Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Motivating Support

For many years, my wife and I have helped support various children in developing countries through the Christian Children’s Fund, which recently changed its name to ChildFund International.

It is rather obvious that we, like many others, are motivated to provide help where it is needed, particularly supporting impoverished children — so that they can grow up with their fundamental material needs met.

Periodically, the Fund encourages the relatives of the children to send letters to the donors, telling what is done with the money sent. When you read these words, typically you live the experience. Your heart breaks and you want to help more. This is transparency at its most basic level. It is the one-on-one success story that has motivated action for years.

Recently we sent young Miriam Magwigwi a $25.00 birthday gift over and above our regular support. Her father wrote the following letter:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Ken Makovsky,

How are you there with your family? It is the family’s hope that this letter will find you happy and healthy. Here Miriam and family are all fine. I am the father writing on behalf of your friend.

Miriam was the happiest to receive the birthday gift you sent to her. The money received in dollars it was $25.00 and when changed into one local currency it came to k121,375. Out of this money, we bought your friend clothes and food. We really appreciate your love and mercy.

We are now through with coldness and we are in hot season. You are so special to us. May the good Lord God bless your daily plans and activities.

Yours Faithfully

Eliph the Father

Writing on behalf of Miriam

At this Thanksgiving season, we are thankful that Miriam’s family appreciated our small gift, we’re glad we can help and, of course, we’re highly motivated to continue our support. Once again, candor and customer appreciation are at the foundation of success.

Technorati Tags: Thanksgiving, ChildFund International, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, November 23, 2009

Maximizing Creativity

To be successful creative people need to have some latitude in structuring their own working environments — though there does have to be some order too, if businesses are to succeed. The most important rule of thumb for being a successful writer (or any creative person, for that matter) is to make a habit of your craft.

“No professional writer can afford only to write when he feels like it,” said author and playwright Somerset Maugham. “If he waits till he is in the mood, till he has the inspiration, he waits indefinitely and ends by producing little or nothing.”

Nevertheless, a friend recently sent me some very interesting examples (via Neatorama) of the daily routines of a number of celebrated figures, including the following world-renowned writers:

Winston Churchill dictated from his bed in the morning and always took a nap at 5:00 pm.

Charles Darwin smoked a cigarette every day at 3:00 pm. He found conversation exhausting and spent no more than 30 minutes on a single conversation.

Ernest Hemingway wrote until he “knew what was going to happen next” — then he stopped.

• Best-selling author Roald Dahl wrote from 10:00 am to noon — then he tended to his farm.

Stephen King starts his day with a glass of water or a cup of tea. Then — sometime between 8:00 am and 8:30 am — he takes his vitamins and sits in his usual chair, with all his papers arranged in their customary places. He says that “the cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, ‘You’re going to be dreaming soon.’”

Therefore, the creative road to success is not always the obvious road.

Technorati Tags: creativity, Somerset Maugham, Neatorama,Winston Churchill, Charles Darwin, Ernest Hemingway, Roald Dahl, Stephen King, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Transparency and the Power of Free Speech

My guest blogger today is Travis Ferber, a senior account executive at Makovsky + Company, who addresses the PR issues raised by the recent talk by Justice Anthony Kennedy at the Dalton School in New York.

quill and parchmentLast week there was a small article on the front page of The New York Times — just below the fold. It covered an evergreen news topic: hypocrisy. Not just simple hypocrisy. No. This was a case of high-powered hypocrisy involving the sacred ideals of journalistic integrity, allegedly violated by a stalwart proponent of free speech: Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

According to the article, a new employee of Kennedy’s office gave notice that coverage of Kennedy’s recent speech at a Manhattan high school could not appear in the high school newspaper until it had been reviewed for “accuracy.”

In response to the online uproar that ensued, Kennedy was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Kennedy’s response — “as ‘the captain of the ship,’ he said, he accepted responsibility for requests made in his name” — is a perfect example of how to communicate in a crisis: Address the situation, take responsibility, clarify your position and the facts surrounding the incident, and get a well-respected publication to publish your response.

It is not unusual for requests for accuracy reviews, nor for journalists to grant them. In an era where under-staffed and time-constrained journalism is the norm, the need for fact-checking is greater than ever. Nonetheless, the Kennedy case teaches us all a few lessons.

First, the simple fact of the matter is that if you are famous, if you have power, if you are ”newsworthy,” you can get away with a lot more. The decision to grant review of a story is driven by the power of the person being interviewed. While this is common knowledge among media vets, it is quite an eye-opening experience for those outside or new to the profession (in this case, the high school newspaper editors).

The Fourth Estate is not as free as some would think.

There is also a lesson here for PR professionals. Kennedy’s response was perfect, but the fact that he had to respond shows how quickly small mistakes can turn into big problems. A few years ago it would have been inconceivable to see a high school newspaper trigger a national communication crisis.

So in today’s transparent world, perhaps the best advice we can give echoes Polonius’s command: “This above all else, to thy own self be true.”

