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‘Risk’ your way to your ambitions

If you want to be a CEO or lead a communications, marketing or branding function in a big company, get comfortable with managing risk – even if nothing obvious about your job involves “formal” risk management beyond reputation risk.

Everyone who works in a business or professional setting is a risk manager since the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing fallout. That task can longer be delegated to financial managers, actuaries and other specialists.

This is particularly true for corporate communications and public relations professionals, who in today’s lean, flat firms are often the only mid- to senior-level people with horizontal views of their firm’s businesses, operations, IT and other functions – and how those groups work together to serve customers and generate profits.

Controlling risk may be out of our hands, but recognizing potential gaps and escalating concerns to the decision-makers who can effect necessary change distinguish leaders of companies and businesses from leaders of communications functions.

In this environment, ambitious corporate communications and public relations professionals must embrace risk as entrepreneurs and other business leaders do if their goal is to truly lead companies, influence boards and executives, and build businesses.

According to Reduce Risk By Seeming Risky by Dileep Rao, “Risk is a four letter word.” Though he explores the subject from the perspective of entrepreneurs, Rao’s article on Forbes.com is relevant to anyone who doesn’t “have the resources in time or capacity or money” to diversify – or delegate – financial and operational risk as banks, insurers, investors and executives can.

That sure sounds like my professional experience, as well as those of my fellow corporate communications and PR colleagues.

What do you think?

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Booty from l’affaire Lefevre a ‘Liar’s Jackpot’

In today’s edition, The New York Times weighed in on l’affaire John Lefevre, taking a significant swat at the self-proclaimed fly on the walls of Wall Street’s most admired or reviled elevators. As reported here in All that Twitters is not Goldman, Lefevre was outed earlier this week as the author of Twitter’s GS Elevator Gossip, @GSElevator, which chronicles “things heard in Goldman Sachs elevators.”

GS Elevator Gossip Profile (GSElevator) on TwitterDeclaring Mr. Lefevre’s lucrative six-figure book contract a “Liar’s Jackpot,” The Grey Lady’s Editorial Board likened the booty from Mr. Lefevre’s fictitious tweets “about the tasteless, boorish, smug and reliably funny things he overhears from rich bankers” to The Wolf of Wall Street, which it described as the “most debauched – and highest grossing – movie of Martin Scorsese’s career.”

Sparing no question of approval, the Board concluded: “Who needs truth when there’s a cultural moment to cash in on?”

Since Tuesday, media coverage of Mr. Lefevre and @GSElevator helped attract 9,000 new Twitter followers. Otherwise it remains to be seen how this new twist affects him, Simon & Schuster and other interested parties.

But there is no doubt that there are lessons to be learned for communications professionals who counsel clients, companies and individual executives on how to build and protect their reputations.

Interestingly, Mr. Lefevre’s book, titled Straight to Hell: True and Glorious Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion Dollar Deals will be labeled nonfiction, The Times reports.

What do you think?

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All that Twitters is not Goldman


After sending more than 1,100 tweets and entertaining over 630,000 followers, it turns out the author of GS Elevator Gossip, who chronicles “things heard in Goldman Sachs elevators,” is not a Goldman Sachs employee and has probably spent little time in that company’s lifts since the @GSElevator handle debuted on Twitter in 2011.

The self-proclaimed fly on the walls of Wall Street’s most admired or reviled elevators is John Lefevre, a 34-year-old bond executive in Texas, according to Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times. Lefevre’s inspiration for @GSElevator was a similar Twitter account, @CondeElevator, which featured bon mots from the staff of Condé Nast, publisher of Vanity Fair, Vogue and other glossies. The Goldman name apparently was chosen for its brand recognition on both Main Street and Wall Street.

On one hand, Mr. Lefevre’s response to his outing showed deft PR instincts: a proactive, accountable message, reinforced by an executive at a venerable publishing house.

