The Pros and Cons of Comic Con

May 21st, 2017 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 4.36.02 PMIn recent days I was with client “Downtown Dearborn” recounting an initiative we had successfully promoted that saw the Dearborn Symphony and the city’s Green Brain Comics join forces for a pop concert of “comic book” music.  One of the participants in the meeting said she had no idea people still read comics.  With a smile I informed her, ‘you have no idea.”

In reality and after this weekend it appears I had no true idea just how much the comic book industry had grown in recent years. On Saturday I attempted to attend the 2017 Motor City Comic Con at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi only to make a hasty exit upon realizing there was no parking left for miles and there was a line of eager convention goers virtually wrapped around the outside of the building.

It really is no surprise when one considers what the industry is today. Fueled by mega-budget super hero movies, TV shows, merchandise and video games, the industry has never been hotter. The last time I attended a comic convention (I believe some 20 years ago), the lot was half full and I walked right in.  By Sunday I had learned my lesson, purchasing advance tickets online and arriving 30 minutes before doors opened. This time, there was a small line inside the venue, which moved quickly toward securing a wristband and program.

As the industry has grown, so have the comic conventions, including the annual event here in Detroit.  That has meant an even greater caliber of guest celebrities and artists.  Among those I was able to meet for the first time was Neal Adams.  Most likely you have never heard the name, but in the early 1970s he would turn comic book art on its ear – bringing grim reality and emotion to the ink-filled pages like no one had ever done before.  You’ve heard of Stan Lee? As an artist, he couldn’t hold Adams’ pen.  Adams’ turns on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow in fact ensured the ‘funny paper’s were no longer called that as his books began tackling far-ranging social issues – including racism and drug addiction – comics code be damned.

I will always remember fondly and nostalgically evenings where my dad came home from Skelton’s Pharmacy in Champaign, Illinois bearing gifts.  For me, it was a Batman comic. For my younger brother John, typically Richie Rich or Donald Duck.  The story telling joy those books brought then are even better today (if not sometimes a bit too violent) with Neal Adams (at 76) still at the top of his game.  I can tick another item off the bucket list.  Next time, I just need to do a little better job planning ahead and remembering: I’m no longer the only comic book geek in the room.

Black Hole Sun

May 18th, 2017 by Don Tanner

f7db2b2d592dd542e7470e2307a5848060837565Was there anyone that wasn’t shocked and saddened to turn on the radio or TV this morning and learn of the tragic and untimely death of singer Chris Cornell?  After performing last night in Detroit at the Fox Theater with the reformed Soundgarden, early media reports indicate he may have taken his own life.

An artist beloved to many leaving this world much too soon is certainly nothing new; we have experienced this all too often in recent years, from Prince to David Bowie. Yet the prospect of suicide can take any death to a different level. Certainly, the feeling of helplessness and confusion can become even more daunting to process and overcome.

Over the course of his long and successful career, Chris Cornell has been both beloved and reviled.  Coming out of the grunge era, along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, his was the voice of a flannel-shirted generation. Lightning would strike twice with Audioslave as his powerful, gravelly, despair-tinged voice continued to move and resonate with millions of fans.  As he matured and took to solo work he also took chances – most notably with Timbaland – delving into pop music, much to the dismay of many of his followers.

Providing a degree of comfort this morning were several Detroit radio stations, most notably 89X and WRIF, who eschewed their typical programming of all-talk, jokes and revelry for thoughtful discourse with fans interspersed with Cornell’s music.  Music is personal and emotional. These radio pros did their industry proud.

And so we listen back and remember, including to perhaps Chris Cornell’s most well-know song, “Black Hole Sun,” searching more some kind of meaning, insight or sign in his words: In my eyes, indisposed, in disguises no one knows

 

 

 

The City Coming Off Bankruptcy May Be Investing More In Communications Than Your Company

May 15th, 2017 by Matt Friedman

Detroit-City-Council-Districts-Map-1The City of Detroit is still emerging from bankruptcy. But chances are, the city government is embracing creativity in communications much more than the place where you work. Let this be a wake-up call.

