Thursday, April 30, 2009

Barbara Walters: Tips on Interviewing…And More

A few weeks ago Barbara Walters discussed “The Interview” as a panelist at The Newhouse School of Public Communications (Syracuse University) breakfast. Makovsky + Company is one of several sponsors of that program. I note some of her rules and observations:

  • Knowledge – “Know the interviewee better than they know themselves – and know where you are going with him or her in the interview.”

  • Preparation – “Before the interview – do your homework and do not depend on questions others may write.”

  • Loyalty – “Your loyalty is to the audience – don’t promise them something you can’t deliver.”

  • Keeping Promises with PR Pros – “Some public relations people say you can’t talk about this or that with the interviewee. If you violate that promise, the pubic relations professional won’t work with you again.”

  • The Worst Interview – “The worst interview I ever did was with Warren Beatty. I asked him ‘how are you?’ There was interminable dead silence. Finally he said, ‘fine.’”

  • The Best Interview – “My best interview was Katherine Hepburn. I said you are a legend. And she said, “No. I am an old tree – an oak tree – not a weeping willow’.”

  • Celebrities I Wanted But Didn’t Get – “Anyone I wanted to interview and didn’t?

  • The Madoff Question – “What would I have asked Bernie Madoff? ‘How could you do this to your friends’ ”

  • Editing Interviews – “How you edit an interview is very important. I always sit in on editing sessions. I am a very good editor and it is hard work. You can criticize me on my interviewing style, but this I am good at.”

  • Interviewing Obama – “What is charming about Obama – is when he was with his wife, he leaned over, as he wiped his teeth with his index finger, showing her she had lipstick on her teeth. His PR people did not edit it out.”

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Barbara Walters, The Newhouse School of Public Communications, Warren Beatty, Katherine Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Bernie Madoff, The Pope, Barack Obama

Monday, April 27, 2009

Out of the Shadows

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve System, is speaking out and it is making news!

Bernanke is only fulfilling Obama’s promise about transparency — talking to the American public about the financial crisis, as indeed he should be doing.

But, according to an article last week by Jon Hilsenrath, chief economic correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Bernanke entered the office wanting to make the central bank less personality-driven than it was under his predecessors, Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker. His decision to step forward was only due to the current economic quagmire and the need to establish a dialogue with the American people.

According to Hilsenrath, Greenspan during his tenure as Chairman of the Fed gave only one on-the-record TV interview, almost never took questions after speeches and “delighted in his ability to obfuscate.” Bernanke, on the other hand, “is taking his campaign for openness in directions he hadn't anticipated.”

The reality is that, recession or not, the president of the Federal Reserve ought to be addressing the American public on a regular basis (e.g., monthly or bi-monthly). The visibility factor should not be an option, but a requirement.

The only caveat — since statements by the Federal Reserve chairman have stock market impact — is sensitivity to current developments (e.g., quarterly reports or a looming crisis). Ideally, the timing of his remarks should be as market-neutral as possible (although that may not always be possible). On the heels of the economic travails of the past year, communications has hopefully risen in stature at The Federal Reserve so that it will become a permanent policy pillar.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve System, Obama, transparency, financial crisis, Jon Hilsenrath, The Wall Street Journal,Alan Greenspan,Paul Volcker,recession,American public, business, communications, public relations

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It’s Not Only Communications!

At most firms, “silo thinking” compromises the way they address sustainability.

For example, management may commission a state-of-the-art green building from their facilities department, but then neglect to orchestrate complementary changes in the departments responsible for vendor practices, product sourcing and packaging, site location and corporate communications. Typically, the result is that the anticipated payback in terms of environmental impact, return on investment and risk management falls short of goal.

So what did we do? We formed a sustainability consortium which, through its collective 360° expertise, will offer a unique, cross-functional perspective that is necessary to help corporations manage risks and leverage business opportunities across the board. Called Interraction, the new consortium provides businesses with both advisory services as well as execution of its recommendations.

