The Monkees offer “Good Times” for a New Generation

May 25th, 2016 by Don Tanner

Monkees-Good-TimesHey, hey they they’re the Monkees…and they’re not monkeying around.  In fact, the pop/rock band has just embarked on a 6-month nationwide tour as it prepares its first album of new material since 1997 (“Good Times!”) – all just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ television debut.  Reporter Andy Greene recounts exactly what’s what in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

While far from being among the young generation (Micky Dolenz is 70), the band still has something to say, thanks in large part to a range of contemporary and historical songwriters who are contributing material to the LP, due June 10th.  That includes River Cuomo and Noel Gallagher as well as older tunes from the 60s, written for the group but never recorded, from heavyweight authors Harry Nilsson, Carol King and Neil Diamond.

Perhaps most touching will be the release of the Diamond penned song “Love to Love” which will feature vocals from the late Davey Jones.  To help ease the loss, Michael Nesmith (he of the perpetual stocking cap) has returned to record with Peter Tork and Dolenz for the first time since the band’s breakup in 1971, although Nesmith won’t tour.

From the iconic guitar-shapred logo to the breezy, catchy tunes, the Monkees brand has endured as have their fans who are sure to pack venues just as sure as they consumed the group’s music back in the day. Wikipedia notes, in fact, that the Monkees have sold over 75 million records worldwide, outselling at their peak in 1967 the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.

Nostalgia is a powerful and incredible thing.  Far from one-hit wonders, the Monkees run on TV and radio lasted a mere three years.  Yet, long before social media, the band’s promotional tentacles stretched to multiple platforms that included everything from teenybopper magazines to toys (I possessed a very odd-looking, multi-headed pull and play). Timing was also kind, as the group offered fun and escape and an alternative to the tension, drugs and revolution of the Vietnam era.  Best of all, their music made your toes tap and their antics made you laugh. Welcome back.

 

 

20 Years Later, How TV News Has Changed

May 23rd, 2016 by Matt Friedman

WDIV20TV20420 years ago, I was on my way back home, after just accepting a job as a news producer at WDIV-TV in Detroit.

Thinking back to the newsroom I was hired into, it easy to see what the media business is challenged by change, as there has been so much of it. Beyond the obvious – such as the advent of online news – here are some observations as I think back on the WDIV newsroom in 1996:

-We produced newscasts on DOS-based computer terminals. A Windows-based desktop system was still more than a year away, along with laptops inside news trucks.

-All TV was still what’s now called “standard definition” (and is unacceptable to most viewers and incompatible with new TVs). I wouldn’t even see a demonstration of HDTV until three years later, while visiting Los Angeles.

-All news was shot on, edited on and played back from tapes.

-Reporters were generally given one minute and forty seconds “on tape” to tell their stories, plus, if it was a live report, about 15 seconds for an introduction and 15 seconds for a live close. “Tape time” is generally closer to one minute now and many stories that would have been live 20 years are are now “look live,” with recorded openings and closings.

-The only cell phones used to cover news were docked permanently inside live trucks. The only texting was from a keyboard terminal at the assignment desk that could send messages directly to pagers.

-If we went a crew outside of the immediate market area, it required a satellite truck to uplink news via a satellite in space in order to cover the story. Today, much distant reporting is done via Internet connection or even cell data.

-I was originally hired to produce the station’s Noon newscast. If I remember correctly, we had to earn about an 8 household rating to win the time slot. Today, an 8 rating will win Prime Time locally.

-The 11:00 news was often dependent on the network’s Prime Time lead-in. In 1996, “ER” would attract 30 million viewers nationally on Thursday nights for new episodes. By comparison, new episodes of the current Prime Time smash, Fox’s “Empire” attracted about 17-18 million viewers nationally.

What hasn’t changed is that in Detroit especially, TV news is highly-competitive – a daily battle for audience and attention in a news town that is diverse and compelling. 20 years later, it’s still a privilege to be a part of it, just from a different vantage point.