Tanner Friedman had the privilege of providing analysis for this Detroit News article on how the City of Detroit is investing in writers and platforms to tell the stories that traditional media, which has contracted in Detroit and across the country over the past decade, can no longer tell. While this effort, like anything you do, must be credible to audience. It must not come across as propaganda. As Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press points out, as a government entity, it must not be a re-election campaign effort for the Mayor. In this case, Mike Duggan has a history of communications innovation. Early in his tenure as CEO the Detroit Medical Center, it was among the first hospitals in the country, if not the first, to offer patients a video library of professional videos that helped ease concerns prior to surgeries and other procedures.

Often, we counsel prospective clients on the opportunities – if not the need – for telling their own stories over platforms that they control to complement whatever bona fide news their organizations can generate. They nod their heads and act like they understand. But when it comes time to provide budget for this type of proactive work, too many scoff. They still think they can generate reach for their information like they did 20 years ago through traditional media alone.

The world has changed. Communications have changed. There are very few opportunities for “mass media” in a personal media world. But companies, nonprofit organizations, even cities have stories that are worth connecting with audiences, even if they fall short of news thresholds or there just are not the news resources to cover them. If the city coming out of the worst financial crisis in U.S. history can find the means to communicate in new ways to its audiences, so should you.

Guest Blog: Inside A Crisis

May 7th, 2017 by Matt Friedman

jeff picIt was a crisis that grabbed the nation’s attention. In August of 2015, a Roanoke, Virginia TV news crew was ambushed, shot and killed on live TV. As a former TV news producer, it really hit home and stayed in my head for days. Those could have been my co-workers. That could have been my newscast. That Sunday, I heard an interview with the station’s General Manager, Jeff Marks, on CNN’s Reliable Sources. He handled it, and seemingly the situation, perfectly. He sounded like the ideal leader for an organization and community enduring circumstances that were exceptionally challenging. Marks articulated everything leaders should communicate in a crisis – facts, reassurance and concern for the people affected.

Now retired from full-time work in the TV business, we asked Marks to offer Tanner Friedman’s readers insights and lessons learned from that ordeal. Here is his guest blog post:

Yes, I’m that guy.

Despite all the other mass shootings in the last two years, people still seem to remember the two journalists shot and killed during a live broadcast.

You recall: Alison Parker and Adam Ward were interviewing the woman from the chamber of commerce when they were all ambushed by a “disgruntled former employee.”

The interviewee lived. My two dear souls died. For days after, as general manager of the television station, I was inside our building consoling and outside being the face of WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia for media from Ukraine to Japan.

I hate clichés unless they are accurate and this one is: not a day goes by that I don’t think of Alison and Adam. When I am back in Roanoke, I make a point to visit the beautiful memorial to them which the people of WDBJ7 completed after I had moved on.

People have all sorts of questions and observations, prominent among them is the notion that you just can’t prepare for something like this. I tell them, gently, that they are wrong. Management is all about preparedness.
Here is what I mean.

For many years, I had had a game plan for the inevitable day one of my employees were to die on the job.
• We CPR trained many of the staff.
• We installed a defibrillator.
• I knew what clergy and counselors I would call.
• I had a plan for notifying family of the victims and communicating with our staff members.

On that terrible morning, the most important element I could bring to the business was calm. I was the first manager to reach the television station, and I immediately set out to gather as many facts as I could. At the same time, I offered consolation and hope to the most deeply affected people.

I concluded quickly, from my journalism background, that my employees were almost certainly dead but I did not let anyone know what I thought.

