Exceptional CEOs

I’ve worked with many CEOs over the last 25 years. Some great, some good, and some who didn’t quite make the grade.  The great ones had a few traits in common…they were excellent communicators, compassionate and whip smart.  (Italicized text represents my own editorial.)

The Harvard Business Review recently outlined four essential behaviors of successful CEOs:

  • Making quick decisions with conviction. Decisive.
  • Engaging for impact. Collaborative.
  • Proactively adapting. Doer.
  • Delivering reliably. Expectation setter.

Russell Reynolds Associates, a global search and leadership advisory firm, offers the following in their thought leadership blog:

  • Willingness to take calculated risks. Gutsy.
  • Bias toward action. Doer.
  • Ability to efficiently “read” people. Insightful.
  • Forward thinking. Innovative.
  • Intrepid. Courageous.

And from CNBC reporting on a panel at SXSW which examined the traits of many successful Silicon Valley CEOs:

  • Psychopathic???

I admit, this one stumped me. Dictionary.com describes psychopathy as “a mental disorder in which an individual manifests amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc.”

Doesn’t exactly scream successful CEO to me. However, venture capitalist Bryan Stolle believes that psychopaths are common within the CEO ranks because to successfully start a company you need to be “uncompromising in your vision, which requires a hearty dose of both ego and persistence, and you have to be willing to sacrifice almost everything for success.”  Still not sure I buy it.

Dr. Igor Galynker, the associate chairman for research in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, believes that “lacking empathy, more often than not, will help you in an environment where you have to make decisions that create negative consequences by necessity for other people.” I’ve never known or worked with a psychopathic CEO, but according to a 2016 study, 21 percent of senior professionals in the U.S. had “clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits.”  Kind of frightening for those working with these 21 percent.

While collaboration, innovation and insightfulness are clearly important CEO qualities, I suppose it is possible that a little bit of ego, tenacity and charm could also result in success.

Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

Annals of Communication—Thank you, Dave

I had a breakfast meeting the other day at the Mid-Town Café on 56th between Lex and Third in New York City. It’s not a fancy place, but one of many non-descript diners where the waitresses call you honey as you walk in the door and ask if you want coffee as you are getting seated.

A view shows U.S. postal service mail boxes at a post office in Encinitas

The meeting was arranged by my long-time colleague, Gary Fishman, as a casual introduction to meet the principal of an investor relations advisory firm, similar to PondelWilkinson. For purposes of this blog, I’ll just call him Dave.

No need here to discuss our conversation, which is not the point of this piece, so fast forward to the end of our meal. (I had oatmeal and blueberries, the other two gents had eggs.) The waitress brought our check. All three of us made a move to our wallets. My credit card was out first, and with the total check being $19.95, I volunteered to buy. Then we went on our ways.

Within a couple of hours, I received a thank-you email from Gary for my time and for buying breakfast. I was going to email David to tell him how much I enjoyed meeting him, but thought I would wait a while, for certainly he also would be sending me a thank-you email…or so I thought. Then I forgot about it.

I returned to California, and the following day, I received a letter in the mail. It was from Dave, saying how much he enjoyed our visit and thanking me for playing host. In today’s era of speed, did I need instant thanks via email anyway? Probably not.

Receiving the letter struck a chord. While the message could have been precisely the same in an email, there’s something to be said for taking the time to send a letter through the U.S. Postal Service…it commands attention. Compared with hundreds of email messages that we all receive every day, it was the only personal communication I received via mail all week.

– Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

 

 

 

 

 

Is LinkedIn the New Facebook?

LinkedIn these days seems to be less about posting “business” content and more around publishing selfies, memes and math puzzles.

Ironically, these Facebook-like posts generally get more traction. But all engagement is not always good engagement, just like all publicity is not always good publicity.

Interestingly enough, the Pew Research Center found that more workers ages 18-49 have discovered information on social media that lowered their professional opinion of a colleague, compared to those who garnered an improved estimation of a co-worker from online platforms. So, be careful what you post.

LinkedIn prides itself on “connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.” What’s happened, however, is the line between “work” and “consumer” content has been blurred, causing LinkedIn professionals to lambast what they see as irrelevant posts, stating: “This is not Facebook!”

A recent post on LinkedIn.

A graphic that accompanied a post on LinkedIn.

The reality is that LinkedIn is competing with Facebook. Late last year, Mark Zuckerberg’s social network announced it was testing a feature that would let page administrators create job postings and receive applications from candidates. This undoubtedly will put pressure on LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions business, which comprised 65 percent of the company’s 3Q 2016 revenues.

