Corporate PR Needs Agency PR – and Vice-Versa

August 26th, 2015 by Don Tanner

0c9cc76The majority of this blog was originally prepared for and appeared on earlier this month. is an online web resource of information for the communications professional at:

As a more than 20-year PR firm practitioner who has worked within the communications/media industry for nearly 35-years, I have witnessed many ups, downs, cycles and trends where our business is concerned.  And while industry sectors run hot and cold and media platforms move from new to old, one constant remains: corporate PR needs agency PR – in good times and in bad.

It’s not hard to recall the “salad days” of public relations, including the mid-1990s through early 2000s, where large, high-retainer corporate accounts were the norm and the smaller, non-corporate clients were “crack fillers” if you took them at all.  When that next recession hit in 2007-2008, for many the industry was flipped on its ear with corporations cutting back and running for the hills in an effort to survive while PR firms were abandoned in their wake.

Many corporations eschewed communications almost entirely at that time.  In fact, we saw a major pharmaceutical company minimized our role and that of its internal resources while a national telecommunications client discontinued utilizing all of its outside PR firms across the country.  Both companies subsequently suffered greatly in terms of customer perception and reputation management, with the latter routinely voted the worst in the country for customer service.

Over the past three years, that trend has gradually abated.  Here in Detroit in fact, even automotive OEMs and suppliers, after taking a couple of years off from outside help, have returned to the outsource fold.  It was just a matter of time and necessity.  After all, corporations need all that agency PR has to offer – and not just head count. Agency resources, relationships, creativity and experience can prove invaluable. For getting the job done with greater efficiencies and effectiveness.  For providing fresh ideas and perspectives. To serve as a sounding board and keeper of the “smell test” for set initiatives and conceptual considerations alike.

Agency professionals also greatly assist in-house communications and marketing counsel in selling key ideas and initiatives to CEOs and other corporate “higher-up”; adding third-party credibility to the decision making process.  It’s a positive we hear from our direct contacts time and time again. At the same time, corporations, as their budgets and comfort level with once again taking risks and thinking outside the box return, afford agency practitioners the perfect opportunity to see their creative ideas realized on scales otherwise impossible.

As we move through 2015, the pendulum continues to swing back in our favor as it relates to the corporate world once again opting toward utilizing our know-how and services.  That tough road back should remain smooth as long as we in this field continue to provide value and a communications road best traveled.


Speak For Yourself – Or Someone Will Speak For You

August 17th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Hugh-iconAll too often news stories are written without a key component: Input from the persons or entities being written about.  Typically, of course, these are stories with some degree of adversity attached.  A once touted development project now plagued with cost overruns and false promises.  A religious organization facing personnel issues with serious legal ramifications.  An historically successful company now announcing layoffs and cutbacks.  And while some may think it prudent to stick their heads in the sand and say nothing, the reality is: why let someone else speak for you?

There is absolutely no substitute for addressing a conflict head on – with honesty, transparency and some type of explanation. After all, if a story is being written about your company, its people or projects, why wouldn’t you at least want to provide perspective and tell your side of the story? What are your cost overruns attributable to? What is being done to correct them? How are you working with law enforcement to handle an employee’s legal issues?  When did you first learn of the behavior and how quickly did you act?  Why are you cutting staff? What is the rationale? Is it about making tough decisions in the short term in order to ensure the company is more viable in the long run?

Say nothing, and who knows? Say nothing and others are forced to speculate. Say nothing and the news media will look to industry experts to try to make some sense of it all.  Matt and I are sometimes criticized for being quoted so often in news stories on issues – especially crisis related – where we have expertise.  But what those critics need to keep in mind is that we don’t contact the media, they contact us.  Because their storyline subjects don’t return their calls.  Because those subjects choose not to communicate. What’s the old adage? You snooze, you lose?

Understandable in our litigious society is the need to be prudent in what you say and how you say it.  Sometimes, a written statement makes sense.  In crisis situations we are not fans of persons or entities standing behind a spokesperson (in particular one not directly employed by the organization). Rather, the buck should stop with the top-ranking official, such as a CEO or President.  In the end, you can and should always say something.  Say nothing and you are throwing caution to the wind; a wind that could become a tempest you can no longer  control.



