Thursday, April 28, 2011


I often think about the culture at Makovsky + Company… what it is and what I want it to be. Well, the good news is that a lot of what it is, is what I want it to be; but it is not perfect.

I want our firm to be a community where people talk to each other in person, whether the conversation is easy or difficult. For the most part that happens, but there are still people who fear in-person confrontation and resort to emails, or occasionally voice mails, on difficult matters, even though they are physically in the same office.

Of course, emails serve an excellent purpose, but I like face-to-face, eye-to-eye communication, rather than emails, on important matters. Few things annoy me more than getting an email at 10 PM on some controversial or personal issue that could have waited until the following morning and that should have been addressed in person. I feel something is lost in communicating when nearly everything is done electronically.

I like energy and hard work, and I believe all of our leaders should role model these traits. Each should be a chief energy officer – demonstrating how effectively they get things done in sales, management and client activity -- and cheerleading where they need to. Nothing replaces hard work, effective execution and meeting goals, whether for clients or the firm. Yet people need to feel a sense of freedom in terms of their work and personal lives. We try to support that philosophy, too.

Intellectual stimulation and creativity are fundamental to our culture. Bringing in people who introduce us to new ideas, reading and discussing books, creative sessions, and collaboration on projects all contribute to this. Creating a teaching order is also important, so learning is a way of life.

I am open to hearing what may be missing in our culture. Just get in touch and let me know. My door is always open. That is part of our culture too!

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Monday, April 25, 2011


MENA Protests

We often read that exporting training and educational materials to change people’s perspectives on democracy and improve their organizational skills is a lot more effective than exporting guns and military programs— and a lot cheaper. Too seldom do we see the evidence that this is true. An article in The New York Times, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Opposition,” provides ample support of the thesis that training can be a powerful tool for positive political change.

The article points out that the U.S. democracy building campaign in the Middle East, through such NGOs as Freedom House and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, while cost-wise very minute compared to what the Pentagon spends, played a bigger role in fomenting protests than was previously known. Leaders were trained by Americans in campaign and coalition organizing and using new media tools, among other techniques.

According to the article, American officials assured skeptical governments that the training was aimed at reform, not promoting revolution. But there is no question it fomented dissent. Activists objected that the same U.S. government trained the state security investigative services, which harassed and jailed many of them. While the Middle East leadership saw the U.S. democracy education program as a conflict of interest, it is clear that at least in this situation—at this particular time—the education strategy may have been more potent than the more costly military one.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Remembering What You Read

One of our fundamental goals as communicators is to get a message across; that is, to make sure what we say or write is clearly understood and remembered. Further, when you want a point to standout, we put it in big bold letters — LIKE THIS. Even if people only glance at copy, we believe, they will recall the bold highlights.

Now comes a study that says it is not what is in bold that’s remembered, but what is in unusual or hard-to-read fonts, where recall is highest, according to “Come On, I Thought I Knew That,” a recent article in The New York Times.

This blog is written in a familiar font, Myriad Pro. Here are a couple of examples of less familiar fonts where recall is best, as noted in the article:


Eats flower petals and
12pt Comic Sans MS (italicized)

History is filled with the
16pt Monotype Corsiva

According to the article, “The reason that the unusual fonts are effective is that it causes us to think more deeply about the material,” a co-author of the study, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, a psychologist at Princeton, wrote in an e-mail to the writer. “ … Think of it this way, you can’t skim material in a hard-to-read font, so putting text in a hard-to-read font will force you to read more carefully.”

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Reluctant CEO

All company CEOs are expected to communicate to their constituencies, but even more pressure is put on the public company’s CEO, where there is a partnership with the shareholder and investment community.

Of course, there are CEOs of public companies who will do the “obligatory” earning call, but have no interest in — even fears of — facing the media. And if things are going badly in the company, these CEOs go dark. I call them “the reluctant CEOs.”

Can these CEO get away with it? Maybe for the short-term. But is it wise? No! CEOs need to cultivate their target media, a critical constituency that can make or break a company, in the same way they build relations with security analysts. If the CEO is a fair-weather -- rather than welcoming — friend to the media, when things go bad, the press will be all over them.

Bottom line -- you can’t hide from the media. I like what Dick Parsons chairman of Citigroup said at a meeting I attended at the Arthur W. Page Society: “Talking to the media is part of the job” he stated. “Ducking or avoiding them will not make the problem go away. They will see you, whether you want them to or not. It’s like my grandchild putting his hands over his eyes, in front of me, and saying ’Grandpa, you can’t see me!’”

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Solicit Complaints

The best of client relationships are imperfect! The reality is that — whether a relationship is business or personal— negative issues may arise which, for a variety of reasons, one party may avoid telling the other. And oftentimes these little negatives, left untold, fester and build into bigger negatives as time goes by.

