oWOW.com Aims to Bring “Wow” Factor Back to Radio

February 19th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.01.13 PMFormer Cleveland radio super-programmer John Gorman bemoans the state of traditional radio today where, he recently described to FreshwaterCleveland.com: “Studios are all empty. They don’t have an air staff. Most of them are disembodied voices coming from another city.” Gorman aims to change that with an exciting new internet station: oWow.com.

Tom Taylor’s daily Now online newsletter, which reports on the radio industry, also covered the new property prominently this week including the station’s key differentiators: Local ownership; live, local, experienced air personalities well-known to the Cleveland marketplace; and a wide variety of music (programmed locally) featuring as the station describes on its website: “A diverse blend of rock and roll featuring both new and timeless music, most of which gets little to no media exposure in the Greater Northeast Ohio region…an eclectic playlist of rock, progressive pop, singer songwriters, reggae, and more.”

Importantly, the site goes on to say: “oWOW’s airstaff serve as musical gatekeepers, presenting and providing the best in new music combined with timeless album tracks from the past.  oWOW’s playlist is the result of a collaborative process in which all staff members have a voice.  We’re real live people. We’re based in Cleveland. We can do all the things that radio can no longer do.”

It is an approach harkening back to the hey-day of commercial music radio where stations reflected the local landscape of the cities they served – including its jocks and music – free of interference from outside consultants and voicetracking. And, Gorman has the chops to make it work – having programmed Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame rock station WMMS “The Buzzard.”  Even the oWOW logo possesses a touch of nostalgia – with original Buzzard logo designer David Helton doing the honors in creating the look of the new upstart media outlet.  And, as for the all-important question of funding, early ‘buzz’ is bringing significant returns including support from a local bank, a grant from the city of Cleveland and private investors.

Only time will tell whether oWow can sustain long-term listener and sponsor interest.  I for one am rooting for them as a potential model to be returned to elsewhere – whether on-air or online.  In Detroit, imagine a property that returned personalities such as Dick Purtan, Ken Calvert, Arthur Penhallow, Lynn Woodison and others to the airwaves with musical variety that featured a plethora of Detroit-grown artists.  It’s enough to make both mouths drool and ears perk up in eager anticipation.

Reminder: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

February 16th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

i-dont-knowSome of America’s best and brightest students had to spend their lunch hour listening to a PR guy today. But that’s OK. They signed up for it.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit is teaching second-year medical students how to be physician leaders. It’s a groundbreaking program that is teaching them about advocacy, the real world of health care, government affairs and today, communications and PR. The School invited me to talk about the new realities of marketing medicine and the mindset shift needed for them to be successful.

I want to share part of my message to them, as it’s one we often have to articulate, sometimes gingerly, to “professionals” with degrees highly valued by society. They don’t know what they don’t know.

These students, like the physicians they will join in practice in a several years, made it into medical school and onto that career path because because they are good at science. That doesn’t mean they are good at everything, nor should they be expected to be. But our culture anoints them to such a high level and for some, it leads them to think they they are the ultimate authorities on all matters of business.

Today’s environment requires doctors (and lawyers, accountants and others in the service industry with advanced degrees) figure out how to think like businesspeople and marketers in order to be successful. But the problem often lies with the fact that they are neither. Like with every business, communications can be a differentiator from increased competition. But if you don’t know what to do, how much to spend and have the time or inclination to stay on top of the trends, how does it work?

The answer is pretty simple. They need to admit that they don’t know and align with professionals, either within the organization or from an outside firm, who are as good at communications as they are at science. Complementary skills, working in collaboration, make for positive relationships and business results. That’s what I hope these students will remember from today, no matter what their field looks like when they arrive after their training.

Entrepreneurs: Success Starts With A Solid Foundation

February 16th, 2015 by Don Tanner

blue_panel_report_fThis past week was Detroit Entrepreneur Week and, as reported by Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Amy Haimerl, it was seven days filled with resources for recent and aspiring entrepreneurs, most notably through the Michigan Center for Empowerment and Economic Development.  The week’s activities, in fact, included what was termed a “Small Business Legal Academy,” hosted Saturday at Wayne State University Law School, where a track advised attendees on marketing, branding and legal considerations. Amy moderated the panel and I participated.

