Monday, November 24, 2008

The Power — and Truth — of Headlines

It has always been my philosophy that, if you want to do a fast read of any media channel, you don’t have to read the body of an article; the headline will tell you a lot regarding trends, content and even future direction.

I do admit that sometimes there can be a negative headline that has positive body copy or the reverse, but that is rare. It typically occurs when there is an attention-getting point within the story and usually does not reflect the bulk of the story.

Here is an assortment of headlines I found in The New York Times Business Section on November 11:
  • Electronics Store Files for Bankruptcy

  • A $150 Billion Rescue for A.I.G. As It Reports a $25 Billion Loss

  • Fannie Mae’s Years of Gains Evaporate in a $29 Billion Hit

  • Big Quarterly Loss for Nortel: Shares Are Down 25%

  • DKHL Cuts 9,500 Jobs in U.S. and an Ohio Town Takes the Brunt

  • Corporate Doubts Send Shares Down

  • Citigroup Offers to Ease Mortgage Terms

  • Tyson Foods Posts a Profit, But Forecasts A Downturn

  • Tribune Company Loses $121 Million

Out of nine randomly selected headlines, six were negative, two were neutral and only one was positive. Reading these dire headlines would tend to reinforce your trepidation about the global economy and its impact on your own financial well-being.

This was a great reminder to me of the power of headlines to reduce a complex issue to a simple dichotomy: good news or bad. Mostly bad. Bad news sells, as is testified to by the old TV producer’s adage: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

Since 1986, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has regularly surveyed the U.S. public about the extent of their interest in major news events of the day. Although the size and scope of the American news media have changed dramatically over the past 20+ years, the news interests and preferences of the American people have remained surprisingly static. “Disaster news” (reports about catastrophes, man-made or natural) garners the most attention, followed by “money news” (stories about employment, inflation and prices — especially the price of gasoline) and “conflict news” (stories about war, terrorism, and social violence). Certainly that accounts for at least part of the negative tilt of the Times’ headlines on Veterans Day.

By all means, use headlines as signposts to content that’s worth a second glance. With all the messages bombarding us all day long, who has time to read more than a fraction of what’s out there? However, I would also recommend reading deeper and more widely, if you’re interested in more than just the “news hook” … if you’re interested in what is really going on.

Technorati Tags: headlines, The New York Times, Pew Research Center, news hook, American news media, disaster news, money news, conflict news, business, communications, public relations

Monday, November 17, 2008

Marketing in Challenging Times

Many companies seem to be wrestling with the same question today: “In these troubled times, should we be cutting back on our marketing initiatives?”

If you listen to Advertising Age, you won’t cut your marketing budget … at all … ever!

As editor Jack Neff wrote earlier this year: “Don’t cut that budget. Recessions offer what may be unprecedented opportunities to market in an environment of relatively less noise, as others cut back.”

Of course, AdAge may not be the most neutral authority when it comes to the value of marketing. What do the academics and social scientists have to say?

Harvard Business School Professor John Quelch; Gary Lilien and Arvind Rangaswamy, professors at Penn State's Smeal College of Business; McGraw-Hill and a research firm called Meldrum & Fewsmith all agree that increasing marketing and/or advertising expenditures in a recession yields powerful benefits, including better business performance, increased sales, higher profits and a dramatic positive change in market position.

The McGraw-Hill study of 600 industrial companies, for example, found that B2B firms that maintained or increased their advertising expenditures during the recession “grew their sales 275% from 1980-1985. Sales of those that cut their ad spending averaged only 19% growth during the same period.”

According to Anna Maria Virzi, executive editor of The ClickZ Network , during the 2001 recession, Dell and Wal-Mart saw the downturn as an opportunity to invest more than weaker rivals in marketing. They were following the path laid during the Great Depression, when Camel cigarettes and Chevrolet were known for their aggressive marketing and grabbing market share from rivals.

And remember: PR is significantly less expensive than advertising and much more credible. We’re talking about a modest investment in time and money that delivers a major return on investment.

When pondering the future, think of yourself as a distance runner — if you’re strong already, when you hit the hill, you’re going to speed up a little. You need more than just strength, you need the strategy and nerve to exploit your strength.

