Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hello! It's Bad For Your Business!

Years ago, Hal Rosenbluth, the head of a leading travel agency, wrote a book titled: The Customer Comes Second. Shock effect? No, not at all, the author explained. The EMPLOYEE is always first. There are no customers without committed employees. Every business executive knows that that is a fundamental of employee relations.

Except, apparently, Fred Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets, who publically derided his three star players in a recent interview in The New Yorker; since then the comments have been picked up everywhere, including a column in The New York Times. David Wright, the star promoted as the face of the Mets, “is a good kid but not a superstar.” Carlos Beltran, according to Wilpon, “is 65-70% of what he once was.” Jose Reyes “is always out” (due to injuries) and “will not get Carl Crawford money at contract time.” (In December last year, Crawford of the Boston Red Sox signed a seven-year, $142 million contract).

There is no upside to this kind of public derision. It defies the #1 rule of employee communications: if you have something critical to say to your employee, say it in private. Not in front of other employees and certainly not in the press.

What are the consequences of publishing critical remarks in the press? It makes the criticized employees and all other employees feel insecure. Perhaps the boss feels similarly about others, another player might think. Who knows what is in his mind about me? It devalues and embarrasses the named players among their teammates. So it unravels the whole team. In the world of baseball — where your customers are the fans among whom player allegiances are strong — why would the president want to diminish confidence in his most magnetic employees … the individuals who attract the admissions that support the team?

It’s common sense for any business. But when your business is in financial crisis – as a result of the Madoff scandal and the $25 million loan from MLB – and you are striving to build morale among the team members (hoping upon hope that they become winners to expand ticket sales), these statements are sheer stupidity. And if you plan to sell any of these players to other teams, why would you want to devalue them? Very bad business! The late George Steinbrenner might have sounded off like this. But it was certainly out of character for the Mets leadership. And … it was out of sight!

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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Wisdom of Henry Kravis

 I had the good fortune last week to hear Henry Kravis describe, to Columbia University’s graduating class of MBAs, the principles he lives by.  The keynote speaker, alumnus and current co-chairman of Columbia Business School, Kravis is the renowned founder of KKR (Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company), the global private equity and alternative investment firm.

While you might consider some of his points obvious (because you have heard them before), what he said made an impression on me because it was Kravis saying it.  I agreed with his tips and was glad my son was among the graduates in the audience. 

1.    Be aware that something newer, better and cheaper is always around the corner.
2.    Work harder than everyone else.
3.    Arrogance kills.
4.    One who sits on one’s laurels has them in the wrong place.
5.    You are at your most vulnerable when you think you’ve got it made.
6.    Bad news and criticism deserve more attention than compliments.
7.    Life is not a football game where only one team can win.
8.    Bending the rules is not an option; being dishonest is not an option.
9.    It is not: “My service is better than his.”  It is: “We need to make our service the best.”
10.    Helping others and providing key resources for others is a key part of capitalism.

Kravis quoted the fox from the book, The Little Prince, to highlight a fundamental theme:  “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”  This is true in so many facets of business and particularly in our relationships.  As Kravis pointed out, giving is its own reward.  He added that graduates who have experienced a recession have a greater sense of what they have and fare better than those who have not gone through a serious downturn.

Kravis concluded with a beautiful quote penned by author and professor emeritus William Watson Purkey, which I had not heard before but shall always remember:

"You've gotta' dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt.
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth."

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Who Do Patients Trust Online?

A national consumer study we recently conducted found that news websites, particularly those run by health magazines and WebMD, remain the most trusted online healthcare resources, according to 68% of respondents. The survey revealed that user-generated contributions on Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are less frequently sought out by health-information-hungry consumers, cited by 54% of those surveyed.

The survey, conducted in March 2011 by Kelton Research, a leading national public opinion company, polled 1,111 nationally representative consumers aged 18 and older.

I’m really not surprised by the findings. User-generated contributions to sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor are doing quite well, but when it comes to health issues, credentials matter more. While patients create online communities to share their experiences, they're still returning to reputable news sites and professionals for facts and information they can trust.

Through this survey, we gained deeper insight into how patients engage online. The survey explored patients’ information-seeking behaviors on specific social media channels, identifying WebMD as the most popular for health searches, with almost half (48%) of Americans visiting the site. Among other findings:

  • Only 3% of consumers visit Twitter feeds for healthcare information.
  • Patient communities’ websites are visited by 7% of respondents.
  • Facebook sites rank as the fourth most-frequented resource; with 11% of Americans turning to the ubiquitous site for healthcare information.
    • Pharmaceutical company-sponsored Facebook pages rank as the least visited; with disease awareness pages and branded treatment pages each frequented by 6% of respondents.
    • More than a third of Americans (35%) visit government-sponsored sites first when accessing Facebook health resources.
    • 26% of respondents cite Facebook sites created by peers as the least trusted health resource. Six percent cite Facebook sites by patient groups or communities as least trusted.

