Monday, August 29, 2011

Charitable "Gifts?"

There is nothing that I love more than marketing — that is, if it is appropriately applied. Companies do it to sell product. People do it to sell themselves. Entrepreneurs do it to build businesses. Many companies retain Makovsky to do it on their behalf for a variety of reasons.

To be effective, marketing programs need to fit the subject like a glove fits a hand. To do otherwise would make the customer feel uncomfortable, which would have the exact opposite effect that any organization would want. So you have to ask yourself why any company -- or any non-profit -- would even consider making the customer feel uncomfortable.

I am asking myself that question right now. It is clear to me that charitable organizations need to market in order to raise funds to do research or help solve problems that will meet the objectives of their charities. But does the marketing glove fit the hand? I don’t have statistics on this, but I'd say based on my experience that too often it does not.

In my household we continue to receive from various charities incentives to donate money. And the list of these incentives is mind-boggling. Here are some examples: notepads and greeting cards, mailing labels, key rings, prayer cards, backpacks and shopping bags, wrapping paper, personalized pens, mini-blankets, water bottles … even cash. On a big mailing, this could amount to tens of thousands.

As someone who donates a considerable amount of money to a wide range of charities, I have to say that I am very put off by this strategy. It makes me an uncomfortable customer! Why are charitable organizations seeking donations by spending badly needed funds on gifts for their donors? What a waste! Isn't the cause itself an incentive for donating? These items are not marketing investments -- they are unnecessary debt. What a poor management! Any thoughtful donor would think twice before giving money to a poorly managed organization because of the possibility that the nonprofit might misapply the donation.

Need I say more?

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

CEO Behavior in Trying Times

I had the good fortune of hearing Richard D. Parsons, Chairman of Citigroup, talk about CEO behavior in trying times at an Arthur Page conference I attended several months ago. Dick made some considered points about how CEOs should act in public … whether or not they are comfortable serving as “face of the company.” Here are a few questions asked and the answers he gave:

Q: Why is there a tendency among CEOs to go dark — from a communications standpoint — when things are not going well?

A: They are people, just like the rest of us. Many CEOs come out of finance and the engineering side of the house and are not especially communications-oriented. In communications, you have to put your face on the problem — it’s part of the job. Ducking it will not make it go away. It’s like my grandchild putting his hands over his eyes and saying, “You can’t see me!” Some CEOs are not comfortable in the communications space, and they need a surrogate.

Q: What are the most important rules of the road in a crisis?

A: #1 -- Don’t lie. Everything will ultimately be known.
#2 -- If you don’t know, don’t say. The CEO inevitably becomes the embodiment of the problem and people will ask themselves, “Do I trust that person or not?” What do you do when you are being truthful and people don’t believe you? Tell them the reason why you have confidence in what you are telling them.

Q: How do you measure progress in trying times?

A: My best indicator is how people inside the organization feel. I like to walk around and ask people how they feel. You can get a lot from that. Are people happy, nervous, etc.? Go out with them, and they will see the leadership is okay — then they will be okay. If you can’t get a problem “settled down” inside, you have no chance of resolving it on the outside.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

If You’ve Never Failed, You’ve Never Lived

One of the great anthems of my youth was the Rolling Stones’ song: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Truer words were never sung.

Setbacks are a normal part of life. What matters is how you respond to them.

Napoleon Hill, one of America’s first and greatest writers on the topic of success, said: “One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.”

The antidote? Patience and perseverance … regardless of the obstacles in your path.

Let me share a snippet from my very own first job.

My first assignment was to write a press release. I gave the initial draft to my boss, who took up a pencil and — with two vicious slashes — cut the paper to ribbons, while shouting: “This is awful! Garbage! Do it over! Do it right!” I rewrote the draft and brought it back to him. Five more times. Each time he tore it to bits, excoriating me for my “ineptitude.” I was near tears — and close to quitting — when a co-worker suggested I give the boss my first draft. “Maybe he’ll approve it this time,” she said. I took her up on her suggestion … and he did!

There is a GREAT little inspirational video on YouTube whose theme is “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived.” It features a number of immensely accomplished people who, at some stage in their careers, found themselves — as Napoleon Hill puts it — “with at least one foot hanging well over the brink of failure.”

They ultimately achieved great success by viewing defeat as a temporary state and responding with tenacity, hard work and an abiding faith in themselves.

It may be trite, but the old adage is true: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cameron vs. Murdoch: Who Wins?

In a crisis, timing is everything.

Note how rapidly Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron responded to the News Corp. telephone hacking scandal and, more recently, the riots in London. Now compare that to Murdoch’s crisis responses.

While the threats to each are admittedly of a different order of magnitude, Cameron has consistently been a step ahead of events. He called for the resignation of Rebekah Brooks and the voiding of Murdoch’s efforts to acquire majority stake in BSkyB before the opposition Labour party could turn these issues against the Conservatives. He has effectively attacked when necessary, noting that many of the allegations occurred under Labour party leadership.