True to thy own self and, I would add, everyone else, too.

Technorati Tags: freedom of speech, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Dalton School in New York, The Fourth Estate

Monday, November 16, 2009

Close Journalism Schools?

An article in Huffington Post by Richard Sine, a freelance journalist, argues that journalism schools should be closed. Why? Because the current closing of many newspapers and magazines and downsizing of staff eliminate the job opportunities that heretofore were available. So why pay $70,000 (at Columbia) a year to learn a dinosaur profession that takes you nowhere, he asks.

Short-term thinking if I’ve ever heard it. While it may be appropriate to examine and update the curriculum of the nation’s journalism schools and review the value/tuition equation, journalism training is not restricted to hard-copy media. I’m firmly convinced that the growth in online paid subscriptions will increase. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has already announced that he will be charging for online content and Hearst, The New York Times and TIME are considering plans for possible Internet fees. Moreover, as the social media continue to explode, new models are emerging to underwrite the costs of online journalism, including subscriptions for mobile content (for Apple and Kindle, for example). If this trend continues, economic opportunities for reporters and editors should once again pick up.

Further, will our government really permit the demise of the Fourth Estate – which, acting in the public interest, has uncovered serious ethics or other infractions in virtually every institution, from the U.S. presidency to major business and non-profit institutions? The Fourth Estate is a key watchdog in protecting the body politic. If we do not train professional journalists and pay them a living wage, we will diminish democracy’s standing in the world. The Fourth Estate has enabled us to be a role-model where other countries have fallen short.

The lily-livered statement of the Dean of the Journalism School at Columbia is appalling: “I’ve never met a single person in 35 years who went into journalism school out of pure economic reasons.” Rather than championing the importance of journalism as a noble profession that deserves superior economic reward, he implies that its social mission reigns supreme, ignoring the importance of the economic mission.

With champions like Dean Nicholas Lemann at what is acknowledged to be the nation’s leading “J” school, journalism training will indeed die along with the Fourth Estate. Not only must the journalism leadership at universities speak out, but the leadership of our nation must address the problem, too.

If journalism does move wholly online, which is doubtful (as no medium—print, radio, TV – has ever totally disappeared), there is a woeful need for training. Online writing calls for training in a range of techniques that make it more readable and consumable. There is an art to writing effective blogs, news articles, emails, features, Wikis, etc. Investigative journalism, with the help of Google and other search engines, takes on new dimensions. Understanding the need and the potential contributions of sponsors, advertisers and public relations professionals can have a substantial impact on the way journalists operate. Further, new ethical and transparency concerns have already arisen and must be addressed.

The Fourth Estate is indeed undergoing a change. I believe that this revolution will ultimately enable it to rise again, and pay for journalists will rise along with it, as the marketplace comes to realize that we once again must pay for -- and train for -- that which is worth having.

Technorati Tags: journalism schools, Huffington Post, Richard Sine,Rupert Murdoch, Hearst, The New York Times, TIME, social media, Apple, Kindle, Dean Nicholas Lemann,The Fourth Estate,communications, internet, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Nation of Writers

It is commonly accepted among public relations professionals that the internet is a once-in-a-lifetime gift to the profession. But generally we think of that gift as an amazing new communications channel that enables us to reach millions of consumers, a select number of micro-communities or focus in on genuine one-to-one marketing.

However, the internet also has been a rocket in another sense for the communications business: more people are writing than ever before – at least that is my perception, with 133 million blogs indexed by Technorati since 2002, as just one indicator.

In the world of communications, advanced writing skills are a fundamental requirement for effective advocacy. And the internet serves as both a training ground and a platform for advanced writing education. Whether blogging, tweeting, updating Wikis, texting, emailing, posting comments or whatever, the internet requires people to put words down, even if it is in online shorthand, to express themselves, and the numbers of people doing so is beyond anything ever anticipated.

We in business know how important it is to be articulate. As more and more young people grow up writing as naturally as they grow up talking, the pool of effective writers from which the public relations business has to choose will only grow. Professor Andrea Lunsford of Stanford University points out that of all the writing Stanford students did, 38% of it took place outside the classroom – “life writing,” as she calls it, according to a recent post by Clive Thompson on (via Neatorama).

This is a paradigm shift unlike any others. Before the internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything that wasn’t a school assignment. Consequently, the pool of those who wish to write professionally should expand exponentially. This is not only a gift for our profession, but a gift to the world, as effective communications is at the heart of everything…from profitable business to world peace.

Technorati Tags: Professor Andrea Lunsford, Stanford University, Clive Thompson,emailing, texting, tweeting, Technorati, blogs, communications, internet, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, November 09, 2009


As texting during driving is getting a lot of well-deserved negative publicity, texting during health crises is also saving lives, but is hardly getting any attention at all.

We all recognize that text messaging as an increasingly important channel of communication, is on the rise, with growth that is expected to more than double by the end of next year. During just the second quarter of 2009, VeriSign Messaging and Mobile Media delivered a total of 94.8 billion text messages — an average of more than a billion messages a day.