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Monday, May 16, 2011


Madison, Wisconsin

One of the world’s leading public relations firms agreed to represent the world’s leading social network, Facebook, to surreptitiously criticize its competitor, Google, by convincing reporters to write negative stories about Google’s service, Social Circle. Ouch!

Specifically, according to various media articles published, Burson-Marsteller offered to ghostwrite pieces and submit them under the name of a graduate student at a cybersecurity research center, without revealing to the press that they were representing Facebook.

Well, shame on Burson and shame on Facebook. What Burson did was a clear violation of the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics – and its own. It is dishonest for a public relations firm not to publically reveal whom it is representing to the press or anyone else. Further, it is a violation of integrity to submit articles to the media without designating the source of the pieces. Even if a third party’s byline is used, it is critical to disclose the relationship with that third party … whether it’s a paid consultant to Facebook or a passionate, unpaid crusader fighting a perceived problem with Google’s privacy policy.

I know several members of the leadership of Burson-Marsteller and know they have high standards of ethical conduct; the organization is so large, however, I have to believe this happened somewhere within the firm where the leadership was unaware of the firm’s decision to take on this activity. While Burson publicly (i.e., in the media) admitted that what they did was a mistake (I have yet to see anything from Facebook), how could they not know that taking on this assignment — under the circumstances required) — was a mistake from the get-go?

As one of the two or three largest firms in the public relations industry, Burson’s behavior will inevitably be perceived by some as an indictment of our entire industry as manipulative, sneaky and dishonest – when in reality our business serves a critical communications function, conveying important information clearly, honestly and with transparency. We missed out this time on showing our finer side.

Hopefully, Burson will have a worldwide seminar covering its excellent code of ethics and demonstrating how they are now fully embraced by all its employees, at every level in the company — and invite everyone in the industry who cares to participate.

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Friday, May 13, 2011


Yet more proof that there’s no privacy on the internet. And loose lips can sink a reputation … and a career. Note these examples.

Andrew Marshall, a senior Reuters editor based in Singapore, was punished for a stupid remark he made in a company messaging/chat room. Apropos of the Fukushima disaster and rising radiation levels in Japan, he asked a bald colleague in Japan: “Is your hair starting to fall out?” His remark was overheard by 25 to 30 people in the Reuters messaging chat room that was created specifically for Reuters journalists involved in the Japan disaster story. He got a serious dressing down. According to The Baron, Marshall was told his comment was “both insensitive and inappropriate.” He responded: “I consider the penalty to be excessive and inappropriate.”

In a related story, Reuters fired a bureau chief named David Fox over a crude remark he made in an Internet chat room. As far as I can tell, no one knows what that remark was.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

When Media Comes A-Calling On Litigants: 10 Rules

When involved in a “media-magnetic” litigation, here are 10 rules you need follow:

1. Coordinate all verbal and written media communications with legal strategy.

2. Be consistent. Establish clear, credible positions on every key issue and communicate them consistently in every geographic area. Commit these positions to writing.

3. Centralize. Designate one point person (and a surrogate) to receive all media calls, and publish a policy communicating media centralization to others in the company.

4. Consider. After hearing a media question, the point person does not have to answer on the spot. Advise the reporter of your desire to think about the response and agree to call back at a designated time.

5. Explain. If your response is “no comment,”make sure you explain why (e.g. legal restriction, investigation going on, no relevance to the case).” Without an explanation “no comment” is interpreted as an attempt to hide.

6. Debunk. Debunk rumors and employ facts where possible (e.g. “we know that information is incorrect because…”)

7. Select your communication channels carefully to make sure they reach the audiences targeted.

8. Support. Periodically examine the need for distinguished third-party support for the company’s position on key issues, which adds credibility to your point of view.

9. Be truthful. Tell the truth. Be direct. Do not be vague or obfuscate.

10. Rehearse. Anticipate the questions reporters might ask and rehearse your answers in the same way a lawyer rehearses witnesses.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Kids Are Losing Interest in Baseball: What to Do About It?

I grew up on baseball and still love it. But my younger son, who was a star athlete in high school and played varsity football for four years at Penn, finds it “boring.” I can’t relate to that. For me, the intervals of inaction create anticipation and suspense.