Work and Life – Striking a Delicate Balance

May 10th, 2016 by Don Tanner

9k=In recent days I had the good fortune to be invited to speak at the 2016 Michigan Young Professionals Network Statewide Conference at Soaring Eagle Casino in Mt Pleasant.  The focus of my opening luncheon keynote speech: “Walking the High Wire: Achieving Work/Life Balance on the Road to Success.”  It was at once the toughest presentation I have every prepared while, at the same time, the most enlightening – in particular for me.

As I write this blog, I am flying at approximately 35,000 feet on the way back from visiting friends in the Denver area.  Work/life balance at its best? Maybe.  More possibly it is a long overdue getaway that even now I am “working” during.  As I suggested to the newer professionals in attendance during my speech, I really don’t have it all figured out yet and probably never will.  Rather, it is a continual learning experience encompassing drive and ambition, albeit tempered with compromise, setting boundaries and, ultimately, self preservation.

As important as anything, I have found, is setting an appropriate foundation from which to operate – in business and in life.  I was blessed with a supportive family that taught me the importance of the ‘golden rule’ along with honesty, integrity, humility and a superior work ethic- tenets that have guided me in good times and in bad.  With this foundation, then, can come the ability to summon strength from within that propels you in times of self doubt and external adversity. Loving what you do and doing what you love is also key as is the ability to draw boundaries with others who threaten to compromise your enjoyment of work, family and life.

At the end of my presentation, during Q&A, I was asked an outstanding question by one of the attendees and really made me stop and think: “Looking back, what would you do differently,” the query went.  “Stopping to smell the roses a bit more,” came my reply. In the end, we all do what we have to do – in our jobs, with our families and in our day-today.  Moving forward, while continuing to love my career and the members of my family, I have come to the realization that I also need to enjoy life for me.  Make sure you also do that for yourself, I would suggest, and understand that it is not about being selfish.  It is about being true to one’s self.  After all, you (and I) are important too.

PR Firms: Journalists Are Clients Too

May 1st, 2016 by Matt Friedman

UnknownIf you claim to be in the PR business and do media relations, chances are you’re forgetting your most important clients – the journalists you purport to understand and with whom you’re supposed to maintain relationships. That’s what we’re hearing more of these days, anyway.

We believe that at least on the agency side of this business, you have multiple sets of customers that include the clients who pay you and journalists, the clients you also need to serve to be successful. We’ll leave other roles out of this, as we see how those can so often boil down to “protect the boss to protect your job.” But here, we have learned that on the agency side, it is incumbent upon us to balance the communications needs of our clients with a fast-changing media environment, in order serve the needs of both and achieve a successful outcome for all.

While we must always in the best interest of our paying clients, it has become more imperative than ever to understand and act appropriately based on what’s happening inside continually shrinking and changing news organizations and among their audiences. We must not overload them with pitches that we know won’t fit. We must empathize with what is expected of them on a daily basis in a multi-platform environment. We must listen when they instruct us as to what interests them and fits their strategy to win audience and what doesn’t. We must work within their deadlines and criteria. We must do legwork when it would be helpful to them, especially when they don’t have time and resources and we do. We must respond when asked. If we haven’t worked with an individual journalist before, we must ask them the right questions in an effort to meet their needs. We aren’t gatekeepers, we are conduits and connectors. In other words, it should be like any other sound customer service relationship.

We have a saying in our office that “no one client is more important than our media relationships.” From what we hear in the marketplace, that is a different approach. But from what we hear inside newsrooms, it is appreciated and pays off for us in ways that spreadsheets could never calculate.

We operate in an era when anyone can get a message out to an audience. Essentially, anyone can be a publicist. But the traditional media still, more often that not, holds its rightful place. As the ranks of journalists sadly continue to thin, understanding how they have to work and treating that with the highest level of respect will allow them to be customers we will have the privilege to serve into the future.

America’s Most-Watched Broadcaster Will Soon Be Tirico

April 25th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

Unknown-1Even in a media environment that has drastically changed, there is still room for a few stars. One of them is about to get brighter.

