Monday, October 29, 2012

A Technicolor World

When I was growing up, people used to talk about seeing the world in Technicolor.   But what that really meant was that we wished that the world — and life — were really one big, wonderful movie.  And, ideally, those wonderful movies would be all over the place.
Well, if the Internet is our world, or at least a big part of it, that wish has been granted.  Videos and eye-catching infographics (analogous to the storyboards for a movie) are all over the place.  And is life wonderful?  Well, it’s certainly colorful!
According to Gabriel Stricker, Twitter’s Vice President of Communications, 80% of AT&T's assets can be seen on video and 15% are infographics.  The company employs video blogs, and the pickup is huge.  The telecom giant invited bloggers to a press conference and most brought their own video cameras.  It made a public service announcement video about a teenager who was brain damaged from texting while driving and got over 600,000 views. 
Websites of all types are using more and more moving images.  If someone in business returns from a conference, you are likely to see a video summary. Further, infographics, which are pictorial storyboards that simplify complex presentations, are all over the Internet as well — on topics as diverse as “The Life and Times of Steve Jobs," “How Americans Spend Their Day” and the "State of Social Media and Healthcare,"  produced by my firm’s Health division. 
Is the quality of online videos as good as professional television?  Most often not; however, viewers today seem to prefer spontaneous, natural video to that which is staged.  In fact, an unfinished video may even be more tantalizing for some.  Of course, Facebook and YouTube are littered with videos and images — as are Vimeo, Flickr, Twitpic and Pinterest, among others.
The Internet also offers an imagined world that still may be more beautiful.  According to Dr. John Seeley Brown, there are 6,000 communities around Harry Potter, with 386,000 backstories written about it and archived.  It is most likely a world of words and videos.
Admittedly, while all of these videos and images are making things more real for us, they are also transporting us to a different place and, hopefully, making life even more wonderful!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Secret to Happiness + Productivity

I was scanning Neatorama recently and happened upon an entry called "The Secret to Happiness and Productivity at Work." This is the kind of headline you just can't ignore. So I followed the links and discovered the secret. It's "tracking small wins" that makes you happier and more productive, according to Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile.
Dr. Amabile — who has analyzed literally thousands of daily diary entries from more than 200 professionals — says that taking just five minutes every day to document your "challenges, successes, and other experiences enhance[s] creativity and motivation."

Here, from the professor, are some tips for getting started:
  • Don't make a big commitment to journaling; tell yourself you'll do it for just one month.
  • Limit your time to 5 to 10 minutes a day, focusing on just one project or issue that you want to work on.
  • Pick a time in the day when you're likely to have about 10 minutes uninterrupted. It's a good idea if it can be the same time every day.
  • Find a medium that you know you're going to enjoy using. It could be a physical book, an online application of some kind or a Word document — anything that you think will be easy for you to keep.
  • At the beginning of your journaling period, give yourself one or two minutes just to refresh yourself, relax and clear your mind. And then reflect on the day and see what issues and experiences stand out.
Now, if I could just find those extra 5 to 10 minutes ...

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Lincoln's Voice

Many of my readers know that I’m a huge admirer of Abraham Lincoln, whose brilliance as a communicator I’ve written about in a number of my blogs including, recently, “What do Socrates and Lincoln Have in Common?” and “Everyone Likes a Compliment.”

So you can imagine my delight when I read that Steven Spielberg was directing a film called “LINCOLN,” starring the talented actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, as the Civil War president in the months before his assassination. The film, which debuts in November, is based, in part, on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-selling book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Entertainment Weekly featured a “first look” at Day-Lewis in his role and I never expected such a remarkable likeness!

However, when I watched a trailer for the film, I was a bit disconcerted by Lincoln’s voice: it was pitched much higher than I expected and he spoke with a distinct Kentucky accent. I know that Day-Lewis is renowned for fully immersing himself in the characters he plays, but somehow I expected that this towering figure (the nation’s tallest president, at 6’4”) would have a much deeper voice.

