Thursday, March 31, 2011


Some CEOs, when faced by disaster, seem almost paralyzed by indecision and hide from the press. Not Sony CEO Howard Stringer.

Despite the fact that he had just endured a 12-hour flight from Tokyo to New York — while suffering from a slipped disk — Stringer took charge instantly and was on the phone with his senior management team, “who had already started putting into place pre-established strategies for dealing with a major earthquake,” according to a recent report in The New York Times.

Everyone in Sony had a role to play…and they played it beautifully. From the U.S., Stringer marshaled various Sony departments — e.g., human resources, communications, corporate philanthropy —and wrote an inspirational email to all 167,900 Sony employees worldwide. Meanwhile, Sony's vice chairman, Ryoji Chubachi, and two senior managers in charge of manufacturing and logistics focused on Japan, rescuing stranded employees and delivering water, food and other necessities. Immediately after his surgery, Stringer returned to his command post, helping to push through a $3.6 million donation for relief efforts and attending to other recovery details.

No one is certain what the final cost of the disaster will be to Sony. The company's American-traded shares tumbled nearly 11% between Friday (the day the quake hit) and the following Wednesday, closing at $29.88 on the NYSE. Sony recovered somewhat since, closing at $31.54 on Friday. And at the close of business yesterday, the stock was at $32.28…a good sign for a good company.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Do Nothing for Two Minutes

Twenty-something web entrepreneur Alex Tew writes: “I had been thinking how we spend every waking minute of the day with access to an unlimited supply of information, to the point of information overload. I also read somewhere that there is evidence that our brains are being re-wired by the internet, because we get a little dopamine kick every time we check our e-mail or Twitter or Facebook and there’s a new update. So we’re all developing a bit of ADD, which is probably not great in terms of being productive.”

So he created a website ( that encourages you to calm down and slow down. Just sit in front of your computer and do nothing for two minutes but listen to the sound of soothing ocean wave sounds and seagulls. If you touch your mouse or keyboard, you have to start over!

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Big Need: The Next Level up from Micro-Financing

“'Micro-financing' has already made it.” said Randall Kempner of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE).

"Millions of individuals in developing countries are receiving micro-financing loans to get their businesses started. Last year, sixty-five billion dollars in micro-financed loans were made, at an average size of around $500 per loan. But the next level of investing, growth capital of $20,000 to $2 million to existing small and growing businesses, has yet to catch on, and that is our focus.”

Mr. Kempner was addressing our firm, as part of the Makovsky Speaker Series, a program designed to enlighten our entire organization.

First, what is ANDE? It is a global network of investment funds, business assistance organizations, foundations, corporations and academic institutions dedicated to helping small business entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

According to the World Bank, “In high-income ‘developed’ countries, small and medium enterprises provide approximately 60% of employment opportunities and are the engine of economic growth. However, in low-income "developing” countries, formal small and medium businesses typically comprise less than 20% of employment.”

“Our goal is to move that percent upwards.” Kempner said. “My concern, and that of ANDE, is helping reduce poverty in these emerging markets.” And without the jobs, income and innovations created by a vibrant small business community, emerging markets can’t grow, he advised.

Investing in small and growing businesses in emerging markets is one segment of the growing market for impact investment. As a new JP Morgan report explains, Impact Investment is a new asset class of investments that are explicitly made with the intention of addressing social or environmental challenges while still providing a positive financial return.

This is an emerging space in which institutional investors are just getting their feet wet. Some leading corporations, developmental finance institutions, and foundations are blazing the trail, but there is still much ground to travel, Kempner says. If Impact Investments grow to even just 1% of total global managed assets, it would mean $600 billion in investment to leverage market-based approaches to addressing social challenges.

Potential investors can establish the targets they want (e.g., women-owned businesses, environmental firms, food production), Kempner said, which makes this inviting. “The challenges we face are multiple,” he said. “We need candidate companies to make themselves visible. We need to stimulate investor interest. And we need to encourage laws that, not just maximize shareholder return, but maximize stakeholder returns.”

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Monday, March 21, 2011

More CEO Education Needed

Burger King Vinyl Mask

“The food is terrible and the women are not very attractive.”

Sounds like a casual remark that any guy might make to another guy, and it might have been. But it was actually made about the U.K. by the CEO of Burger King, in a speech at the University of Chicago, referring to the fact that there were few distractions long ago during his MBA studies at the University of Warwick in the U.K. Suddenly, the internet came alive, particularly British chefs, women at the University of Chicago and the University of Warwick, and then it spread wildly.

The CEO apologized to anyone offended by his remark and called it “a humorous anecdote to connect with his audience.” (I would dare say that his public relations advisors never sanctioned the remark in advance.) For too many CEOs, social media and its impact have still not been “accepted” in the C-Suite. Anecdotal evidence shows that significant CEO education continues to be required. It is all the more reason why all CCOs (Chief Communications Officers) need to report directly to their CEOs. Right now, only 42% do.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Speaking the Same Language?

My wife, Phyllis (and her friend Bernice) “made my day” when they sent me a video that illustrates how, even with the best of intentions, people speaking the same language can fundamentally misunderstand each other. Here’s Bill Cosby with a lovely grandmother from “North, South Carolina,” on his 1992 show, “You Bet Your Life.” It is also lots of laughs!

