Listen To Your PR Counsel When They Tell You That You Don’t Have News

July 22nd, 2014 by Matt Friedman

UnknownThe client didn’t just think she might have a news story, she insisted that she had one. She was wrong.

In the first meeting, I offered simple counsel that while her event was a terrific private fundraiser for her charity, it just wasn’t news. When she brought it up in a second meeting, I let her know that when I was a news producer, I would have never assigned a TV crew to cover this event and, in all of my years in PR, I have never asked for or received coverage of an event like this. When I was out of town, she asked one of my colleagues to invite TV stations to her event. When my colleague counseled otherwise, the client told her to “shut up.” That was the beginning of the end of the relationship.

There is no reason for us to counsel a client advising that what they think is news just isn’t news other than the best interest of the client. We get paid for our time, so it certainly could not logically be argued that we somehow profit from not pitching a story idea to media, which takes less time than pitching would. It could not be argued that we’re passive if we recommend an idea not be pitched, when we are working in the midst of an proactive communications plan that we developed.

If we’re hired to help an organization build its reputation with audiences, we would harm its reputation with journalists if we agree to pitch something that we know would immediately result in a “no.” That puts at risk future potential coverage when the organization has some real news or perspective on news to share.

We understand that some firms simply tell clients what they want to hear. We also know that some firms pitch to media everything clients want, throwing it up on the wall to see what sticks. If you want a firm that does those things, hire one, even though it won’t mean long-term success. Otherwise, listen to your counsel when they say “that’s not a news story.” The only incentive for providing that advice is helping you.

Linkin Park’s “Hunting Party” Hits the Brand Bullseye

July 16th, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 10.42.38 PMBack to basics.  It’s a term with many meanings but in the context of initial successes vs. subsequent lackluster results it is a concept worthy of examination. Case in point: The band Linkin Park. In 1996, the group released their debut album, Hybrid Theory to rave reviews, Diamond sales and international fame. Their formula? A unique hybrid of hard melodic rock, metal and rap.  And, while their follow-ups, including Meteora (2003) and Minutes to Midnight (2007) were well-received, the music had lost its initial edge – a seeming compromise for greater accessibility and airplay.  After the concept LP, A Thousand Suns (2010 – which I loved but most panned), 2012′s Living Things was a disaster and barely listenable. Fans were left shaking their collective heads – again.

Thankfully, with the just-released The Hunting Party, it is, you guessed it: back to basic roots for the prolific band and an obvious attempt to win back a legion of fans once gained but since lost.  The “edge” has returned on what should have been Hybrid’s follow-up.  If you have followed the group through the years, it is evident that the new record is a re-embracing of an original brand and identity that had moved right of center.

Equally interesting to look at is the rock band Red.  End of Silence (2006), Innocence & Instinct (2009) and Until We Have Faces (2011) all masterfully crafted a sound similar to Linkin Park albeit with greater consistency.  With 2013′s Release the Panic, however, Red largely removed its trademark strings and orchestrations, much to the vocal dismay of their followers. And Red listened. Several months later, the group did the virtually unprecedented: they unveiled, Release the Panic: Re-Calibrated, with several cuts from its sister record remixed to include the heretofore non-existent orchestral elements.  Give the people what they want. Seems like a no brainer, doesn’t it?

So, why does a band or a company or any entity lose its way and move away from the tried and true? In music, it is often either a lack of creativity (can you say one-hit wonder?), or a desire to be more creative (eschewing the formulaic).  For anyone, not being true to your brand is the result of losing sight of or ignoring who your audience is and what they love about you.  Evolving to remain relevant is one thing.  Being ‘too hip for the room’ is something else altogether. Remember, ultimately, it’s not about you.

 

 

 

 

 

Do Your Facebook Posts Generate Interest or Resentment?

June 29th, 2014 by Don Tanner

UnknownSocial media is often defined as, “People having 2-way conversations online.” Yet, more and more it would appear, platforms such as Facebook are being utilized for autonomous communiqués – to the disappointment, even resentment, of other users, friends and followers.  A longtime friend of mine recently posted of being tired of incessantly positive posts portraying perpetually ‘sunny skies’ and eternally wonderful lives.  A recent academic report shows she is not alone.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported on a study by two German universities that found that, “Witnessing friend’s vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness.” The findings noted rampant envy on Facebook, which at over one billion users is the world’s largest social medium and produces an unprecedented platform for social comparison.