That is why I have always believed it is critical not only to respond to complaints — you must solicit complaints in client relations.

And thus our Quality Commitment Program was born.

On a regular basis, our firm’s senior management, as a group, reviews every client relationship and the work of each account team. Simultaneously, we ask the clients for their formal written review of the firm’s performance. (We have found that comments written on an evaluation form tend to be more direct than those given in person, perhaps because it is easier to relate a negative — or pass along praise — in writing than fact-to-face.)

The questionnaire is a no-holds-barred attempt to get to the heart of the matter. Are we achieving agreed-upon objectives? How does the client rate our work? Is the client getting value for the money? Are they satisfied with all the people on their account team? Is there anything we should be doing that we’re not? Would the client give us a positive reference?

A Client Review Committee meets monthly to assess our client relationships, identify new client service opportunities and find ways to prevent budding client dissatisfactions from becoming full-blown problems.

In effect, our company-wide QC program represents a more formal enactment of the model of client agency interaction that we try to make an integral part of the daily work habits of all of our professional staff.

Every client interaction is seen as an opportunity to perform a gap analysis — to identify new opportunities to give satisfaction to the client. Every action is subject to analysis against previously established criteria for success. And the endless loop continues with the identification of new opportunities to create value for the client.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Story Behind Congress' Dysfunctionality

Capitol Building

While this time the government shutdown was averted, the fact that it reached this point — going down to the wire — makes you want to be a fly on the wall, listening to these guys communicating. While the two parties’ philosophies differ, one would think that proper planning, competent communications and concern for the common good would have prevented the last minute rush.

Harvard professor, Gary King, decided to examine the communications between the Congressmen involved in trying to make a budget deal, and his findings were somewhat distressing. He discovered they spent 27 percent of their time taunting one another rather than focusing on substance.

The study was based on 48 recent news releases from an equal number of Congressional Democrats and Republicans. On Social Security, a Democratic release said: “Republicans have shown they couldn’t care less about those who have the least.” On the federal healthcare law, a Republican release said: “Democrats have not displayed the same interest in listening to the American people.”

I discovered the above study in a blog on the website, Neatorama. This situation is no doubt symbolic of many other near-stalemate controversies that take place in Congress these days. Whether Republican or Democrat, I believe anyone would acknowledge that hurling insults is immature behavior.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Where is "there?"

Martin Cooper, General Manager of Motorola's Communications Division.

The cell phone seems so obvious, it’s easy to forget how totally revolutionary an invention it was less than 40 years ago.

The idea that phone numbers shouldn’t be tethered to a place, but to a person, was pioneered by Martin Cooper, the general manager of Motorola’s communications division. Thirty-eight years ago this month, Cooper made the first cell phone call — to the land line of his chief competitor at Bell Labs — while walking down a New York City street.

The phone he used weighed 2½ pounds. It was so big that it was looked more like a shoe or a brick. Cooper would joke to friends and colleagues that the calls from that phone would have to be short in duration. After all, who had the strength to hold it up for very long?

Before April 3, 1973, people could say, “Don’t bother calling. I won’t be there.” and it meant something. But as CNN eloquently put it recently: “Martin Cooper altered forever the definition of ‘there.’ It became a place in motion — a place that was always accessible.”

Now 82 years old, Cooper still works in communications. And he carries his cell phone with him everywhere … just not the 1973 model.

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Monday, April 04, 2011


Helicopter Flies Over Sendai

Last Thursday I wrote Crisis Response 'On a Dime' about the masterful crisis response executed by Sony CEO Howard Stringer in the recent Japanese disaster.

But I take issue with one thing he was quoted as saying in The New York Times article on March 20: "Dealing with a row of disasters that escalate one by one is not something you can prepare for."

Companies have to prepare for the worst case scenario … and it’s very clear that Sony did a great job of preparing for the earthquake. However, I’m sure no one — outside of the movie industry — could have imagined the overwhelming magnitude of a disaster that combined an earthquake, a tsunami AND the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant. (It’s like imagining that you’re attacked by terrorists and hit by a comet at the same time that the Yellowstone super-volcano erupts!)

That said, I feel that corporate leadership, even among the minority that do crisis planning, are not comprehensive enough in their planning. They often do not consider the most extraordinary thing that might happen and the steps that need to be taken to address them. In contrast to what Stringer says, I do believe you can plan for “a series of disasters that escalate one by one.” Japan proved that it may not be so extraordinary.

Is the extra planning all worth a manager’s time?

Here are some facts and figures that put it into perspective … at least a little. Eleven people died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. More than 28,000 people have been reported dead or missing as a result of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, according to the United Nations. Also, property claims from the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are estimated at $1 billion; the earthquake that struck Sendai, Japan, on March 11 is expected to trigger insured losses as high as $30 billion, according to an article this month in Insurance Journal.

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