Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year to All!

And here’s a champagne treat for everyone from some of history’s and movies’ greats.

“Champagne is one of life’s elegant extras.”
— Charles Dickens

“In victory you deserve it; in defeat you need it.”
— Napoleon

“Definition of champagne: a minimum of alcohol for a maximum of companionship.”
— David Niven

“There’s comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.”
— Bette Davis

“Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s champagne.”
— Sir Winston Churchill

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Missing Link in B-Schools

For years, the public relations profession has been suffering from an educational void in the nation’s graduate business schools, where CEOs and other future business leaders are trained. But could there be some light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe.

Earlier this month, wrote about recent research commissioned by the Public Relations Society of America, which found that 98 percent of the 204 U.S. business leaders polled believe that business schools need to incorporate instruction on corporate communication and reputation management into the MBA curriculum. Ninety-four percent of executives believe that top management needs additional training in core communications disciplines. Only 40 percent of the respondents, the article said, rated their recent MBA hires as “extremely strong” at responding to crisis and building and protecting company credibility.

Spearheaded by PRSA, Paul Argenti, communications professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, a pioneer in this area, will lead a pilot program of four other graduate business schools in 2012-13 to develop a public relations curriculum for coursework consideration. The hope, the story says, is that the program will be incorporated into the curricula of these schools for the 2013-14 academic year.

The only hitch is that the four other schools have not yet been selected, and there is no indication of who they might be or whether the interest that has obviously been missing for so long finally exists.

Hopefully Argenti’s experience will be persuasive. He says that, in surveys of Tuck’s MBAs on which courses were the most important in terms of what they actually use on the job, after graduation, corporate communications always ranks #1 or 2.

All of this makes me hark back to May 2007, when I gave an acceptance speech on this issue following my selection to receive the PRSA-NY John Hill Award for Distinguished Achievement. After decrying the fact that not one of the top five business schools taught strategic communications, and that in today’s internet world businesses only exist via public consent, I made a suggestion that I thought would help bring about change.

I urged PRSA to organize corporate communications heads of leading Fortune 100 companies to motivate their CEOs to encourage action in the nation’s business schools. After all, money speaks. If the CEO of a Fortune 100 company calls the Dean of Harvard or M.I.T.’s graduate school of business, he or she will listen. But this will not happen unless we, as communicators, push such action.

If we do this on a coordinated basis, supported by the proof of need shown in the survey cited above plus Paul Argenti’s initiative, this time (after previous tries) the bell should ring. And hopefully the schools by now finally recognize that there is a whole new set of rules to play by … and it’s in their self-interest to play the economics to their benefit.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Comparing Yourself To Others. A Cool Tool

Conventional wisdom in this day of the internet is that it is other people — specifically, a peer group, rather than experts — that most influence an individual’s feelings or actions. That means, for example, that you are more likely to be influenced in the way you play your game by a more talented tennis player friend of yours than by Roger Federer. So looking at those around us, particularly our friends and neighbors, is a way to acquire information.

But what makes us feel better? Watching a tennis player friend who is better or worse at the game than you are, even though the better player can help you improve your game? It depends upon who the person is. If it is your neighbor, according to a recent study, you would rather play better than he or she does.

A 2005 study cited in an article in the July 2, 2011 issue of The New York Times, noted that most of us feel better if we make, say, $100,000 if the majority of our neighbors make $75,000 than if we earn $150,000 when most of our friends bring in $200,000. The article notes that John Stuart Mill said: “Men do not desire to be rich, but to be richer than other men.”

Why is this important from a public relations standpoint? Because it relates to the environment in which we introduce our products and services and people’s needs to compare themselves with others within their peer groups.

For a retirement services company, according to the same article, for example, this could be very important, as its clients need to measure the amount of money they have put away compared to the norm. According to a vice president of ING Retirement, performing this kind of analysis gets people thinking about their situation, something they usually try to avoid. When they see the facts, a large percentage of them opt to take some positive action.

According to noted Harvard professor, David Laibson, “Comparisons to large groups of peers are often useful. It’s never the final word on what I should do, but it does give me food for thought.”

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is There Emotion In Business?

It’s a question that has been asked for decades.

The implication is that doing the right thing, business-wise, means acting on the best business principles, not letting emotions get the best of you, thereby deterring you from the right course. BUT…is this how it really works?

Let’s face it. There is emotion in business, and we are all affected by it. And that can be a very good thing. Business is based on relationships, which build over time. They provide the passionate connection so often needed when major issues are at stake. They enable that instantaneous glance between two people who know by looking at each other the action they have to take. They provide the spark that moves and motivates teams. Emotions inspire loyalty to a cause. Emotions help unify leaders with their management and encourage collaboration. A business is a cause; people advocate for the brand, the product or service and a special way of doing business that represents that cause. All of the above are ways that positive emotions help businesses grow.

But emotions can also have a negative effect. Close relationships can tie you to a person who really does not want to or can’t execute the plan that needs executing; emotions can delay your making a change. Emotions can lumber you with an executive who has Peter Principled out, and thereby hold back the growth of the firm. Family or romantic involvements can be stumbling blocks if disciplined leadership is not in control. Long term employees — where attachments are strong — who are no longer serving the purpose they once did and need to be redeployed or laid off can create cost issues. Making policy exceptions for an employee you like is not wise when you would not do the same for one for whom you have less affection. And the list goes on.

Positive emotions that are consistent with building businesses and inspiring success are always effective. If a demonstration of humanity is required, it may trump all economic considerations. While emotions should not get the best of you, they need to be considered in every situation. The real question is what is best for the business?

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Innovation Momentum

I believe it is the responsibility of public relations counselors to focus their clients on innovation, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as the introduction of something new. Without innovation, there is no growth and there is no future.