The researchers, from Humboldt University and Darmstadt’s Technical University, found one in three individuals felt worse and more dissatisfied with their lives after visiting the Facebook with vacation photos the biggest trigger of resentment.  Social interaction was the second most common cause of envy including how many birthday greetings they received or how many ‘likes’ were garnered for posts of all types – a dynamic no doubt exacerbated by the fact that, post IPO, Facebook no longer sends out all posts to all friends.

So why do we post what we post? Well, social media obviously means different things for different people. For some, it is an online life scrapbook.  For others, it is a means by which to communicate business and personal trials and triumphs to friends and family on a widespread basis. What should we be posting?  That is perhaps the toughest question of all as it depends on the desired end result.  If you are posting for yourself, post whatever you want.  However, if you want your thoughts and news to be noticed and appreciated by others, what you post should provide some type of value.  “TGIF” and “Oh no, it’s another Monday” are the antithesis of this. Best rule of thumb: Be positive but, more importantly, be genuine and yourself.

 

 

What Changed At ABC News? Nothing.

June 25th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

imagesIt used to be a change of anchors for a network news broadcast would have adults buzzing nationwide. This anchor change, though, probably wasn’t even the biggest TV story of the day. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Aereo decision trumped the announcement that David Muir would succeed Diane Sawyer as the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.

This move is being viewed as a “change” but that is the case only on the surface. Unless ABC executives are saving part of their announcement, it’s just more of the “same old, same old” for network news.

The way consumers get information has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. But take a look at the network evening newscast. It’s pretty much the same. Starting in the Fall, three white men will sit behind anchor desks in New York and present a newscast that looks very much like 1994 television. They are all managing editors of the newscasts, following a tradition when anchors were selected by journalistic chops as much or more than presentation ability, meaning they are given editorial control. And perhaps most significantly, the newscasts will air, in most markets, at 6:30 p.m., the same time selected for Cronkite, Reasoner and Huntley/Brinkley, generations ago.

Seven years ago, I wrote this about the opportunity CBS had in front of it when it made changes to its Evening News. CBS squandered that opportunity. ABC apparently will too. Here are some thoughts on what ABC could be doing to truly change its evening news:

-Keep it apolitical – The network evening news could be a bastion of impartiality and credibility sorely lacking on national TV. With George Stephanopolous, a former political strategist, spokesperson and analyst, getting an increased role, ABC has put their potentially best point of difference at risk.

-Use the medium – With HDTV, television has great storytelling capacity. As a counter to the talking heads of cable, network news is a place to “show and tell” the biggest stories with video, sound and reality. Too often, though, viewers see the anchor and the set. Instead, show the stories that TV does best, taking the audience where it couldn’t go otherwise plus stories that haven’t yet appeared on other platforms.

-Use new media – All elements of the network broadcast should be easily found online immediately after the broadcast. Fans of “straight news” could get the show rundown texted to them to insure they don’t miss stories of interest. Where is evidence of any of that thinking?

-Change the time – At least one network needs to be bold and get closer to or in Prime Time with news. Take a look at the roads near where you live at 6:30 p.m. Packed? Those are missed opportunities for network news.

The networks have invested in change for their morning broadcasts. Unfortunately for fans of news, those changes have meant more celebrities, more crime stories and more anchors learning to cook. But the evening is ripe for change and a new 40 year-old anchorman isn’t enough to make a dent.

Are We Too Politically Correct?

June 22nd, 2014 by Don Tanner

PrintThe answer to the question posed in the title to this blog is: ‘yes’ with the caveat: “…and sometimes that is a good thing.”  In recent days, two separate but similar sports stories made front-page news.  Detroit Tigers newbie manager Brad Ausmus made a rookie mistake when he joked about spousal abuse, while longtime Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder remained defiant on changing the name of his football team. Let’s take a closer look at both.

