Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Challenges for Business Journalists in an Ethically Challenged World

A fascinating and wide-ranging article from Investors Business Daily that looks at...

* Journalism's own ethics skeletons: made-up stories, fabricated quotes, bad judgment, inflated circulation figures, and a general credibility gap
* The lack of training for business journalists as most small local papers slash their business coverage
* Journalism's failure to pay attention to the signals before Enron and others collapsed--accepting company claims in the same spirit of "press release journalism" that mars--this is my opinion now, not article writer Jon Friedman's--its failure to ask hard questions of the government

Friedman doesn't comment on the scandal of VNRs: video news releases presented as actual TV news, without attribution to the government agency or corporation that prepared it with a particular agenda. and while he hints at it, I think he gives short shrift to some of the reasons behind these trends:

1] News decisions made by bottom line-focused executives with no understanding of the role news plays in a free society, and therefore no recognition of the value honest and thorough news brings to the table, beyond dollars

2] The tragic tendency to replace discourse with "infotainment." If you watch many newscasts, or read many prominent publications, you'd come away with the impression that celebrities' love lives are more important than a solid discussion of, say, the reasons for foreign policy decisions or the impact of corporate outsourcing on a local economy.

This second factor has left an ill-informed populace with poor thinking skills. Sure, it's easy to find much more thorough treatment in the alternative voices; the problem is that these wonderful resources make very little impact on the mainstream, whereas the infotainment specialists have taken over the TV sets and daily newspapers that reach a majority of people. And this is dumbing down our whole culture.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Backbone Wins Again: House Ethics Committee Avoids Evisceration

I've long held that politicians, like business owners, do better when they remember their backbone. On March 12, I blogged about the Democrats' refusal to go along with new House Ethics rules that seemed to be designed specifically to protect House Speaker Tom Delay from having to face up to his many ethically questionable actions.

For once in their too-often-spineless lives, the Democrats held firm. And they won! Yesterday, all but 20 members of the House voted to reinstate the previous committee rules, and that's likely to mean an investigation of the ultra-rightist Delay and his hanky-panky around lobbyist-paid travel, intimidation, and other "might makes right" shenanigans.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Marketing Lessons from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

I was off on a road trip last week, and one of my stops was the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in downtown Cleveland.

I'm used to marketing products, services, and ideas. The Hall of Fame markets an entire culture. Can I learn a few things from them and apply it to marketing the books, widgets, services, and opportunities that make up my livelihood? You bet!

A few for starters:

* If you want to market a culture, define it broadly. Rock, as the Hall of Fame sees it, goes back to the 1940s and continues through the day after tomorrow. So anyone under about 80 will feel that the museum has something for them.

* Honor the contributions of others. One of the things that really makes the museum stand out is its emphasis on the trailblazers of folk, jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, and world music. Without them, rock would never have come to be. By honoring these pioneers, the museum has made itself accessible to several older generations, and let casual fans trace the music through its roots, so they gain a greater understanding of what makes this a music to take seriously.

* Employ all the senses. Sound, vision, and touch are all part of the experience. I imagine they'll figure out ways of incorporating taste and smell at some point.

* Make it fun! And make it unique. You'd expect to see Eric Clapton's guitar, Jimi Hendrix's wardrobe. But how about John Lennon's grammar school report card? (His teachers saw him as creative, but undisciplined.) Or a video clip of Bruce Springsteen saying most rock stars wee misfits in school.

I'll stop there. It was not only a wonderful good time, but it was professionally useful, too.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

10 Resolutions For a More Ethical, Profitable, and Successful Business

\In this age of business scandals, it's crucial to remember that businesses based on ethics and quality actually work better. With that in mind, here are ten easy and ethical resolutions to inspire your business to achieve a very profitable year.

So why am I posting this in April? Shouldn't I have posted in January? Well, first of all, I actually wrote this in Januarty 2004. It would have been a natural to post when I started my blog right around the new year, but I didn't think of it. So I'm doing it now. Besides, Passover, which is only a week away, is one of several New Year's on the Jewish calendar. So there. Let's move on to the resolutions:

1) I will base every aspect of my business on honesty, integrity, and quality.

2) I will make sure every employee, from janitor to CEO, is trained to view every interaction with a customer as a key step in the marketing process, and to always give the customer respect and attention.

3) I will train and empower every employee to let the customer go away feeling good about the entire interaction.

4) I will stand behind my products and services. It is better to refund the money and create a positive buzz.

5) Understanding that it costs an average of five times more to bring in a new customer as to keep an existing one, I will see that the entire organization exceeds customer expectations.

6) Recognizing that my competitors can be my strongest allies, I will initiate at least one joint venture (after all, if FedEx and the Postal Service, Apple and IBM, and General Motors and Toyota can cooperate--as they do--surely I can too).

7) If my company is not the best answer to prospect's needs, I will refer that prospect to the company that can best serve.

8) I will devote business resources to make the world a better place.

9) I will volunteer on a community project, and set up incentives for my employees to volunteer on the projects of their choice.

10) I will base decisions on the Abundance Principle that there is enough to go around, and not on market share.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Copywriting Split Testing, Rathergate, and the Bush Draft Scandal

As a copywriter, I'm always looking to better my skill set—so I read a whole lot of copywriting newsletters and books. One of them is Ivan Levison's "Levison Letter."

Ivan's latest issue expressed surprise at the results of an A/B split—a test that changes one variable in a copywriting piece. He had advised the client to format the letter in an old-fashioned typewriter-style font, like Courier--because, in the old days, letters that looked hand-typed usually pulled better. (Direct marketers measure absolutely everything--the number, kind, and quality of the results; it's as much science as art.) But the client was adamant about doing it in Times Roman. So they did an A/B test: 25,000 letters in each font, no other variables changed.

