Thursday, September 29, 2011

Brand Über Alles*

Integrated marketing? Says who?

The history of marketing is the history of silos. What do I mean by that? Every marketing segment has its own silo within the corporate structure of many of the largest companies. Don't discuss a direct marketing problem with  public relations, because they live in two different worlds... even though we may be addressing the same product campaign!

I've noticed lately that, in some companies, social media has been separated from public relations (aren't we all in the same conversation?) and advertising is certainly separate. To me, this is craziness, in light of the internet bringing everything together. Currently, the chief marketing officer in some is a unifying solution, but the position is not universal.

The unity issue was summed up in a session sarcastically titled: "Who Invited Marketing to the Communications Party?" Presented earlier this month at a meeting of the Arthur W. Page Society (a professional association for senior public relations and corporate communications executives), it undesrscored the importance of all marketing elements working together.

On the panel was Shelly Lazarus, the legendary Chairman of Ogilvy, who said "It's all about the brand - everything you do is about enhancing the brand or diminishing it. It is about integration. The CEO owns the brand, which is then implemented by thousands of people around the world. Let's eliminate the silos!"

Following the talk, I spoke with Ms. Lazarus about how to move corporate thinking away from silos to set up well integrated departments. She responded, "If there is a CEO with even limited marketing experience, I have often been able to advise him or her of the wisdom of unifying the marketing elements under one umbrella, consistent with the 'one brand' philosophy. And several have done it. So if you want this to happen, seek out the CEO." 

To get there, she advised, old prejudices have to be dropped. People have to be educated. We need to change such adages as - advertising doesn't understand publicity - and vice versa. Or investor relations and government affairs are outliers, so they shouldn't be part of it. "We are all in it for the benefit of the brand. We need to understand each other." 

The internet has brought integration. Recognize it. Those who don't will most likely not survive.

*Brand above everything else.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

The Change Factor: A Sex Strike

Public relations thrives on change.  It focuses on communicating a client’s point of view, thereby creating a better understanding of the client or changing the targets’ behavior.  But communications, alone, is often not enough.  Many times an action is required to achieve the desired result.

For that reason, the story of what women in a violence-plagued area of the Philippines did to bring peace and restore commerce to their village is such a great one to illustrate the effectiveness of public relations.

According to CNN, many of the women in a sewing cooperative on the Filipino Island of Mindanao were fed up with not being able to deliver their products because of the violence that had closed down a main road between two villages.  Obviously, they had unsuccessfully tried to convince their husbands to stop the fighting, which had gone on for many years.  Finally, they came up with a new solution:  withholding sex until the violence stopped.  It worked.  Within weeks, CNN reports, the fighting was over and the road re-opened.  The newly opened thoroughfare enabled the women to deliver their goods and start to rebuild the economy.

The CNN story also notes that the idea of withholding sex is not a new one — the ancient Greek play, Lysistrata, tells the story of women who organized a sex strike to end a war between Athens and Sparta.  While public relations is often considered a post-World War II profession, it has its roots in Ancient Greece!

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Have We Forgotten the Importance of Mentors?

In a world of 140-character communications, where relationships have been redefined as “followers,” face-to-face communications are at a premium.  That is why Makovsky focuses on mentoring, an important in-person communication that fosters growth.  Relationship building is critical here and a core service we provide for clients.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a mentor is a trusted counselor or guide – someone who tutors or coaches someone.  But a recent discussion at Makovsky’s Leadership Management Committee, composed of vice presidents and up, revealed that a mentor is seen as much more. The mentor-mentee relationship develops, some felt, because the mentor has a unique chemistry with the mentee, believes deeply in his/her talent and potential to rise to high levels and conveys those feelings to the mentee.   The mentor establishes a vision for the mentee.

Are teaching and managing the same as mentoring?  Should everyone have a mentor?  One opinion was that everyone needs and deserves to be taught and managed, but the mentor-mentee relationship develops naturally.  Another felt that a mentor-mentee relationship can develop through effective teaching by managers who see positive development in those being managed.  One small win after another builds and enhances that relationship.

A good mentor works closely to develop the mentee and creates an environment where the mentee feels free to ask any question or express any concern. The mutual appreciation breeds loyalty on the part of both parties, fosters organizational growth and enhances employee retention. 