So, I did some research and discovered that, according to Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer One of the only things that can be said with certainty is that Lincoln was a tenor.”

Holzer reports that people who attended Lincoln’s speaking tours all said that, “for the first ten minutes, I couldn’t believe the way he looked, the way he sounded, his accent. But after ten minutes, the flash of his eyes, the ease of his presentation overcame all doubts, and I was enraptured.”

Clearly, Lincoln was a man who fully understood not only the art of writing but also the art of speaking. He converted potentially problematic qualities into powerful assets as he connected with his stakeholders … and thus helped change the course of American history.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Business Pointers About China

I recently attended a conference sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Society Conference, which featured a panel of communications professionals, some from China, who made various observations about Chinese business. I’d like to share them with you. In most cases these are exact quotes; in others, I have paraphrased for the benefit of the reader.

The following Q+As cover the relationship between business and government, building brands in China and the availability of CCOs. Here they are:

Q: “To what extent are China’s interests aligned with its companies’?”

A: “They are one and the same. Companies don’t do things that the government does not want.”

A: “The narrative would be the same for a Chinese company anywhere. We have to work out the narrative centrally and make it blend, locally.”

Q. “How important are brands in China today?

A. “Two factors — increased internet penetration and commercial expansion beyond the major urban centers — are enhancing brand awareness and value consciousness among consumers in China.

Q: “What does brand mean in China?”

A: “Brand building is not a big thing in China yet, short of certain global brands. Brands are new to China, and there is a big opportunity for those who want to create them. As they are built, they will put a new competitive slant on the economy and affect people’s value system.”

Q: “In China, do you have communications officers?”

A: “Yes, for consumer companies. Less so for others.”

So opportunities and challenges abound in China. Food for thought.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Writing Tips from Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

“Today the printed word is more vital than ever. Now there is more need than ever for all of us to read better, write better and communicate better.”

Truer words were never written, right?

So who wrote these? International Paper, whose corporate tag line at the time was: “We believe in the power of the printed word.”

In support of that position, in the 1980s, the company created a whole series of advertorials, drafted by exceptional communicators of the time, including Bill Cosby, Malcolm Forbes, Jane Bryant Quinn, James A. Michener, John Irving and George Plimpton.

The first piece that I read in the series was titled “How to Write with Style," by the late great novelist Kurt Vonnegut, author of Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions, among others. His tips for writers are especially valid in the era of social media, where authenticity and passion rule. They include:

1. Find a subject you care about

2. Do not ramble, though

3. Keep it simple

4. Have the guts to cut

5. Sound like yourself

6. Say what you mean to say

7. Pity the readers

You can see the entire series of International Paper advertorials in .pdf format here.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Inside Apple

I recently had the good fortune to hear Adam Lashinsky, an editor at Fortune Magazine and the author of the relatively new book, Inside Apple, speak about many of the principles revealed in his book. This is particularly timely because October 5th was the first anniversary of Steve Job's passing.

Overall, Lashinsky confirms our perception that Apple breaks rules and does things differently. Below I state a few of the other points I found particularly interesting:

• Apple Managers Micromanage. Steve Jobs was a micromanager and he expected his managers to "micro" too. Adam spoke of a press release that went through an editing process of 17 iterations — with one person.

• Apple is a Very Secretive Culture. Apple management does not want customers, competitors or employees not involved in a particular project to know what is going on. Thus, it is important to keep things secret inside as well as out. Employees do not chit-chat about what they are doing with others. You need to badge in and out of locked-down rooms, where secret projects are under way. Everyone in a meeting needs to be “disclosed” on the topic, if they do not badge in. Jobs threatened to publically fire anyone who violated an employment agreement.