The room was filled with talented and engaged individuals either on the verge of launching an endeavor or looking to take their enterprise to the next step and questions ran the gamut: How can I determine the best avenue to take – whether PR, advertising or marketing? How do I target my customers more effectively? I have had early media stories on my product, but what should I do next?

With panelists Dan Dalton of the law firm of Dalton Tomich and Trevor Pawl of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the importance of laying the initial groundwork – no matter the initiative or undertaking – was stressed as the best starting point.  Has a business plan been developed? A handbook with legally-binding verbiage protecting the business owner from operational and intellectual concerns? From a branding standpoint, the discussion progressed, attendees were challenged to introspection: Do you know who you are? Who your audience is? What sets you apart from the competition? What is your value proposition?

A woman looking to start a non-profit. A successful snackmaker looking to create a like-minded entrepreneurial community. A bed and breakfast owner aspiring to open another. A tech provider seeking to gain greater awareness for his product.  No matter the project, it was discussed, the key tips and takeaways of the nearly      2-hour session were the same: The exact road to success varies and potential tactics are many, including the ability, beyond stories in the newspaper or on TV, to tell your own stories via social media, video, e-communications and strategic networking; in short, a multi-platform approach based on the best means by which to reach your customers with as many touch points as possible.

Finally, while many in the room acknowledged they needed additional guidance from professionals they were far less sure of how best to go about it from a due diligence and cost-effectiveness standpoint. Our best advice: shop around. Seek recommendations from friends, fellow business owners and the media. That’s right, call a reporter or newsroom and see whom they most respect. From there, narrow the field and conduct one-on-one face-to-face interviews to talk-out not only how they work but also to ensure similar values and ethics and, as importantly, flexibility in billing to meet budgets and expectations.


NBC = Needs Basic Crisis PR

February 8th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

CrshV_OaNow that NBC’s Brian Williams mess enters its second week, and public reaction seems to range from amusement to outrage, we see, once again, how no industry handles a PR crisis worse than the media business.

This is something we first pointed out two years ago. In this case, think about about this situation was handled. First, the highest-profile company spokesman is put on TV, within an hour of the story breaking, to talk about it. Two factors made this unsuccessful. First, the spokesperson was the subject of the story and second, he was woefully underprepared, using the term “misremembered” that may forever be associated with this ordeal. What a difference it would have made if NBC had bought itself some time.

Then, NBC failed to contain the crisis on Thursday and Friday by letting it spread and grow on multiple platforms while, by its relative silence, taking the “Frank Drebin Approach” to PR. The only thing the network announced is that it would handle an investigation about what happened internally, with one of its own journalists leading the investigation. A news organization, with its credibility under scrutiny because of the actions of its main anchor (and, importantly managing editor) decides someone else from its own ranks should investigate? How does that make sense?

Finally, on Saturday, Williams issued a statement saying he will take a leave of absence for “several days” because he was the subject of so much news, which had been the case for more than three days. What a mess. If this had been a corporation or government agency making so many PR missteps, you can bet NBC’s talk platforms would be filled with analysis and criticism.

This is a very challenging point for NBC News management, which is now an organization mired in multiple crises. Its longtime cash cow, “Today,” has slipped almost beyond recognition. Its nightly newscasts are watched by an increasingly elderly audience. Its cable unit, MSNBC, may need yet another remake. Its iconic “Meet The Press” lags behind rivals. Networks don’t have the anchor stables they once did by throwing cash at talent just to keep them away from other networks. Do they fire Brian Williams? Do they suspend him? Do they send him on an apology tour (which, if so, should include its hundreds of affiliates who are unwillingly dragged into this)? Whatever they do, a PR strategy should be paramount. We’ll soon find out if they have one.

Marshawn Lynch: Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil? Hardly.

