Category Archives: Economy

Survey from The Fed Underscores the Economy is Improving

I enjoy being a part of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta panel of business people who respond to questions about what they think is going to happen with inflation in the Sixth District over the next 12 months. In mid-August, the Fed reported the results from more than 200 business firms, and I’m in line with the majority who report that their sales are up “above normal” slightly, but so are their unit costs.  We expect labor costs to increase and the rate of inflation to be at 1.7 – 2.00 over the next 12 months. 

Fifty percent expect the fed funds rate to rise to between .05 and 1.00 percent (I’m in that 50%), and 40% expect the fed funds rate to increase to 1.00 – 1.5 percent.

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Economic Change Means Communication Transformation

The buzz on Capitol Hill is economic reform, but what impact does the economy have on the public relations sector?

As social media continues to gain legitimacy as a key platform to interact with customers and constituents, companies are experiencing the need for solid communications planning and those with the skills to implement the tactics.  Public relations budgets are increasing at a rate outpacing the GDP growth.  Despite the negative economic media coverage, many businesses are expanding at a fast pace, so building a brand that can sustain such rapid growth is of utmost importance. 

The focus on economy and legislation aimed at producing company transparency means many C-level executives are leading their companies from the front lines. The need for solid communications management is critical externally but also internally. “Most business leaders aren’t aware of the full scope of the PR/communications function and the breadth of skills their team should have” stated our very own Paula Lovell in a recent Q &A with Nashville Post. “It’s not just about media relations. PR is a strategic business function that should coordinate with marketing and sales, and it can have significant impact on the bottom line.”

As a result of this changing landscape, today’s communications professionals  need to know how to do more than write a press release and post on Facebook. Understanding business, the key components of a company and how it all fits together is crucial to producing solid communications strategies. Communications teams are growing as platforms for messaging increase, so working collaboratively as a team is critical for success as well.  How do PR pros stay in the game during the economic adjustments and thereafter?

  • Watch, listen and read.  It’s important to stay current on trends. You also have to know the tools available and be able to manage messages/data using them.
  • Be on your guard.  In a world that speaks 24/7 through social media, you can’t let your guard down.  This means communications professionals are on call 24 hours a day. Be proactive with messaging when appropriate, but also be ready at all times to react.
  • Don’t discard the old skills. It might come as a great shock to some, but there is a world outside of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.  Traditional communication skills are still important.
  • Don’t be afraid.  The face of communications is changing worldwide as technology advances and cultures evolve.  Embrace the change and allow your imagination to go a little crazy to keep fresh ideas coming!

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Supreme Court Expert Discusses Affordable Care Act Decision

This morning Lyle Denniston, Dean of the U.S. Supreme Court Press Corps, spoke to members of the Nashville Health Care Council about the court’s historic decision on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Joining his audience via webinar from the Supreme Court’s press room in Washington, D.C., Denniston endeavored to “clear up some of the continuing confusion” around the court’s decision.

For those of you who missed his previous appearances with the Health Care Council, Denniston has been covering the Supreme Court for 54 years. He now covers the court for SCOTUSblog, which grew its daily viewership from a mere 30,000 per day to more than 5.3 million viewers on the day of the healthcare decision thanks to the fast, accurate coverage it provided of the court’s opinions on a live blog in the waning days of June (unlike several major cable news outlets that incorrectly reported the court’s decision in their scramble to be first).

Among the topics Denniston discussed this morning was the impact of the court’s decision to strike down the law’s requirement that all states expand their Medicaid programs in favor of making the expansion optional on a state-by state basis. Denniston expects that state legislatures will soon be inundated with lobbyists advocating for the expansion, perhaps swaying even the “red states” toward Medicaid expansions.

“You’re going to have hordes of lobbyists from various stakeholders who want their states to participate [in the Medicaid expansion] just falling all over themselves to get them to vote to go on it,” Denniston said. “So it may be that this is not a call made by governors or attorneys general, whatever their individual attitudes.”

Denniston also explored the court’s decision on the individual mandate. He admitted that he incorrectly predicted the provision would be upheld under the Commerce Clause instead of under tax law, but reminded listeners that there is “a major section in the government’s argument… that discusses the tax issue and lays it out fully as an alternative argument.”

And on a political front, he provided some context to the political uproar that followed Chief Justice John Roberts’ decision to uphold the law alongside the more liberal members of the court.