Sorry Powerful People, But PR Can’t Save Your Job

August 16th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

GAMRAT_0115_DSC4054-681x1024The recent tearful media confession of scandal-plagued Michigan State Representative Cindy Gamrat brings up a question we are often asked. Can a PR campaign save the job of someone in trouble? The answer is, in virtually every case, “no.”

In Gamrat’s case, after being caught in an affair with a fellow moralizing Tea Party Representative, then perhaps involved in the cover-up, a press gathering a full week after dominating the headlines, seemed to be part of a strategy to maintain her power. Her attorneys and advisors pulled out all of the traditional stops. Her husband stood melancholy by her side. She was flanked by men she identified as “veterans” and “supporters,” who could somehow empathize with her plight because of their military service. But, really, is anyone disgusted by her behavior going to say to themselves, “She’s a hypocrite and is at least guilty of bad judgment. But I want her to represent me because she cried on TV?”

Gamrat, and the other 50 percent of the affair, Rep. Todd Courser, if they were truly interested in preserving their reputations and concerned about the rest of their lives rather than their clinging to power, should have resigned at the beginning of the scandal’s reporting. Instead, they are just prolonging the crisis, digging their holes deeper and deeper.

This reminds me of a case we worked on in a recent year. A CEO-type was internally and publicly criticized because of decisions he made and a quagmire caused by people he hired. Problem-solving was a particular challenge because the CEO-type had alienated himself so much within the organization. I was asked by someone within his organization if I would help advise them on crisis management and PR. I agreed to take the assignment under one condition – there was no expectation whatsoever that I would somehow help “save” the CEO’s job through PR. Rather, my work would focus on using every communications opportunity to do the right things to re-build confidence among audiences in the organization itself. A month later, the CEO-type resigned. There had been too much self-inflicted damage for him to recover. But, now, some time later, the organization’s reputation has greatly improved.

This displays a fundamental difference between business and politics. In business, the organization is generally about much more than just one individual. In politics, the entire PR focus is typically on one individual. In neither case, though, can truly bad behavior or truly negative public sentiment be “fixed” through PR alone. Instead, in these cases, PR’s job is to rise above conventional wisdom and operate at a higher level of advice for the long-term good of everyone affected.

Why Dave Dombrowski Is A PR All-Star

August 5th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

imagesThis isn’t another online effort to try to guess as to why Dave Dombrowski is no longer the President, CEO and General Manager of the Detroit Tigers. But the fact that the “how” of that move by the team’s owner is getting so much attention is yet another example of why, especially in this era of analysis, PR matters.

Rather, this is an effort to explain why Dombrowski should have a spot on your PR All-Star team. It’s not because of his outstanding media relationships. In fact, many sports journalists have described him as guarded or even aloof. It’s because he is the master of something, in our extensive experience in training executives to talk to the media, that is often the toughest fundamental of all. He skillfully uses the media as a conduit to his audience.

Dombrowski only has talked to the media sparingly in recent years. He seems to know that when he talks, his words most certainly will be reported, if not over magnified a la Alan Greenspan, by baseball writers and broadcasters over multiple platforms. He knows his words will reach their intended audiences relatively unfiltered because of the relative rarity of his quotes. During the Winter Meetings and other portions of “free agency season,” Dombrowki’s audience is agents the represent the players. He talks about his plans, or lack thereof, to give himself maximum leverage. During the trading season, his audience is other general managers. His carefully chosen words are designed to tilt possible trading partners in his direction. Today, when he wisely returned journalists’ calls and participated in one-on-one interviews, rather than a spectacle press conference, his audience was owners who may think about hiring him. He was careful not to disparage the Tigers and left himself wide open for consideration.

We explain to clients that the purpose of PR is to use communications to support your business objectives. There is nobody in sports who seems to naturally understand and capitalize on that than Dave Dombrowski. Other business executives should take note of how this professional uses that quality to stay on the top of his game.

Radio Rules of Engagement Continue to Change, Mystify

July 29th, 2015 by Don Tanner

373085301608719867327944687886nIf content is king then consistency is queen.  And in the world of radio, both concepts are being turned on their respective ears.  Just days after longtime WWJ Newsradio 950 evening anchor Paul Snider was forced to sign off for the final time after several decades behind the mic, Allyson Martinek of WDVD’s successful morning duo, “Blaine and Allyson,” was also jettisoned from the airwaves.

