Thursday, October 29, 2009


Here is an interesting factoid from a recent Michael Massing Columbia Journalism Review blog that suggests that the cult of personality may have a hand in the failure of mainstream TV news:

“Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s ”Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” combined. Couric’s salary comes to an estimated $15 million a year; NPR spends $6 million a year on its morning show and $5 million on its afternoon one. NPR has seventeen foreign bureaus (which costs it another $9.4 million a year); CBS has twelve. Few figures, I think, better capture the absurd financial structure of the network news.”

It also reveals a sad truth about the mainstream media today: most of the money spent reporting the news isn’t spent on journalists and reporting. It’s spent on celebrity news readers.

Technorati Tags: Michael+Massing, credit rating, Columbia Journalism Review, Katie Couric, Morning Edition, NPR, CBS, public relations, business, Makovsky

Monday, October 26, 2009

Celebrating the Birth of the Internet

Anniversaries and birthdays represent a great opportunity to examine where you been and where you’re planning to go. (I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, since Makovsky is celebrating its 30th anniversary.)
Interestingly, according to a headline last month in the Telegraph, the Internet recently celebrated its 40th birthday on September 2. That’s the day in 1969 when scientists at UCLA connected two computers with a 15-foot cable, enabling the transfer of data from one computer to the other.

It was, in my opinion, an occasion every bit as momentous as the time in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell first shouted into the mouthpiece of his new invention: “Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you.”

Technology marches on. In 2009, marketers are creating “Minority Report”-style digital signs that display targeted ads based on information they glean from examining individual human faces. Tiny cameras estimate the age, ethnicity and gender of passers-by and track how long a given person watches the display. The digital sign can then play an advertisement specifically targeted to whoever’s watching. But we’ve been doing that for years in public relations. We have a long tradition of crafting and delivering customized messages to micro-communities of stakeholders at the times, in the places and in the ways that make sense to them.

It’s a skill whose value has increased exponentially since the dawn of the age of the social media … another important milestone in the history of the internet.

Technorati Tags: Internet, social media, media, Telegraph, technology, public relations, Makovsky,

Thursday, October 22, 2009


There is a belief in some quarters that an expected end-of-year $1-billion Goldman Sachs contribution to charity is no more than a publicity stunt designed to blunt public outrage about the record sum the company has earmarked for compensation this year. I’m inclined to feel that a billion dollars is a billion dollars after all, and it can be mighty helpful in many ways. (For the record, Goldman is also donating $200 million to its own foundation, which promotes education.)

My cry is for more thoughtful, timely and transparent communications. Goldman knew this announcement was coming — why not clarify the purpose of the foundation and talk about who benefits from the firm’s very generous donation? Will this be an ongoing thing, or a one-shot deal? These questions may well have been answered … but I missed them in the major media, both traditional and online that I read. Specific information — delivered loudly and clearly — can have a major impact on public sentiment in the era of Web 2.0 transparency, when everyone is savvy to the techniques of PR and marketing.

Goldman might take a lesson from Andrew Carnegie, the hard-driven and extraordinarily wealthy industrialist who said, “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Among other areas, he funded public libraries both here and abroad. Similarly, Goldman has an opportunity to be a community hero. Now many public libraries are in need, and Goldman could provide direct grants to every public library in the U.S. at risk of closing for lack of funding. In fact, a few weeks ago the Philadelphia Public Library came close to closing its doors permanently, only to be saved at virtually the last minute by the Pennsylvania State Senate. Public libraries are where kids — and adults — can find safe haven from the depressing realities of the recession, plus free books, DVDs to borrow, community programs, free internet access, etc. Those are benefits that speak directly to the middle class and reflect sensitivity to the perceived gulf between the haves and have-nots in this country.

In addition to libraries, Carnegie created New York’s Carnegie Hall and underwrote – among other important institutions – Carnegie-Mellon University, the Tuskegee Institute, the National Negro Business League, the Carnegie Hero Fund and the Peace Palace at the Hague . The pension funds he established ultimately became TIAA-CREF. Over the course of his lifetime, he gave away the equivalent of more than $24 billion (in 2008 dollars) to charity.

Of course, Andrew Carnegie did not have shareholders to contend with. As noted in the BUSINESS INSIDER, “Shareholders may object that money that is not going to actually retain talent should be shareholder equity, and not spent on charity.” And Goldman has already faced one suit on this kind of thing. Further, Goldman has to figure out how to undertake its philanthropy in a tax advantaged way. Regardless of the approach that is ultimately taken, Goldman is sitting on a golden opportunity in terms of public relations.