Of course, that includes communications. In fact, Interraction links communications with leading global business advisors in science, law, engineering, architecture and management consulting to provide organization-wide solutions to climate change/sustainability issues using a diagnostic tool called the Sustainability Scorecard as the starting point to assess and manage climate change risk.

The Scorecard functions like a full body scan in a medical check-up. It provides a snapshot of the notable risks throughout an organization, pinpointing specifically the impact climate change can have on a firm’s growth and reputation. The findings are summarized in an easy-to-understand risk index. The consortium then collaborates with a client’s leadership to review the findings, identify areas of concern, and discuss options for managing the risks uncovered.

In addition to Makovsky, Interraction’s member firms include the following leaders in the environment and sustainability:
Arnold & Porter: A preeminent global law firm with special expertise in environmental issues
Buro Happold: A premier international design and engineering firm
carbonRational: A management consulting firm with special expertise in building sustainable enterprises
FXFOWLE: Leading international architects
Svante Scientific: A leading provider of business-friendly climate data

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, silo thinking, sustainability, green building, risk management , environmental, consortium , Arnold & Porter,Buro Happold,carbonRational,FXFOWLE,Svante Scientific, business, communications, public relations

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


General Motors and Chrysler are travelling down a path that seems to be leading them to Chapter 11 bankruptcy…and there is considerable support for that strategy from those who believe the company has been out of touch with the products the marketplace has needed and wanted for years. Thus, they say, the company deserves to “go under.” That position is further supported by “free market” advocates who believe “free market” outcomes should happen naturally, and the bailouts are an attempt to keep a dead man alive.

But note the “American Thrift” survey in the April 27th issue of TIME Magazine (click the “Shopping” button). If allowed to go bankrupt, 29% of Americans, nearly a third, will not buy a car from a U.S. automaker that declared bankruptcy, even if the government guarantees the warranty.

That means that a massive public relations campaign will be required to restore confidence in the company and their products, and most likely, it will take years to accomplish. The entire supply chain will be at risk. In fact, the fear might be contagious, and the 29% figure will no doubt increase as people who are current car owners of these bankrupt operations begin to worry about getting access to parts and start questioning the integrity of all American automakers. Despite the inherent risks of all business, many may believe that a sacred trust has been broken should these bankruptcies happen. The ensuing public relations campaign most likely will require a broader range than anyone would fathom except those who have really thought this thing through.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Bankruptcy, free market, bailouts, TIME Magazine, General Motors, Chrysler, American automakers,Chapter 11, business, communications, public relations

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Domino’s Pizza, one of the nation’s largest pizza chains, was victimized by a prank pulled by two employees of a franchise who tainted sandwiches (I’ll spare you the details). These two geniuses thought it would be hilarious to film their acts and put the video on YouTube. In short order, the video was viewed more than a million times and discussions were spread throughout via Twitter.

An email to bloggers from Domino’s spokesman, Tim McIntyre, was quite telling. He wrote, “We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea.” This comment suggests that Domino’s hadn’t been fully prepared for the emergence of such a crisis. (Note to CEOs: Do you have a crisis plan? If so, check your crisis plans and update them to include attacks via social media, if necessary.)

How did Domino’s handle the situation? From where I sit, badly. Mr. McIntyre said that Domino’s executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping that the controversy would quiet down. While the company had been made aware of the videos by Monday evening via a blogger, it took them until Wednesday to get a Twitter account as well as a YouTube video of the CEO in place to respond to consumer concerns.

What should Domino’s have done?

First, the CEO should have been front and center addressing the issue within minutes of learning all of the details and formulating a response designed to allay customer concerns, regain their trust and defend the brand. All media – social as well as traditional channels – should have been aggressively employed.

Second, the company might have benefited from calling in independent authorities (e.g., health testing services or government health officials) to inspect and vouch for the efficacy and safety of Domino’s kitchen practices in every single location.