Technorati Tags: marketing, advertising, recession, Advertising Age, Jack Neff, John Quelch, Gary Lilien, Arvind Rangaswamy, McGraw-Hill, Meldrum & Fewsmith, Anna Maria Virzi, The ClickZ Network, advertising expenditures, business, communications, public relations

Monday, November 10, 2008

International Perceptions About Obama

Here are some are some perceptions about President-Elect Barack Obama which have appeared mostly in the international press and reprinted mostly by The New York Times. I have purposely not attributed these quotes or the country of origin so that you can focus on what is being said, rather than who said it or where it was said. In many cases these are statements of government officials, academics and social scientists and they emanate from nearly every continent.

A Unique Country
"There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, elect as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth – call it America – where such a thing happens."

A Shifted Course
"But wonder is almost overwhelmed by relief. Mr. Obama’s election offers most non-Americans a sense that the imperial power capable of doing such good and such harm – a country that, they complain, preached justice but tortured its captives, launched a disastrous war in Iraq, turned its back on the environment and greedily dragged the world into economic chaos – saw the errors of its ways over the past eight years and shifted course."

A Part of Us
"People feel he is a part of them because he has this multiracial, multiethnic and multinational dimension. People find some thread of their own hopes and ideals in Mr. Obama. He represents, for people in so many different communities and cultures, a personal connection. There is an immigrant component and a minority component."

America Again a Beacon of Hope
"His ability to inhabit so many categories mirrors the African experience. For America to choose as its citizen in chief such a skillful straddler of global identities could not help but transform the nation’s image, making it once again the screen upon which the hopes and ambitions of the world are projected."

Empathy with the Poor Nations
Mr. Obama’s background, particularly his upbringing in Indonesia, made him suited to understanding the problems facing the world’s poorer nations.

Overcoming our Racist Past: A Symbol for Others?
"There is another paradox about the world’s view of the election of Mr. Obama: many who are quick to condemn the United States for its racist past and now congratulate it for a milestone fail to acknowledge the same problem in their own societies."

Changing our Image in Russia
"Definitely, this will improve America’s image in Russia. There was this perception before of widespread racism in America, deeply rooted racism."

An Obstacle in Nigeria but not in the U.S.
"If Obama had been a Nigerian, his race, color and age would have been an intractable problem."

Everything is Possible
"He has so many things not preferable in a president. He is a black, and his middle name is Hussein, and all that stuff. But this is a country where everything is possible."

Focus on Quality
"This is a historic moment not only for the United States, but so we can all get away from perceptions about religion and race and instead consider the quality of the person."

Obama on Iraq
"While the election of a black man as the president of the United States was considered admirable, Mr. Obama’s promise to start withdrawing troops from Iraq was a cause for great concern."

Change – For Real?
"But most of the teenagers at the post-election discussion said they would need convincing before they were willing to believe that ‘change’ was more than a slick slogan."

I would only add that while Obama stands as a role-model for all Americans — minorities as well as whites — hopefully, his election will also change perceptions of blacks within their own communities. For example, I have heard that some young black men who are hard-working students and make excellent grades are ridiculed by their black friends as being “too white". Now we have a black president who stands among the elite in terms of his academic pedigree.

Further, Obama was criticized by some blacks during the primary days as not being “black enough” because he was not descended from slaves. Hopefully, his election now is a symbol for all blacks everywhere. The polls have shown that there was no “Bradley effect” (a vote in the voting booth is different than a poll declaration) among voting whites, and that Obama got 43% of the white vote.

Obama connected with a large number of the voting public both verbally and silently by projecting calm, humility and leadership. His victory – as has been acknowledged – is a transformational one, both actually and perceptually, throughout the world. May his achievements in the next four years stand as tall as the perception about Obama stands today.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Drucker: Defining Business

Peter Drucker, the esteemed business strategist and visionary, developed simple definitions of some of the most popular words in the business vernacular, e.g. success, management, people, plans, leadership. I discovered these in Drucker’s books. I hope you find them as thought provoking as I did:

  • Business – the purpose of a business is to create customers

  • Education – leaning how to learn, and continuing to learn all one’s life

  • Efficiency – doing better what is already being done

  • Hiring – finding out what someone is really good at, and then placing him or her in a position where those strengths can produce results

  • Innovation – the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth

  • Leadership – doing the right things

  • Management – doing things right

  • Management Focus – the great danger in an organization is that managers disappear inside it and spend all their time and energy on internal problems

  • People – the most important resource in business

  • Plans – good intentions that immediately degenerate into hard work

  • Success – wherever there is a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision

  • Time – a unique, irreplaceable and necessary business resource that most people take for granted

Technorati Tags: Peter Drucker, business vernacular, education, efficiency, hiring, innovation, leadership, management, management focus, people, plan, success, time, business, communications, public relations