But he has a contrary view: “You stand around in the outfield waiting for a ball to come your way. The time between batters is forever. The balks. The pitcher’s windup. The whole game is just slow. I like action — and that’s why football is growing and baseball is declining. All the stats confirm it.”

I’ve listened to his point of view for years. I even understand it. But now comes an alarming survey from the National Sporting Goods Association, which says that, from 2000 to 2009, the number of kids aged 7 to 17 playing baseball has fallen 24 percent and, since 1996, participation in Little League has plummeted 25 percent. (I noted the survey in a Wall Street Journal article, “Has Baseball’s Moment Passed?” on March 31, 2011.)On the other hand, the article says, youth tackle football participation has grown 21 percent and hockey 38 percent during the same nine year period, and both soccer and lacrosse are now more popular than baseball.

Obviously, this is going to hurt baseball’s talent selection. So what should Major League Baseball do about it? In my opinion, MLB needs to conduct a public relations education campaign to regain mindshare and revive enthusiasm among youngsters for the game. As an armchair counselor to MLB, here are some thoughts:

• Possibly Game-Changing Research: MLB needs to set up a task force to survey youth on the aspects of the game that they don’t like, the changes that should be made to make the game more appealing and why kids are more attracted to other sports. There may be some great ideas among this constituency! Other research initiatives that could — and should — be undertaken by the MLB: best practices in other competitive sports (i.e., techniques that proponents of football, soccer and lacrosse are using to attract the best athletes) and a survey of Little League and high school coaches — as well as parents — on their perspectives. The more we ask, the better the chance we will find the jewels we are seeking. When the surveys are completed, it will be the task force who leads the changes.

• MLB Needs to Market Harder to Kids: If we are going to increase activity at the Little League level, MLB has to start a movement to woo kids back. The messages have to be right … and they have to sizzle. Then, once the research is completed, a message summit should be called and attended by representatives of each team, where a unified message program should be developed that all are comfortable implementing. Baseball’s attributes must match the values that the kids hold dear.

• Choose Communications Channels Carefully: Do a careful study of the channels most used by kids age 7 to 17. Social media is a given. But which social media are right and which are wrong? Everything from communities, contests, sponsorships, posters and online ads to mobile media, daily newspapers, and third party spokespersons – particularly a “rock star” who is truly cool — should be employed to deliver the message. Events are also critical. Multiple programs should be offered to kids — for example, “Kids Day,” a special opportunity three times each summer for kids to go onto the field and interact with players, to get their autographs and a souvenir ball.

Once the campaign is underway, MLB should carefully monitor the statistics to confirm that they are achieving the results they want. If the young player participation numbers are not going up after a year, it’s back to the drawing board to refine our game plan.

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Monday, May 02, 2011

The New E-Marketing Frontier

Today’s guest blogger is Robbin Goodman, Executive Vice President and Partner, Makovsky + Company.

Morgan Spurlock, with his new film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, takes product placement to a new level giving POM Wonderful, a popular pomegranate drink, title sponsorship and even inspiring Altoona, PA to change its name for 60 days to make some money off the film’s premiere.

Spurlock’s sarcasm aside, product placement has thrived simply because it works. A survey of views of a recent Hollywood movie that featured branded products found 60% of viewers responded positively to the marketing technique, while 58% felt that the appearance of a certain product onscreen makes it more desirable.

Recognizing an opportunity, the e-book industry seems to be following suit with the upcoming publication of "Harry Hits the Road: Adventures in Love, Labor, and Modern Manhood," by Harry Hurt III. According to a Wall Street Journal account, Mr. Hurt orchestrated a variety of commercial arrangements to finance and market his book, such as getting Coleman to provide a sleeping bag, tent and nonelectric coffeemaker, as well as $2,500 in exchange for display ads and inclusion in the text of the book. The new book is filled with such sponsors.

With the growth of digital book sales taking off, particularly in the U.S., more than doubling to 7% of book sales in 2010 and projected to grow share to 22% by 2015 by PWC, such arrangements could be the next mobile marketing frontier. In fact, the publication of this book coincides with a new release of the Kindle “with Special Offers,” which is less expensive than the regular Kindle but displays ads and sponsored screen savers. (Disclosure: I got a “regular” Kindle for my birthday and I love it.)

But Nicholas Carr, whose recent Pulitzer-nominated book “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” documents how the Internet age is changing our ability to process and remember the information we read, will likely not be a fan. I personally believe that putting display ads and links in e-books will be disruptive to the book-reading experience, even though it may be a boon to the publishing industry and the companies who buy the space.

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