Technorati Tags: Goldman Sachs, communications, media, Carnegie Hall, Andrew Carnegie, BUSINESS INSIDER, Carnegie-Mellon University,Tuskegee+Institute,
the National Negro Business League, the Carnegie Hero Fund , TIAA-CREF, public relations, Makovsky,

Monday, October 19, 2009

GM: Keep your foot on the gas

TV screenWhile General Motors’ new “May the Best Car Win” advertising campaign is most likely going to be judged a success or failure based on sales figures, the campaign has many virtues beyond that, if management takes a long-term view.

The centerpiece of the campaign — which made its debut on September 10 — is an offer to buyers of a full refund within 60 days of the purchase of a car. I know of nothing like it previously in the auto industry, so it caught my attention, and no doubt the attention of millions of others (although, during this recession, other car companies offered a variety of deals for people wary of losing their job or facing other hardships).

I see GM’s campaign as phase I in a much longer battle to regain the trust of the American people. A challenge? Yes. A big one. This is a company that had six months or more of non-stop “will-GM-choose-bankruptcy” publicity, and analysts were peeling the onion six million different ways, each one stimulating another story. Even before the bankruptcy speculation, there was a year or more of articles about the misfortunes and decline of GM. It was literally a tsunami of negative stories, banging the idea that “GM is dying” into the heads of consumers. Then, of course, GM chose bankruptcy, and there were literally thousands of articles about that.

Is it therefore any surprise that, as clever as this campaign may be, GM’s September sales plunged 45 percent? In a blog called "Contagious" that I wrote last April, during the “is bankruptcy possible” period, I cited a widely-quoted survey suggesting that that most consumers will not buy a car from a bankrupt company. What’s more, I think most consumers believe a company is dead when it declares bankruptcy. While this true if a company declares Chapter 7, it is not the case if it declares Chapter 11, as GM did. Most consumers don’t understand the difference.

So GM has a mountain to climb, and “May the Best Car Win” is a powerful first step. It features the new chairman, Ed Whitacre, whom the government put in to turn things around. He is a strong, admirable presence, in the tradition of Lee Iacocca, Dave Thomas (Wendy’s) and Frank Perdue. According to an article last month in Ad Age (via Automotive News), a third of consumers surveyed recently believe that having a CEO who is highly visible in the media is an important factor in terms of whether or not they trust the company. There is nothing better than having the CEO put “his money where his mouth is.” Whitacre speaks positively about GM’s products and invites consumers to put them up against anyone else’s. His offer speaks to value, exactly what the consumer is looking for in this environment. And the entire concept around the 60 day refund is an attempt to rebuild credibility with the consumer.

So I say to management, don’t be too hard on yourself if this campaign alone doesn’t result in a huge sales increase. View it as phase I, but have phases II, III, IV and V ready to go in timely fashion. GM can win, if its products are solid and competitive, and if all its other marketing initiatives are as striking as this one.

Technorati Tags: General Motors, May the best car win, Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Lee Iacocca, Ed Whitacre, Dave+Thomas, Frank Perdue

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Most Annoying, Overused Words in the Workplace

dictionary entry Every organization, profession and industry has its own specialized language that can often be virtually incomprehensible to outsiders. Sometimes, it’s just a concise way to communicate a complex concept to those already in the “know.” For example, words that public relations professionals use all the time — like “metrics,” “thought leadership” and “segmentation” — often don’t mean the same thing to CEOs, COOs or CIOs. This can be a problem.

But sometimes jargon is used purposely to impress or confuse. This is bad. Very bad. Using imprecise or bewildering language not only short-circuits communication, it can also leave the listener frustrated — or even angry. Instead of building bridges, sloppy jargon creates a divide.

I was reminded of this when I read the results of a recent survey by the staffing services firm, Accountemps (via Neatorama).

One hundred and fifty senior executives with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies were asked, “What is the most annoying or overused phrase or buzzword in the workplace today?” Their answers:

  • Leverage (e.g., “We intend to leverage our investment in IT infrastructure across multiple business units to drive profits.”)

  • Reach out (e.g., “Remember to reach out to customers impacted by the change.”)

  • It is what it is (e.g., “The server is down today, and clients are irate. It is what it is.”)

  • Viral (e.g., “Our video has gone viral.”)

  • Game changer (e.g., “Transitioning from products to solutions was a game changer for our company.”)

  • Disconnect (e.g., “There is a disconnect between what the consumer wants and what the product provides.”)

  • Value-add (e.g., “We have to evaluate the value-add of this activity before we spend more on it.”)