On the other hand, Murdoch has been consistently slow and reactive: he dallied on Rebekah Brooks, parting ways only when public outcry against her became deafening. Once departed, she was promptly arrested. Murdoch apologized only when public outrage had crested. He now appears to be waiting too long to deal with his son James. This all creates the image of a man moving reluctantly in response to public outcry, taking piecemeal measures rather than acting resolutely based on a strong internal moral compass.

In short, Murdoch needs to get out in front of events. Not doing so has been his principal failing to date. He even delayed the announcement that he would not step down, despite calls for his head for weeks.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

One of the first things a good PR person learns is “appearances can be deceiving.” That’s why we spend so much time “digging” beneath the stories our clients (and their adversaries!) tell us. It’s why — if we’re good at what we do — we never take anything at face value.

Well, how about this picture? Who do you think these people are? Do you recognize them?

In fact, these are the seven original Mercury astronauts.

The photo was taken in 1960, while they were undergoing survival training at Stead Air Force Base. The purpose was to prepare the astronauts for a possible emergency landing in a remote area. During training, they all grew beards and used parachute material to fashion parts of their clothing.

Pictured from left to right are: L. Gordon Cooper, M. Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter Schirra and Donald K. Slayton. Here’s how we’re more accustomed to think of them.

Via Neatorama.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011


How do you feel about Standard & Poor's decision to lower the U.S. debt rating from AAA to AA+? I am extremely distressed -- for many reasons.

First, I challenge the idea of any private body setting itself up as an arbiter of which countries or organizations are creditworthy or not, unless every person on its decision-making board has its resume published widely and there is proof that each individual is qualified and totally clean -- based on security checks. It takes a large dose of audacity and chutzpah to announce that the group of "deciders" must remain secret to protect the integrity of the decision and the organization.

Next the track record of the rating group must be published with every decision, so its analytical skills can be reaffirmed. Have its ratings been correct in the past? This is not a case where batting even .400 works. For a rating agency to have stature, it must bat close to 1000. The S&P rating on the U.S. wreaked havoc in financial markets all over the world, and millions lost billions. And yet without looking too deeply into S&P's past, we find that this so-called "ruling body" is none other than the group that gave triple A ratings to banks issuing subprime mortgages -- the prime cause of the financial crisis. Likewise it gave AAA to Lehman Bros. just before that company went under. With a track record like that, S& P should have been restricted by the SEC from issuing further ratings and the backgrounds and political independence of its "judges" checked. This, in its own way, is a bigger travesty than the Madoff scandal -- as more money was lost between the financial crisis and the recent downgrading.

S&P knows its reputation is sullied and must regain credibility. Was there any effort to do this after everything went bust? I never saw a mea culpa. I never heard of programs to clean up its act internally and revitalize its staff. Nor were there authority-building op-eds or white papers. So, as I see it, this anachronistic group saw a long delayed opportunity to rebuild its credibility -- or so it thought -- with a single stroke that would garner headlines around the world.

The unsophisticated would bow down. Some of the more knowing might think the wake-up call was worth it. But many, many others would recognize the ploy. Once the debt ceiling was raised -- plus the variety of options available to the U.S. to cut spending and raise revenues -- default was not in the cards. Hopefully, the SEC has been given a wake-up call about setting standards that ratings agencies must meet.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

India's Challenge

36th Anniversary Leadership Summit

The US-India Business Council is dedicated to building commerce between our two nations. A few weeks ago I attended its annual conference in Washington, DC , and I went in wondering if the perception of India as a stupendous, rapidly rising economic opportunity was consistent with the reality, in view of the hurdles that nation must overcome. Short of the infrastructure and governance challenges I have read so much about, I wanted to learn more directly from its leadership – and ours — rather than just reading a brief overview of India’s projected economic future in a business magazine. Further, I was interested in how the India-U.S. relationship is faring …and where the U.S. can be more helpful.

Makovsky + Company became a member of the USIBC about six months ago because of our interest in capitalizing on Indian growth. We have joined forces with our IPREX partner in India, Concept, which is headquartered in Mumbai, to provide communications services to companies in the U.S.-Indian corridor.

Here are some of the facts and forecasts about India that I learned from the likes of India’s Minister of Commerce and our own Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade:

• Twenty percent of the world’s population currently lives in India. Its huge population represents an outsized workforce and massive purchasing power. By 2050 India will be the third largest economy in the world.
• The most unique thing about India is its spirit of entrepreneurship, particularly in the software and life sciences area. It boasts the biggest generic pharma sector in the world.
• Indian immigrants in the U.S. have established more tech firms than any other immigrant group. They employ 800,000 people here.
• India currently needs $7 billion in outside investment.
• India’s biggest trading partner is China.
• Despite the fact that it is our largest trading customer — with exports doubling in the past 5 year to $5 billion — India needs to greatly deepen its trade with the U.S.
• There will be a huge demand for cars and it is a potential center for electrification.
• India’s economy was dynamic while others were experiencing the financial crisis. The country is currently experiencing 30 percent annual growth.

