Sleeping with the Enemy

Be honest.  How often do you check work email right before you go to sleep and then again soon after you wake up?

Android Email

Email apps are increasingly easy to check and use (Photo Source:

Does the paragraph above describe someone you know? Could that someone be you?  According to a recent story, it’s more common than you might think.  In fact, 72 percent of managers and professionals surveyed who work more than 50 hours per week check their smartphones every morning within an hour of waking up, while 62 percent check their devices before going to bed.
Such activity is not healthy for employees or employers, says Harvard Business School Professor Leslie Perlow. A few years ago, she conducted an experiment at Boston Consulting Group to help rid a small group of employees of the “always on” mentality. Each person took one night off from work by not responding to emails or answering calls from clients after leaving the office, instead letting other team members take care of any issues that came up.  After five weeks, the employees were happier and the quality of the team’s work went up, while the number of hours they put in at the office went down.
Steve Tobak, on the other hand, believes that a common sense approach to work-life balance is more realistic, and that one size does not fit all.  In other words, we must all make the decisions that work best for us.
I admit that I am a slave to my smartphone, but also believe it helps me do my job better.  I’d rather know at 5:30 a.m. that there is a problem awaiting my attention, so that when I arrive in the office I’m armed with information and have a leg up that will hopefully help make my day less stressful.  Just the same, knowing clients are happy before I got to bed helps me sleep better.
For me, and for the time being, that means sleeping with the enemy … my iPhone.


— Laurie Berman,

Resisting Temptation to “Like This”

No hoods

No Hoodies (source)

As I mulled this post while prying my seven-year-old out of bed this morning, I also wrestled with all of the brouhaha surrounding the pending Facebook IPO.  Something just did not sit right.  Then it hit me.  I have seen this show before.
Facebook’s global adulation is understandable, and well earned.  One in eight people on the
planet use it.  That’s an unfathomable audience that is now interconnected. But as the reports during the IPO process reach their crescendo, two large questions loom:  1) Does Facebook’s advertising really work; and 2) Should the company be valued at $100 billion?
Don’t get me wrong, I want to see the company succeed, badly.  I am dying for some good news.  But the more our collective anticipation builds, the more I worry.  Is there a clear rationale for this target valuation or is it hubris?  Are we more enamored of simply breaking an IPO record, or are investors using sane judgment?  And should California really be thinking it can potentially narrow its budget deficit with increased taxes from the many new resident millionaires that will materialize from this transaction?  I get the feeling we are putting too much value on this event, and we might be in for some disappointment.
As my son and I had our breakfast, an opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal titled “Jenkins:
The Zuckerberg Challenge
” sustained my anxiety.  The author too postulated that apart from enviable 2011 ad sale revenues totaling $3.2 billion, a chasm exists between this and Facebook’s estimated target valuation.  He also provides heaps of praise for the seemingly endless possibilities that lay before the company, which I can’t deny.
But as a newly public company, Facebook’s iconic leader Mark Zuckerberg will need to be more transparent with the company’s operations and growth strategies than ever before.  Demonstrating that its ad engine provides real value to its customers and a putting a keen focus on generating profits will be paramount. He now has to answer to many more people that own his baby, and should the stock price fall below the IPO level, the barbarians surely will arrive at the gate.  Which makes me wonder why the company is aiming for such an immediate high valuation in the first place.  “Under promise and over deliver” has been a mantra that has served many CEOs well.
As I make my final inspection of my son’s school clothes it also occurs to me that Mr. Zuckerberg might want to leave his signature hoodie at home and don a suit now and then. Growing up is hard, but if you want a $100 billion valuation, you need to play the part.


— PondelWilkinson,

Remembering George Rathmann

AMGen 1983 Logo

AMGen’s Logo in 1983 (Photo Source:

Thankfully, it’s not often that PWInsight publishes obituaries. But this week, George Rathmann, 84, the founder of Amgen, one of our early biotech client companies, died, and I cannot let his passing go without acknowledgment.
He led the push for groundbreaking drugs. He was a cheerleader for everyone who surrounded him.  He changed lives. And he never let his well-deserved medical celebrity go to his head.
“I’m George, not Dr. Rathmann,” he told me upon our first meeting in the late 1980s.   I vividly recall showing him a six-minute video we produced for investors about Amgen’s first-approved drug, Epogen, which treated severe anemia for kidney patients.  He wept.  And when we showed the film weeks later at an investor conference, he wept again.
George had soul. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, five children and 13 grandchildren.  Ironically, he developed kidney disease in his late 70s and took Epogen to help him survive.