With 467 million members in over 200 countries and territories, LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, is growing at a rate of more than two new members per second. This quails in comparison to Facebook’s 1.79 billion monthly active users, but the company’s growth shows more professionals see value in the platform.

So what does the future look like for LinkedIn? Consider the following:

  • LinkedIn will become an even more valuable business networking tool among business professionals, surpassing Pew’s estimate of the 14 percent of professionals who use the online platform for work-related purposes.
  • “Irrelevant” posts will continue, at least in the short term, but will have an adverse effect on those who publish non-related content.
  • Thoughtful, engaging and pertinent posts that resonate with key audiences will generate positive engagement.
  • Business organizations and individuals will learn how to leverage this network beyond recruitment and job searches.

Much can be said by the old adage “all work and no play …,” so it’s refreshing to see some brevity in our daily work lives. But these matters may be best suited for Facebook and not LinkedIn.

– George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

 

Watch What You Read

Photo credit: Getty

Shopper with Lord & Taylor bag. Photo credit: Getty

Perhaps it was trumped (pun intended) by bigger news, but the Federal Trade Commission recently announced its first-ever enforcement action involving a subject near and dear to the hearts of professionals in the investor and public relations business—the unfortunate, increasingly blurred lines between real and paid-for news.

The FTC action received almost no media coverage, which was too bad. The case involved retailer Lord & Taylor, which ultimately settled, over what appeared to be a legit story about the company’s clothes, published on the fashion website Nylon. But it was really an ad.

With print publications, such trickery is rarely an issue. We all have seen that smallish line saying, “Paid Advertisement.”  Online, however, that’s not often the case.

While there is nothing wrong with online advertising, readers should be made aware that the content is sponsored.

In a press release, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said, “Lord & Taylor needs to be straight with consumers in its online marketing campaigns. Consumers have the right to know when they’re looking at paid advertising.”

So shame on Lord & Taylor, and perhaps even a bigger shame on Nylon. The real message resulting from the enforcement action is: Readers, watch what you read these days, particularly online, because it is becoming more difficult to tell the difference between ads and articles.

– Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

 

Hello 2016

We’re excited to usher in 2016 and looking forward to keeping you informed on this blog about all things relevant to investor relations, strategic public relations and Julia Child’s secret recipes.  Now that your ears are perked, following are a couple of interesting tidbits from PondelWilkinson.

  • Evan Pondel recently wrote the cover story for IRupdate magazine on how to think like an activist.   He interviewed Chris Kiper, founder of activist firm Legion Partners, for a rare look at his playbook.  Check out the story on page six of the issue.
  • PondelWilkinson volunteered a couple of weeks ago at Working Dreams’ Holiday Toy Event, where PW helped foster children select presents that were donated to the organization.  Following is a picture of the team.Working Dreams
  • And last but certainly not least, Roger Pondel wrote the following New Year’s resolution on transparency.

2016 Resolution: Don’t Forget the Transparency

At the risk saying, “We told you so,” 2015 proved to be a year when companies that failed to heed our mantra, Transparency Adds Value, took it on the chin.

Whether privately owned or publicly traded, in times of crisis or when all is going well, transparency always pays off…period. And the lack thereof, almost always backfires bigtime.

Probably the year’s biggest lack-of-transparency story was Volkswagen’s emission-cheating scandal that actually began more than 10 years ago, long before the news broke. I guess it’s hard to keep those kinds of secrets forever. Want to buy a VW today? How ‘bout an Audi?

In our business, people sometimes have the misimpression that it’s all about spin. (I hate that word, except when it’s part of an exercise class and done to a Latin jazz beat.)

No, it’s not about spin. It’s about journalistic fact finding, developing a communications and messaging strategy, perhaps biting some bullets a la corporate castor oil style…then telling the truth to mitigate the damage and maintain reputation.

And it’s not all about crises. Just look at what happened in 2015 to the valuations of many once-considered-hot, pre-public tech companies that lost billions in combined valuation because of lack of transparency.

Lack of transparency hurts customers, employees and investors alike. And while no one is happy to hear less than stellar corporate news, the market rewards transparency. Companies that do not practice it would do well to heed our mantra in 2016 and beyond.

Here’s to a transparent 2016 that brings peace and prosperity to all!

Yes, it’s Another Post about Activism

I’ve written about activism before, but a recent blog by Bloomberg Business caught my attention and spurred me to write again.