With all of these pluses, inflation is currently hurting the Indian economy. And there are significant barriers to additional U.S. investment in several Indian sectors, including banking, education, manufacturing and legal services. For example, U.S. law firms are banned from having offices in India; and in manufacturing, there are legal hurdles to overcome. Further, if India does not improve its infrastructure (construction of roads and highways, electricity generation, etc.), it will significantly impede growth. The country badly needs investment in this area.

In addition, India’s ruling Congress Party has been beset by a wave of corruption scandals that have weakened its ability to pass much needed economic reforms to lessen trade and investment barriers. A reputation for governance issues and corruption stifle investment.

Education in India is another potential stumbling block and another area for greater collaboration between our nations. India has a need for more schools and educational institutions and the U.S. can help, particularly in the area of higher education and narrowing the skill gap that will help foster growth.

A new bilateral trade agreement will help unlock the potential for this relationship, termed by President Obama as this century’s defining one for the U.S. Both sides appear to be moving in the right direction. Traveling to India recently, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Each of our countries can do more to reduce barriers, open our markets, and find new opportunities for economic partnership."

We agree. Greater cooperation will unlock those opportunities, which also create opportunities for those of us in the communications business.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Media Choice of the Affluent

It is rare that I write a blog that just re-emphasizes what someone else has said. However, in this case, a survey just passed my desk that’s worth pointing out. With all due respect to the buzz on social media and its growing importance, here comes research that says that “among affluent Americans, print media is tops."

The key point is that, when asked how they read magazines, 93% of affluent respondents (i.e., those making at least $100,000 in annual household income), said they read hard copy print versions --in contrast to less than a third who read them on computer. No other format garnered more than 10 percent Note the chart below. Almost the same picture was true for newspapers.

The survey conducted 1000 online interviews … and keep in mind that this group involves the 20% of Americans who account for about 60% of US income and 70% of US net worth. The study, conducted by Ipsos Mendelsohn via its Mendelsohn Affluent Barometer, appeared in Ad Age on August 1.

In an earlier survey, a similar pattern emerged. When affluent Americans were asked how they follow a major news item, such as the death of Osama Bin Laden, network TV topped the list, cited by 70%, while 40% cited printed newspapers.

For those of us in the communications business whose clients must reach affluent targets, this is important information to consider when plotting campaigns. Nevertheless, my hunch is that we will see a dramatic upward shift in the online ratio among the affluent within the next couple of years.
The truism is that no media channel ever disappears – it just may change form. We’re still listening to the radio, more music, sports and news than dramas, comedies and soap operas. Newspapers and magazines, while appearing to be in their twilight, will survive. So will TV. None of the media channels will die; they will just evolve. The internet is just the latest iteration. But it is the first one that merges all of the previous communications channels and still stands to revolutionize our lives in its own right.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

The 2nd Most Stressful Job: Another Opinion

My son, Evan, challenges the recent survey conducted by that I ran in my July 21 blog, which noted that public relations was the second most stressful field among a group of ten cited.

However, even when the methodology is solid, you can sometimes find good reasons to argue with the conclusion.

While Evan's experience is broadcasting rather than public relations, he works with major league team PR professionals and has a degree in communications. Now his point of view:

PR is not the 2nd Most Stressful Job

With all due respect to public relations, as I am in sports radio (aka “meaningless banter”), public relations, in my opinion, is not the second most stressful job. It's not even close.

I believe an ER surgeon is facing more "real" consequences, especially in dire circumstances, than a PR practitioner. An EMT worker performing CPR on someone who's not breathing, or trying to revive them with paddles, is experiencing more stress than anyone — no matter how sensitive, compared to a job that, for example, includes making sure that a press release is sent by 11:59 AM. The same goes for a heart surgeon, and many others in the medical field, or other fields dealing in life or death circumstances.

As a reminder, here are the "10 most stressful jobs," according to

1. Commercial airline pilot
2. PR officer
3. Corporate executive
4. Photojournalist
5. Newscaster
6. Advertising account executive
7. Architect
8. Stockbroker
9. Emergency medical technician
10. Real estate agent

This is not a swipe at PR either. I think unless you're a "war journalist," a journalist should not be on this list …although, admittedly, there are most likely other news assignments that make this field a stressful one. The whole list otherwise — besides #1 (commercial airline pilot) and #9 (EMT) — hardly makes sense.

No other job on there is as stressful as a firefighter. Maybe firefighters are more equipped for stress, thus it's less stressful. But I doubt going into a burning building is less stressful than doing a Coca-Cola ad campaign (#6).

I don't see engineer on this list either. They just happen to design the planes you fly on and the bridges you drive across. This is not an assault on PR, it's an assault on how bogus, and more amusing than anything else, this list is.

At least number one is believable.

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