Reports say that ESPN’s Mike Tirico, the voice and face of Monday Night Football, NBA and college basketball coverage, Major PGA events and seemingly so much more is headed to NBC. There, he appears in line to broadcast the Olympics, by far the most-watched sports event in America and becoming more valuable as live events become the new mass media, in addition to Sunday Night Football, the most-watched weekly TV series in the country, as well as NBC’s golf coverage and whatever else the Comcast-owned network acquires in the coming years.

If the evolution of media continues, and audiences continue to splinter with the exception of “big events,” Mike Tirico is set to become the most-watched TV personality in America. Unusually talented, Tirico is versatility skilled at play-by-play, studio hosting and interviewing. His preparation to become well-versed in all relevant subjects is legendary, as is his uncanny memory for names and ability to instantly recall information.

The first I heard of Tirico was more than 25 years ago. I was entering as a freshman at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and, meeting with peer advisors heard one advisor, a senior boast that his boss at his internship was “The Next Bob Costas.” This is a school where hundreds of us every year left home with the goal of being “The Next Bob Costas.”

Someone asked, “Who’s your boss?” The answer was the 23 year-old sports director of WTVH-TV in Syracuse, a recent graduate of the school I was entering. “I’m telling you, he’s the next Costas.” “OK,” I thought, “I’ll check this guy out on TV and see how good he really is.” Once I got my TV hooked up in the dorm, I turned on Channel 5 to see the hype for myself. Tirico lived up to it. A personality that jumped off the screen and a smooth articulation, it was no surprise when he joined ESPN just a year later and gradually but steadily worked his way from late night SportsCenter anchor to that network’s marquee talent.

Since the mid-’80s, there has only been one Bob Costas. But now, Tirico is poised to succeed not only Costas, but also Al Michaels, another of the all-time greats. It won’t be long before students show up on campus at Syracuse wanting to be “The Next Mike Tirico.”

When Doves Cry

April 22nd, 2016 by Don Tanner

Prince_logo.svgAnother artist gone too soon.  There have been many in recent weeks with Prince, sadly, among the most notable and pioneering.  He was James Brown meets Jimi Hendrix – a rocker who merged funk, R&B, electronica and soul as well as anyone ever did.  A trendsetter and visionary.  An amazing songwriter and incredible singer with range that one moment expressed emotion, another sexuality.

As a radio disk jockey as his career began and progressed, I experienced first hand how traditional radio at first shunned and then openly embraced him.  When I first hit the airwaves in 1981, music from his first offerings, “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy” were too controversial for anything but Urban formatted stations to play, typically late at night and edited.  At the same time, traditional “Hit” radio was the exact opposite of color and gender blind. They rarely played African American or female artists. Then came Michael Jackson and MTV.

The timing was perfect for Prince and he took full advantage – releasing his swan song, “Purple Rain” and the beautiful “When Doves Cry” to radio and MTV.  The movie, “Purple Rain”, would become the silver screen’s first long-form music video since the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine”.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

What would follow, in fact, was a legendary career that would offer the eclectic (“Rasberry Beret”), the socially relevant (“Sign of the Times”) and the out-and-out fun (“Kiss”).  A master marketer, he was among the first to release music free and or without promotion online – approaches later emulated to great success by Radiohead, Beyonce and Drake.

Always pushing boundaries.  Always setting trends.  A chameleon who was first a name and then a symbol and then a name again.  At times we might have wanted to look away, but we could never take our eyes or ears off him.

A Rare Endorsement Of Broadcasting

April 17th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

imagesI had the privilege of starting my communications career at age 11.

That’s because I had the exceptionally good fortune to grow up in a community that funded a radio station, put it inside of a school, staffed it primarily with students and made it accessible. By the time I got to college, I had seven years of experience on the air but also invaluable leadership and teamwork lessons learned behind the scenes. This adventure began more than 30 years ago and it’s reassuring to know it will continue long into the future.