Anyone who has worked in the industry understands its competitive, often cutthroat nature.  Being on-the-air is not unlike being an actor – employed one day, unemployed the next.  In fact, when I was trying to make the transition to public relations some 20 years ago, a potential employer looked at my resume and called me a ‘gypsy.’ I quickly explained that that was the way it was in radio.  Once you secured a position, you started looking for your next.

It’s called “living and dying by the ratings.” Get good ratings, you’re fine. Don’t and you’re fired.  Or so it used to be.  According to the latest Nielson report (June 2015), the “Blaine and Allyson” Morning Show ranked #3 with Adults 25-54, trailing only WRIF and Channel 9-5-5′s “Mojo in the Morning” for the top spot.  So what gives?  The station hasn’t commented, leaving one to speculate that living and dying by the ratings sword has been replaced by bean counters as the radio axmen of the new era.

As I commented in Detroit News reporter Susan Whitall’s story this week, you don’t mess with success and certainly not with successful high-profile drivetime personalities.  Allyson has been with the Cumulus station for 20 years and was as integral a part of her morning show as anyone in town; a talented female voice on a station that skewed female in its listeners. Over at CBS, meanwhile, the fate of talented and longtime Afternoon Drive anchors Jayne Bower and Greg Bowman also hangs in the balance as they contemplate early retirement buyout offers.  Their program just missed the Top 10 in the latest ratings book.  They are the best at what they do.

Social media has been buzzing with discourse over the state of Detroit radio with many threatening to stop listening due to recent and pending changes in town.  Advertisers must be wondering what is going on as well, especially as the options for their dollars continue to grow.  Perhaps it is these two key groups – listeners and advertisers – that corporate radio suits will ultimately listen to should they continue to make their confusion and distaste known.  And one hopes traditional radio will take note. After all, what really differentiates its product from MP3s, online media and satellite radio if not top air personalities that we look to to deliver us live, local news, music and entertainment? If  the powers that be don’t understand that, then there’s too much static going on between the ears of too many key decision makers.




Daily Politics Outrage Doesn’t Translate To Business

July 28th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

imagesAnother day, another set of outrage in the 2016 Presidential Election that somehow still has 15 months to go. Whether it’s Donald Trump’s callous comments about John McCain or Trump’s attorney’s insensitive, at best, comments about rape or Mike Huckabee’s Holocaust allusion or Jeb Bush’s comments about Americans needing to work more (or something like that), there has been something to be outraged about virtually every day recently.

First, the outrage starts with social media reaction to campaign trail reporting. Then, as a cheap and easy news, traditional media takes the baton and runs with it. Then, it’s a story until the next controversial comment comes along. Or maybe a big story will temporarily break the cycle, like a new poll or something really big, like an East Coast heat wave.

Sarcasm aside, it’s remarkable how much things have changed since Michigan Governor George Romney sunk his would-be Presidential campaign in August of 1967. In an interview on local Detroit TV, Romney said he was part of a “brainwashing” by military generals before forming his own opinion on Vietnam. Here it is, in context. Apparently, nearly 50 years ago, there was no margin for error, in contrast today, where is seems that “error” is expected and even celebrated by ideologues.

It’s important to remember that the rules of political PR don’t apply to business, and vice versa. When a CEO of a public company makes a comment to cause outrage, the apology had better be perfect or a golden parachute will be put in use very soon. Even if a lowly customer service representative is recorded saying anything offensive, any business will act quickly toward termination. But in the strange world of politics, there is a much different standard. Outrage sells. It drives clicks, ratings and, perhaps, in 2016, votes.

CBS Radio Layoffs Show How Wall Street Changes The Media Rules

July 14th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

6a00e54f069c4188340133f3568248970bThe rules of the game in the broadcasting business used to be pretty simple: If you rule the ratings and pull in enough revenue to make a big profit, you get to keep your job. But the sad news this week for some outstanding broadcast professionals is that the rules have changed. Ratings, revenue and profits just aren’t enough anymore.

