The BBC has made headlines in the UK for refusing to give air time to a Gaza fund raiser. The dispute has generated headlines for days now. Ironically I suspect more people now know about the fund raising than would have done of the BBC had aired it in the first place…
Yesterday was quite a remarkable day. Millions of people around the world watched Obama become President. At the same time the media tapped into the interest by producing special editions of newspapers and day long TV and radio coverage of the event. This prompted me to ask several people if they remembered George W Bush’s inauguration. The answer was of course – NO. By any standard the Obama inauguration was a world leading event. But then by any measure Obama is probably the best known person on the planet right now. I suspect he has overtaken all manner of celebrities and sports stars in terms of name recognition. How long will all this Obama-mania last? My guess is that we will be able to tell when his star power has lost its luster when we stop seeing Obama bumper stickers. Right now when you drive around it is as if the election is still pending for Obama, while all the McCain stickers are long gone (not that there were that many in California). So keep an eye on the Obameter as I’m calling it. When you don’t see more than five stickers in a thirty minute drive the Obameter may well be showing that Obama is not quite so popular. For now though the Obameter is at an all time high.
Apparently some clients are worrying less about client conflicts these days. I heard of two cases recently where clients are turning a blind eye to conflicts that a year ago they’d have made a huge deal about. One involves two major PC manufacturers that are both working with the same agency in China. The other involves major players in the anti-virus software market who are again using the same agency, this time in the US. I take my hat off to the agencies involved for persuading the clients that it is OK. I for one have long believed that with effective Chinese walls, clients should be able to work under the same roof albeit with totally different teams. Many large companies have taken a different view. I’m therefore encouraged to see this attitude changing.
All recessions are not created equal that’s for sure. While it is pretty clear that many businesses are feeling the effects of the global recession that is upon us, some are feeling it more than others. Sector to sector comparisons are obvious. I’d rather be in the technology business than the car business for example. However, even within sectors there are businesses that seem to be doing relatively well, while others in the same sector are crashing and burning. Some are losing because they are selling the wrong product and some are losing because they have the wrong customer base. Some are losing because they do all their business in one country, while others are winning for the same reason, they simply operate in a different country. The reasons why people are winning and losing can be due to good or bad management, or down to history. The physical markets people are in were decided a long time ago in many cases – long before the financial markets crashed and took the economy with them.
All of this unevenness (is there really such a word?) makes for some interesting management challenges. For example the cost of leaving a market can be higher than the short term savings achieved by getting out. Equally, changing your customer base isn’t easy when markets are like they are right now. Put another way it is hard for executives to marry the short term financial goals of a business, with the right long term business goals. As a result, I would expect some pretty lumpy performance from companies in the next year or two. This isn’t what financial markets like but for many companies it will be unavoidable. The most important thing is that businesses run their businesses profitably and conserve their cash during a period like this. It is then also important that they learn from this recession. Recessions expose the weaknesses of a business. Ignoring those weaknesses is perhaps the worst mistake a management team can make. All business leaders hate recessions but they are a great test of you and your team and of the business you are running. How well you do is interesting. How much you learn from the test and apply to your business is really important.
I was talking to a friend who works at Microsoft and he told me that starting January 1st, Microsoft has offered employees a choice within its benefits package that is both unusual and potentially interesting when it comes to the economy. This year they are letting staff either sign up for a health club membership as usual (this was part of the old package) or they can spend up to $800 on something like a bike or a kayak. Anything in fact that will be good for your health and Microsoft will pay them back. I believe Microsoft employs some 50,000 people in the US. If all of them were to spend their $800 on leisure equipment it would have quite an impact on the sales of Bike and athletic stores. It makes me wonder what would happen if all the major employers in the US were to re-look at benefits and do something similar.
I’m referring here to Steve Jobs, who today disclosed he has a health issue that they believe they now have sorted out. This health issue has caused his obvious weight loss. The disclosure, a day before he was originally scheduled to do the MacWorld keynote seems an odd piece of communications. It seems odd that he waited until now to disclose the illness given all the speculation that has been going on and the assumptions that his cancer had returned. It seems odd that he didn’t say he had just learned of the hormone imbalance that is hopefully the cause of his illness. It seems odd that he disclosed the details solely in writing rather than granting an interview (that said I’m glad Barbara Walters wasn’t the one breaking the news).
I truly hope Steve is now going to be 100% healthy and well. What he has done for Apple since his return is quite remarkable and will likely be the basis of many an MBA thesis for decades to come. But his communication on his health has been a comms person’s nightmare. I fully appreciate that his health is a personal matter but Steve is Apple to many people (as the stock price has shown). I only hope the comms nightmare is now over and Apple can get back to doing what they do so very well – launching great new products. I for one will be watching MacWorld with interest, even if Steve is not delivering the keynote.