This is the time of year, of course, when many companies are finalizing their plans for 2012 and are igniting innovations which have been under development for many months. Public relations’ role is not only to communicate these innovations to target audiences, but also to guide clients to keep the innovative process moving forward in the new year. I call it “innovation momentum,” and it needs to be sustained if a company is to maximize its ROI and produce new revenue streams.

“People tend to see innovation strictly in terms of revolutionary, breakthrough products,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, UK, in PwC’s 14th Annual Global CEO Study. “That’s fine,” he added. “But most innovations are the result of steady, continuous improvement.”

The innovative process needs to touch every dimension of the company, from marketing and finance to human resources and customer engagement. All processes in the aforementioned areas need to be examined both globally and locally. For example, says Louis Camilleri, chairman and CEO of Philip Morris International: “Innovation goes way beyond just the products. It’s the way you market the product, the way you sell the product, and the whole aspect of customer engagement.”

Today, it is particularly the consumer product companies that are putting customers at the center of innovation, involving them in product design and service development. Technology (i.e., mobile phones and social media) is accommodating this opportunity But other stakeholders need to be taken into the innovation fold as well.

The study points out that 79% of the CEOs in the 1200 companies surveyed believe innovation drives efficiencies and leads to competitive advantage. A similarly high percentage (78%) believes that innovation also delivers higher revenues.

The foundation for all of this to happen is the right culture for innovation to thrive. I would describe that as one where ideas can be expressed freely to people on every level, mistakes are tolerated, logical strategies are tried, research and development is funded, reasonable risk taking is encouraged, partnerships are valued and individuals are rewarded for their achievements.

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

The "E-Mail Effect" — And Its Impact

The subject is old, but this is possibly a new — or at least a different — perspective on it. The issue is what I call the "e-mail effect." It relates to the words you use or the reaction you elicit when e-mailing on a sensitive (or even a not-so-sensitive) subject.

Here is an example of an e-mail exchange between two people: "Are you prepared for the meeting tomorrow?" Answer: "I think so." Reply: "You THINK so? I hope so! Well, send me what you prepared!"

You can almost feel the anxiety level rising in that exchange. The "I think so" might have been a totally innocent comment echoing full preparation, but it could also suggest that there was doubt about just how thorough the preparation was.

Here is the point, according to the book HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), by Dov Seidman: "Technology connects us more than ever before, but those connections are more fractured and incomplete than we are accustomed to. Missing are many of the clues [such as body language and facial expressions that] we need to fully decode the intentions of others."

Before the era of email, blogs, Facebook and Twitter — and particularly if we were communicating in person, over the phone or via handwritten letters — "the pace of information flow allowed enough time for even time-sensitive writing to receive a modicum of consideration before being sent. Not so with the various gizmos and gadgets we now find strapped to our belts or planted on our desks," says Seidman.

He calls it the Expectation of Response Factor. I would call it the Expectation of the IMMEDIATE Response Factor: a hasty reply is often desired — or required — over a more thoughtful response, delivered after due deliberation. Either way, the Response Factor influences the quality of our communication…and not always in a positive way. Electronically, the vibes are harder to interpret. Miscommunications can occur. Improper conclusions can be drawn.

That’s why I try to avoid discussing sensitive or complex issues via e-mail exchanges. I want to encourage more dynamism and give-and-take — and less pressure.

Of course, people can be taught to communicate more effectively electronically by learning to be sensitive to the agenda on the other side of the table. Nevertheless, for critical discussions, nothing beats a face-to-face encounter.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

The Best Career Advice: From Award Winning Professionals

“What was the best career advice you received?” was a question asked of award-winning Public Relations professionals at the recent PR News’ People Awards. I found the following comments important primarily because they came from people who have been extremely successful, and these are among the principles that have contributed to their success. Here they are
  • Clients don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care
  • Going above and beyond is what gets you attention
  • Never stop learning
  • People may not remember you for what you do but rather for how you make them feel
  • It is always best to be a first-rate version of yourself than a second-rate version of someone else
What is the best career advice you ever received?

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Thursday, December 01, 2011

When Is An Apology Effective?

What weight hath an apology?

It depends on whether it is an effective apology or an ineffective one. How would we rate Tiger Woods or Joe Paterno and the many others who have issued statements of regret? Do they qualify as effective?

Not as effective as they could have been.

Misstatements are made frequently, not only by celebrities, but by captains of industry and leaders of firms. As public relations counselors, we advise clients on how to apologize with impact, gradually converting potential enemies into friends.

The staff at Makovsky recently had the good fortune to discuss the particulars of an effective apology in a discussion led by John Kador, author of the book, Effective Apology.

Fundamentally, the person who recognizes that he or she has offended someone (or a whole group of people) must value the relationship more than the need to be right, in order for the apology to be truly effective, Kador says — and I agree. If you can occupy that space, the value of the relationship will increase… particularly in the US, where people are generally forgiving of mistakes, if you fess up quickly.

If you want to start rebuilding trust: Tell it fast. Tell it first. Tell it all. Tell what you are going to do about it to change.

Woods, Paterno and a whole host of others violated these rules. Despite their simplicity, I see them violated over and over again.

Kador says the following are essential for an effective apology:

•Recognize and specify the offense.
•Take complete responsibility.
•Remorse is required — you must say “I am sorry” or “I apologize.”
•Never use conditional words or the passive voice (e.g., “sorry if I offended you,” “missteps were made”).
•Offer restitution for the offense (e.g., “I will only practice and sanction ethical behavior”).
•Finally, live up to the promise. If you violate it again, you are dead meat.

In conclusion, an effective apology is not cost-free; it’s just less costly.

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