Thursday, June 30, 2011

Password Problems?

What with all the recent media stories about LulzSec and other hackers breaching major corporate websites — and the subsequent theft of user email addresses and passwords — you should know about the website, “Should I Change My Password?"

This searchable database enables the average person to check if his/her passwords may have been compromised in one of the recent hack attacks … and thus need to be changed.

You search it using only your email address. No passwords are stored in the database. I tried it. It’s cool!

Via Neatorama.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 27, 2011

What's On Top And Why?

Americans continue to express greater confidence in the military than in 15 other national institutions, according to a just released Gallup Survey. Seventy-eight percent say they have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military — 11 points higher than its historical average. Coming in second and third were small business and the police. Congress ranks last.

Gallup’s survey does not interpret why the public responded as they did, so I will take a little poetic license and offer some of my insights. It seems logical to me that during military engagement, confidence in our military would top other institutions. The military evokes images of defense of democracy, courage, valor, risk, victory and action — all the virtues we stand for and support.

The #1 ranking is clear during war time, but what about non-war periods? Our military still appears to be at the top of the heap … most of the time. It was ranked number one by the American public from 1989 to 1996, with an 85 percent rating just after the end of the first Persian Gulf war. In 1997, when small business was added as a choice in the survey, it edged out the military by 63 percent to 60 percent. And the church or organized religion ranked #1 from 1973 through 1985 on the heels of the very unpopular Vietnam War, with the military surpassing the church for the first time in`86. Today the church ranks #4 in terms of public confidence.

The church stands for morality, God, and loving and doing right by one`s fellow man, also values that are among this nation`s pillars. Conceivably, the church’s drop in the rankings coincided with the revelations of sexual abuse by priests and attempts to cover-up the subsequent scandal.

Small business means entrepreneurialism, personal service, climbing the ladder of success, support for the little guy and the dark horse — fundamental American values that we champion. Small business remains up there in the rankings, compared to big business, which, unfortunately for all its merits, is near the bottom and no doubt reflects widespread perceptions of greed and callousness towards the little guy.

The military has ranked #1 since 1998. Clearly, the public regards defense as a critical priority. With terrorist threats ever present in the news, the fact that the police are ranked #3 also stands to reason. Congress’s position at the bottom is easily explained by the fact that our political parties are at loggerheads and slow to pass legislation. (There are probably a slew of other reasons, as well.)

Other notes of interest: there was a significant uptick in Americans` confidence in television news, from 22 percent to 27 percent (Is "truthiness" on the internet finally getting to us?) There was also a slight but not meaningful increase in confidence in newspapers, from 25 to 28 percent.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The 7th Habit

I was most taken by the 7th habit. It was about principles of balanced self-renewal. I felt that the other six habits really could not be effectively carried out with consistency if the 7th was not mastered.

Makovsky's Leadership Management Committee was in the throes of discussing The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the classic by Stephen Covey, when I realized this.

Why do I feel so strongly about the 7th habit?

Because I believe that self-nourishment -- keeping your mental, physical, spiritual and emotional requirements fulfilled -- enables you to be happier and more content. Then you can be more enthusiastically proactive, more clearly determine what the right things are to put first and more successfully negotiate a win-win position, for example, because your body and your mind are alert and in sync. Thus, you can be more effective at your job.

The physical component means paying attention every week to the exercise and nutrition that contribute to good health. The result if you do this? High levels of energy -- the get-up-and-go that one needs to be successful. Nourishing the mind through reading, writing and other mental stimulation keeps one mentally fit. The emotional element engages your empathy, so that doing charitable work and helping others brings self-satisfaction which often provides a warm glow. The spiritual dimension is your commitment to a value system -- meaning you have one -- which is an important pillar in your life.

Those are my reflections on the 7th habit, as Covey describes it. All of the attributes described in it, if sustained, provide the elixir of life. Apply the attributes consistently and I know you will get the results I describe.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Slow Death of Cursive Writing

Sad news! One unexpected off-shoot of the internet revolution has been the slow death of cursive writing. And one unanticipated consequence, according to The New York Times, is that the non-cursive generations coming after us old-timers will be unable to read important historical documents … including, for example, the Declaration of Independence!