Roger Pondel,

What They’re Still Sayin’ about Payin’

Say on Pay

Photo credit: Flickr, Tind

With proxy season nearly upon us, a couple of thoughts may be in order about Say on Pay, one year after
we first blogged about these new guidelines going into effect.
On the positive side, last year nearly all companies had their executive pay plans approved by at least a majority of their shareholders, according to a recent research report from IR Insight in a survey of 181 companies.  Moreover, the vast majority of the companies received a “yes” vote from 70 percent or more of their shareholders on their executive pay plans.
With only two companies surveyed receiving a majority of “no” votes, Say on Pay is nevertheless not lessening in importance.
“Egregious pay packages are by and large a thing of the past,” according to Robin Ferracone, a consultant with Farient Advisors, an independent executive compensation firm.  Ferracone believes that investors were “forgiving” last year.  She said institutional investors are set to grade companies’ pay plans “a lot harder” in 2012, although if companies’ performances and the markets improve, investors may not question executive pay much at all.
Narrowly approved pay plans may not be out of the woods.  Modest changes to the investor base could put these companies in jeopardy of receiving enough “no” votes to reject the pay plan.  Executive compensation experts advise corporate secretaries and investor relations officers to contact top holders at these companies to learn about investor concerns, and either explain the purpose of the questionable provisions, or modify the plan.
Going forward, the expectation is investors will more closely scrutinize how executive pay is
determined.  They want to see companies disclose how they have appropriately aligned performance with pay.  Ferracone believes this means more use of objective criteria, benchmarking and third-party diagnostic tools.
Finally, the SEC has delayed until the second half of 2012 the final rules on a number of pay disclosures under the Dodd-Frank Act.  Ira Kay, managing director at Pay Governance, a firm that provides independent executive compensation advice to boards, says the “pay versus performance” disclosure rules are difficult to craft, and the SEC may get ideas from companies tackling the issue on their own.  We’ll soon see.



This Time, It’s Real

On this, the first business day of the second quarter of 2012, everyone seems to be writing and talking about the spring in this year’s early spring.  No, not the weather, but the economy and how, this time, the rebound finally seems real and sustainable.
In early 2010, we, and most others, thought things were turning around.  We even asked our landlord about the two vacant offices adjacent to our suite in Century City.  Glad we didn’t sign on.
Then again in early 2011, the economy once again appeared to be heading in the right direction. But, alas, hopes were dashed, and it stalled again.
Today, it not only feels different, but the facts seem to be saying so, too.
Jobs are being created and unemployment is falling.  According to our client, Greg Palmer, CEO of staffing industry advisory firm Greg Palmer and Associates and his Palmer Forecast™, the use of temp help among businesses throughout the nation is on the rise, one indicator that good things are in store.
Last week, nine companies went public, the most IPOs in one week in more than 15 months.  More than 200 companies have filed with the SEC and are waiting in the wings.
Even James Surowiecki, who writes the Financial Page column in my favorite magazine, The New Yorker, recently wrote, “…there are at least a couple of reasons to think that, this time, we aren’t looking at a false spring.”
The two reasons, according to Surowiecki, are autos and housing.
Pent-up demand for autos is morphing into active demand.  Our client, the nation’s largest wheel manufacturer Superior Industries, is operating at near capacity.  And client Autobytel just recorded its first full year of net income since 2004 fueled by many positive changes within the company but also buoyed by the industry’s recovery.  New car sales fell from a pre-recession annual peak of 17 million to just over 10 million in 2009. The seasonally adjusted annualized (SAAR) forecast of new car sales for March is estimated at 14.3 million, down from last month, but up from 13.0 a year ago and the highest since August 2007.
As to real estate, things look better there, too. PondelWilkinson client Market Leader, which provides more than 100,000 real estate professionals throughout the United States and Canada with online technology and marketing solutions, delivered 39% revenue growth last year in what can conservatively be labeled a challenging, aka, stinky, environment.  The latest National Association of Realtors forecast predicts that existing home sales and prices, along with new home sales and housing starts all will be up for 2012 and will rise even more in 2013, with continued low (but climbing a little next year) mortgage rates.
The 2012 first quarter was outstanding in the stock market as well, to the tune of 900 points on the Dow.  In fact, it was the best Q1 for the Dow in 14 years and the best for NASDAQ in 21 years.
So welcome to Q2. Let’s all do our best to keep the momentum going and not let the media pundits in yesterday’s newspapers, television shows and blogs dampen our enthusiasm with their commentary about the prospect of a slip and the anxiety that is creeping back into the markets, as New York Times’ Nathaniel Popper and others  believe.  After all, yesterday was April’s Fool day.