“I think one of the factors to bringing him around is the concern about the institutional stature of the court,” he said.  “I think he wanted to make a gesture in this case to make sure the court was not predictably a conservative court and not predictably a partisan court.”

But he explained that anyone who reads the opinion of the chief justice will notice that “he has not sacrificed one whit of his conservative philosophy,” and calling most of the language “very, very conservative.”

For those of you who missed the webinar, I recommend you check out SCOTUSblog for more insights from Denniston and his team.

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Occupy Definitely Occupies My Interest, How About Yours?

Occupy movements continue to make headlines in communities across the U.S. and beyond and there are plenty of fascinating P.R. lessons to be learned from both the occupiers and the authorities responding to their activities.

From a media relations perspective, however, I’ve been impressed that each group seems to have one or more designated “media ambassadors” to serve as spokespersons for the group. That’s smart and, from what I’ve seen locally, effective. Due to its grassroots nature, the larger movement doesn’t have a single spokesperson but it nonetheless seems to have people who have been designated to make themselves available to media on a consistent basis who are largely conveying a consistent message. And the movement has most certainly mastered the art of the “photo op!”

Over the past few weeks I’ve repeatedly heard people ask, “How did this start?” or “Where did all of this come from?”

According to NPR, which credits Adbusters, that story is an interesting lesson in the power of blogs and social media. On July 13, Adbusters posted a message to its website and listserve (#occupwallstreet) that urged “you 90,000 redeemers, rebels and radicals out there,” starting on September 17, “to flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.” Wow.  That’s kind of a big request, don’t you think?  And while it was early October before the movement began to gain widespread attention, people responded. To say the least.

What did Adbusters tap into?  According to numbers released in the last two weeks by the Congressional Budget Office and the Census Bureau, a pretty profound reality. The CBO study, released in late October, states the income of the richest 1 percent in the U.S. soared 275 percent from 1979 to 2007. Meanwhile, new Census data released last week shows that 1 in 15 Americans now lives in extreme poverty, defined as earning less than 50 percent of the official poverty line – that’s an annual income in 2010 of $5,500 for an individual and $11,157 for a family of four.

These statistics lead me to believe we’ll be seeing Occupy movements continue for quite some time, despite the approaching winter weather that most authorities hope will send participants scurrying back into the warmer indoors.

Are you fascinated by the Occupy movement or tiring of it?  What are the P.R. lessons – good and bad – that you’ve observed?

 

 

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Fighting to Save the Planet…One Board Room at a Time

Green Marketing Grows Up

While some environmentally responsible organizations began incorporating green marketing initiatives into their overall business strategy as early as the 1970s, green marketing came into real prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. Today, green marketing has evolved into a sustainable movement that’s at the forefront of a growing number of CEOs, corporate boards and investors, too.

This evolution is clear in “The Sustainable Economy,” published in this month’s issue of the Harvard Business Review. The article is co-authored by the founder and chairman of Patagonia, known for its commitments to environmentalism and social responsibility, the founder of Blu Skye, a sustainability consultancy, and Patagonia’s VP for environmental initiatives.

The authors quickly acknowledge a simple problem in the quest for a sustainable economy:  It’s generally cheaper to buy the product that has a worse impact on its environment than the equivalent product that does less harm. At least today that still holds true. But they go on to provide hope that three key developments in the quest for a sustainable economy will at some point inevitably converge, resulting in a new paradigm where a successful business and a sustainable business are one in the same. Could it possibly be so?

Sustainability

The first of these three developments is an effort to measure ecosystems in dollars and cents. While that may sound a bit “cold,” the authors make the point that while “the bounty of nature is priceless,” the failure to put a price on resources creates a mind-set in which they are treated as free. With a valuation system for natural resources, the “cost” of environmental damage and resource depletion can be factored into the bottom line as never before, making it more difficult for companies to downplay or disregard these impacts.

The second development also pertains to dollars – investment dollars, to be exact. Investors today increasingly use factors like environmental sustainability and social responsibility not only to filter out negative investment prospects but to positively valuate companies that limit their environmental impacts. These companies, investors are learning, are often better managed overall and their sustainability efforts help mitigate risks of negative impacts like regulatory enforcement actions, lawsuits and the depletion of natural resources essential to their  business.

