Thursday, July 29, 2010

Who Do You Write Like?

There’s a website called “I Write Like” that claims to analyze your writing style and word choices and then tell you what famous writer your style most resembles.

So I submitted the text of my recent blog on Steve Jobs—“Jobs’ Response: Almost Perfect” —from My Three Cents, and I learned that I write like … immortal Irish writer James Joyce, author of Ulysses, Finnegans Wake and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, among other great books!

I had two conflicting reactions. First, this was pretty amazing news to someone who really struggled with composition in high school. (I even had tutors help teach me how to refine my writing skills.) If I can do it, I thought, anyone can.

My next reaction was: I should be flattered, but I’m not. I’ve never been a James Joyce fan – and I don’t think my writing is anything like Joyce’s. So the site’s analytical tools may have a few bugs! Further, in the interest of full disclosure, other samples of my writing were compared to the work of Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow and The DaVinci Code’s Dan Brown. That made me feel a bit better, but then I could never write a novel – be it like Brown or anyone else’s.

So do you still want to try this site with your own writing? See what you think. Maybe it will boost your ego, too. (For best results, you’re supposed to submit at least a couple of paragraphs.)

Technorati Tags: I Write Like, Steve Jobs, James+Joyce, Dan Brown, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Monday, July 26, 2010

Are More Medical Services Coming?

Recently I read The Healing of America by T.R. Reid, a Washington Post journalist whose book provides an in-depth review of the healthcare systems of various countries—information gleaned through his having lived in each country for a while, experiencing the system overall and actually staying in its hospitals (to get his bum shoulder fixed). While the book was written before the Obama health care bill passed, it is still an excellent read and one that will influence your thinking about our own health system.

What brought it to mind at this moment is the story the author tells of the institution of a new national healthcare system in Taiwan, which enfranchised 11 million newly insured members of the population. Suddenly, he reports, new doctors and health services were cropping up all over the country to meet the demand and accommodate these newly eligible members of the population.

As the Obama bill extends healthcare coverage to 32 million newly insured members of the population, why are we not reading about plans to increase the number of physicians and medical services to accommodate those folks who had not formerly been patronizing doctors, clinics and other healthcare providers? If the service providers do not increase, then the whole bill will be regarded as a sham. Where is the action plan? What are the solutions? While I have read an article or two about the problem, the overall communications effort has been paltry. Can we turn up the volume?

Technorati Tags: health care reform, The Healing of America, T.R. Reid, Washington Post, Obama health care bill,
communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trust Your Instinct … but Not Exclusively

I’ve always believed that, as a professional communicator, you have to trust your instinct. But if you rely on instinct alone, you’re bound to get into trouble from time to time.

For example, instinct would tell you that older Americans have a lot to worry about, right? Financial pressures. The fate of Medicare. Their children’s futures. Aches and pains. Wrinkles.

My instinct would tell me that growing older increases stress levels and possibly decreases happiness. Not so, according to a Gallup survey cited in The New York Times. A recent study based on the survey found that “by almost any measure, people get happier as they get older.”

From age 18 to age 50, people generally feel increasingly unhappy as they grow older … until they hit 50. At that point, there’s a sharp uptick, and they become happier as they age. In fact, they are actually even happier at the age of 85 than when they were 18. No one knows why.

These findings challenge conventional wisdom and defy instinct — teaching us that the safest course of action is to trust your instinct, but not exclusively. Always balance instinct with analysis.

Technorati Tags: trust your instincts, Medicare, communications, Gallup survey, New York Times, happiness, Makovsky

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jobs’ Response: Almost Perfect

Kudos to Steve Jobs on most of his press conference in response to the antennae problem that impaired signal strength and sometimes caused dropped calls. He did right by his customers in offering free bumpers and even total refunds on the phone if they were still not satisfied. His apology was appropriate, as was his comment, “We are human, and we make mistakes sometimes.”

Where Jobs went wrong, in my professional opinion, was attacking the competition, saying that “every” smartphone suffers from similar problems (regardless of the fact that he was able to show videos of other such phones as evidence). Whether his claim was valid or not, this strategy immediately put him on the defensive. The question was not about the competition, and therefore he needed to keep the focus where it belonged: on the iPhone 4. Even if there had been the time and research to make a comprehensive case for the lapses of his competition, who would benefit? Certainly not Apple! By going down the competitive road, he weakened his offense — two wrongs never make a right.

The reality is that Apple will get over this small hurdle, even though Consumer Reports, according to The New York Times, is taking a cautious approach and is holding back its “recommended” status to see “what else Apple will come up with.” The fact that Jobs came out and addressed the problem openly before the media, albeit perhaps a little later than he should have, still wins Apple major points from customers. That is most likely what will be remembered, rather than the insertion of an unwarranted, ineffective defensive tactic.

Technorati Tags: Steve Jobs, Apple, smartphone, iPhone 4, Consumer Reports, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Do You Remember From What You Heard?

For the past few days, Makovsky’s Director of Training and I have been involved in training the senior management of a multi-billion dollar public company — the CEO, COO, CFO and a few others — in media and presentation skills.