I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have had the support and attention of some very talented mentors, including the late Phil Dorf and Kalman Druck, two of the great leaders of our industry.  I want everyone in our organization  to have the same good fortune!

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Workforce Economics: Problems and Solutions

Jonas Prising 
Manpower Americas
At a recent Swedish American Chamber of Commerce luncheon in New York, Jonas Prising, President of Manpower Americas — a world leader in employment services, with 4,000 offices in 82 countries — addressed the workforce challenges facing the U.S., in particular, and some other parts of the world in today’s fragile economy.

I found his observations insightful, regardless of what industry you are in; and I believe that all of them need to be communicated to business and government leadership, as only a working partnership between the two will resolve these issues.

According to Mr. Prising, the forces that are driving the world of work right now include:

TALENT AND SKILLS MISMATCH — There is a disconnect between the talent and skills business is demanding and what is available in the labor pool.

DECLINING POPULATION — Many countries are experiencing declining populations, and plans need to be put in place to make sure there are replacements for an aging workforce.

THE EDUCATION FACTOR — Too many young people are taking college courses that do not translate to employment.  To add another point to Mr. Prising’s, inadequate education rears its head in another way:  only 70 percent of students nationally graduate high school on time and 1.2 million drop out annually, according to a 2008 Associated Press story.

UNEMPLOYMENT INCREASES AS POVERTY RISES — The greater the number of people living in poverty, the greater the unemployment.  (No doubt, the reverse is true as well.)  In support of Mr. Prising’s point, I cite the report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 13, 2011 which found that our nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, or 46.2 million living in poverty, up from 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million, in 2009.  Of course, we are all familiar with the unemployment figures.  But Prising notes he does not believe the U.S. will ever return to 5 percent unemployment.

Despite the great economies in the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, they have many of the same problems we do, Prising said.  But he noted that China deals with its talent/skill mismatch problem by simply decreeing which subjects it wants taught to resolve that problem.  He also added that Chinese workers generally get a 25 percent wage increase every time they switch jobs, if they have the right skills.

As many others have, he cited our outsourcing manufacturing and call centers to other countries as a primary reason for the employment issue here and feels it is important to move those jobs back.  Among the solutions, he stressed that the U.S. needs to increase the number of people with skills in science, technology, engineering and math, invest more in R&D, and solve the skills/needs alignment issue.

There is cause for optimism that all of this can be resolved if business and government leadership communicate and collaborate to make change happen.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

How Great Entrepreneurs Think

In the world of business, there are great entrepreneurs and great corporate executives.  What distinguishes one from the other?

Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, tested some of the best minds in American business and found that entrepreneurs and corporate execs have different ways of thinking.

Sarasvathy met personally with all of her subjects, presenting each with a case study about a hypothetical start-up and 10 decisions that the founder of such a company would have to make in building the venture. Then she switched on a tape recorder and let the entrepreneur talk through the problems for two hours.  According to an article in Inc. magazine earlier this year, Sarasvathy concluded that:

Master entrepreneurs rely on what she calls effectual reasoning.  Brilliant improvisers, the entrepreneurs don’t start out with concrete goals.  Instead, they constantly assess how to use their personal strengths and whatever resources they have at hand to develop goals on the fly, while creatively reacting to contingencies.

By contrast, corporate executives use causal reasoning. They set a goal and diligently seek the best ways to achieve it. Early indications suggest the rookie company founders are spread all across the effectual-to-causal scale. But those who grew up around family businesses will more likely swing effectual, while those with M.B.A.’s display a causal bent. Not surprisingly, angels and seasoned VCs think much more like expert entrepreneurs than do novice investors.