In the article, a third grade teacher is reported saying: "The majority of students cannot write in cursive, nor can they read it. At the same time, their printing skills are awful. Not only is it difficult for me to read, they themselves often cannot read back their own notes." The article also reports that teachers are spending less time teaching cursive writing.

For the record, others disagree, including Jen Doll at the Village Voice, who asserts that “cursive sucks! And, in our modern day keyboard- and smartphone-focused lifestyles, we simply don't need it."

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Beating a Stigma

I will never forget this sight: a forlorn professional man, out of work and looking a bit desperate, telling his story. He was not a close friend; his wife knew mine. He explained to me that he had worked for Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi scheme artist who scammed investors out of an estimated $65 billion and now was in jail. But this well-groomed professional had worked on the legitimate side of Madoff’s securities business, in a senior capacity. The whole business got tarred; most people did not know there was a legitimate side. The Madoff stigma was haunting him with every potential employer he met. Naturally, they distrusted him. At best, all he could get was temporary work. What did I think he ought to do? he asked.

My answer was swift. He said that there were approximately 30 employees who worked on the legitimate side of the business – all branded by the scandal as they met with potential employers. So I reminded him that, as we all know, there is strength in numbers. Why not gather all of these employees, all unfairly tainted, and approach The New York Times, which might seriously consider doing a story on this unique group, focusing on their travails, their hopes and personal experiences? Such a story might clear the air – and help all concerned achieve gainful employment. Moreover, a reprint of the story could be appended to every resume distributed. This is indeed a case where a powerful publication could have a meaningful impact on the lives of many.

That happened a year ago. I never saw the story. A couple of weeks ago, I received what appeared to be a mass email from that same individual. He said he was out of work — but never said why and, in fact, never acknowledged any link with Madoff. He may have thought it would further stigmatize him. Maybe it was a cry for help … or he was just in denial. But, by raising more questions than it answered, his email definitely did him a disservice. It was just not enough, I felt. Even now, it is not too late to take the action I suggested.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 13, 2011

Weiner: Backed Into A Corner

There was a time when Anthony Weiner -- the New York Congressman who sent sexually explicit photos of himself to women over the internet -- might have avoided forced resignation. It was about two weeks ago, when he was first charged. But instead of admitting the offense, he vacillated and vacillated and vacillated. He wasn’t sure whose picture that was, he said. His Twitter account might have been hacked. At that point Weiner violated Crisis Communications Rule #1: Tell the truth. And the two-week delay in finally telling the truth was a violation of Rule #2: Tell it fast.

The American public can usually tolerate an immediate admission along with an apology; but they often reject liars and those who do not ′fess up. Weiner’s decision to go for therapy is a good one, but it would have held greater weight two weeks ago. Now Weiner comes across as someone who has finally acknowledged that he may have a problem that needs treatment. On Sunday, June 12, it was revealed that additional suggestive photos were taken by Mr Weiner with his own Blackberry in the locker room of the congressional gym. They appear on the TMZ website. And the beat goes on.

As an elected official, all of this reflects on his character and judgment. Delays, obfuscating and lying earned Bill Clinton an impeachment and cost Tiger Woods huge advertising contracts and public esteem. It will end Weiner’s days in Congress and dash his hopes for being Mayor of NYC. Can he rebuild his reputation? Yes, for the most part, with the right deeds and actions over a period of years. Will he ever totally regain the public trust? Who knows? Bill Clinton is a beloved figure today. That said, Mr. Weiner’s photos will live on forever, on the internet.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Global Banking Gap

Annika Falkengren, the president of SEB — at over 150 years, the oldest privately held bank in Sweden — spoke recently at a Swedish American Chamber of Commerce luncheon, on the new financial landscape for banking in a globalized world.

What struck me about this talk, in comparison to others I have heard, is Falkengren’s emphasis on the customer. Describing SEB as “the relationship bank of the Nordics,” she noted: “To me a successful bank in the new financial landscape stays close to the customer, listens, adjusts to customer needs and continues to build long-term relationships. It is about being there for customers in good times and bad; that is what a trusted partner does." That is public relations wisdom, if I ever heard it.

She noted that there were two sides to running a trustworthy bank: 1) the "hard factors," including strong corporate governance, accurate risk management and transparency in everything from customer information to how we operate our business and 2) the “soft factors” which are more important than ever: a long-term view in everything we do -- that can last over business cycles — a holistic perspective on relationships and customer needs and a commitment to provide the right competence and mindset to deliver the very best service experience.