Though probably not a surprise to anyone, activism is on the rise, at least according to a survey conducted by law firm Gibson Dunn. Halfway through 2015, there were nearly as many activist campaigns afoot than for all of 2014. Further, the number of funds engaging in activist activities was higher for the first six month of 2015 than for the full year last year … 42 versus 35, respectively. According to the study, the most common reason for activist involvement so far this year has been board representation, followed by M&A, with return of capital a distant third. The New York Times recently noted that activist hedge funds now manage more than $129 billion in assets, compared with $29 billion just 10 years ago.

What does all of this activity mean? Is activism good for companies? Does it bring about positive change? A recent Wall Street Journal article asked the question: “Are Activist Investors Helping or Undermining American Companies?” After a comprehensive look at how activism has impacted large U.S. companies (greater than $5 billion in market cap), the resounding answer was maybe. According to the Journal, “Activism often improves a company’s operational results—and nearly as often doesn’t.” So, what’s the point?

As Wendell Willkie, II, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and of counsel at Steptoe, wrote for Fortune, activism has gone overboard, stating, “In their quest for quick returns, activists make the mistake of forgetting that it takes time and patience to position any company for success.”

A survey conducted by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) reported in Accounting Today, showed that more than 20 percent of corporate board directors said their boards have been approached by activist investors during the past year. However, 46 percent of those polled do not have a plan in place for responding to activist challenges.

What should companies do when faced with activism? Or perhaps the better question is what should companies do before being faced with activism? Warren Buffet believes that “The best way to keep activists away is to perform reasonably well in your business and also to communicate well with your shareholders,” as noted during a speech at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington.

Willkie says companies should plan for the emergence of an activist by taking proactive steps to increase shareholder value including share repurchases and cost reductions. But what if you can’t head them off at the pass? The Wall Street Journal recommends the growing popular belief that companies should not shun an activist or completely agree to all demands. The NACD survey pointed out that most frequently, boards have expanded compensation explanations in their proxy statements, revised executive compensation plans or implemented (or changed) their dividend and/or stock buyback policies in response to shareholder demands.

In my experience, when an activist comes knocking, most CEOs take it personally and dig their heels in to mount a defense. While that may be the proper response in certain cases, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Know your shareholder base, treat each investor with respect (activist or not) and carefully evaluate any proposals that are sent to the board to ensure that whatever route you take will ultimately result in a win for the company’s shareholders.

– Laurie Berman, lberman@pondel.com

Everything is Awesome, Not

Awesome stampJust type the word awesome into a Google search and about 1,300,000,000 results will appear. The word is so ingrained into our popular culture, it’s hard not to watch anything on TV or go anywhere without someone using “awesome” to describe something cool or hip.

Countless articles and hundreds of thousands of pages on the Internet are dedicated to the overuse of the word. Several print and online magazines have put awesome on their list of banned words, including an article in the PR Industry’s trade magazine Ragan.com, saying, “let’s stop using it [awesome] as our default every time we are too lazy, busy, insecure, stupid or whatever to think of a more original or relevant word.”

Originated in the late 16th century from the words “awe” and “some,” awesome, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is an adjective that means causing feelings of fear and wonder or awe. Believe it or not there’s “awesomeness” as a noun and “awesomely” as an adverb. Oy vey.

As experts in the communications field, we try to avoid using jargon, slang or clichés to describe a product or service, or anything for that matter. Let’s not even get into words like disruptive, innovative or state-of-the-art. Those words can make any good writer cringe.

According to some writing experts, there are scores of other words that can replace awesome. Amazing?  Maybe, but probably number one on the list of the world’s most overused word. Brilliant? More of a British correlation. Dazzling? Let’s get real. Fabulous? Just doesn’t feel right. Spectacular? Boring.

The truth is there is no real word that can really mimic the same visceral reaction or meaning evoked by the word awesome. The problem is that awesome is used for pretty much everything, from describing a great-tasting doughnut to recounting MLB’s 2015 Home Run Derby. Finding new and exciting words will evolve over time, but until then, it’s hard to deny the awesomeness of awesome.

-George Medici, gmedici@pondel.com

IR Songs

OK, I admit that summertime and investor relations blogs have very little in common. And yes, most of the topics that surface on this blog are serious and may have ramifications for the livelihood of your communications strategy. However, one mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we are in the heart of summer and bringing a little levity to this so called investor relations world is healthy, especially before we head full bore into earnings season.

So, my question to you is this: If “Investor Relations” is the name of a band, what is a plausible name for its hit single? I suppose it would help if we also came up with a musical genre for the band, but I can’t even begin to imagine what Investor Relations would sound like musically. Obviously, money would be a dominant muse.

Following is a top-20 list of actual song titles that could have ostensibly been written by Investor Relations. If you have other suggestions, please post them on Twitter at #IRsongs and we will add them to the list.

