Posts Tagged by Thought Leadership

Morgan Stanley Expert Predicts Slow growth for US Economy in 2012; Confidence is Key

Last week at the British Consulate, Morgan Stanley Chief Market Strategist David Kelly predicted slow (3%) growth for the US economy in 2012–providing there are no major disruptions  like  last year’s  Arab Spring, the European Debt Crisis,  the Tsunami in Japan or  what he termed a “home grown” crisis like the one created when Congress allowed this country to hover on the brink of default rather than raise the debt ceiling.

While the deficit is cause for concern, he said, a default would have thrown the nation into a true “great depression.” In diminishing its debt,  the US should proceed slowly. Both tax and entitlement reforms are needed, he said, and moving bit by bit can lead to a balanced budget within 7 years (?) whereas trying to change everything all at once could lead to disaster.

Despite the crises of  2011,   he pointed out, the Standard and Poor’s Index ended up  just .003 percent lower than it had been  at the year’s start.The coming year will  be one of uncertainty, but “the US economy can grow through that, ” he said.

According to Kelly,   factors in several areas will  likely lead to growth:

-The  current very low level of housing starts, low inventories and  rising rents will lead to greater demand for homes, especially as consumer finances continue to improve.

-With mortgage rates at 3.8 percent, consumers are refinancing their homes, which means that consumers now have 14% disposable income, compared with 11% in 2007.

-This is the most affordable housing market “ever. ” Mortgage payments now account for  just 10 percent of average household income–which means that people have more money to spend elsewhere.


-The age of the average vehicle in the US has risen from 9.8 several years ago to ten years;  as cars break  down, sales will go up.

Capital Spending
-Companies have held back on capital spending; as confidence rises,  spending will increase.%.

The key to it all, he emphasized, is confidence that the economy will improve.  Still, he said, he wished that  Ben Bernacke and the Federal Reserve Bank would take the year off “to work on their golf game” instead of telling people that interest rates will remain low for the next few years–which encourages people to put off spending.  What is more, he said,  keeping interest rates low will discourage banks from lending–because they do not want to be locked in to low rates for thirty years, when they know that rates are likely to rise a few years from now.

A link to Morgan Stanley’s  Guide to the Markets for Q1 2012     is available at

—Anita M. Harris

Anita Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a strategic PR firm specializing in integrated marketing communications, thought leadership,  media relations and social media for companies in health, science, technology and energy, worldwide. 


Clarifying CIC Venture Cafe’s New Policy

Just spoke with Venture Cafe manager Chris Myles, who said he’ll  be providing more information about Venture Cafe’s new incarnation shortly–including the list of affiliated organizations whose members may attend without applying.   Those do include the Cambridge Innovation Center and various entrepreneurial groups…

Chris said the The Cafe’s new incarnation is not meant to be elite or exclusionary–but rather to encourage participation from the innovation community. More to follow.


–Anita Harris


Anita Harris is the founder and president of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. HarrisCom is a strategic communications firm specializing in public relations, thought leadership, marketing communications and social media for emerging companies and research institutes in health, science, technology and energy, worldwide.   She also blogs at New Cambridge Observer.  

Update: CIC’s Venture Cafe Now Less of a Free-For-All

Note: This blog has been updated based on new information-also posted at  Clarifying Venture Cafe’s New Policy. 

Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC)  leaders founded Venture Cafe almost two years ago with the idea of opening  a Kendall Square restaurant where entrepreneurs and funders could walk in and meet one another over drinks or a meal.

In the economic downturn, the CIC turned that beta version into an alpha version–in which just about anyone was welcome for free drinks and networking on Thursday afternoons on the CIC’s fifth floor.

Yesterday, the CIC launched a new model in which members of the innovation community will be welcome as guests–but after three visits, anyone not affiliated with certain yet-to-be named entrepreneurial groups must formally apply to become  “contributors”… who actively aid others to pursue their innovative and entrepreneurial goals.” CIC clients and members of many other innovation-oriented groups will not need to apply.