• Apple Sweats the Details. There were 100s of design approaches considered for the iPhone. Sound quality was tested extensively, as was the packaging, how it would be wrapped. The story of whether there should be a plastic or glass screen is legendary. Jobs believed that, in the end, customers don't know what they want, but "we do!"

• Apple Always Appoints a DRI. At every meeting where any project is discussed, Apple always identifies a Direct Responsibility Individual, the guy who is going to oversee getting it done.

• Apple Spends Whatever It Takes to Communicate Right. Lashinsky cited a 30-second wedding video clip that was going to be shown at Macworld. Jobs felt the video submitted was too serious, and he wanted a lighter feel that only Hawaii would bring. So Apple went to a talent agency and found a model who was actually getting married on a Hawaiian beach, sent a crew to shoot it, and he got the mood he wanted.
Many more interesting and relevant points were made. Admittedly, some contrarian principles may only work for Apple and not necessarily for everyone else, but they are worth examining. I urge you to read the book and discover more for yourself!

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Monday, October 08, 2012

Avoiding Passenger Congestion

Don’t we all like to avoid airport congestion?  The pushing.  The shoving.  It’s unpleasant and even potentially unsafe. 

But what are the airlines communicating with their baggage fees at the check-in point -- if you want your luggage checked through so that you no longer have to carry it? 

They’re telling all of us that, to avoid paying that charge, you should carry your luggage on ... which is what it seems most people do, particularly on flights under three hours, although I have no statistics to prove it … just my observation.  I know that this charge — which typically ranges from $15 to $100 — has been around a while, but it suddenly got to me. 

As I write this, I am sitting on a flight from St. Louis to NYC, waiting for take-off and experiencing the consequences of this congestion.   We boarded in groups.  It seems more than half the passengers are entering with suitcases that are too big to put under the seat and too heavy to hold up and place in the overhead compartments; but somehow most passengers muster the strength for that "heavy moment" and do it anyway, with a little huffing and puffing.  But God help you if you are trying to go in the opposite direction in the aisle (e.g., making a trip to the bathroom before takeoff).  You are up against a mob of individuals heading to their seats, pulling suitcases like a train of elephants.  Back to back doesn't work. Hopefully, you can step into an empty row -- if there is one -- so the suitcase can pass.   If not, good luck slithering around the crowd with the moves of a particularly agile octopus!  

Another consequence of avoiding the last-minute check-in fees is the  fact that there is hardly any room in the overhead for the little carry-ons that passengers without suitcases normally put in the overheads (and what I thought they were made for in the first place).  Thus, those guys are being cheated.  Finally, boarding, in my opinion, takes longer. That probably causes a cascade of later departures and arrivals, which has to hurt economically.  No need to talk about what exiting from these tight quarters is like.  You’ve got the idea.

Nevertheless, I read that the airlines are making more money with a variety of add-on charges, including wider rows in coach, paying for itemized food and additional bonus miles.  Ancillary fees, like these, have helped airlines plagued by heavy losses.  For those carriers already doing well, fees have apparently fueled profitability.  

But what I don't understand, particularly on the luggage charge, is why airlines can't simply incorporate the fees into the fares and save the stress and other problems that many passengers feel as a result of the congestion created by a policy that incentivizes carry-ons.  Anyone who can afford to use airlines can afford another $25.  Contrast this with JetBlue, where the first bag goes free.  Boarding is faster.  I see more smiles.  There is room for little bags in the overhead.  And they appear to be making money!

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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Lenovo's Perception Issues

Lenovo?  Does it ring a bell?  Remember the big Chinese technology company that a few years ago acquired IBM’s ThinkPad?  At the time there was negative buzz; many Americans did not like the Chinese buying a stalwart American brand.

Fast forward to 2012.   Lenovo, according to Jeff Shafer (, the company’s Vice President of Global Communications, is on its way to building a next-generation global company, known for innovation.  Today, the ThinkPad is doing well and Lenovo is a $30 billion enterprise — the second largest PC company in the world — serving customers in more than 160 countries and employing nearly 30,000 people.

