FEATURE — Fall 2008

(Photo by Jennifer Weisbord)

Focused + on Message

At the helm of Makovsky + Company, alumnus Ken Makovsky is one of the country’s leading communicators in specialty public relations.

By C.B. Adams

When Ken Makovsky describes his years at Washington University, his voice brightens, his cadence quickens, and his stories become more animated. As he describes being president of his social fraternity at age 19, he makes it sound as if it happened only a year or two ago—but he received his A.B. in 1962 and his J.D. in 1965.

“After I became president of the fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, I soon discovered it was close to bankruptcy,” Makovsky says. “Trying to figure out a solution to that problem meant working with both the members of the house and the dean of students. I discovered the importance of management skills taking on that cause and developing a plan for making the chapter solvent.”

The making of a manager

Ken Makovsky (left), A.B. ’62, J.D. ’65, confers with Travis Ferber, A.B. ’07, assistant account executive, and Maggie Duquin, senior account executive, at Makovsky + Company. (Photo by Jennifer Weisbord)

The heart of his solution was both simple and effective: If you didn’t pay your dues, you couldn’t attend parties and other social events. And with this policy, it wasn’t long before the fraternity’s checkbook was balanced.

Makovsky’s management skills are still evident today. In 1979, he founded Makovsky + Company, which is now among the 35 largest independent public relations agencies in the United States—and the 13th largest in New York City. By the end of 2007, the firm earned nearly $10 million in fees and employed 50 people. The firm achieved such success on Makovsky’s pioneering philosophy to sell specialty services—health, technology, financial and professional services, investor relations, and branding and visual communications—rather than a more general menu of services. Makovsky + Company client engagements are a “who’s who” of the world’s corporate elite, including Johnson & Johnson, Booz & Co., Charles Schwab, Ernst & Young, American Express, Schering-Plough, Pfizer, and New York Life, among many others.

“When I started, offering specialized services was unusual. Now, most firms offer specialization,” Makovsky says. “Within such a competitive marketplace, I chose certain sectors that I thought would be less crowded. And this decision has not limited us; it has worked out well.”

The making of a communicator

As an undergraduate, Makovsky made an unsuccessful run for Student Senate president. During the course of his campaign, the editor-in-chief of Student Life noticed his communication skills and his interest in on-campus and real-world issues. He asked Makovsky to write a regular advocacy column called “Point of View.”

Makovsky + Company created this logo for the New York–based financial services company, XShares Group, LLC.

“He wanted me to take a point of view on a topic,” Makovsky says. “I had never written anything other than papers for my classes, but I took it on and found I really enjoyed writing a column.”

The editor submitted one of Makovsky’s columns to a University of Missouri national journalism competition for college writing. It won first prize.

“That was an important validation of my writing ability, which I had previously questioned,” he says. “I then started thinking that the most important thing for me was people and communicating on their behalf.”

Makovsky still satisfies his urge to communicate. In 2006, he added an Online Fluency practice that provides services such as corporate blogging strategy and planning, employee blogging policies, blog monitoring, dialogue services, crisis management, and virtual media room. Makovsky began writing his own weekly blog, “my three cents,” in 2006. His blog subjects span many aspects of communications; he recently covered such topics as the “language” of text messages, handling Internet rumors, and CEO relationships.

“My blog is there for more professional reasons than personal,” he says. “I give my personal opinions, but it is less about me than about issues and rendering advice.”

This brochure is part of a full-scale campaign for ThinkQuest, which brings together learning and technology for students and educators.

The making of an advocate

The third seminal moment from Makovsky’s years at Washington University was his decision not to practice law—while still attending the School of Law. “My interest in law started to wane as I realized I was more intrigued with changing attitudes, rather than in the legal process,” he says.

In the years since, his agency’s client campaigns have affected audiences throughout the country and world. Topics include the aerosol industry’s need to meet safety and environmental concerns, the drug to slow Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and others that fight cancer, the emergence of the new financial services organizations that offer integrated and international services, and public companies capitalizing on investment opportunities, among many others.

Makovsky also works as an advocate for more personal issues. He is a member of the Washington University National Council for Arts & Sciences. In 2001, he and his wife, Phyllis, endowed a scholarship in his mother’s name: The Minnie Makovsky Scholarship Fund. In addition, he served on boards at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce–USA, and the American Jewish Committee, which gave him the Stanley M. Isaacs Human Relations Award for his work in building relationships with officials of more than 30 countries. He also provided generous support to the American Heart Association.

Makovsky + Company creates Web pages for many health services providers, including this one on challenging colon cancer for Quest Diagnostics.

The acknowledgment of a success

Makovsky has stated that Washington University was a laboratory that enabled him to combine strategy, networking, interpersonal skills, intellectual curiosity, sales, and management to achieve an enviable set of personal and professional successes. These successes have not gone unnoticed by others. The Public Relations Society of America’s New York Chapter (PRSA-NY) awarded him with the 2007 John W. Hill Award, the chapter’s most prestigious individual award for leadership in the practice of public relations, demonstration of the highest standards of ethical conduct, and service to the public.

In addition, several of his company’s campaigns have won the industry’s highest awards, including the Public Relations Society’s Silver Anvil, Bronze Anvil, and Big Apple Award, IABC Gold Quill, and Holmes Report Sabre Award. And Makovsky + Company is frequently recognized by the trade media in a wide variety of categories, ranging from “Best to Work For” and “Most Admired by Peers” to “Top Business-to-Business,” “Best Managed,” “Top Investor Relations,” and “Top Strategic Counseling” agencies.

“Being one of the best places to work means a lot to me because I believe that kind of reputation helps attract good people into the firm,” Makovsky says. “Retaining our clients is very important to us, and so is retaining our employees. We are committed to servicing our clients well and treating our employees well, too.”

For more information on Makovsky + Company, please visit: http://www.makovsky.com/.

C.B. Adams is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.