In a letter to guests, Tim Rowe, a founder of both the CIC and Venture Cafe, and Chris Myles, Venture Cafe’s Executive Director, explain that “an analysis of the attendance of the Cafe has led us to conclude that we….have space for only 120 Contributors. As a consequence, becoming a Contributor is selective, similar to applying to a university, and is by application.  Applicants must also provide up to three references (these maybe Venture Cafe Volunteers, Contributors, or a well-known member of the innovation community…”

The new model is an “ongoing experiment,” they write,  aimed at creating “a more focused, committed core of regular attendees while preserving plenty of space and opportunity for new participants.”

As a frequent participant, I do think it’s a good idea to limit the numbers and to impose some structure on the Cafe. At times, the room gets overcrowded and chaotic;  it’s sometimes difficult to find the people one hopes to meet.   But I hope the new plan allows Venture Cafe to maintain the spontaneity, excitement, and sharing  and openness that participants have enjoyed in its earlier incarnations.


—Anita M. Harris
Anita Harris is President of the Harris Communications Group, a  public relations firm specializing in marketing communications, thought leadership and social media for companies in health, science, and technology, worldwide. HarrisCom is located in the Cambridge Innovation Center at 1 Broadway in Cambridge, MA. Anita also blogs at New Cambridge Observer





Harris Communications Advisor Robert Langer Founds Blend Therapeutics

Life Science Startup to  Target Multiple Disease Mechanisms

I’m pleased to report that Harris Communications Group Advisory Board Member Robert Langer of MIT is involved in yet another life science startup.

It’s a biotech company called “Blend Therapeutics” that will develop a new class of medicines possessing  “unprecedented ability to precisely control each agent’s therapeutic action in concert… ”  The goal is to   “predictably, effectively, and safely target the multiple mechanisms underlying complex diseases, ” according to a press release.

Blend was founded by three leaders in the fields of chemistry and nanomedicine:  Langer, who is David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology;   Stephen J. Lippard, PhD, Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry at MIT; and Omid Farokhzad, MD, Director of the Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials and Associate Professor of Anesthesia, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Blend has received financial backing from  Flagship Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and NanoDimension.

Langer said:  ” We see unparalleled opportunity to translate innovative science into important drugs for patients in need, and we’re excited by the strength of our founding investors and management who share our vision of building a successful biotechnology company that is foremost about improving the lives of patients.”

In addition to Langer, Lippard and Farokhhzad,  Blend’s  Scientific Advisory Board includes eight thought leaders in the fields of chemistry, cancer biology, immunology and medicine:

• Dennis Ausiello, MD, Chief of Medicine and Jackson Professor of Clinical Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School

• Philip Kantoff, MD, Chief Clinical Research Officer and Professor of Medicine, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School
• Alexander Klibanov, PhD, Novartis Professor of Chemistry and Bioengineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology;
• Ulrich von Andrian, MD, PhD, Mallinckrodt Professor of Immunopathology, Harvard Medical School
• Bruce R. Zetter, PhD, Charles Nowiszerski Professor of Cancer Biology, Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School.

MaestroTM is a trademark of Blend Therapeutics, Inc. More information is available at


—Anita M. Harris

Anita Harris is the president of  Harris Communications Group, a  Cambridge, MA  public relations firm specializing in strategic marketing communications,  thought leadership and social media for companies involved in health, science, technology and energy, worldwide. She also blogs at 



With 4 days to go, Boston filmmaker sweats it out on Kickstarter

With just four days to go, Boston independent filmmaker Bill Lichtenstein needs to raise another $34,000 in order to receive any of the $70,000 he’s raised so far for  his newest film project. He’s using a Web portal called  Kickstarter to encourage individual donors to hep  fund a nonprofit documentary about the innovative Boston radio station where,  in the 1960s, at age 14,  Lichetenstein was the nation’s youngest DJ.

And he’s sweating.

“Tell people that if we don’t get the entire $104K, we don’t get anything,” he says.