Despite crafting an alter-ego and distancing himself from it for over three years, Mr. Lefevre preempted questions and much criticism by matter-of-factly confirming he never worked at Goldman. He pointed out that “he deliberately never said in any of his tweets that he worked for the firm.”

Reinforcing his position, the editor who paid a “six-figure sum” for Mr. Lefevre to write a book about Wall Street culture inspired by @GSElevator, said he and his publishing company were not misled by Mr. Lefevre. “He’s been pretty straight with us the entire time, so this is not a surprise,” the book editor, Matthew Benjamin of Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint, told The Times.

@GSElevator's 9/23/14 tweet: "Poor people eat so much fast food you’d think their time was valuable."

Still, one wonders whether Mr. Lefevre could have tweeted his way to such heights without the Goldman reference – particularly if the true intent was to lampoon Wall Street’s overall culture instead of one specific firm’s foibles. When you think about it, is “Poor people eat so much fast food you’d think their time was valuable” more or less retweetable because it’s ascribed to Goldman Sachs?

Time will tell whether Mr. Lefevre’s reputation ascends or crashes to earth based on this revelation. The whole affair might even be a candidate for the PR Verdict’s “There’s No ‘There’ There” award one future Friday. What remains relevant, however, to communications professionals is an observation Mr. Sorkin made in his original column:

“The ability of people like Mr. Lefevre to create anonymous Twitter accounts underscores concerns about the veracity of what is published and the identity of authors. It also raises questions about whether publishers are blurring the line between real life and the made-up kind.”

In the best of circumstances, transmitting messages and managing reputations is as much art as science. But as communications channels evolve, attention spans shrink and traditional media outlets compete for audiences, communications pros may need the compound eyes of flies to protect their clients, executives and reputations – and avoid unnecessary skirmishes.

What do you think?

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Financial Services Public Relations

Results from The PaineWebber/Gallup Poll of Investor Attitudes

Video highlights of award-winning Index of Investor Optimism public relations program.

Situation

Perennially ranked third among national full-service brokerage firms, PaineWebber Incorporated sought to differentiate itself in the national media from competitors with significantly larger advertising and marketing budgets.

Strategy

  • Partner with the Gallup Organization to create the Index of Investor Optimism, the first monthly poll of affluent investors, which would be tracked over time by the news media and other key constituents.
  • Leverage the Index brand as a platform for proactive public relations activities and marketing tools for use by Financial Advisors with clients and prospects, as well as investor education.
Branding for the Index of Investor Optimism.

Branding for the Index of Investor Optimism.

Results

Data from the PaineWebber Index of Investor Optimism formed the cornerstone of ongoing media relations activities, as well as thought leadership for firm executives and investor education for use by Financial Advisors with clients and prospects.

Index-related content comprised special survey topics, monthly results, news releases and pitch letters to generate media coverage, as well as Beyond the Basics, an investor education program. Over time, the team explored whether to establish the Index as a formal economic indicator and identify other opportunities to extend the Index brand beyond the core monthly survey.

Highlights are shown below; click here for a detailed summary of the Silver Anvil and Big Apple award-winning program. View a video of program highlights.

Warren Buffett discussed PaineWebber's findings in Fortune magazine.

Warren Buffett discussed PaineWebber’s findings in Fortune magazine.

  • Generated more than 86 million media impressions in traditional and online media, excluding extensive wire coverage.
  • Survey findings were featured in President Clinton’s 1998 State of the Union address.
  • Warren Buffett cited Index data in an interview with Carol Loomis of Fortune magazine (click here for a PDF of the article that highlights the citation).
  • Yale researcher Robert Schiller referenced the findings in his book, Irrational Exuberance.
  • Won Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil award in 2001 and PRSA New York Chapter’s Big Apple award in 2000.

In addition to the monthly poll findings, the Index program also included in-depth research on specific topics, including:

Finally, data from the monthly Index polls and the special reports was used to create Beyond the Basics, a comprehensive investor education program with a national media component and seminars and marketing materials for Financial Advisors.