It was a dead heat, and this shocked Ivan. But it doesn't shock me. In fact, I wouldn't have been surprised if the typeset-looking version had outpulled the classic Courier.

Why? Because to the current generation, Times New Roman represents hand-typed. It's the default font in Microsoft Word, the word processor that completely dominates the market. Many people never even touch their font settings. There are probably a lot of people under 30 who've never seen a letter typed on a real typewriter. What Ivan forgot to adjust for is that the principle behind his original conclusions is sound: people respond better to a letter that looks like it was created just for them--but the parameters of what makes that true have changed.

I'm betting that in the last ten years, the only letters you've seen that were typed in Courier were marketing documents, done by direct marketers who didn't realize the territory has shifted. Unless, maybe, you have an elderly aunt who never got a computer and doesn't hand-write her letters.

Now, this got me thinking about a famous situation where several careers were dramatically altered because of the difference between Courier and Times Roman: Rathergate.

You'll remember that in the run-up to the election, a memo was leaked that seemed to prove the longstanding allegations that President Bush had not only used his family privilege to get a precious--and safe--spot in the Texas National Guard, but then skipped out on his responsibilities, didn't show up for a required physical, and lost his pilot status.

Some alert bloggers in the Republican camp noticed that the memo had been done in Times Roman, and appeared to be produced on a modern word processor, and not a 70s-era typewriter. Yes, proportional-font technology existed back then--I even used a funky IBM compositor in 1975--but no sane person would use it to produce a casual memo. It was hard to wrestle with and expensive to purchase and operate, and it was designed to create finished typeset documents for publication. I saw a PDF of the memo at the time, and recognized instantly that it was a forgery. This caused the firing of several people at CBS, and advanced Dan Rather's retirement to several months earlier than planned.

The interesting side result was to deflect all the piled-up criticism about Bush's highly questionable service record. Mary Mapes got fired; Bush held on to the presidency.

The question I asked then, and continue to ask, is who really benefited from Rathergate, and who was really behind it? No one has ever really tied this scandal to either the Democrats or the Republicans--but actually, the Republicans had far more to gain. In fact, this story completed deflated the various investigations into the actual military service record--a record which, in a time of war, and a war whose purpose and justification were tangled in a web of deceit (does anyone remember that we were supposed to be preventing Saddam from using his non-existent weapons of mass destruction?), was a valid and crucial election issue. The various trails running through this sordid story are starkly relevant to the election and its outcome. For starters, it would be worth looking at how quickly people were able to trace these memos back to the same source. It wouldn't surprise me at all if we found out Karl Rove had a hand in this.

If that turns out to be true, will the mass media, cowed into submission by this and other instances, raise its collective head, remove the tail from between it legs, and call strongly for impeachment?

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Secret Weapon that Got the Ethics Pledge Into the NY Times (you may need to register)

Not that big a secret, actually: the letters column. Though the Times is notoriously fussy. With other newspapers, I have, typically, about a 90 percent success rate. With the Times, I've probably sent well over 100 letters in 33 years (most of them during the 1970s and 80s); this is the third success. The first was in 1972, when I was 15, and I got in a letter criticizing Dean Koontz's support of Nixon's Vietnam policy.

This one's on ethics. The one between was a comment on a travel article.

Two tips:

1. Well-argued controversy seems to be something they like

2. Speed counts. I was responding to an article on page 1 of the Tuesday, March 29 edition. I submitted my letter around noon that day; it ran in the next day's paper.

The link above is what they actually ran, somewhat abridged, but with the wonderful slug, "The writer is founder of the Business Ethics Pledge Campaign." and yes, this little letter has drawn quite a number of responses.

-->Here's what I originally wrote:

"On Wall Street, A Rise in Dismissals Over Ethics" chronicles, somewhat dismissively, the spate of firings over ethics violations within the financial community. The article makes a case that innocents are being shown the door in a hurry for behavior that's perfectly legal.

The problem, though, is that big business has pretty much destroyed the culture of trust. Consumers are more suspicious of these large corporations than they've been in decades. Without passing judgment on the specific individuals cited in the article, I'd say that keeping a commitment to ethics means acting rapidly to prevent or deal with ethics violations as soon as they're discovered. Whether termination was the correct response for these particular people, I couldn't say--but the bank acted immediately, and that is better than the all-too-typical non-response we've seen in the last few years.

Eventually, the public will simply demand higher standards of accountability. I'm hoping to foster that with an international pledge campaign around business ethics; I hope to make future Enrons and Tycos impossible. The campaign is hosted at

--Shel Horowitz, author, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, columnist for Business Ethics magazine, and founder, Business Ethics Pledge Campaign

-->And this is what they actually printed:

To the Editor:

In chronicling, somewhat dismissively, the spate of firings over ethics violations within the financial community, you make a case that innocents are being shown the door for perfectly legal behavior.

The problem, though, is that big business has pretty much destroyed the culture of trust. Consumers are more suspicious of large corporations than they've been in decades.

Keeping a commitment to ethics means acting rapidly to prevent or deal with ethics violations as soon as they're discovered.

Whether termination was the correct response I couldn't say, but acting immediately is better than not responding.

The public will simply demand higher standards of accountability. I'm hoping to foster it with an international pledge campaign around business ethics.

Shel Horowitz
Hadley, Mass., March 29, 2005
The writer is founder of the Business Ethics Pledge Campaign