Lichtenstein chose $104K as the goal because (a) he needs the money and (b) the station was at 104. 1 on the Boston FM radio dial.

The film, entitled ” “The American Revolution: How a Radio Station, Politics and Rock and Roll Changed Everything”  documents Boston radio station WBCN from 1968  through 1974.

As reported in the Boston Herald (Dec. 5, 2011), during those years, Bruce Springsteen did his first radio interview ever on WBCN;  Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir,  of the Grateful Dead, and  the Allman Brothers’ Duane Allman stopped into the studio at 2 AM and jammed for an area. When Nixon invaded Cambodia, “BCN got local college kids to strike.
WBCN  “had tremendous national impact both musically and politically,” Lichtenstein told the Herald.

Lichenstein, who has produced TV and documentaries for ABC News and PBS, has gathered more than 50,000 photos, documents and tapes, including early performances by Led Zeppelin a, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.

“We changed the world one time,” Lichtenstein says. ” And we can do it again.”

But not if he doesn’t reach his goal on  Kickstarter–a nonprofit that allows contributors to get tax deductions–but gives fundraisers just a month to get the entire bundle.

Lichtenstein and Kickstarter were  featured on Boston’s WCVB-TV  “Chronicle”  on Dec. 13, 2011.

More info, the WCVB piece  and the film trailer are available at

——Anita Harris

Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, an award-winning public relations firm located in tyhe Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square,  Cambridge, MA.   Anita  is a former national journalist who got HER start in the alternative press–as a founder of the Harrisburg Independent Press and writer for  the The Real Paper and Phoenix in Boston, MA.

Despite fracking concerns, experts predict growth in shale gas extraction

Despite environmental, cost and market concerns, fracking–the hydraulic extraction of natural gas from shale–is here to stay.  That was the consensus of  experts who spoke  at the British Consulate in Boston on Dec 15 2011.

Sponsored by the British American Business Council and National Grid, the panel included  moderator Daniel Goldman, executive vice president and chief financial  officer of Great Point Energy;  David Hobbes, chief energy strategist for the information/strategy firm IHS CERA;  Dr. Elizabeth Kane, first secretary and head of the energy team at the British Embassy in Washington, DC, and Dr. Francis O’Sullivan, research engineer and executivedDirector of the Energy Sustainability Challenge Program, MIT Energy Initiative.

Hobbes described the complexity of shifting international energy markets–pointing out the need to include the costs of extraction and transportation of what otherwise appears to be a low-cost source of energy.  He challenged as “shoddy” a recent Cornell University report that extracting natural gas  from shale could do more to aggravate global warming than mining coal, and said that it is unfortunate that the study is being used as a basis for US shale extraction policy.  He predicted, jokingly,  that the UK will come up with “an even stupider policy,” because, as a friend to the US,  his homeland “tries to make the US look good,” by comparison.

According to Kane,  incentives to invest in shale gas extraction are limited in the UK because the Crown holds mineral rights,  because most shale fields are located in densely populated areas (such as under London), and because England does not have the road structure needed to support the fracking industry.  Fracking in England was temporarily halted after it was determined that the practice had caused two  small earthquakes–but resumed after experts found  it was unlikely to cause major quakes, she said.  Environmental concerns remain, however;  members of a group calling itself “frack off” have chained themselves to fracking equipment to keep it from being operated.

O’Sullivan explained that despite significant shale reserves,  few fracking operations are currently profitable because extraction costs are relatively high–but that this will change as technology improves.   Regarding environmental concerns, he said it’s unlikely that chemicals used in fracking will leak from pipes into drinking water. In part, that’s because  leaky pipes diminish wells’ performance , which provides the industry with incentives to make sure that fracking equipment and wells are tightly sealed. A greater concern is highly polluted “return” water. In Texas, he said,  this water is injected into deep sealed aquifer but in Pennsylvania and Western New York State, which have different geologic underpinnings, companies must use other methods to prevent pollution.