Baseball skipper Brad Ausmus this week learned an invaluable lesson. In today’s hyper-sensitive world, where every word and expression are scrutinized by millions (including the ability of almost anyone to publish their rants via social media), you can’t joke about something like domestic violence. When asked during a post-game press conference how he handled the Tigers losing, he had quipped that he beat his wife.  Sensing his faux pas, he immediately apologized.  Still, a public uproar ensued, providing fodder for talk shows and Twitter, followed by yet another apology.

In the nation’s capital, meanwhile, Daniel Snyder remained entirely unapologetic in the wake of the United States Patent and Trademark Office cancelling the trademark registration of the Washington Redskins football team because “they were disparaging to Native Americans…” Through several years of controversy and calls for a name change, Snyder has continued along unwaveringly, unwilling to entertain either a dialogue or discussion.  Now, faced with the potential loss of millions of merchandise licensing dollars he is suddenly paying attention – in the form of a pending appeal.

Brad Ausmus was insensitive and flippant but he apologized and obviously meant no harm. As Detroit News sports writer Drew Sharp noted this week on Fox-2′s “Let It Rip,” in fact, it was not a story and he urged his editor to ignore it (he didn’t).  The outcry over Snyder and his serial insensitivity to racial stereotypes, on the other hand, is highly warranted and important and should be continued, even intensified.

Whether it is the “moral majority” or little ‘ol you or I, we should all strive as a society to scrutinize what’s right and wrong in the right way – picking our battles appropriately, ignoring ‘haters’ with private agendas and sweating the big stuff not the small.  In this way, maybe we can all focus on serving the public good in a world where P.C. is actually O.K.

 

 

The Most Overused Word In PR

June 10th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

excited-fifties-womanSometimes, I feel sorry for journalists who have to wade through the PR garbage that infests their inboxes. In PR, we could really make it easy for them by cutting the cliches. Here’s a place to start.

Based on what I see, the most overused word in PR is, in its various forms, “exciting.” Companies are excited to announce something. The announcement is exciting. How exciting? The lead quote from the CEO talks about how excited the company is to be making the announcement.

Please, fellow PR types, let’s contain our excitement for exciting. Do we really expect journalists to fall for this? How about just letting them know what the news is? If you’re announcing something new, explain what it is, how it’s new and why the company thinks it’s important. Use the press release or the pitch as an opportunity to explain what’s in it for the journalist and the audience, not as a way to make your client feel good about its purported story.

I can tell you first hand, that I have edited “excited” and “exciting” out of many press releases and never has that hurt the chances of an announcement becoming news. In fact, it helps if you take out those words and replace them with language that actually explains newsworthiness, surrounded by facts. We really can all do better.

As for executive quotes, if you make them quotable (like quotes you actually see in news stories), they might actually get used in stories by journalists who are busier than ever. But if you just write “We’re excited to announce…” or “This is an exciting day for us because…” the quote will never make it into a bona fide news outlet.

The next time you think about using those words, think about true excitement. As a sports fan, a play like the end of the 2013 Auburn-Alabama football game comes to mind. That was exciting and, emotionally, it couldn’t be further away from the announcement of a new 500 square feet of office space.

How Do You Respond To A Crazy Email?

June 3rd, 2014 by Matt Friedman

yellow_guy_crazy_hg_whtA couple of weeks ago on this blog, I detailed how an egomaniac ad agency owner committed the ultimate act of cowardice against a client, who happened to be my wife. After nearly a year of broken promises, long lulls in communication and growing frustration, she told him she was no longer interested in his company’s completion of a new website for her online business, promised due seven months earlier. So, he sued her for breach of contract. It’s all detailed here.

A reasonable businessperson would think that my business relationship with this guy would be history after he dropped multiple nuclear bombs – 1) taking on a project his firm either didn’t have the capabilities to commit or considered “small potatoes” 2) treating a customer (with whom I live) poorly, stringing her along for a year and 3) filing the lawsuit. Now that the case has been settled in binding mediation, a reasonable person would expect that I would be done with him. Instead, last week, I received this email:

“Hi Matt, sorry things didn’t work out the way your wife wanted. We really tried to make her happy. I am sure this entire thing put you in a very odd place. Please understand that I am not angry or think that this was your fault. I recently recommended you for another assignment will continue to do so. Hope to catch up with you soon.”

Really? Really? Yes.