  1. For the Love of Money – The O’Jays
  2. It’s All About the Benjamins – Puff Daddy
  3. Money – Pink Floyd
  4. San Francisco Bay Blues (references not having a nickel or a “lousy” dime) – Jesse Fuller
  5. If I Were a Rich Man – Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Block
  6. Diamonds On The Soles of Her Shoes – Paul Simon
  7. We’re in the Money – Al Dubin
  8. Greenback Dollar – Kingston Trio
  9. Nickel Bag of Funk – Digable Planets
  10. Luck Be a Lady – Frank Loesser
  11. Jack & Diane – John Cougar Mellencamp
  12. Like a Virgin – Madonna
  13. Money, Money, Money – Abba
  14. 99 Problems – Jay Z
  15. Chariots of Fire – Vangelis
  16. Ring Around the Rosie – Artist Unknown
  17. Pomp and Circumstance – Sir Edward Elgar
  18. Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
  19. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – The Beatles
  20. Back in Black – ACDC

Additional song titles posted on #IRsongs or submitted by blog readers:

  1. Price Tag – Jesse J
  2. She Works Hard for the Money – Donna Summer
  3. Material Girl – Madonna
  4. CREAM (Cash Rules Everything Around Me) – Wu-Tang
  5. Money (That’s What I want) – The Beatles (Barrett Strong)
  6. Money for Nothing – Dire Straits
  7. The Money Song – Monty Python

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com

Walk Down the Hall before Sending that Email

It’s no secret that the ability to write well, which typically equates to the ability to think well, is a fundamental skillset that goes a long way in many businesses and professions, certainly ours, whether the public relations or investor relations side of our practice.

The University of Chicago, however, revealed in a recent study, that no matter how well and in which medium writing is deployed—via email or text message, in a legal brief, or in our world, a press release—verbal communication is a far more powerful tool than the proverbial pen.

The study conducted by UCHI Professors Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder concluded that the same information that could be conveyed verbally comes off sounding less intelligent and convincing in writing, and that picking up the phone or walking down the hall to a colleague’s office, rather than sending an email, virtually always will be more effective.

The study, “The Sound of Intellect,” revealed that voice inflection and other vocal cues show that humans are “alive inside, thoughtful, active and (written) text strips that out.”

Even if precisely the same words that can be delivered verbally—in person, in a voice message or by video—are put into written form, the study showed that the verbal medium won hands down.

None of this means emailing and text messaging are going away. And as far as skillsets are concerned, solid writing still equates to sound thinking and still reigns supreme at firms such as ours. But the study does confirm that humanity is the real winner, and if there is a choice, perhaps think twice before pressing the send button.

-Roger Pondel, rpondel@pondel.com

‘Wexting’ Etiquette

Text imageHard to believe that within the last two decades we’ve gone from a virtually email-less society to one that requires us to check an inbox every minute.  The weekend arrives and the flow of email that used to subside now beckons us relentlessly.

And just when you thought email was the end all be all for 24/7 engagement, texting in the workplace or “wexting” is becoming more commonplace.  In fact, a recent survey said that approximately one in seven millennials prefer text messaging compared with other forms of work-related communication.  And so, following is PondelWilkinson’s unofficial guide to wexting etiquette:

  • It may be difficult to resist, but avoid using emoticons at all costs.
  • Acronyms are extremely common in textville, and at the same time very confusing. Assume the recipients of your texts are acronym-illiterate and spell everything out.
  • Sign your texts with your first name. You may believe your officemate or client has your cell phone number programmed in their phone. Not so much. Sign your name, so you don’t have to send or receive the always embarrassing “who is this?” text.
  • Consider beginning your text with “Hi <insert name>”. Yes, this makes texting sound more formal, but it is much more pleasant in work-text situations than simply going full bore with “I need that press release today.”
  • Keep texts to five lines or less. If you need more space, send an email or pick up the phone.
  • Let the boss initiate the texting.   It is still somewhat of a more personal communication tool and better left for the boss to decide if it’s time to go there.
  • Spell check your texts and use proper punctuation.
  • Consider putting a bounceback on texts when you’re away from your phone more than a couple of hours. Texting requires even more immediacy than email, so better to have your guard up.
  • Make sure web addresses and phone numbers are hyperlinked.
  • Do not use all caps.
  • Turn off  notifications that you have “read” a text. If a wexter knows you have “read” his or her text and haven’t responded for hours, that wexter is gonna be annoyed.   Most iOS devices allow users to turn off receipts for iMessage.

– Evan Pondel, epondel@pondel.com