O’Sullivan also pointed out that there’s shale to be mined in China, Australia and Argentina–and that the abundance of shale and the possibilities it presents as a source of relatively inexpensive fuel (compared with oil) will impact the global energy market in coming years.

Regarding future markets for natural gas, Hobbes said it’s not likely to be widely used for hybrid electric cars, which are expensive to produce and therefore not popular with consumers. He predicted that the market for shale gas will increase “in little bits and pieces over the next 20-30 years.”  Over that period, energy consumption will go down, the US and Canada will add as much oil production as Iran possesses, and Chinese energy demands will optimize the market for natural gas producers in the US, he said.

O’Sullivan predicted growth markets for shale gas  in commercial, residential, power, industrial and feed stock uses in the US and elsewhere, and– in light of the recent nuclear reactor failures–in Japan.


–Anita M. Harris
Anita Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, an award-winning public relations firm located in  Cambridge, MA.  HarrisCom specializes in integrated strategic communications, thought leadership and content strategy for companies and organizations in health, science, technology and energy, worldwide.   She also blogs at   New Cambridge Observer.

Is SEO Dead? Content strategy to drive traffic to your Web site

Hubspot’s  SEO Scientist Dan Zarrella  definitely caught my attention  when he asked in a recent Webinar if search is dead. He concluded that it is not–but that there’s no point in hiring SEO (search engine optimization) experts to game search engine algorithms to up your rankings on the Web.  His words, “What you really need are content production people “, were music to my content-strategist ears.

In “The Science of SEO” (Dec. 8, 2011), Zarrella outlined new research suggesting that while high search engine rankings can make your site seem more trustworthy, people under 30 are aware that many of the highest ranking sites are paid–and most people surveyed did not trust pay for click sites or admit to clicking on them.

This means that the key to optimal search engine placement is  “organic” search–in which “spiders” electronically find and rank sites based on the usefulness of their content, he said. That usefulness is determined mainly by the numbers of links connecting a site from other sites. |

How can you get more links? Zarrella advises:

-Post “piles and piles” of content: a blog or more  a day

-Keep titles to 40-80 characters–tweet length–so that your content can be readily picked up  by social media users

-Write on newsworthy, timely topics

-Post early in the week and early in the day–which is when bloggers are looking for news to cover/link to.

-Don’t use buzzwords or jargon

-Bear in mind photos and video on sites encourage links–and that, according to Zarrella’s research, videos are linked-to far more often than are photos.

Zarrella said he can’t explain why that should be but “it shows there are many different kinds of search engines and they are all looking for content.”

The Webinar is available for free at

Anita M. Harris

Anita Harris, a content strategist, is president of the Harris Communications Group, an award-winning public relations firm in Cambridge, MA. She also blogs at New Cambridge Observer.

Vishwa Robotics’ military surveillance ‘bird’ drones to diminish civilian deaths

Recently, at the Cambridge Innovation Center, I happened to meet  Bhargav  Gajjar,  who founded Vishwa Robotics two years ago, while still a grad student at MIT.    I  was blown away by the product for which he’s received NASA funding:  a battery-powered robot, the size and shape of a bird, which, if successful, will serve as a surveillance drone that can be perched, undetected, on a windowsill or statue to provide information about activities in its purview.

Today, Gajjar  explains,  most drones are the size of automobiles, which means they can easily be seen and shot down. He   and his team are currently developing designs for the birds–which will be made to look like species native to particular areas of the world.  Operators wearing special goggles will be able to see what the “birds” see and to guide the birds’ movement–having them walk, fly and perch–from miles away.  Vishwa’s robotic birds hold larger batteries  than recently publicized robotic hummingbirds and, thus, can be used for longer periods of time than the tinier drones.

The immediate goal is to  help the military prevent unintended civilian deaths in war zones. And,  Gajjar says, the devices should also be useful in industrial or other situations to assess environmental, human or other hazards.