People stepped up:
• One middle manager took it upon himself to be the liaison with the families.
• I called a senior manager who lived near the shooting scene to ask him to go to the scene to provide a first-hard report. (I did not adequately consider the traumatic effect that identifying the bodies of our colleagues would have on him, but someone had to do it and I felt that my place was with the employees.)
• The photography team examined the view from Adam’s camera and found a single frame that caught the image of the killer, someone they knew from his employment that had ended more than two years earlier.
• Employees from other departments brought food, consoled their colleagues, answered the phones and filled many other gaps.
• Not knowing whether the shooter would be going after former colleagues who had moved to other cities, our employees reached out to several of them in nearby markets to let them know of the possible danger.
We had been stepping up security for our main studio for several years. Television stations had become targets, so we had turned our reception area into something of a friendly fortress. We had invited a police expert in to assess our vulnerabilities and we had followed his key suggestions:
• We put mirrors at hallway junctions so that police could see around corners, should someone get loose in our building.
• We put room numbers on door frames inside each office so that anyone holed up in an office could let authorities know where they were on the map of the building.
• We drilled peepholes into side and back doors.
• We started to enforce a name tag rule and to require that visitors be escorted.
• We offered to provide additional people, including security, to anyone with concern about an outside assignment.
• We ordered bullet-proof vests for anyone to use.
• We told journalists that they could call off an assignment that appeared dangerous.
• We stopped promoting online and on the air where our a reporter would be conducting a live update, and we made it policy that a reporter would move to a new location after each live report.
• We brought in our police expert to advise the team on how to stay safe in the field and at their desks.
After the shootings, and even after I left the job seven months after the event, the station took more steps:
• Fencing part of our property to discourage people cutting through our back lawn where they could not be seen.
• Ordering additional concrete planters to prevent vehicles driving up our walkway into our lobby. (It had happened at another station.)
• Tinting windows.

In more than 30 years of supervising, I had never lost an employee on or off the job. I was a few months from retiring on August 26, 2015, when the awful thing happened.

The fact is that a television station has to send people out every day, to work with advertisers, to repair towers, to cover the news. They are as vulnerable as children in school or families at the movies, and we cannot protect everyone all the time.

Nevertheless, in the United States journalism is a largely safe profession. These two were not killed because of what they reported, but because a fellow with anger issues had gone off the deep end and blamed others for what he could not control in himself.

A few weeks after the killing, a man came to our building to buy a cookbook our team had authored. He saw me and said, “You know, if those kids had been armed, this wouldn’t have happened.”

I nearly jumped through the glass as I said to him, “Those kids were ambushed, and if even if they had had an armed security guard with them, there would have been three dead, not two.”

The one thing we did not consider was arming our people.

Marks can be reached at jeffamarks@comcast.net

Media Made Mothman Mainstream – in 1966

April 30th, 2017 by Don Tanner

MothmanBig Foot. The Loch Ness Monster. The Abominable Snowman. All are a part of folklore and legend yet some believe are entities existing outside the realm of traditional science or nature. Like UFOs, they are typically considered by mainstream society and certainly the media with tongue-in-cheek – at worst hoaxes and at best misunderstood but explainable, naturally occurring phenomenon. And then there is Mothman.

Least known of the so-called ‘cryptids’ of lore yet most seen and covered by media over an extended time period, Mothman has been the subject of numerous theories and speculation for more than 50 years.  Is it a bird, a plane or something more? screamed the headlines in scores of newspapers in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1966 and, soon, across the country.  The Point Pleasant Register, Herald-Dispatch, Charleston Daily Mail – all covered extensively what would soon become, over a year’s time, hundreds of sightings of an entity the size of a large man yet possessing the wings of a bird and, most prominently and unforgettably, witnesses described, red, mesmerizing eyes.

Last week, I visited the small town of Point Pleasant on my travels. I had previously read about Mothman in the past, most notably after the release, in 2003, of the Richard Gere’s “The Mothman Prophesies,” a movie based largely on the book of the same name by reporter John Keel.  What has always fascinated me is how local media covered the sightings – as legitimate, front-page news – perhaps like no other mainstream press before or since.  This was not a joke; it appeared, but a series of eyewitness accounts over many months that put a community on edge.  Leading the charge for area news was Mary Hyre of the Athens Messenger. A society reporter for the paper, Hyre knew virtually everyone in the 5,000-person community.  As such, when one and then scores of individuals kept seeing the same, unexplainable thing, she vetted them, believed them, and quoted them in print. This was no ‘one and done’ story but one with legs (and wings).

The tale would ultimately culminate with the tragic collapse, in December 1967, of the Silver Bridge, which for years had joined West Virginia and Ohio across the Ohio River.  Nearly 50 people were killed.  UFO sightings, ‘Men in Black’ appearances and a host of other strangeness had also perplexed citizens during this Mothman time period.  After the collapse, the creature was not seen again (or has he? see below).