She cites the new landscape as post-subprime and post-Lehman and sees three characteristics in this emerging period: 1) the "the never again mantra" which creates a commitment from the world's leaders "to create a reregulation of the markets“ to avoid another financial crisis; 2) to make this happen, the cost of doing business will increase to expand compliance, risk control and the auditing functions; and 3) markets will continue to globalize, making a level playing field for banks and financial institutions more critical.

SEB, admittedly, is well-capitalized and a stable bank -- and a vigorous supporter and investor in the three characteristics noted above. And there are others with fine records, too.

But overall, I wonder if global banking regulation will ever materialize? The global regulatory framework, Basel III, is at work -- but is it a work in progress? Capital and liquidity ratios must grow. Further, who will be responsible for the worldwide monitoring of banks' investment in compliance, risk management and auditing?

"To achieve and support stable and effective globalization, there must be a level playing field," the SEB president said. "Sometimes the wish for a level playing field seems like the quest for the Holy Grail," she concedes.

But trustworthy relationships are all about opportunity, safety and "leveling." It is hard to have all of them without a globally managed, systemic, integrated approach -- as we are global whether we like it or not. And the longer we delay in adopting the rules required for banking globalization, the greater the risk we have of puncturing the trusting relationship with the customer.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Monday, June 06, 2011

We Are Message Warriors

The communications business is all about carrying a client’s message and delivering it with impact to customers and other important constituencies — as well as those who influence the targets. But the aim is not only to communicate; it is to persuade the target to really hear the message and accept it as valid.

In today’s information- and channel-cluttered environment, being a traditional messenger is simply not enough. People are being showered with information, and often don’t know where to turn first. Someone or something has to truly flag them to catch their attention.

Message Warriors inspire the audience to take an action. How? By vigorously and aggressively pursuing every opportunity and every channel to deliver clients’ messages. Message Warriors are always vigorous in their defense of their clients’ reputation and will go on the offensive to correct inaccuracies. They are indeed the foot soldiers in the clients’ message “wars.”

The Message Warrior will undertake an intricate analysis of the audiences, so that every core and tributary group that might be reached and influenced is considered. No professional, demographic or psychographic sliver will be passed up. A similar approach will be taken with all the channels that reach these interest groups: social or traditional media or in-person approaches, such as speeches, panels, meetings, events, one-on-one conferences, etc. Further, the self-interest of every audience segment will be examined in order to drum up interest. Key opinion leaders will be vetted to see who might influence the influencers. Message Warriors will consider all topical angles working in the client’s favor by attracting the target. They will explore tactics like surveys that provide relevant intellectual capital, education programs in schools that catch the attention of parents, contests that are showstoppers and various other tools.

Given that we are in a constant battle for share of mind and share of voice, having a Message Warrior working on your behalf—a communications firm that will fight and win the uphill battle—is essential for success. This, indeed, is Makovsky.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Do You Trust The Post Office?

Public relations is all about credibility and transparency. I have said it in my blogs a hundred times. So why would the U.S. Post Office create a stamp with a photo of the Statue of Liberty that is really not the Statue of Liberty?

And the icing on the cake? No announcement by the federal government of what happened. No admission that the photo was a fake…until, a philatelic magazine, exposed it and made the issue public, according to The New York Times. Once it found out, did the U.S. Post Office opt to change the fake Lady Liberty for the real one? Not on a bet.

“We still love the stamp design and would have selected the photograph anyway,” Roy Betts, a post office spokesperson told the Times. He advised that the post office regrets the error and is “reexamining our processes to prevent the situation from happening again.”

So where does the image on the stamp hail from? The New York-New York Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas which has a model of the famous statue that is half the size of the real one positioned in its fake New York Harbor. In effect, our government is championing fakery and honoring Las Vegas instead of the New York symbol that has served as a beacon of freedom for many as they enter the United States.

The newspaper asked former mayor Ed Koch for his interpretation of the Post Office’s behavior: “It simply means the post office is doing a stupid thing.”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s a dumb move for an American institution facing fierce competition from email…and insolvency.

Labels: , , , ,