Case in point is CBS Radio and, more specifically, WWJ-AM, one of the country’s only remaining all-news radio stations. Nationally, CBS is essentially the nation’s most successful radio group, maintaing profitability in big markets during The Great Recession. Locally in Detroit, the company owns the three most-listened to radio station in the most recent ratings. On WWJ, “All News All The Time” and the market that spends its days and nights on wheels have been a successful marriage for more than 40 years on a station with a history that dates back to 1920. It was #1 in the ratings in the winter months, when drivers relied on its news, traffic and weather while navigating snow and ice-covered roads. But none of that is enough for a company that apparently wants profit margins to equal movie theater popcorn.

Full disclosure: I am a fan of WWJ. That is where I earned my first paid job in broadcasting. I consider many of the longtime staffers to be friends. We at Tanner Friedman work with the professionals there on news stories almost every day. As a businessperson who often spends hours per day in the car, I rely on their all-news product to stay informed in the mornings, afternoons and evenings when I can’t safely read online. But now, that product is being damaged, along with the careers of talented and knowledgeable broadcasters, because apparently being successful isn’t enough for big corporate media anymore. Here are the facts, as reported by The Detroit News: Reporter and producer jobs cut, the afternoon anchor team bought out, salespeople laid off and, perhaps worst of all for the community, overnight news won’t be news at all – it will be recorded (in what is still a “shift town”).

Nationally, it’s the same story, even at powerhouses that are also pillars of their communities, like WCBS in New York and KMOX in St.Louis. Still unfathomable, after all of these years of cuts in the media, is why a company would want to make its product worse in the name of growing its customer base. It’s a rationale that can’t possibly work.

Also, it’s one thing when failing companies have to cut to turn themselves around. But when the survivors of the media change of the past decade make cuts like this, it begs the question “What’s going on?” Unreasonable profit mandates? Or is CBS trying to attract investment, a merger partner or, potentially worst of all, a buyer? CBS won’t say. In fact, the company did not make any sort of public statement in the 24 hours since the story first broke.

It just brings to mind a quote from the movie “Wall Street.” Bud Fox, the would-be mogul, after finding his conscience says this to the greedy raider Gordon Gekko: “How much is enough, Gordon? When does it all end, huh? How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough, huh?”

Kid Rocked by Confederate Controversy

July 12th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.18.27 PMIn all of my years of social media posting, liking, retweeting and sharing, I have never experienced a resulting debate like the one spurred by my sharing of and expressed admiration for Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea’s Opinion piece, “Kid Rock’s continued embrace of Confederate flag is offensive — and a stupid business decision.” It is an article that makes a strong and well-argued case for why the local music star’s refusal to eschew the Confederate flag is perhaps not well thought out; especially considering the inhuman condition the colors ultimately stood for and represented.

One individual, a news reporter, took me to task for calling Shea’s work “reporting.” Before public relations, I worked in both print and broadcast journalism, including as a reporter.  In both mediums, I often reported and opined in my on-air and written work, although my radio news reporting was at music stations and I wrote for a radio industry trade magazine (rather than hard news outlets).  And while Shea’s article was clearly marked “Opinion,” he is a reporter; and in my view, a reporter reports.  To me it is semantics. If you disagree, then we’ll have to agree to disagree. Instead, what is more important, and what we should all be focusing on, is what Kid Rock is doing, or not doing, surrounding this controversy.

Depending on what you read or whom you talk to, Kid Rock either did or did not make an official statement regarding the flag.  According to the Detroit Free PressFox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly told her audience that Rock’s message to detractors was as follows: “Please tell the people protesting that they can kiss my ass.” The paper reports further that, according to Rock’s publicist Rick Stern, the remark came from a conversation between Rock and Kelly.  Perhaps her sharing a conversation on the air was wrong (“bad reporting”). Perhaps Rock should have known better.

Ultimately, Kid Rock is not racist. As Shea notes, his son is biracial and he has been awarded in the past by the NAACP.  What Bob Richie is being is incredibly insensitive on an issue that is as sensitive as they come.  With racism and racial inequality front and center today in the nation’s consciousness, dismissing what the Confederate flag ultimately represented cannot be dismissed.  I have heard and read the arguments saying it stood for brave soldiers in the South fighting for their families, homes, liberty and freedom.  What was ultimately at stake, as we know, was a way of life and an economy predicated on the terrible, back-breaking toil of those who had no freedom, no lives of their own through slavery.