Despite all these good things, Shafer, who spoke in San Francisco earlier this month at “The CCO and the Social Enterprise” — a conference sponsored by the Arthur W. Page Society, an organization of leading public relations professionals — addressed the cultural and communications challenges Lenovo faces as it is building its image as a leading global organization.

The first challenge, as noted above, is the perception that the acquisition would never work. The attempt to diversify the company involved leadership, strategy and cultural issues.  The second challenge is that no Chinese company has ever built a global brand and “in our attempt to do so, more need to learn about us.  The third problem,” Shafer reported, “is that not everyone is rooting for Lenovo, as some do not like the fact that a non-U.S. company is potentially going to take the lead in a traditionally U.S. dominated industry.”  The fact is that Lenovo has just ignited a U.S. manufacturing program with 115 new jobs in North Carolina.

With the aim of showing that China can do globalization right, Shafer suggested that one solution “may be to present ourselves as a next-generation enterprise.”  He pointed out that Lenovo truly has a global leadership team, and while some top positions are Chinese, there is a range of nationalities; there is no attempt to force one culture on everyone else.  That said, “China is our best hand with the media, as everyone is interested in things coming out of China.”

While Lenovo already has locally sensitive media and community programs throughout the world, Shafer advised, the goal is to show that the company is  doing great things globally.  So the focus will be more on the company than where it hails from, “and that is how we hope to tackle the trust issue.” 

Shafer added that to keep messages consistent, he sends out core messages monthly to the entire communications team, “and we trust them to get it right locally.”

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Monday, October 01, 2012

Financial Services Companies on "Reputation"

How do we fix the reputational problems still afflicting the financial services industry nearly four years after start of the financial crisis? And what are the critical challenges and potential solutions that need to be addressed?

You may recall that Makovsky went into the field to uncover the answers. Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on the results of our 2012 “Wall Street Reputation Study” of 150 marketing and communications executives of leading financial services companies. It suggested revealing answers to the questions raised above. Overall poor management of the crisis -- admitted by many of the companies involved --and a negative perception of the industry overall were among the biggest problems. (For more information, see an article about the study on our website here.

Just last week we took another deep dive.

We co-sponsored a seminar program with the Financial Communications Society on “Rebuilding the Financial Services Industry’s Reputation” in New York City on September 25 , and invited a panel of leading communications and/or marketing executives to reflect on actions being taken at their companies, as well as issues that were still on the table. The diverse group of panelists represented: Credit Suisse, Capital One, Cigna, Fitch Ratings and Legg Mason. Approximately one hundred professionals from the industry attended.

Without individual attributions, here are some of the points made by the panelists:

• Everyone agreed that each company’s CEO must take responsibility “for the poor crisis management” during and after financial meltdown.

• “We have never seen our management team as conscious of and invested in public relations as it has been since the crisis.”

• “Business models are shifting to become more sensitive to our stakeholders. Management is looking at governance issues and is committed to making relevant policy changes.”

• The survey had noted that 74% of the executives believe increased regulation will improve reputation and trust. One of the panelists said: “Our management is a big proponent of the right financial regulations, and they are working with government to develop the best ones.”

• “Many CEOs must advocate for reform and present a global vision, not just one. They must offer to increase transparency, reduce the complexity of the business so that people can understand it better, and act responsibly by balancing interests of the different stakeholders.”

• “Management is putting a greater emphasis on the need to communicate with stakeholders.” Several companies are using social media and believe it is playing an active role in influencing opinion.

• One company spoke about measuring the rebuilding of trust among each stakeholder group via the Reputation Institute and another spoke of obtaining metrics on customer satisfaction.

The Q+A session was active with questions about the value of apologies and perspectives on the future, among many others.

One panelist aptly concluded: “We do better when we engage rather than when we put our heads in the sand. When we engage, our reputation moves up incredibly.”

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