  • Circle back (e.g., “I’m heading out of the office now, but I will circle back with you later.”)

  • Socialize (e.g., “We need to socialize this concept with our key stakeholders.”)

  • Interface (e.g., “My job requires me to interface with all levels of the organization.”)

  • Cutting edge (e.g., “Our cutting-edge technology gives us a competitive advantage.”)

Accountemps conducted a similar survey in 2004. The following “Hall-of-Fame” buzzwords were cited in both surveys:

  • At the end of the day

  • Synergy

  • Solution

  • Think outside the box

  • On the same page

  • Customer-centric

My thoughts? Used sparingly and appropriately, buzzwords can be a great form of business shorthand. Used lavishly, out of context and without forethought, they make the speaker sound like a lazy, unimaginative, middle-management wannabe.

Technorati Tags: Accountemps, thought leadership, metrics, segmentation, value-add, game-changer, Synergy

Monday, October 12, 2009


Registered trademark of the Nobel Foundation

Let’s examine the distinction between words and deeds—which is at the heart of the controversy over whether President Obama should have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. “Where are the accomplishments?” some ask. “He deserves it for the tone he sets and the aspirations he communicates,” others observe.
What did the Nobel committee say? According to The New York Times, the Committee “praised Mr. Obama for his tone, his preference for negotiation and multilateral diplomacy and his vision of a cooperative world of shared values, shorn of nuclear weapons.” A direct quote from the committee said that “only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.” In this case, it is his words, rather than Obama’s actions thus far, that appear to have earned him this prestigious prize.
There is no doubt that the Nobel Peace Prize is honoring intangibles and encouraging—if not putting pressure on the young President— to fulfill the expectations that he has set through his speeches and other communications about bringing world peace through diplomacy. But what many seem to have missed is that the words—and the courage to speak them—ARE the deeds. Whether his Cairo speech or his success in engaging Iran for the first time, for example, deserves the prize is a matter of opinion. Many of those who believe the President deserved the honor also acknowledge that he must still earn it. But fundamentally, without the right words, nothing can happen. Thoughts must be communicated, if action is to follow—and courageous words from leaders of nations are at a premium. Of course, so is follow-through.
“Whatever word we utter should be done with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill,” said Buddha.
We all recognize that words motivate actions. Words profile our character. Words define who we are and what we believe. Between individuals, it is the words we use with each other that shape our relationships…or end them. There is a big difference in saying to a significant other “when I look at you, time stands still” or “your face would stop a clock.” Certainly, the latter example is a far reach from someone on the world stage—or even a global corporation or small company. Candidates have lost elections and corporate leaders have lost their jobs as much for insensitive words as wrong actions. That’s why they watch what they say to shareholders, constituents and customers and, in fact, retain professionals to help them.
According to pastor and best-selling author Joel Osteen, “You can change your world by changing your words.” This is precisely what Mr. Obama is trying to do. His self-deprecating acceptance of the Prize underscores that he is only in Phase I, and there is much to be accomplished. Obviously, the committee felt the Prize would enhance the stature of his mission with others in the world upon whom his success depends. But there is no success without conditioning the market. Franklin Roosevelt understood that exceptionally well when he said, more than three-quarters of a century ago—in the depths of the Great Depression—during his first inaugural address: , “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Technorati Tags: Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama, The New York Times, Cairo speech, Buddha, Joel Osteen, Franklin Roosevelt, communications, public relations, business, Makovsky

Thursday, October 08, 2009


In your opinion, what caused the financial crisis? Or should I say, who caused the financial crisis? Was it credit swaps, bundled mortgages, derivatives, under-capitalization of banks or all of the above? Was it Alan Greenspan who allowed the economy to heat up, grow too fast and sanctioned an unregulated, shadow economy to thrive and crash? Or does Ben Bernanke partially get the blame? More likely, does a poorly run SEC or inattentive Federal Reserve take responsibility?

Well, what or who is responsible can now be debated on a new site dubbed “Recessipedia” – launched by the Museum of American Finance (New York City), a Makovsky client, who we worked closely with to develop the site and get attention for it.

Recessipedia” is like wikipedia but with a few twists. Like Wikipedia, anyone can add or edit an article. More than 150 have been posted so far. Unlike Wikipedia, personal viewpoints are welcome, as well as the points of view of the companies involved in what we’re increasingly calling the Great Recession. Traders, investors, government officials and members of the general public are all welcome to contribute their piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, we hope a definitive chronology of events can be assembled and future generations can avoid the mistakes of the past.