You Bet Your Life with Bill Cosby video.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Time Management and DST

It’s Daylight Saving Time (DST) … which only adds to the confusion of PR people trying to schedule meetings, phone calls and/or teleconferences that involve people from multiple locations all over the world. Here’s a tool that can help. It should be a “favorite” on my toolbar.

“With you can find out what the exact time is right now at any of 7 million locations around the world. Check the accuracy of your clock and compare time at different locations. You will also find a calendar, sunrise and sunset times, information about today's holidays and observances, latitudes and longitudes, population numbers, and key information about every country in the world. is synchronized with an atomic clock -- the most accurate time source in the world. The displayed time will normally have a precision of 0.02-0.10 seconds. The precision depends on your internet connection and how busy your computer is.”

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Patient Dialogue Speeds Up

Social media is having a major impact on the speed of information delivery to patient communities and health advocacy groups.

For many years, according to Gil Bashe, the well-respected leader of Makovsky’s health practice, they participated in organized letter- or email-writing campaigns on policy issues, research updates and best-practice guidelines. Support groups for patients and families were also created. The basic needs have not changed; however, today, social media accelerates the speed and global reach of these efforts. Bashe cites examples:

- DIABETES: Diabetes Social Media Advocacy group, organized on Twitter (and denoted by the hash tag #dsma), meets virtually every Wednesday night at 9pm to discuss questions, experiences and concerns via Q&A in Tweet form. One member writes, "I've found that it's difficult to talk with people who don't have diabetes about living with the disease because they mostly just don't 'get it'. This type of forum and community brings together people that are living with the same disease and can totally relate to the issues you may have." This type of network is more than peer support -- it creates a group who can be reached at a moment's notice for an advocacy-related call-to-action.

- HEART/STROKE: The American Heart Association has created more than 20 twitter accounts dealing with a wide-range of clinical and policy issues that it is seeking to mobilize advocacy around. It is also creating and seeking LinkedIn community members.

- ONCOLOGY: The Stand Up To Cancer campaign used its Facebook page, with more than 572,000 fans, to publicize fundraising efforts around World Cancer Day (February 4, 2011), as well as to stimulate discussion and share patient stories

- MS: Also on Facebook, the Touched By MS page features patients asking one another for advice, venting their frustrations, and sharing resources.

Despite the above, Bashe warns online patient communities have to be cautious, as they face the risk of inaccurate, unverified health information. A recent study by Children's Hospital Boston Informatics Program found that social networking sites for diabetes patients varied in the quality of information provided and the safeguards taken to protect patient privacy. In fact, only 50 percent of the sites presented content consistent with diabetes science and clinical practice (see here).

Bashe concludes what was once a passive way to express information has become the active method to mobilize around shared issues and needs --- very quickly and en masse.

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Monday, March 07, 2011


There is no loud “hit-you-in-the-face” slogan. But CVS, a national pharmacy chain, according to CBS-TV’s show “Sunday Morning,” has made its message clear by changing many of its stores to respond to the aging Baby Boomer generation.

This time the communications channel is actions — not words. The question is how those actions have transformed the message. While it is common to think of communications in terms of words, an enlightened interpretation is that communications is at the core of everything: visual, verbal, spatial, print, tone or anything else someone perceives. But no one at CVS created signage for Baby Boomers that says: “We are reshaping our stores for the vital generation!” That would certainly not appeal to the ego of the target, who is expecting that old age could be better, according to Professor Joseph Coughlin, head of MIT’s Age Lab. He says that “technology has helped us live longer; now we want to live better.”

So what are these subtle actions? CVS has made the shelves lower, making it easier to reach products. The signage is larger, making the printed word on the shelves easier to read. The floors are carpeted; thus, it is easier to walk without worrying about slippage. Carpets also make it quieter, so it is easier to hear salespeople and each other. The lighting is softer. The store is even providing magnifying glasses, for help in reading labels, if needed.

There is nothing unique about understanding the needs of the customer base and responding to it. Corporations in droves are going to capitalize on what “Sunday Morning” says is a $3.4 trillion market. “The first baby boomers are turning 65 this year, and a projected 72 million — about one fifth of the U.S. population — will be that age or older by 2030.” Just keep your eye on how it is done … the words used and the actions taken; for example, when a company, like GE , calls appliances that are easier to reach, “universal design.”

It is all about engagement.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011


Inanimate things communicate too. The aesthete may look at an inanimate object and take away one quality and the scientist may see something totally different – but equally as beautiful. Nevertheless, scientific thinking is not embraced by the general public in the same way as traditional beauty is.

This point was made loud and clear in a book, Science is Culture, by Adam Bly, which influenced my perspective on science and which clearly demonstrates why the path to scientific thinking needs to be embraced, venerated and inspired.

I was struck by an anecdote in the book. Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, told the story of a friend of his—an artist:

“[H] e’s sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with. … He’ll hold up a flower and say, ’Look how beautiful it is. …You see, I, as an artist, can see how beautiful this is, but you as a scientist … take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing.’”

Feynman stresses that he can appreciate the beauty of a flower, too, but he sees “much more about the flower” than his artist friend. He goes on:

“I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside which also have a beauty … the [fact that the] colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting … it means the insects can see the colors.”

Mr. Feynman concludes that “a science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds; I don’t understand how it subtracts.”

Science does not currently have evangelists the way religions do. So we may have to work harder to grasp and appreciate the beauty within.

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