It’s an interesting theory…but I’m not sure I’m totally convinced.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

9-11: Crisis Communication at Makovsky

The first plane struck.  One of my colleagues was alerted to it via cell phone by his secretary.  We turned the TV on and then off — assuming it was an unbelievable accident.  Our meeting resumed.  Twenty minutes later the phone rang again. We switched on the TV again, but this time the large conference room — filled with several industry leaders on the Council of PR Firms' Management Committee, which I led — decided to disband.
What was going on? Our initial feeling that this was a bizarre accident suddenly changed after the second tower was hit.  Were we at war?   That thought seemed too far-fetched.  As the committee filed out, the office manager walked in.  “People in the firm are concerned,” she said, “about what to do and where to go.”  I had no immediate answer.  As head of the firm, I knew I had to communicate to our nearly 70-person team.  But the thoughts and words were not coming.  And I was on edge, if only because I didn't know what to do.
Thinking fast, I suggested that one of our team go down to the police station around the corner. Perhaps the police could provide some recommended actions.   Until I got that information, I asked my assistant to gather our leadership for a meeting in my office.  While that message was getting out, I walked from office to office reassuring employees that we were trying to come up with solutions — and would have a firm-wide meeting in the large conference room shortly.
The police advised that everyone stay in their offices … and stay off the streets. There was trepidation among the troops — was the office really the best place to be?  Employees wanted to go home, but we were not sure if subways were running, plus there could be a danger in going out, as the police had told us. Our leadership suggested we bring food in for lunch and a supply of dry foods should we have to stay longer.  We also decided to book hotel rooms for everyone in the firm.
We had a firm-wide meeting and all of this was communicated.  As the day wore on, we discovered that the subways were running.  Even though we succeeded in booking rooms for all — and it was a considerable challenge — the firm started emptying out around 2:30pm.  By 3:00 you could've heard a pin drop.  We were closed the next day.

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Surprise Idea!

There is nothing like a big, old-fashioned creative idea to “save the day” — or save a business. And a Canadian library has come up with one. It is so logical that you think to yourself, “Why didn’t I — or at least some brilliant American librarian — come up with that?” And I trust you can hold for a few seconds until I tell you what it is.

As the headline on one article in the U.S. noted: “Shhh! That’s the Sound of Libraries Closing.” Obviously, that is not the big, creative idea! But it does appear to be a trend in the U.S.: libraries either closing or navigating massive budget cuts. Just at a time when people out of work need libraries for retooling, learning how to put resumes together and capitalizing, in many cases, on free internet use, budget cutbacks and scaled-back hours are seen as the only option.

One Canadian library — the Surrey City Centre library in British Columbia came up with a value-added idea to invigorate service: tap people for knowledge as well as books. It has gathered a group of volunteer experts on a variety of subjects and has created a system to put people in touch with knowledge seekers in those areas. Whether you want to practice your Spanish or compare notes on an illness, the library will put you in touch with the right person. Once in touch, you meet in the library itself, keeping the “business” all under one roof!

That’s an idea that could also reinvigorate the business model of libraries (or increase the passion or size of the customer base) without incurring huge costs. Libraries could also start a fee service for the “knowledge experts” side of the business — which could help stimulate revenues, even more radically changing the model. While libraries have always been known for knowledge through books, the skilled people side of the equation is a natural fit. Why read a book on African Violets, when you can talk to an expert on them?

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Another Great Communicator

Every now and then, one sees a near flawless communications effort from leadership. Like him or not, Obama — the candidate — was a great communicator. And President Ronald Reagan, the President — for good reason — was tagged “the” great communicator. But now comes the Mayor of New York City, who must be singled out for his thoughtful, sensitive, direct and timely communications about the actions the City needed to take to ward off the potential dangers from Hurricane Irene.

Bloomberg had a massive mobilization job to do — and the safety of the population was uppermost in his mind. He had shockers to announce: halting all mass transit, which had never been done before; evacuating New Yorkers who lived in coastal or low-lying areas; arranging for shelters to house the evacuated; heavying up on police in key areas to make sure the public was cooperating; and being available multiple times a day for press briefings and Q&A sessions with reporters.

Bloomberg appeared unflappable and totally in control. His pitch, pacing and modulation were effective and serious. His mantra was ”Better safe than sorry.” He exhibited a sense of calm that gave us all confidence that the wheels were turning in the right direction. It was apparent that he was in on the planning, and he had mastered the plan. Then he communicated what he knew so well. His delivery distinguished him from so many who are just “readers.”

Overall the public gave him the benefit of the doubt, despite the cry of some that he was overreacting. We knew that he knew better.

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