerals Management Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, offshore drilling, Gulf of Mexico, crisis, communications, public relations, Makovsky