This weekend, I had the honor to speak at the dedication of spectacular new studios for WBFH-FM in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The people who make decisions about the area where I grew up, which is not too far away from where I live now, have decided to invest in the future of community broadcasting. When the school district decided to merge two high schools into one, leaders determined that WBFH should be the physical centerpiece of the new school, to ensure its relevance, vibrancy and accessibility well into the future.

I remarked during the dedication ceremony how energizing it is to see a long-term commitment made to local media. In today’s environment where, for better or for worse, large public corporations own media outlets, decisions are made about meeting financial targets quarter-to-quarter. Decisions about “the future” often mean next year. Cuts and “more with less” rule the day in ways that audiences are having a hard time understanding.

WBFH will turn 40 years old in October. During the dedication ceremony, community leaders spoke of “the next 40 years” for the station. That kind of talk is unheard of as commercial media faces an uncertain future. I remarked, tongue slightly in cheek, that “Leaders here seem to care more about the future of broadcasting than the corporations that are in the business of broadcasting.” That is not to suggest public companies should abandon commitments to shareholders to make capital investments. But it sure is refreshing to see broadcasting, which is now happening over an app and not just via a tower, embraced by a community that understands its value to education as well as quality of life.

Media Pros Opine on Today, Tomorrow

April 14th, 2016 by Don Tanner

imagesHow is media evolving and adapting today to market forces and realities? What does the future hold?  These are questions that many of us ask everyday. Today, PRSA Detroit met the media and posed those very questions at a morning program with some enlightening results. The event featured a roundtable discussion with Alan Stamm/Deadline Detroit, Marge Sorge/Detroit News Hub, Jon Zemke/Metro Mode-Model D and Dustin Blitchok/Metro Times.  Yours truly had the good fortune to moderate in my role as 2016 Chapter president.  No journalist shied away from any topic or question; on the contrary all were candid and open.

How is media evolving and adapting today? For one thing it is doing more with less. Less people, less money and less time.  What none of these seasoned veterans will ever compromise is journalistic integrity and quality.  Yet, that is continually challenged, as Marge Sorge noted, by buyouts and early retirements whereby up and comers miss out on the mentoring of those who have been there done that.  After all, any skilled trade requires apprenticeships.

Moreover, less available time portends a need to receive materials from communications and PR professionals that are tailored, ready-made and more substantial (without overwhelming).  For example, a press release sent to one of these online outlets on a charity event should also include a couple of interesting photos as well as an event logo – even a short video snippet if apropos.

As for the future, who knows exactly.  The panel pointed to traditional print media outlets across the country that are already going entirely online save perhaps a Sunday print edition.  Also expected are more foundation-supported and organizational (i.e. union) news sources with, of course, their respective individual biases.

We are all staying tuned, of course, for what may come next.  Some can be anticipated while others cannot.  One thing, though, is certain. In the world of media, the more things change, the even less they stay the same.

 

 

“You Cut My Favorite Anchor.” “I Don’t Care.”

March 30th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

Famous-Improvised-Movie-Moments-EMGN4When word got out this week that a highly-rated local TV station, owned by a global public corporation, was letting go three popular, respected on-air anchors and reporters amid other cuts, we started getting questions. Don’t they understand how much the audiences likes and trusts these guys? Don’t they get that they will lose viewers in the long term? Aren’t they concerned this will hurt their product?

I believe local management does understand that and is concerned about it. We know them and work with them. This is a station that takes its community role seriously and this has to hit hard. But, ultimately, in today’s media world, it isn’t their call. As one former general manager once told me about most local stations, “They’re an ATM for headquarters.” It used to be all about gaining ratings points and selling commercials. If ratings and sales were good, headquarters would leave you alone. Today, as with every public company, it’s about making a corporate spreadsheet look a certain way. Yes, management by Excel document dictates who you see on TV.

It reminds me of the famous scene in the movie “The Fugitive.” The escaped prisoner, played by Harrison Ford tells the Deputy Marshal, played by Tommy Lee Jones that “I didn’t kill my wife.” Jones, whose only job was to find him, responds, “I don’t care.”