Why? To ensure they are communicating optimally to investors, media, customers, government officials and other influencers who will determine the company’s valuation and success.

Today, every consumer has access to every investor message and vice-versa, making “shop-talk” obsolete. In this transparent world, audiences are looking closely not only at what management does — but also at what they say, how they look and what they sound like.

So clarity in communications is fundamental. But even then, once the “speech” is over, does the audience remember what management said? According to our Director of Training (and independent research), not for long:

Time After Talk

Percent Forgotten

1 hour


1 day


1 week


Yes, just a week later, people can recall only 10% of a presentation. But if we penetrate that figure more deeply, the 10% breaks down, surprisingly, this way:

55% of the 10% is physical appearance

35% of the 10% is voice quality

10% of the 10% is content

Thus, if recall is only minimally related to what management said, why bother to get your content and style right in the first place? Because the judgment audiences make about management on the spot – when recall is optimum – will influence the quality of future perceptions a week, a year or even many years later.

Technorati Tags: media presentation skills, shop-talk, speech, perception, content and style

Monday, July 12, 2010

Don’t Shut Down the Libraries!

I just read a disturbing Fox Chicago News piece which advocates the shutting down of public libraries as a useful budgetary tool … because “that’s money that could go elsewhere — like for schools, the CTA, police or pensions.”

I know that libraries are an expensive proposition — as much as $120 million in Chicago alone, according to Fox — but consider the costs associated with shutting them down! For some children, their local public library may be the only place where they can use computers, borrow CDs and videos, read an enormous variety of books (not all of which are about teenage vampires) and enjoy a quiet, safe interlude among other bookish kids … especially in these difficult economic times.

The late, great Malcolm Forbes once said, “The richest person in the world — in fact all the riches in the world — couldn't provide you with anything like the endless, incredible loot available at your local library.”

I couldn’t agree more. Spare us false economies! I feel strongly that libraries should remain beacons of learning for American children and their families.

Technorati Tags: Fox Chicago News , public libraries, Malcolm Forbes, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, July 08, 2010

What If the Declaration of Independence Were Written Today?

The Declaration of Independence was a brilliant, compelling and very, very important piece of marketing communications, a point that is critical to make even AFTER the July 4th-5th holiday (when I did not post). The Declaration was designed to connect with, inspire and mobilize all of the fledgling nation’s constituencies (including opinion leaders; public officials; the American citizenry; the British monarchy; France, Spain and other foreign states.) It built credibility for an upstart new country, and it remains the defining document for political discourse to this very day.

In total it is about 1,300 words and 8,000 characters. But communications have changed radically since it was adopted in 1776. What if it were written today? In search of an answer, the folks at Slate — a daily magazine on the Web — ran a Twitter contest that challenged its readers to condense the whole of the Declaration of Independence to just one tweet (#TinyDeclaration). Here are some examples:

• We protested taxation without representation; we have been patient; we appealed for justice; now we declare ourselves free.
• All peeps are equal. Sick and tired of your tyrannical BS. Seeking independence. Your permission requested, not required.
• Dear George, it's not you. It's U.S.
• And, the winner: Bye George, we've got it.

As clever as these Tweets may be, I think you’ll agree that none surpasses the original!

Technorati Tags: The Declaration of Independence, Slate, Twitter, leadership, communications, public relations, Makovsky

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Employees are Message-Carriers

All employees are message-carriers about the organizations that employ them. What speaks loudest on first meeting? Appearance. Sophistication. Intellectual depth. Charm. Confidence. Poise. And, perhaps, even a sense of humor. But then, there are second and third meetings, as well. If an organization is to be successful, its “people message,” I believe, is very important.

To get the people that convey the message you want, you first have to decide what that message is … and the human qualities that reflect it. For example, our message centers on our special expertise in health, technology, financial services and energy. Thus, we want people who reflect sector depth. We’re also client-driven, so engagement, responsiveness and energy are important.

To find the right people, you need to recruit the right people and ask them the right questions to find out if they meet the criteria you have established. One of our most effective screening techniques is based on “The Corner Office” columns in the Sunday New York Times Business Section, where CEOs are interviewed weekly.

Here are some of the more thoughtful questions that leading CEOs employ to discover the skills, emotional balance, behaviors, and overall character of prospective employees.

• Just tell me about your life. Start wherever you want to, from the beginning or the end, but talk to me about yourself, what you’ve done personally … and what you’ve done with your career.
• If I were going to hang out with you, what would we do together? What would you show me? What would you want to share?
• What are you best at and what are you worst at?
• How can you make a difference?
• How have you dealt in the past with major issues, like reduction in force, and major changes in the business environment?
• Wherever you worked before, what made it a good day?
• If you have to name something, what would you say is the biggest misconception that people have of you?
• What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?
• Tell me about a time when you were in a leadership situation where something simply would not have happened had you not been there — and what did you do to influence the action?

Technorati Tags: New York Times, The Corner Office, business, leadership, communications, public relations, Makovsky