Third, Domino’s might have called in a former cabinet official (preferably one linked to health matters) or a noted domestic doyenne like Martha Stewart to spot check Domino’s kitchens at various locations. Their findings could be released quickly and through a host of media channels.

Finally, the company could have scheduled and publicized training and/or retraining sessions for all employees, to demonstrate the company’s commitment to and concern for the wellbeing of its customers.

Social media has changed the way we learn about and respond to crises. While news of a crisis can spread quickly, relevant companies can use these approaches to quickly respond and prevent further damage to their corporate reputations. There is no need for any business to be “blindsided” – particularly a household name like Domino’s – when in this age of transparency, it should have been “prepared.”

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Domino’s Pizza, franchise, Twitter, YouTube, Tim McIntyre, crisis, crisis plan, social media, blogger, government health officials, corporate reputations, business, communications, public relations

Monday, April 13, 2009


Bankruptcy filings are up more than 9% through the first three months of this year for a total of more than 323,000 petitions, according to Automated Access to Court Electronic Records (AACER), a leading provider of United States bankruptcy data. Of that total, more than 20,000 were commercial or business filings, brought about mainly by increasing job losses and the tight credit markets.

Aside from the discussions about General Motors and Chrysler possibly going bankrupt, there have been a number of fairly high profile bankruptcy cases, including some of the nation’s most prominent newspapers (e.g., The Chicago Tribune) , as well as such erstwhile retail stalwarts as Circuit City and Fortunoff, which was founded in 1922.

There are two types of bankruptcies: Chapter 7 and Chapter 11. Chapter 7 literally means the end – the companies are liquidating, as in the case of the two retailers mentioned above. Chapter 11 doesn’t necessarily mean the end.

To survive Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a company should have a valuable asset base, something that can be reorganized into a viable entity. Communications plays an important part in any reorganization, particularly when you stop to consider the number of constituencies that need to be addressed; the list includes creditors, suppliers, employees, customers, shareholders and so on. The reason: a Chapter 11 bankrupt company will need continued support as it undergoes the reorganization process and approvals of the plan from secured lenders. First, it must overcome the bankruptcy stigma – sales and image are usually badly affected. Customers need to keep buying – and sometimes customers mistakenly believe the doors are closed. Thus, a powerful customer-focused public relations program needs to be designed to rebuild the business. But there are public relations opportunities with the other constituencies as well.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Bankruptcy, AACER, job losses, credit market, General Motors, Chrysler, The Chicago Tribune, Circuit City, Fortunoff, Chapter 7 , Chapter 11, business, communications, public relations

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Getting Serious about Sales

There’s a rhyme that comes to mind when I think about selling:

He who has a thing to sell
And goes and whispers in a well,
Is not as apt to make the dollars
As he who climbs a tree and hollers.

When I first launched Makovsky + Company, it was clear that I needed to start hollering. However, I quickly found out that selling was not hitting someone over the head to buy or yelling more loudly than my competitors.

Over the years, I’d learned a lot from my mentor, the late Kal Druck, a founder of PRSA and a six-foot, 225-pound legend in our industry. Kal used his considerable physical presence and his charisma to transfix clients and prospects and draw them into his orbit.

While I knew I was never going to be my former boss, I took copious notes on his phraseology and selling strategies as I accompanied him over the years. But initially I didn’t have Kal’s success rate. After a few failures, I realized that while chemistry is mighty important — the person you’re selling to must like you and feel that you’re sincere and trustworthy — the real secret to selling is to understand the position and needs of the person on the other side of the table. If you can relate to those needs and provide that person with answers to his problems, then you can sell successfully.

Effective salesmanship is basically about creating an environment in which people want to buy. How you dress, how you look, your manners, your personality, the appearance of your offices, the quality of your materials and their content are all facets. But so is the frequency with which potential prospects hear from you … via direct mail, your blogs, networking, speeches, white papers and, of course, publicity. .