The negative side: In an op-ed this month in U.S. News & World Report, NY State Representative Carolyn Maloney cited research showing that people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to have an accident. Another study, published by Car and Driver in June, concluded that texting while driving can be more dangerous than driving while drunk!

The positive side: texting is now poised to save lives.

In many parts of the world, people don’t have access to doctors or hospitals. Whatever rural health workers there may be, they don’t always have the training or technology to assist with major medical problems. A company called FrontlineSMS:Medic is enabling community healthcare workers to text messages to a hospital with their questions about health problems and get quick responses … without the hospital having to waste valuable time and resources sending doctors into the field when it’s not necessary.

Two weeks ago, FrontlineSMS:Medic won an award for the “best use of mobile technology for social good.” The award, given out by NetSquared, gives the project funding to continue to upgrade its software and expand the program. If you want to read more, check out the GOOD blog.

Technorati Tags: text messaging, U.S. News, World Report , VeriSign Messaging, Mobile Media, communication, Carolyn Maloney, public relations, business, Makovsky

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Steve Harris, former communications director of General Motors, was one of five featured panelists at the Council of PR Firms’ October 29 Critical Issues Forum program: “Aftershock: Rebuilding Trust and Confidence in 2010. “ Steve made some salient points about GM, both pre- and post-bankruptcy, which I’ve paraphrased below:

• The recent economic crisis was just the culmination of years and years of GM’s audiences’ diminished trust in the company, largely related to product quality issues. But other auto companies here were equally as guilty. The lack of company concern was obvious. So it will take time to regain that trust — perhaps years and years.

• Yet GM doesn’t have a lot of time to change attitudes, perhaps no more than a couple of years. The most effective way to change perceptions would be by building more compelling products. The CEO of GM also needs to embrace the social media, and that will help reach people more consistently and rapidly.

• GM must also play a bigger role in personal outreach to further build trust. The company needs live encounters, and they actually have begun to have some meetings with some of their adversaries — approximately 100 so far. You cannot rely on technology alone, as effective as it is. In fact, it is as labor intensive to use social media as it is to do personal outreach, particularly when it comes to prolonged conversation.

• GM has to find common ground between itself and its various constituencies. To do that the company is cultivating third parties to speak on its behalf and with various audiences. According to Harris, the company has already identified 15,000 people to do just that.

• The crisis has indeed raised PR’s influence in the company, but it has also raised the risk level; that is, the accountability of communications is now on a higher plain.

“Aftershock” moderator Len Schlesinger — President of Babson College, former COO of Limited Brands and a professor at Harvard Business School for 20 years — summed up the observations of the various panelists by describing the three levels of engagement their work encompassed: virtual (the internet), physical (in person) and mental (engagement with ideas).

It appears that GM is using all three and will continue to dialogue, listen and solicit feedback, thereby gradually resuming , we hope, its former esteemed position in the marketplace.

Monday, November 02, 2009


“Business is on probation; it is not off the hook,” said David Gergen, noted political commentator and Harvard professor. “The American psyche is very bruised…and if business takes us down again, there are people in Washington now who will really stick it to business.”

Gergen was the keynote speaker at the Critical Issues Forum program, “Aftershock: Rebuilding Trust & Confidence in 2010,” sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms on October 29th at the Yale Club. I have always admired Gergen and whether I agree with him or not, I find he usually has valid points to make. He did not disappoint.

“The first thing to do, “Gergen continued, “is to hold off the pitchforks, and thus it will take time before you can rebuild trust.” Gergen noted that literally a week or so before Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns collapsed, both issued statements saying, “We’re in great shape.” “We can’t have these kinds of untruths. We need transparency,” he insisted. He cited a leading public relations consultant who said that the problem was not bursting bubbles, but “sub-prime leadership.”

Recent business school graduates with whom Gergen has spoken feel that business needs to stand for more than making money for shareholders and that would require changing the culture. But leadership, he pointed out, is not a top-down activity, and cultures can be changed by managing up. Admittedly, people fall into their ways, and it can be challenging to get them to change. He cited both Ford and Nixon, both of whom he counseled, as examples of that.

Gergen professed concern with all the name calling and cynicism that pervades the social media and has now crept into the mainstream media. “This is degrading our political culture,” he said, “and I hope it changes. Things tend to move in cycles, but this trend makes it harder to have a conversation.“

(During an interview in September on “60 Minutes,” the President concurred with Gergen. When asked about the coarsening of public discourse, Obama said that one of the things he’s trying to figure out is “how can we make sure civility is interesting.”)

In the closing part of his address, Gergen stressed that quality leadership is the key to solving many problems for business and, indeed, for all organizations. “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality,” he said, quoting Max DePree. “The last is to say thank you.”

Technorati Tags: David Gergen , Critical Issues Forum, Council of Public Relations Firms, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, transparency, Max DePree, public relations, business, Makovsky