— Roger Pondel,

Cash isn’t King

As companies dealt with the challenges of the most recent recession, many hoarded cash and strengthened their balance sheets.  According to CFO Magazine, cash reserves for U.S. nonfinancial companies now total nearly $2 trillion.  With the economy seemingly on slightly better ground, are they now ready to deploy this cash rather than save for the next rainy day?
Forty one percent of nearly 1,000 financial services, consumer and industrial products, technology, media and telecommunications banking and securities, and energy and resources industry professionals said their companies plan to dip into their cash reserves and resume spending in 2012.  The
Deloitte survey results showed that planned uses of cash include acquisitions, capital budget increases, share repurchases, one-time dividend payments or dividend increases.  Even Apple, who has amassed an incredible $98 billion in cash after years of spending reluctance, may be reconsidering its strategy.
Interestingly, one-third of those surveyed by Deloitte believe that investors want them to conserve their cash instead of spending it.  This didn’t appear true last April when one hedge fund manager told the Associated Press that “We’ve been in a bunker mentaility for too long,” and the Chairman and CEO of Legg Mason commented that, “The best use of cash is to deploy it.”  Or in a survey conducted by The Boston Consulting Group in May, where investment community respondents noted that the time had come for companies to start utilizing cash to create shareholder value by investing in profitable growth opportunities or returning it directly to shareholders.
Only time will tell if the purse strings have been loosened, but it seems as if that’s just what may be needed to help stimulate the economy.


Laurie Berman,

Greed: Good or Evil?

Cover of Wall Street (20th Anniversary Edition)

Economists persuasively argue that greed encourages effort, discovery, invention – it motivates us to take risks, come up with new products, enter new markets and make enterprises more efficient. Soon after the memorable line, “Greed is Good, Greed is Right, Greed Works,” was uttered in the movie “Wall Street,” much was and continues to be written about the economic and psychological impact of greed.
Evolution may have programmed us to be greedy, since greed keeps us motivated to achieve a genuine state of happiness, according to Jay Phelan, an economist, biologist, and co-author of Mean Genes.  Echoing that thought, some psychologists say greed is the only consistent human motivation.
Today, however, increasing numbers of mental-health professionals are saying that greed is not nearly as good for people as it is for economies.  Some have begun warning that greed is beginning to overwhelm conscience, reason, compassion and family bonds.  Psychologist David Farrugia sees greed as a mistaken, empty and shortsighted goal that contains many seeds of destruction.  In his article, Selfishness, Greed, and Counseling, Farrugia says, “a chronic orientation toward greed has been shown to result in inflexibility and diminished reality testing.”
This likely explains the brazenness of Bernie Madoff, Raj Rajaratan and, now, the seven defendants recently charged in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan by Federal authorities with securities fraud involving insider trading.
SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami said, “These are not low-level employees succumbing to temptation by seizing a chance opportunity, [but] …. sophisticated players who built a corrupt network to systematically and methodically obtain and exploit illegal inside information again and again.”
Bottom line:  While greed may indeed drive us in ways that have positive effects on behavior, it also has proven to wreak havoc and shatter lives.



Wilkinson Scholarship Winner

Anna Gaidenko, a first year graduate student at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, has been awarded the 2011-2012 annual Wilkinson Scholarship Award.