The third trend is the development of “value chain indices.”  A VCI establishes parameters by which companies in a particular industry segment can be compared against one another. This tool could be used to weigh the difference between a company that generates a high volume of emissions that impact air quality, utilizes non-recyclable packaging and discharges toxic chemicals in the wastewater from its treatment process against another that powers its operations from renewable energy sources, minimizes packaging and uses recyclable materials and effective treats or reuses its wastewater.

All of these factors “add up,” if you will, to a very real and quantifiable impact to the bottom line that may finally take sustainability mainstream, not just for companies like Patagonia but for any value-seeking organization or investor.

Read the full article “The Sustainable Economy” by Yvon Chouinard, Jib Ellison and Rick Ridgeway in the October 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review. And let us know where your organization stands in this evolutionary chain. What types of green marketing strategies have you tried? And where does your organization fit into the sustainable economy of tomorrow?

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The rise of PR

the-rise-of-prBehind every dark cloud there’s a silver lining… or so the old saying goes.

According to a recent Economist article, PR firms are reaping the benefit of corporate America’s woes. As auto executives caught heat for their private jets and bankers endured criticism over everything from inflated bonuses to H1N1 shots, PR firms increased their billings by nearly 3 percent in 2009. A remarkable achievement considering that spending on advertising contracted by 11 percent over the previous two years.

So what gives? While it’s true the recession put a bullseye on the backs of some industries – increasing PR’s clout in the executive suite – this alone can’t account for the industry’s growth. Some say growing interest in social media has given the industry a boost. While this may be true, I don’t believe this is the sole driver either.

Could it be that corporate America is realizing what many in the industry have known for years: that PR is effective in good times and bad? In times of trouble, a sound public relations strategy can calm angry customers and reassure worried employees. In times of growth, good PR can raise a company’s profile and generate much-needed buzz. When business is booming, PR can strengthen customer relationships and engender loyalty. Throughout it all, public relations can build, sustain – and even repair – trust in a brand.

If you look at it this way, some might say PR is recession proof. And, in my humble opinion, if it’s not … it should be!

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Economic Survey Results

Last week Lovell Communications Inc. conducted an email blast survey on opinions about the economy.  Approximately 88 percent of 194 respondents (mostly business people and professionals) indicated they think the economy will either remain the same or improve over the next six months.

Last May 2009, when we conducted a survey with the same question, 89 percent of the 174 respondents indicated they felt the economy would remain essentially the same or improve between mid-May 2009 and mid-November 2009. Not a significant difference there.

Likewise, in the recent survey about 12 percent think the economy will get worse in the next six months compared to 11 percent asked the same question back in May. Also, not significant.

However, last May, 55 percent thought the economy was going to improve over the following six months compared to 48 percent in this month’s survey.

Last May, 34 percent thought the economy would stay the same for the subsequent six months compared to 40 percent of this month’s respondents who think the economy will remain the same for the next six months.

Asking Twitters and Facebook Users

In a separate survey sent out through Twitter and Facebook to a broader audience (not necessarily business people and professionals), only 74 percent of the 168 respondents think the economy will remain the same or improve over the next six months.  Notably, 25 percent felt the economy would get worse. (compared to only 11 percent in the business and professionals survey.)

29 percent of the Tweeters and Facebook respondents feel the economy will remain about the same over the next six months.   That compares to 48 percent of the business person and professionals survey.

I am wondering if this indicates that the business community is slightly more optimistic than the “average guy on the street.”  Makes sense.  What do you think?

Economic Survey Results

Economic Survey Results

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Lovell Communications Survey: Will the Economy Improve, Get Worse or Remain the Same During the Next Six Months?

*Update 5/13: Nashville Business Journal covered the survey results here: Area Business Leaders Bullish on Economy.*

Just last week, almost 90 percent (89.1%) of 174 survey respondents indicated they believe that the economy will either remain the same or improve over the next six months.  Better yet, about 55 percent (54.5%) think the economy will improve, and slightly more than 10 percent (10.9%) think it will get worse.

lovell-communications-economic-survey

[graph displays rounded figures]

Even before the recent good news about corporate earnings and better-than-feared bank stress test results, I was getting the feeling that we have begun to turn the corner.  So, I wanted to ask a broad base of business associates (who are likely based more predominantly in southeast) if they thought things were improving or not.

I asked them to ignore what they read or see in the media and to respond based on their own personal experience and gut reactions.  Specifically 19 people said they expect the economy to be worse in six months, 60 said it would be about the same and 95 felt it would improve.

I am liking these numbers! What do you think?

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