"I am humbled and delighted." --Bill Gates, now Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, on being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II on Mar. 2.
Liberal radio network Air America has an unexpected benefactor: Clear Channel Communications (CCU). The media monolith, run by execs with a fondness for GOP candidates and causes, owns 20 of the 50 stations that run Air America's programming. On Feb 1, Clear Channel helped Air America crack the lucrative Los Angeles market.
With at least six hours of daily opinions from pundits such as Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo, Air America fills a liberal niche for San Antonio-based Clear Channel. "Listeners across the country are asking for more progressive talk radio," said John Hogan, president of Clear Channel's Radio Div., in a prepared statement on Jan. 19 announcing the launch of Air America shows on Clear Channel stations in Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, and Detroit.
Air America is banking on Clear Channel to help it turn a profit by yearend, says CEO Danny Goldberg, who took the helm of the New York-based company from Doug Kreeger on Feb. 23. Kreeger remains on the Air America board. Goldberg says he hopes to get the nearly year-old company on air shortly in Air America's two untapped top-10 markets: Houston and Chicago.
As for the symbiotic relationship between partisans in the nation's culture wars, Goldberg says: "It's capitalism at its finest." Clearly.
A design flaw in a software program provided by Google (GOOG) is letting cyber saboteurs use blogs to infect computers with spyware -- malicious software that can alter readers' Internet settings, track personal information, and launch annoying pop-ups.
The search-engine giant offers free programs that allow amateur publishers to design their own Web logs. But when bloggers want to spruce up their sites with features not available from Google -- say, by adding music -- they often download programs from other sites. That opens the door to spyware. While the Google software prevents bloggers from putting in their own spyware when they create a Web log, it doesn't alert them if they have unknowingly installed spyware from another source, says Ben Edelman, a Harvard University researcher.
Edelman, who says he found several dozen blogs infected with spyware, says Google should alert users to the potential security flaw and play a more active role in monitoring user downloads. Google says it's looking into the problem.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is known for setting standards for everything from screw threads to management systems. But on Mar. 7 it will tackle a new topic: global guidelines for corporate social responsibility.
The voluntary standards are likely to suggest reasonable child-labor policies, promote equal opportunity for employees, ensure safe working conditions, and even make proposals about philanthropy. Unlike other ISO standards, this one won't entail a certification process. A key goal is to promote social responsibility in developing countries.
There are some concerns that the standards will overlap issues championed by the U.N. and other bodies, causing companies more administrative work. But the ISO carries substantial clout, so companies are scrambling to provide input. Exxon Mobil (XOM), Boeing (BA), and Motorola (MOT) are offering to help with standards, says the American National Standards Institute, the ISO's U.S. affiliate. A final draft isn't expected until 2008.
For a century, vacuuming has been synonymous with one brand, whose iconic status is such that the British still refer to "hoovering the carpet." But two years after launching his bagless cleaners in the U.S., English inventor James Dyson's company now makes America's No. 1 vacuum. Dyson's suckers have 21% of the U.S. market, leaving North Canton (Ohio)-based Hoover (MYG) looking dusty with nearly 16%. Guest spots on TV shows Friends and Will & Grace helped push worldwide sales up 54%, to $812 million. Dyson's clean sweep is all the more surprising given that his product goes for $399 to $550, while an average vacuum costs $150. Now who's up for a spot of Dysoning?
Energy producer Apache (APA) has found a generous way to reward workers for $50-a-barrel oil: It's passing out hefty stock awards to its 1,900 employees. After all, the $5.3 billion Houston company's earnings were up 50% last year, to $1.7 billion. And its share price has doubled to $61 in four years.
Ninety percent of the awards are going to the rank and file, with most workers receiving shares worth twice their annual salary. Even mailroom clerks will get shares worth at least as much as their salary. Now that's a gusher.
Early in his tenure as Eli Lilly CEO (LLY), Sidney Taurel had his Prozac moment. The antidepressant was accounting for nearly 25% of Lilly's sales. Then, in mid-2001, Prozac lost its U.S. patent protection. Sales sank so low it took Lilly more than a year to bounce back.
Now, Lilly is hooked on another drug. The $13.9 billion company is getting a third of its sales from antipsychotic pill Zyprexa. This time, though, Taurel has a plan: Pump out so many new meds that their sales will more than compensate for Zyprexa's inevitable fall when Lilly's patent expires -- by 2011.
Taurel, 54, may pull it off. Lilly has three other products with sales of more than $1 billion. And Strattera, a pill for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, should join this inner circle next year. "A blockbuster is obviously a mixed blessing," says Taurel, who is on the board of The McGraw-Hill Companies, publisher of BusinessWeek. "It brings a lot of revenues, but it increases your dependence." Still, it's better than an empty medicine cabinet.
With hundreds of brands jockeying for shelf space, makers of highly caffeinated, $2-a-can energy drinks are engaged in a guerrilla-marketing street fight for teens' attention. How are they slugging it out? By skipping normal TV ads, for starters. In a field littered with new entrants, each trying to out-extreme the other, energy-drink makers are pursuing increasingly audacious marketing tactics.
Without a dominating presence by either Coca-Cola (KO) or PepsiCo (PEP), energy drink companies are hoping they can become the next major brand. So far, only one leader has emerged: Red Bull, a private company with about 60% market share and $150 million in sales, according to Information Resources, a Chicago retail research firm.
Inspired by the success of Red Bull, more than 1,000 smaller players have entered the market hoping to gain traction by appealing to niches, says Bevnet, a beverage trade Web site. Drinks have been targeted at consumers interested in extreme sports (Red Bull, Go Fast!), video games (BAWLS Guarana), hip-hop (Crunk!!!, Pimp Juice, and DefCon 3), Jewish mysticism (Kaballah Energy Drink), and even marijuana (Bong Water). "There's an ability to get a toehold more quickly if you can build loyalty with a niche," says Kelly O'Keefe, CEO of Emergence, an Atlanta marketing consultant.
Amid the clutter, clever marketing has trumped distribution. Go Fast! sponsors an annual bridge-jumping event in Colorado. Red Bull struck back with a jumper who parachuted off France's Millau Bridge, the highest in the world. Now, Go Fast! is funding development of a winged jumpsuit that will allow the wearer to glide out of a plane sans parachute.
The one-upmanship extends even to brand name: Go Fast! recently lost its exclamatory supremacy to newcomer Crunk!!!, a brand co-owned by rap producer Lil Jon and Grey Goose impresario Sidney Frank.
But edgy marketing means little in the beverage industry without solid distribution. Red Bull has 250 distributors, but Go Fast! has 35, and Crunk!!! only 11. Analysts say the energy-drink market will probably follow the path of bottled water, which came to be dominated by Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Now may be the moment for the edgiest of startups to make their money or position themselves for a buyout.
Test time looks a little different this year. On Mar. 12, high school students will be taking a new version of the venerable Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). Among the changes: three sections instead of two, a top score of 2,400 (it was 1,600), harder math, and a new essay component.
It's sure to make teens' teeth chatter but be a boon for the $960 million test-prep market. Kaplan, a unit of The Washington Post, saw SAT-related sales jump up to 50% in the latter half of 2004. Market leader Princeton Review (REVU) expects up to a up to 50% boost in SAT-related first-quarter sales says Exec Vice-President Stephen Quattrociocchi.
SAT companies got a similar hike in 1994, when the test was last modified. While colleges will be judging students' results, investors will be looking for top scores from test-prep companies.