In a Wall Street Journal blog post by Peter McKay, Professor Robert E. Wright of Augustana College , one of “Recessipedia’s” editors, says he’s hoping that “consensus on a single version of events will emerge out of the give and take ultimately enhancing the public record.” You can join the crowd and add to its wisdom by starting here.

Technorati Tags: financial crisis, Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Recessipedia, Federal Reserve, Wall Street Journal, public relations, Museum of American Finance, Wikipedia,Peter McKay, Professor Robert Wright, public relations, business, Makovsky

Monday, October 05, 2009


Almost every day there is another article that dwells on what really caused this financial crisis. The credit rating agencies have been charged with accepting fees from companies that they rate, and therefore permitting obviously questionable securities to pass muster because they feared losing fees. Conflict of interest? Yes. Will it change? How best to solve this problem is one of many policies the government is considering. I am certain all of the ratings companies want the financial community to perceive them as maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct. But there is obviously a public relations issue here that needs to be addressed.

Obama addressed the lax regulation of the financial system at the Federal Reserve on Wall Street recently. He talked about a shadow unregulated financial market that existed with a variety of complex instruments (including mortgages, derivatives and credit swaps) and enabled certain folks to reap unwarranted large profits. While the Federal Reserve has been proposed to be the watchdog over a rehabilitated financial system, it has presided over many cycles since it was created in 1913, and a number of experts question whether it is indeed the right body to be responsible for oversight. According to an op-ed by Peter Boone and Simon Johnson in The New York Times on Sept. 20, “The Recession Is Over — for Now,” from 1935 to 1980 the Fed (along with other agencies) was successful at ensuring “that banks’ activities did not put the public purse at risk.” The authors cite derivatives as the reason for the growing interconnectivity of banks, and hence the increased systematic risks, as an example of what went wrong this time. But they also say that there have been problems since 1980.

The article contends that, as with the credit agencies, there is a basic conflict of interest here. The same folks who are running American banks are also regulating them, moving people (e.g., Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson) from high level positions in finance to high level officialdom and back again. The authors point out that “these cheerleaders, in turn, generate financial cycles by letting our financial system grow too fast with far too little capital for the risks it takes.”

Technorati Tags: financial crisis, credit rating, government, Obama, Federal Reserve, Wall Street, public relations, Peter Boone, Simon Johnson,Robert Rubin, Henry Paulson, public relations, business, Makovsky

Thursday, October 01, 2009


I found a fascinating article in the Telegraph via Neatorama that talks about how the internet—in its 15 years of existence—has radically changed our lives by “killing” a variety of things—“from products and business models to life experiences and habits.” I felt the retrospective was important enough to blog about. Author Matthew Moore notes that “tasks that once took days can be completed in seconds, while traditions and skills that emerged over centuries have been made all but redundant.” For example, “The internet is no respecter of reputations: innocent people have seen their lives ruined by viral clips distributed on the same World Wide Web used by activists to highlight injustices and bring down oppressive regimes.”
Here are what I believe to be the top 10 of the 50 radical changes identified by Moore:
1. The Art of Polite Disagreement –The internet has sharpened the tone of debate. A single comment can set off a firestorm, and all opponents have an agenda. “The most raucous sections of the blogworld seem incapable of accepting sincerely held differences of opinion.”
2. Punctuality –“Before mobile phones, people actually had to keep their appointments,” or at least you would get a 30 minute warning about lateness. Today texting friends that you will be five minutes late is de rigueur. And it is considered perfectly acceptable.
3. Watches –The phone has replaced the watch as a timepiece for many. After years of glancing at my watch, however, I often forget that the phone in my pocket tells time, too, and is often more precise.
4. Letter Writing – A relic of the past, but a dear one at that. No doubt e-mail is more efficient and makes total business sense, but it’s nice to receive a handwritten note from time to time. Obviously, the term “pen pal” has disappeared.
5. Memory—Who needs a memory when you can check out any obscure fact on Google or Wikipedia?
6. Privacy—“Users of social media make more information available about themselves than Big Brother could ever hoped to obtain by covert means.”
7. Geographical Knowledge—Who needs it with GPS Systems in cars and even smartphones?
8. Reading Telegrams at Weddings—“Quoting from a wad of email printouts doesn’t have the same magic.”
9. Your Lunchbreak –“Did you leave your desk today? Or snaffle a sandwich while sending a few personal emails” and checking the price of a week in Paris?
10. Footnotes –“Made superfluous by the link, although Wikipedia is fighting a brave rearguard action.”

Technorati Tags: Telegraph, Neatorama, internet, Matthew Moore, social media, Makovsky, public relations, business, technology