Richie shouldn’t – can’t – ignore history.  He should at least be open to meaningful conversation.  To acknowledge both sides of the debate. To give the topic more than a cursory wave of his hand and turn of his back.  And though Richie views the Confederate flag as a ‘rebel’ symbol and a nod to southern rock, he needs to take off the blinders. In this instance, on this topic and at this time, his opting to be an “American Badass” simply throws up too many red flags.

We Are All DeAndre Jordan

July 12th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

deandre-jordan-dunk-faceThere’s plenty of outrage this weekend after the communication choices of NBA player DeAndre Jordan, who backed out of a verbal agreement to sign a contract with the Dallas Mavericks and re-signed instead with the Los Angeles Clippers. The controversy centers somewhat around Jordan’s decision to “change his mind” but, more recently, mostly around the fact that he didn’t tell the Mavericks’ celebrity owner Mark Cuban personally about his decision.

Jordan took to Twitter to offer his apology, rather than calling Cuban or otherwise contacting him directly. The jilted Cuban then went online to publicly say that he doesn’t accept the apology. Jordan is taking most of the heat publicly and, on the surface, the criticism makes sense. Etiquette and integrity standards dictate that Jordan should have let Cuban know one-to-one that he was backing out on his verbal agreement. But, reality proves that we are all part of a culture of DeAndre Jordans.

It’s easy to place the blame on the Millenial generation and social media, but the avoidance of difficult conversations is ingrained in our culture of business and personal relationships. Long before the advent of the Internet, we would send a letter rather than deal with an issue face-to-face. If you’re of a certain age, you’re kidding yourself if you won’t admit to calling someone before or after hours to leave an answering machine or voice mail message, rather than having to get them on the phone for two-way dialogue. Email has now been around about 20 years and has been used throughout to avoid tough talk to deliver one-way messages like “we decided to go in another direction.”

The phenomenon of “ghosting” has been written about in media in recent weeks, which is a step beyond breaking up via text or social media – an avoidance of a breakup at all. But, in business, that’s nothing new. We have all had prospects who just decide not to return calls or answer emails rather than say “We decided not to hire you because…” For many years, we have heard about job candidates who literally never hear back from a prospective employer, left to presume that someone else got the job.

There is no defending DeAndre Jordan’s behavior. He absolutely should have handled it differently, under the category of “the right thing to do.” But before you criticize him, take a look in the mirror. You too, like all of us, one one time or another, in your professional or personal life, have been guilty of the same charge.

“Right To Be Forgotten” A Complicated Proposition

July 1st, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 9.35.14 PMAs we counsel our clients on strategies related to the ever-evolving world of social media, there remains one consistent caveat: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want published or broadcast via traditional media.  All too often, what one individual might post as a tongue-in-cheek remark or off-color “joke” is instead taken all too seriously – often with drastic, long-term consequences for reputations and livelihoods.

In his new book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” author Jon Ronson examines multiple cases of “jury by Twitter”; whereby off the cuff posts resulted in firestorms of controversy involving mob mentality movements aimed at defaming and deflating, with replies and retorts often worse that the original tweets.  In more prominent, high profile cases, jobs have been lost.  And, adding insult to injury, resulting traditional media coverage can exacerbate the problem, adding fuel to the funeral pyre by ensuring such incidents live on via Google and Yahoo! – complicating hopes for second chances.

To be sure, the “right to be forgotten” argument has perhaps never been more prominent.  In recent weeks, the European Court of Justice ruled that Google must remove links to content that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” or face a fine.  As reported in the June 26th Daily Telegraph, such content is not deleted but, rather, Google discontinues listing it in their search results. The Telegraph also reported that over 250,000 requests had been made for links to information to be removed by Google’s European site branches. Of course, this ruling does not apply to Google in the United States.

With our “next generation” utilizing social media more (and more casually) the possibility for more misunderstandings and offending are sure to increase.  And while one of the positives of the medium is its real time immediacy, it would behoove all to be more cautious in expressing opinions rather than throwing caution to the wind.