Since that time, countless books, movies, an annual festival and a Mothman Museum (hosting clips of much of the media coverage I described previously) have all kept the legend alive as questions persist.  Was Mothman an angel? Devil? A harbinger of doom? Were his appearances a warning of the disaster that would soon befall the community? In November 2016, photographs from a man purporting to have seen and photographed Mothman were shown by a local TV station.  The anchor smiled and joked and, no doubt, the story ran at the very end of the newscast.  Google the local papers and you will find no coverage listed online.  Which begs the question: Should we remain skeptical of such phenomenon or retain an open mind? More recent history suggests we gravitate toward the former when perhaps we should lean a bit more to the latter. Certainly times have changed, especially in an era of video hoaxes and photoshopping. Still, who really knows? After all, at one time the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth.

 

 

PR’s Looming Crisis of Crediblity

April 30th, 2017 by Matt Friedman

crisis-ahead-road-sign-cloudy-sky-background-53806269In one of the most thought-provoking public conversations I’ve been a part of in recent years, the Public Relations Society of America’s Detroit Chapter invited me, along with Crain’s Detroit Business Publisher/Editor Ron Fournier and Finn Partners’ Taylar Koblyas, to sit on a panel last week, in front of a packed room on the campus of Wayne State University, entitled “The Role Of The PR Practitioner In The Era Of Fake News.”

We all agree that hoaxes have always been around, that provable facts haven’t always guided public opinion (see the flat Earth controversy of 1492) and that what makes today different is the speed and omnipresence of what looks like news in the palms of our hands. It’s true that news has trust issues today, which can hinder PR and its relationship with news.

In the midst of this, PR faces a looming crisis of credibility. We do not exist if not for our relationships, grounded in trust, with journalists and the audiences we work to reach. Right now, though, our actions threaten those relationships more than ever.

How can journalists trust us when, more often than ever, we won’t even talk to them? We encourage email “interviews” and push paper (in the form of statements) rather than people (human-to-human contact). We can’t build trust when we flood their inboxes with pitches and releases that we know would never be news in the current environment, rationalized by thinking “we’re casting a wide net” or so we can show clients and bosses “impressive” media lists, just to cover our rear ends.

How can the public trust us when all we say to our most important audiences is that the company is “Excited to leverage assets” or other corporate mumbo jumbo, written for our clients and bosses and not for our audiences? We need to revisit the concept of writing for the individual who approves our copy, rather than writing for the audience who is, more than ever, depending on the company to tell them what’s going on.

And then there’s this story – sent to me after the panel discussion. How can we be trusted to work with or provide information to anyone when those from our ranks bill a public school system $4.5 million over just three years for work? Any kind of work? The days of “charge the biggest number you can get away with until you’re fired” need to be over in order for the rest of us to be able to work with clients on the “need to have” services that will fulfill their most important objectives and provide the most value.

All of us in PR want the news business to be successful and credible in the eyes of our audiences. In order for that to happen, we have to be a part of the solution. But, on a day to day basis, we are too often a part of the problem.

You’re Never Just One ____ Away From Reputation Recovery

April 23rd, 2017 by Matt Friedman

Road_to_RecoveryIn attempting to guide an organization out of crisis, you’re never just one interview away. You’re never just one email away. You’re never just one op-ed away. You’re never just one “positive news story” away. You’re never just one tactic away from recovering from a crisis.

I hope that’s the takeaway from the keynote presentation, “Reputation Recovery,” I was privileged to give at last week’s “Age Of Polarization” conference on the campus of Central Michigan University, an impressive event organized by student members of the CMU PRSSA, in collaboration with the professional members of the White Pine Chapter of the PRSA. The conference touched on many of the most important challenges in today’s public relations business.

Taking this opportunity to share with a wider audience what I shared in person, recovering from a crisis takes an organized campaign. It requires a different mindset. Organizations must be in a different mode, led by PR, but shared within the entire organization. Crisis recovery happens incrementally, providing proof to audiences over and over again, in multiple different ways, that trust will be re-earned, mistakes will be corrected and a new course is being charted. That simply will not happen with a “check the one box” approach.