Gadeinko is working toward a master’s degree in strategic public relations, focusing on the global market.  She intends to bridge her interest and experience in both the international arena and communication field post-graduation.  Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Gaidenko lived in Cleveland before moving to Miami and completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies and criminology at the University of Miami. Prior to applying to USC, she taught English in the Czech Republic, travelling the surrounding regions and doing freelance writing, which led her to discover public relations as a profession.
The Wilkinson scholarship is awarded annually in memory of Cecilia A. Wilkinson, an active USC alum and a principal of PondelWilkinson, who passed away in 2007.
The video above is Gaidenko’s take on how social media can enhance public relations.

Don’t Get Preoccupied

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street on November 2, 2011 (Photo Credit: Mario Tama, Getty Images)

The Occupy Wall Street movement is less than two months old, and yet it feels like the story has been around for decades.  I’m not convinced it’s a result of the Occupiers’ public relations prowess.  It’s probably more of a function of the archetypal roots of the story – media have been covering protests ever since the dawn of newsprint.  And think about the ingredients that comprise this protest story.  There’s emotion, civil disobedience, and plenty of cause, especially with a staggering unemployment rate and an allegedly clear and present culprit: Wall Street.
But the future of the Occupy movement is unknown, and even though big banks are the targets du jour, who’s next in line and what are the Occupiers’ long-term goals?  It appears the movement is in the midst of a public relations crisis, and unless the collective consciousness can think of something quickly, the cold snap of winter is going to shut this protest down.
War, civil rights and genocide all present perfectly valid theses for inciting protest.  There is a means to an end, and even if the end is not near, the path to salvation is clear.  But the Occupy movement has no such endpoint.  All of the ingredients are present, with the exception of a well-articulated goal.  Hey, hey, the protesters might say, the movement is evolving organically because that’s what the people want.  But when was the last time you tried to accomplish something without knowing what exactly you were trying to accomplish?
So here’s some public relations advice to keep the protest alive and media engaged:

  • Set some realistic goals that Occupiers and non-Occupiers can understand and rally around to stay motivated;

  • Assemble a dream team in Washington, i.e. lobbyists, politicians, union leaders, financial executives, etc … and create an action plan that everyone running in the 2012 election will have to address and promise to review if elected;

  • Keep the messaging consistent across the country.  Yes, there are a lot of things people are angry about, but staying focused on specific topics will ensure a more cohesive and powerful message;

  • Know your allies and do whatever is possible and practical to support them;

  • Do not generalize or stereotype when attacking a target.  Be specific.  Not everyone on Wall Street or who works for a big bank is an enemy.  The movement has already alienated itself from powerful people who can help accomplish the very change the Occupiers are (perhaps) seeking.


Evan Pondel,

Rock Star CEOs

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs (Photo Credit: Flickr, tsevis)

This week Apple, Inc. founder Steve P. Jobs passed away from pancreatic cancer.  He was 56.
While Jobs’ death sparked a global media frenzy, his passing did not go totally unexpected.   In fact, the former Pixar CEO had a couple of health scares in the past, even taking a leave of absence in 2009 when he underwent a liver transplant.   During that time, Apple shares dropped nearly three percent, slashing roughly $10 billion off the company’s value.
Apple’s stock fluctuated on Thursday after Job’s death was announced but held positive at the close.  Apple’s stock today closed down a little more than two percent.  News on the street, however, is that investors already factored in the fact that Steve Jobs wasn’t going to be around at Apple for the long run.
The trouble with iconic executives such as Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson and Carly Fiorina is that they’re connected too closely to the company’s brand, putting the organization at risk if they abruptly leave or resign.  In addition to stock fluctuations, celebrity executives may affect business decisions as in the case with Fiorina who stepped down as HP’s CEO in 2005 amid a firestorm of negative media coverage.
The consensus of business experts is that CEOs are best to avoid the spotlight and focus interviews on the company rather than themselves.  This may be true of Jobs, but his celebrity always took center stage and he was seen as the true heart and soul of the company.
The transition has begun as Tim Cook officially took the reins from Steve Jobs last month.  Maybe he was being groomed all along?  Who knows? The reality is that companies with rock star CEOs need to take heed and start planning some kind of legacy strategy to circumvent any potential future hiccups.


George Medici,