Monday, February 28, 2011


Some of the world’s greatest inventions and ideas have been the result of competitions: a tool frequently used in public relations campaigns to bring out the best in people.

In fact, cash prizes awarded in competitions have revolutionized chemical engineering, energy efficiency, personal space flight and aviation, among other areas. Perhaps the most famous example is the $25,000 prize offered in 1919 by Raymond Orteig for the first nonstop aircraft flight between New York and Paris—which inspired Charles Lindbergh’s precedent-shattering cross-Atlantic flight.

So it was enlightening to hear about Prize Capital at “BusinessClimate 2010," an environmental conference created by my friend Andrew McKeon, a leading environmentalist.

What’s Prize Capital? It’s an environmental/energy focused venture financing firm, which combines prize competitions with companion investment funds to deliver capital that will incentivize radical technological breakthroughs.

“Prize Capital believes only innovation will solve the environmental challenges we face,” its website points out. “Recognition prizes (such as the Nobel Prizes) look backward, rewarding past achievements. Inducement prizes look forward, directing effort at a desired outcome. They cross borders…and attract a wider range of participants, from traditional researchers to maverick thinkers…”

Prize Capital focuses on environmental innovators from developing countries or very early stage inventors, who otherwise would not be heard from—which traditional funding mechanisms are not designed to do. The prize is not paid until the desired result is achieved. This approach, along with a unique option equity strategy, mitigates risk, the major culprit in motivating “the world’s best minds to tackle pressing problems.”

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Thursday, February 24, 2011


Here is another example of how rough stories in the media can wreck the reputation of a leading institution and the man at the helm. I am not blaming the press; I am blaming the actions of the man at the helm, who inspired the negative coverage. The story this time is about the New York Mets — one of New York's two baseball teams — and its owner, Fred Wilpon.

What happened? Years ago, Fred Wilpon selected record-setting Ponzi-scheme ace, Bernard Madoff (who, about a year ago, was sentenced to life in prison), to manage the lion's share of his and the Met's investments.

Wilpon claims he was victimized like many others, but Irving Piccard, the trustee attempting to recover funds for the real victims of this fraud, is suing Wilpon for $300 million in fictitious profits and other items that could bring the total to $1 billion. Why is Wilpon a target? Because, as a power-player, the Mets owner had the ability to influence other high-profile individuals with deep pockets to invest with Madoff as well, increasing Madoff's pool of money and the size of Wilpon's own returns. The Mets owner even started a "private club," inviting only certain wealthy individuals to become Madoff investors, as long as all investments were made through Wilpon's company, Sterling Equities, and the actual investors promised they would have no contact with Madoff directly. I'd call this a red flag, wouldn't you?

In his defense, Wilpon has said, “We lost over half a billion dollars… We put in money — I personally put in money within three weeks of [Madoff’s] going under. I know, you look at me like I have a third head, but I’m not stupid. I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t risk my family’s money if I thought there was anything wrong.”

Yet there were several other red flags. Leaders in the Mets organization marveled at Wilpon's returns from Madoff and wondered how he did it.

Word has it that Wilpon tried to settle with Piccard out of court, but when the two men could not agree, it hit the press. As I see it, once it hit the press, the Wilpons were doomed. The headlines have been ragged and accusatory -- with good reason. If the Wilpons try to fight this in court, the case will go on for years, totally sullying the reputation of the team, which has already been badly hurt. If they give in to Piccard's demands, they will be financially finished and devoid of any credibility. They are already seeking a 25 percent buyer of the Mets to help sustain their ownership. And despite Wilpon's protestations that this will not affect the business of the team, the Mets have been quiet in the off-season, with no major player acquisitions of note. And indeed there are needs.

Bottom line? There is a very dark cloud over the team. No matter what the Wilpon family does, they are dead meat. New York cannot afford to have a tainted owner of one of its flagship institutions — the fan base will not allow it — and Wilpon is tainted no matter how this turns out. I predict that the Wilpons will be forced to sell the team in order to rev up the organization's credibility... which is the only way it can sustain itself in New York.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great or “Goofy”?

Sometimes we reject new ideas because they seem goofy. In fact, we may pass them by, without giving them a second thought. And you know what? We are the wacky ones!

Here is an example of an idea that I once might have laughed at, but which, indeed, might one day be called the “disk drive of the 21st century”! And it is none other than E. coli bacteria!