In the powerful accounting and finance departments of big public companies, when it comes to things like customer loyalty, brand building and long-term reputation, they don’t care. They really only care about three things – hitting their numbers, hitting their numbers and hitting their numbers. It’s all about this quarter’s targets and meeting number expectations for this year. The cruel reality is that while journalists lose their jobs, headquarters bean counters will earn bonuses for making their marks.

This is just how it works with Wall Street. Several years ago, we did enormously successful work for a New York-based public company. While providing highly-specialized niche services, we received accolades from within the company and won awards within our industry. We accomplished this at a tiny fraction of the cost of the global firms the company used otherwise. But when corporate ordered cuts, our track record and relationships didn’t matter, nor did our efficiency. Someone took a look at a spreadsheet and cut our budget completely, along with some of the big firms’ work and multiple in-house, full-time positions. Not only was there a hole in our business, the company’s corporate communications was decimated and the company’s reputation suffered. But, that’s just not a priority in the modern corporate world.

We have seen the hard evidence from newspapers and radio that cutting aspects of the product that customers notice is not a pathway to growth or increased relevance in a fast-changing media landscape. TV follows this path at its own risk. They will hit their numbers now, but risk their long-term viability. The number crunchers just don’t care.

Everyone Needs A Murray Feldman

March 28th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

hqdefaultI firmly believe that success in business and in life are not possible without mentors and role models. Looking back, I’m thankful that nobody had that better than me. I realize this now, as one of the professionals most instrumental to my early accomplishments in communication is, maybe for the first time ever, the subject of news rather than the one reporting it.

Murray Feldman has been at Detroit’s WJBK-TV for 40 years. I met him 30 years ago. He let me spend an off day from school shadowing him in the newsroom and out on stories. Just days after my 16th birthday, he invited me to spend a whole week off school doing the same. At the beginning of the week, I was opening his mail. By the end of the week, he had me at the typewriter, writing stories for air (on carbon paper).

A few months later, I landed what I thought was a big interview with a radio personality for my community radio station. But when I got back to the station, I realized the interview didn’t come out. It was a blank tape. I was devastated. As hormones pumped through my body, tears ran down my face. I got home, plopped on my bed and looked at the carbon copies of the scripts I had written not long before. I called Murray for advice. He told me it happens to everyone. It has happened to him. It’s part of the business of electronic journalism. Sometimes the equipment fails. My focus now should be looking forward, not back. So, I did.

I’d send Murray tapes, he’d send me critiques. When I got to college, he helped me get an internship at Channel 2, rare for a freshman (the photo here is from that year). I got to work half-time with him and half-time for his Executive Producer. That EP soon became the news director at WWJ Radio and gave me my first paying job. Murray has done business reporting for WWJ, in addition to his TV work, for about 30 years, so we became colleagues. He was always honest about “The Business” and never tried to do anything but help me chart my own path.

Murray was my first phone call after my parents when I got my first full-time broadcast news job. He was my first phone call when I became an equity partner in a PR firm. I talked to him on the first day of Tanner Friedman. He has always been encouraging, nurturing and in my corner.

Thanks to Murray, I have now been among news people for 30 years. I have never met anyone in the media industry with his consistent class, professionalism, attention to detail and commitment to teaching. After 40 plus years as “talent,” he has never thrown a tantrum, never acted like a stereotypical anchor. He has been anything but.

Now, Crain’s Detroit Business reports he’s leaving the station. Circumstances aren’t clear (Fox doesn’t allow its journalists to talk to reporters, keeping a “corporate employee” type policy). I just hope he’s leaving on his own terms. While I’ll miss working with him on stories, maybe we’ll have more time for lunches and dinners? I’m trying to be like Murray – to think positive, to look forward, not too far back.

Everyone who wants to be successful needs a Murray Feldman. I will be eternally grateful that mine has been Murray Feldman himself.