Emotional thoughts raced through my mind. This is crazy. Completely nuts. “Didn’t work out the way your wife wanted.” That’s the understatement of the year. “Tried to make her happy.” Bull****. This could have been my fault? My fault? “Hope to catch up with you soon.” Ya, how about half past never? There’s only one word to describe it and it’s a Yiddish one. This is chutzpah.

Didn’t this guy understand the money he cost my household in legal fees and for an expensive website that was never built? Didn’t he understand the pain he caused by forcing us to talk about this situation every night for a year instead of other more pleasant things? Didn’t he understand how he took time away from my clients to deal with this?

After fuming for a while, I decided to take a deep breath and take the advice I would give a client. Put it aside. Calm down. Detach. Give it a couple of days.

A few days later, I was ready to respond. I realized, in his world, suing people and pocketing cash is just part of the “game” of business. The way he sees it, it seems, he won this round but wants to play some more. But, just like I can’t relate to his world, he probably can’t relate to mine. So, taking the advice I would give a client in this situation, here’s how I responded:

“It is apparent that you are oblivious to my perspective on what happened, so I will keep this simple.

Please do not contact me again.

Matt”

So far, so good.

You Don’t Schmooze, You Lose

June 1st, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 4.17.04 PMIt’s described by some as a “schmooze fest” but, in reality, the Detroit Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference is so much more – an annual rite of May that brings the state’s best and brightest together for discussion, contemplation and tangible action.

Between Matt and myself, we have collectively attended something in the neighborhood of thirty “Mackinacs”; this year as in the past three years, representing the Chamber in event planning and execution, in particular with regard to working with scores of media that cover the conference from across the state and the country. We worked closely with Chamber communications and marketing pros Jim Martinez and Megan Spanitz in the months and weeks leading up to the event through this past Friday’s conclusion.

2014 on the island also marked the monumental announcement, via a press conference that we helped engineer, of the White House awarding a portion of $1.2 billion in federal funding to Advance Michigan’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Program (IMCP).  This represented the hard work of leaders from the state, including the Governor and MEDC, and those of 13 collaborating counties. The event, held on the porch of the Grand Hotel, featured Bryce Kelley of Wayne County EDGE, Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, Congressman John Dingell, Senator Debbie Stabenow and others and will be a game changer in the promotion and support of the auto and manufacturing industries in our state. Tanner Friedman client WIN (Workforce Intelligence Network) spearheaded the initiative led by Lisa Katz, WIN Executive Director.

And, what would the Mackinac Conference be without a meaningful collaboration between GalaxE.Solutions and Goodwill Industries of Detroit? In recent years, our two clients have joined forces to promote and celebrate living and working in the city through the “Outsource Detroit” and “Love, Detroit!” campaigns. This year, camouflage  t-shirts sporting the “Operation Good Jobs” project raised awareness of the need for vital funding for Goodwill programs to help military veterans and their families. Watch the video debuted at the event here.

Mackinac is about clinking wine glasses and slapping backs but that’s a small part of the proceedings.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll see the all-important building of relationships, collaboration and, quite often, consensus around solutions to key issues and challenges affecting our state.  It may take a long time to get there but things do get done.  And when that happens, you’ve really arrived.

Sometimes You Must Just Say No To New Business

May 18th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

thumbnail.aspToo often in business, ego and greed go head-to-head with common sense and prevail, causing damage in their wake. Too often, those forces lead companies to say “yes” to new business when they should just say “no.” This is a post about two of those instances wrapped up into one story.

At the end of 2012, the owner of a small online-only business realized her company was overdue for a new website and it quickly became a strategic imperative. We had referred her to an ad agency (that had also referred us business) the year before for some online advertising. They had done a pretty good job, so she gave them an opportunity to propose a new site. The owner of the agency pulled out all the stops in a hard sell, but admitted that his company typically handles such projects for much larger companies and that this would be their smallest project. When she expressed concern about that, he reassured her by telling her he had an an “expert” on staff in her e-commerce platform. He just couldn’t say “no.” In January of 2013, she signed a contract for a new site – the largest purchase in the history of her company.