I do wonder how much the devices will cost–and whether they could make it too easy for the wrong people to snoop.  Gajjar says the bird/drones will be owned by the military and regulated by the FAA, which will prohibit their use in civilian areas (except with specific permission in times of disaster) in the US.  He’s not speculating about how they will be used in foreign nations.

Vishwa Robotics offers consulting and design services in a range of fields, including mechanical design, simulation, advanced control systems and prototyping of complex electromechanical and robotic systems.

According to company materials: “In a world where radical technological advances are taken for granted, Vishwa’s goal is to revolutionize industrial and consumer robotics through applications of new concepts and cutting-edge technologies and to create a better future for mankind.

“Leveraging their experience from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s famed Media Lab, MIT Leg Lab, MIT Artificial Intelligence (AI) Lab and other advanced research organizations like NASA and US Air Force Research Lab, Vishwa works with a diverse array of experts from various fields.
Vishwa can  reached at info “a-t” .  A Website is under construction at


—–Anita M. Harris
Anita Harris is the president of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA,  which specializes in strategic outreach for companies and organizations in health, science and technology, worldwide.  HarrisCom also publishes New Cambridge Observer,  offering commentary on art, science, technology and community. 


Is the News Embargo Dead? Xconomy says “yes.” I say, “not so fast.”

Xconomy  senior correspondent and  San Francisco editor Wade Roush says  he’s done with news embargoes.

In a column entitled, “The News Embargo Is Dead. Tech Crunch Killed It. Let’s Move On,”  he writes that he’ll no longer agree to being “pre-briefed” by tech companies or  PR firms with the understanding that he’ll wait to publish until the stories are  made public— because he’s been burned one too many times.

What happened?  TechCrunch went to press early with an embargoed story that he was also covering–making him look like an “also ran.”

In an email,  Roush explained:
TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington…[claims]  that TechCrunch has never broken an embargo. His implication was that in the cases where TechCrunch seemed to be publishing stories before the agreed embargo time, they’d been authorized to do so by companies or their PR firms who gave them an earlier embargo. Of course, an embargo where one party gets special treatment is no embargo at all, and if Arrington is to be believed, then the PR community (and not just Arrington himself, who long ago proclaimed “Death to the Embargo”) shares in the blame for the breakdown of the embargo as a reliable way to manage news. It’s a rotten system that I’m happy to walk away from.

Speaking as a former journalist who now works in PR,  I am of two minds (or more).
Certainly,  as a journalist, I didn’t liked being “scooped”  when I honored an embargo. And no reporter wants to feel that s/he is being used  to manage a company’s image. But, in covering health and science for national public television,  I much appreciated  having time to fully  understand a development before I wrote about it.
From the PR side– I use embargoes because they  allow me  to research individual story angles  rather than blast out the same pitch, to all reporters, all at the same time.   True, those  blasts can occasionally  lead to a rush of interview requests—but sometimes you get so many that busy scientists or execs can’t respond to them all–leaving some journalists empty-handed.  And, with today’s 24-hour news cycles, too many important stories are hastily written and errors  are made.
I might mention that  it’s not only journalists who get burned:   I once sent an embargoed announcement to a reporter who  did an end run–going to someone for information who was not in the know.  The reporter beat out the pack but got the story wrong,  pissed off his competitors,  my client, and me.  He no longer gets advance notice of my clients’ upcoming news.
I do think it’s great that Roush is NOT saying that he’ll knowingly break embargoes. Like  Wall Street Journal reporters,  he simply asks that sources not send him embargoed stories; he’ll wait to the info goes public,  then decide what to do.
Will he  still accept “exclusives”–in which a source promises that only he, Roush, will have the story, so that he can break it first?
Yes, I still love exclusives, as long as they turn out to be truly exclusive.  If I learned later that a PR firm had given the same story to someone else, then that would destroy my trust in that firm and I’d stop working with them.
I do think it’s about trust in the end. 

From all sides of my mind—I definitely agree.  Trust is key.
–Anita M. Harris
Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a  public relations and marketing communications firm located in Cambridge, MA. 

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