United Airlines is a recent case in point. Two weeks after the pulled-from-the-plane incident, United remains, at best, in a fragile reputational state. Its CEO, in the wake of the crisis, did a grand total of one TV interview. It was on Good Morning America, a show that can reach between 4-5 million viewers on TV and, and probably a large fraction of that online. But United flew more than 100 million passengers last year. How many of them saw that one interview? Or have been exposed to the company’s messaging at all?

A few years ago, I was working with a membership organization in crisis, which was damaged from the inside out. It would take months, at least, of open conversation for any healing to occur. A couple of board members called me one day and said “We know what we need to do. We’re working on an email.” I explained to them that with so much damage done, they are not just one email away from solving their problem. It would take a campaign, over time, to be able to move on from the crisis, which it ultimately did.

Just like in our individual lives, when something goes wrong, we need to reallocate time and priorities in order to fix it. A company or organization is no different. It takes effort, resources and teamwork to be able to work through and past tough times.

What’s The Buzz – Tell Me What’s Happening

April 21st, 2017 by Don Tanner

whatsgoingonBill O’Reilly. The Facebook murderer. Media and society.  All were hot topics and the center of conversation last night on Fox-2′s “Let it Rip” with Huel Perkins.  As we helped weigh in as part of a distinguished panel something apparent became even more disturbingly clear: something is wrong in Denmark, on many fronts. And, tying in to the blog’s title (which comes from the 70s musical “Jesus Christ Superstar”) what is going on out there?

In the wake of Fox’s firing of Bill O’Reilly, one of the panelists, an attorney, suggested that the TV giant and his former boss may well have been targets because of their money and fame.  As I posited on-air, if I was being accused of something of this nature and I did not do it, I’d be fighting back tooth-and-nail rather than hiding behind millions of dollars in payouts and “hush money.”  I’d use that money instead to sue these women for defamation.  Instead, denials reign and questions remain as Fox tries to repair a corporate culture and image from the top down.

Of greater concern, of course, is Facebook and its “Live” video component that is growing in popularity and usage among the media giant’s 2 billion users. No other media allows anyone, at any time, to post whatever they want, whenever they want.  TV and radio employ time delays. Print media, of course, has editors.  Now, more than ever Mark Zuckerberg and his team must come up with a solution that more widely, comprehensively and effectively monitors and vets what is posted. Call it “Big Brother.” Call it censorship. I call it making sure the majority of our society is protected from those who are disturbed and looking for a forum to be heard.

And what of society in general? Have we become desensitized to brutal images of gang beat downs and bad behavior and their being posted and displayed on-air and online? Is the media to blame? Cue the sociologists but we all bear responsibility – from home and parents to churches and counselors to video game manufacturers and news outlets. Ultimately, it is about respect for humanity and human life and providing our young people with the mental and intellectual tools, support and guidance they so desperately need and is altogether lacking. Because when we fail our kids, we all suffer the consequences.

Who Loves Ya Baby?

April 16th, 2017 by Don Tanner

telly_savalas_lollipopIf you answered, “Me” you could be a narcissist. We’ve all worked with, worked for or watched narcissism in action – in the workplace, on the sports field or elsewhere in life.  In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, writer Alex Morris examines the individual many are calling pathologically narcissistic: our president, Donald Trump.  It is an interesting analysis in that it provides traits typically found with individuals possessing this personality trait (disorder, actually) along with its origins.