While some say that most people don’t want to be sold, my experience leads me to a far different conclusion. I believe that most people do want to be sold. I find that people who have public relations problems do want to hear from us. What’s more, they’re likelier to recognize a great idea if it’s presented by a great salesman. If we “holler” nicely, we’re not an imposition — we’re offering tremendous value that enriches both parties to the transaction.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, selling, PRSA , Kal Druck, clients, prospects, salesmanship, blogs, networking, white papers, business, communications, public relations

Monday, April 06, 2009

A Guiding Principle of My Life

In the midst of this recession, when there are a variety of business issues that are challenging nearly everyone, this quote comes to mind:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

--Calvin Coolidge
30th President of the United States

Calvin Coolidge may not have been one of our most memorable presidents, but if he did at least one thing right, it indeed is this quote! It has been a guiding principle in my life.

Persistence is all about getting something you want, when it’s hard to get, and continuing to pursue it.

Persistence has enabled human beings to build the pyramids of Egypt and the great cities of the world. It enabled the fall of the Berlin Wall and made it possible for human beings to slip “the surly bonds of earth.” Persistence was a prerequisite for mapping the human genome and will enable us to reinvent ourselves as a nation.

Persistence applies to small things that yield big results: for instance, making a cold call to a prospect who’s a long-shot …suggesting an out-of-the-box idea to a client or having a difficult conversation that solves a problem.

Persistence underlies everything we do in PR. It is a quality that is absolutely critical to the success of the companies we represent and to our individual careers. Whether in good times or bad, I believe that persistence has been, is and will continue to be, the key to success.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, recession, persistence, quote, Calvin Coolidge, President, United States, Pyramids of Giza Egypt, Berlin Wall, client, business, communications, public relations

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It’s All a Matter of "Common Sense"

Part II of an Interview with Symantec’s Cory Edwards

Do the social media present risks for Symantec? What are best practices to keep in mind, as companies scale up? Senior Vice President Corporate Communications, Cory Edwards, offers answers in Part II, the conclusion of this interview [Part I].

Q: Symantec is in the business of managing and securing information. With that in mind, do you believe the social media present any risks to security or privacy?

A: Sure they do. But you can make the same argument for most every other online medium. Whether you’re using email, IM, Twitter, a blog or simply interacting on a discussion board, you need to ensure that you’re acting with common sense and following security best practices.

Q: Given that many companies are in the pilot program phase of using social media, what are some of the best practices they should keep in mind as they scale up?

A: There are volumes of books written on this, but here are five practices that I would like to have heard as we first jumped into social media:

• Educate appropriate teams internally. We’ve created numerous trainings for our teams to bring them up to speed on what all these newfangled social media are and how to use them. Right now we’re doing something that I think is particularly fun—a series of informal Lunch-n-Learns where we take a particular medium and just dive in using an on-screen demo and group discussion while people eat their lunches.

• Create a plan but don’t squash the grassroots efforts. As social media programs become more and more formalized, you are going to, of course, identify specific objectives for what you’re doing. That’s a given, but don’t let a rigid new program replace the genius of individual grassroots campaigns. Heck, those grassroots efforts can be looked at as a sort of incubator for future more formalized programs.

• Listen before you speak. This new generation of social media is all about conversation and there can be no successful one-way conversations, so companies need to be sure that they’re establishing a good monitoring program to see both what is being said about their company and solutions, but also what is being said about the industry and trends in general. A good monitoring program leads to engagement.

• Nothing replaces experience. You can read and read and read about social media and how to use it for personal and business purposes, but at the end of the day, nothing beats creating your own accounts and exploring this growing world on your own.

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, Symantec, security, social media, Privacy, software company, Cory Edwards, Corporate Communications, blogosphere, email, Twitter, YouTube, business, communications, public relations