The agency estimated a four-month “conservative” completion time for the new site. Six months later, it still wasn’t finished. When she wondered why nobody from the agency had contacted her in many weeks, she discovered, via a LinkedIn search, that her account representative had left the agency weeks before. It took the owner several days to get back to her and promised her a quick completion. To make a long story short, when the site still wasn’t completed after nearly a year since signing the contract, she suggested the two companies work out an arrangement that would allow both of them to move on. She obviously wasn’t getting the new site she needed. Her project obviously was either too small and/or too far afield for the agency to complete. Instead of working out a deal to part ways, the arrogant, gutless agency owner committed an act of cowardice – he filed a breach of contract suit against her.

After a counter-suit and much money spent on lawyers, the two sides ultimately agreed to binding mediation. A professional mediator, a former judge, was to hear both sides, and, after two hours, if an agreement could not be reached with his assistance, he would rule on a binding settlement. This mediator typically deals with much bigger cases and much longer mediations, but would not say “no” to taking the case.

To say the mediator mailed this one in would imply a little effort. It was more like he did this one from the couch with a bag of chips in one hand and a remote control in the other. The session started late and ended early. At least for the online business’ side, he barely asked any questions and refused to look at evidence. He mentioned multiple times that he had somewhere else to be and did not issue a decision that day. In fact, his decision came two days later and was just a number – one that benefitted the ad agency and virtually ignored the side of the business owner.

That business owner happens to be my wife. The ad agency is a former collaborator, with an owner who chose to napalm his relationship with our firm. The mediator is one I used to respect, before seeing him in “action.” Cutting through the emotions of the situation, I remember a pledge Don and I made when we started our firm. We don’t know everything. We won’t do everything. Sometimes, when it’s really best for a potential client, we will say “no.” If only that had happened in either case in this story, it could have prevented a lot of pain and a lot of money lost.

If You Don’t Communicate A Difference, You’re Wasting Your Money

May 12th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

125When you work in the communications business, you can’t consume media like a “normal person.” As case in point, take my most recent experience reading a local business magazine. Yes, I read it for the articles but I also couldn’t help spending time looking at the ads. Many of them, all full-page and in full-color, were placed by professional service firms, a business sector Don and I have both worked with for our entire PR careers.

While advertising is not our core business, paid ads should communicate the same brand core that should be extended over all communications platforms. Ads, particularly business-to-business ads should, in a compelling and succinct way, somehow communicate who you are, what you do and, most importantly, how you’re different. When your company is paying top dollar for space that reaches a target audience, it’s imperative that time and energy be spent in the right ways to take advantage of the communications opportunity. Instead, what I found was a lot of wasted money. Here’s a short take on each of the professional services ads in this issue:

-The ad on the inside front cover prominently features a stock image of a woman (presumably a client?), rather than the people the law firm says are its strength. It uses the we’ve-heard-it-before phrase “from the boardroom to the courtroom” and describes the law firm as “fearless” (as opposed to all of the timid litigators you see out there).

-Two pages later is an ad for a firm that does litigation support “in either the boardroom or the court room” in text on top of courthouse columns, another well-worn cliche.

-A few more pages in is a law firm ad featuring a stock image of four lamps, with one shining toward the reader. I found this on Google images in one click while searching “different.” Even though this is a local ad, the firm couldn’t even spend a few extra dollars to have its designer put Michigan first in the list of states where it has offices.

-A few pages later there is an ad for a law firm that touts its 160 years in business and its “deep bench” (over an image of a baseball team in a dugout). At least those are points of difference amid stock photography. But below, there are three long paragraphs of copy that only a lawyer with a taste for text could love.

-A few pages later runs an ad for “tough” corporate trial lawyers with an image of a coat and tie wearing torso with boxing gloves on each hand. It touts experience and service. Are those real points of difference, especially with the boxing glove image, used by a personal injury attorney in billboards across Detroit? Michigan is listed third in the states where they have offices in this local-only placement.

There are reasons why this can happen with professional service firms. Because they are often run by committee, “groupthink” can prevail with the winning strategy appealing to the room’s lowest common denominator. That helps explain spending thousands of dollars on placement but maybe hundreds on stock, cliched creative work. Also, these firms are often run by professionals whose expertise in their own field creates ego can trump any professional marketing counsel.

Whatever your business, it’s important to remember not to say the same old thing in the same old ways. Dig deep, spend the money, develop your brand and communicate why someone should really choose you over anyone else.