Leading psychiatric professionals and organizations term narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as: “A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration and lack of empathy.” A diagnosis requires five or more of the following traits, which RS lists followed, in some cases, by a “Trump” example: (1) Has a grandiose sense of self importance (“Nobody builds better walls than me”); (2) Is preoccupied with fantasies of power and success; (3) Believes he/she can only be understood by others of special or high-status such as themselves; (4) Requires excessive admiration (“They say it was the biggest standing ovation since. Peyton Manning won the Super Bowl”); (5) Has a sense of entitlement (“When you’re a star…you can grab them by the…”); (6) Is interpersonally exploitative (see 5); (7) Lacks empathy; unwilling to recognize others’ feelings (“He’s not a war hero…he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured”); (8) Is envious of others and believes others are envious him/her; (9) Shows arrogant haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Morris reports that NPD was first introduced in 1980, and affects up to six percent of the U.S. population. In 2008, a comprehensive study of NPD found that almost one out of 10 Americans in their twenties had displayed behaviors consistent with NPD.  As with most personality traits, the roots go back to childhood where a parent either puts their offspring on a pedestal, or, withholds approval so that the child has to build up his/her own ego to survive. In the case of Donal Trump, his father Joe often referred to his son as “a king”, teaching him that it was important to be “a killer.” The article describes Trump’s childhood as problematic where other kids were forbidden from playing with him and detention was a way of life before being banished to military school.

Finally, Rolling Stone examines Trump’s communications platform of choice, Twitter, which, it says, ‘does not actually foster narcissism” but, like other social media, “(has) turned much of the Internet int a narcissist’s playground, providing immediate gratification for someone who needs a public and instantaneous way to build up their false self.”

We all have to deal with narcissists but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.  One can best cope by understanding that that behavior comes from a place of weakness that is being overcompensated for by that individual.  They just don’t know any better - and don’t want to.  And though often maddening and frustrating most of us can also see that the narcissist’s behavior is actually very, very sad.  Just don’t dwell on that realization for too long; more attention is just what they want.

 

 

United Lawyers Are The Pilots While PR Appears Stuck In Coach

April 10th, 2017 by Matt Friedman

MV5BNDU2MjE4MTcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDExOTMxMDE@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_If you’ve been online before reading this, you’ve seen the video of the paying customer being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after what’s known in the airline business as “an involuntary bumping.” You’ve seen the response, attributed to the CEO, calling what happened a effort to “re-accommodate” the passenger.

As someone who cut my teeth in PR by handling media relations for a global airline client in the midst of multiple and frequent crises, I often hear from contacts when they wonder why airlines do what they do. The texts came my way often today, from professionals within communications:

“United seriously needs a PR firm.”

I’m sure they have one. At least one. I’m sure they have one of the biggest and most expensive firms on the planet on a retainer worth more money than some entire agencies bill in a year and that the account is extremely staffed. They were shrewd enough to get the company’s CEO named PRWeek Communicator of the Year just last month, for what that’s worth.

“That statement was pretty terrible.”

Yes it was. I would have hated to have been in the conference rooms or on the email chains where it was being hashed out.

“They respond by telling media to speak with law enforcement authorities?”

That’s what happens when the lawyers are in charge.

Meanwhile, to borrow a line from the movie “Airplane,” the corporate communications department “picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

This appears to be another example of the tug of war seen inside organizations in times of adversity. I tend to give PR departments the benefit out the doubt. They tend to know what to say and how to say it. But so many times, they’re not able to because the lawyers are running the show. Too often, executives not affiliated with either department side with legal counsel because it feels “safe.” Right now, for United, traditional and social media are anything but. In these cases, PR gets stuck with trying to clean up the mess from the parade rather than leading it.

We live in a culture where there seems to be an “outrage of the day.” It could be argued that, by tomorrow, there will probably be something replacing this incident in the public consciousness. But there are a few factors here that can’t be ignored. First, United is a repeat offender. There was the leggings incident just a few weeks ago. And remember the “United Breaks Guitars” phenomenon several years ago? Also, travelers are emotional consumers with long memories. We all know people who tell stories about delays and cancelled flights for years to anyone who will listen. Airline issues strike a chord. It’s an industry Americans love to hate. Take it from someone who worked with an airline that was shut down during a pilots’ strike, then months later, operational dysfunction led to planes landing in a Detroit blizzard where some sat for 8 hours waiting for gates to be cleared.

The thing about what happened to United and what has happened to other airlines is that the incidents in question are not inherently PR problems. They are internal issues that cause PR problems. And they are generally reflective of culture. If United board members and executives really care about their audiences, awards aside, they will make PR an integral part of corporate culture. As of now, “thou shalt protect thyself from litigation” appears to be the singular guiding commandment.