What? Are we going nuts?

According to an article last month on the Discovery News website, researchers in Hong Kong have found a way to compress data into chunks that can be placed in individual E. coli cells, so that just one gram of E. coli could store the same amount of data as 450 2-terabyte hard drives. Further they have mapped the cells so that it is easy to find specific data later … and they’ve created a system to protect the data from cyber threats.

What of the companies that have made a fortune on hard drives? Will they go the way of the telegram? Who knows? But there is a lesson to be learned here: examine any new idea dispassionately and without any preconceptions.

Technorati Tags: Discovery News, business, communications, public relations

Monday, February 14, 2011


More proof of the power of words! And proof, too, that sometimes their value is so great — and historic — that to change them is a “constitutional violation.”

Now what do I mean by that? Well, in this case, I am referring to censoring a classic, a pillar of American culture: Huckleberry Finn. In my opinion, this is a travesty.

You’ve probably read that a Mark Twain scholar, Alan Gribben, is planning to remove the “n” word — mentioned 219 times in the original — in a new, revised version of the book.

Apparently, readership of Huck Finn in schools has been declining, and some people think reading an expurgated version of the classic is better than not reading it at all.

A high school English teacher interviewed in a New York Times article on January 4 summed up my feelings: “I think authors’ language should be left alone…if it expresses the way people felt about race or slavery in the context of their time, that’s something I’d talk about in teaching it.”

Further, the real thing can serve as the basis of discussions about how far America has come…and how more subtle forms of racism still exist.

Technorati Tags: Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, The New York Times, business, communications, public relations

Thursday, February 10, 2011


This one is for Twitter writers – who are often challenged by concisely getting across a complex thought in just 140 characters without the use of “internet abbreviations.”

So voilà! Here is an online, searchable thesaurus called Thsrs that only gives you synonyms shorter than the word you are looking up! Perfect for the Twitter crowd. Also perfect for those wanting to meet target character limits in articles they are writing, online or offline. It’s “the shorter Thesaurus!”

Technorati Tags: social media, Twitter, communications, public relations, business, Makovsky

Monday, February 07, 2011

Bad Predictions

It’s still early enough in the year that people are continuing to make predictions.  Because I have always believed that  business is an exercise in foresight — and as we are getting closer to tying the knot on our own four year strategic plan — I keep thinking how vulnerable predictions are, no matter how sensitive and studied you are about what’s coming next. 

To justify my own vulnerability, I looked at what I thought were a few of the least accurate predictions in the annals of American business history — made by some of the smartest people around.  Here are a few examples:

•  Legendary inventor Thomas Edison dismissed radio as a “craze that will die out in time.”

•  When asked what he thought of the telephone, President Rutherford B. Hayes asked: “Who would ever want to use one?”

•  The Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War I, Ferdinand Foch, saw “no military value” in airplanes.

•  IBM’s former chairman Tom Watson predicted a world market for “maybe five computers.”

Now I don’t feel as bad as I might have about my prediction 10 years ago that by 2011 New York would lead the way in flying cars!!!!

Technorati Tags: predictions,Thomas Edison, President Rutherford B. Hayes, Ferdinand Foch, Tom Watson

Thursday, February 03, 2011


Thought leadership brings an array of rewards. One is recognition for understanding your customers and the environment in which they operate. Another is providing a valuable independent perspective to all your stakeholders. Finally, it builds confidence in your brand and identity.

We have not only employed thought leadership for our clients, but also for ourselves. We see it as client-oriented intellectual capital offered to strengthen their businesses — for example, a survey on the impact of blogging, an article on biosimilars, a newsletter on BP’s seven sins.

Thus, it was extremely gratifying (and surprising!) to discover that Dow Jones recently studied the amount of media attention received by 70 leading mid-sized public relations firms — defined as agencies with $10 million to $50 million in billings — and designated Makovsky “the third most-covered firm worldwide” in that category.

Moreover, the Dow Jones study named Makovsky the “second most covered [midsized] firm in the United States.”

Obviously, we are proud of successfully communicating our “story” to our prospects and clients by providing the media with information they believe will interest their readers. It is critical for us to serve as a role-model in this area … while endeavoring to help our clients achieve best-in-class status in their own right. Fortunately, the many client campaign awards we have won are evidence that this is a cornerstone of our success!

Technorati Tags: Dow Jones,media, social media, The Internet,communications, public relations, Makovsky