January 31st, 2015 by Don Tanner

marshawn-lynch-26So what exactly is the deal with Marshawn Lynch? On the eve of the Super Bowl and the tail end of pro football’s biggest week, the antics of the Seattle Seahawks’ star running back has taken a back seat only to the discussions ad nauseum of underinflated pigskins.  Is he ill-advised in his actions and comments to the media? Grumpy? None too bright? Let’s take a look.

Through league mandated media interview sessions this week, Lynch has made it clear that he wants nothing to do with the process nor the men and women with pen and paper.  Earlier in the week, he stating unequivocally that the only reason he was there was to avoid a fine by the NFL.  Then, he proceeded at that time, for all intents and purposes, to answer every question with the same non-answer.  On Thursday, he again appeared, shoulder chip firmly in place, and went on a largely nonsensical rant that said, in not so many words, his family was important and the media was not. Alrighty then.

In case you hadn’t heard, the NFL has an image problem that starts with many of its players and should end at the league office level.  As of this writing, Goodell was still contemplating a fine. Huh? Lynch should have been fined twice this week for his (in)actions.  He had a job to do, he didn’t do it and he openly flaunted it.  I would argue that the Seahawks should have followed suit with a fine.  If they really cared about the fans and integrity of the game, what about sitting him out the first quarter on Sunday? I know, never gonna happen. Unfortunately, however, failure by the league and teams to act swiftly and decisively in such matters continues to be the NFL’s achilles heel – enabling bad behavior and, I would argue ill fan will.

If I were advising Marshawn Lynch from an image standpoint I would make it clear that no matter his reasons for not really talking to the media he only did himself and other important constituents a grave disservice.  He also disrespected his team, the league, the fans and his sponsors – all of whom pay his salary and benefit the family he kept citing.  By now he should also know how the media works.  Give them a good, positive, insightful soundbite and move on.  Instead, Lynch’s unwillingness to answer questions resulted in more questions and more unwanted media attention.

As Matt suggests in his blog this week on Roger Goodell, as long as the NFL is the money making machine that it is not much is going to change. It is just too bad that the Commissioner of football is bought and paid for by owners most concerned with the bottom line.  Maybe those of us rooting for the league to instead ‘do the right thing,’ in particular where player actions are involved, are living in an unrealistic, utopian world.  I may be watching tomorrow. Then again, I just might not. I doubt I’ll be alone.

The State Of The League’s PR: Abysmal

January 30th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

UnknownThe State of The League address has become something of a Presidential tradition for the National Football League leading up to its (and the modern society’s) marquee event, The Super Bowl. This year’s speech by current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, after a season of crisis and controversy, was an opportunity for the Commissioner and the League to articulate a commitment to listen to its customers and start doing some form of The Right Things. In short, Goodell, squandered that opportunity.

If there was ever a character who looked and sounded the part of the arrogant, out-of-touch, silver spoon, blue blood, East Coast mansion millionaire, it would be Roger Goodell. All of that was on full display in today’s speech, which really wasn’t a speech, rather an ultra-stilted opening statement followed by mostly half and non answers to journalist questions. When he was scripted, he really sounded scripted. When he was extemporaneous, he also sounded scripted. That is when he wasn’t patronizing a respected reporter.

The public expects leaders, especially in sports, to fit into at least one of two categories. They need to be relatable and/or command respect. Roger Goodell does neither. He lacks both affability and credibility. But he exemplifies an important lesson in business and PR that we see frequently – those who make the most money are those most reticent to change.

The $40 million dollar man who helps billionaire owners become multi-billionaires likely doesn’t listen to PR counsel. He likely doesn’t seek extra advice to practice and to try to “win” on a day like today. An educated guess is that if he is like others we have seen, unless he feels like his job or his windfall is at risk, he likely doesn’t see a need to change.

PR has become the lead story in the NFL, America’s most popular media content. If the League’s owners only want their Commissioner to be successful making them money and landing them TV ratings for their games, then they will keep Goodell. But if they care about him being the “Face of the Game” and restoring credibility and trust to a League filled with stories of brain-injured players, domestic violence and potential cheating – all of which threaten at least some of the fertility of the golden goose – then they’ll find a new Commissioner to meet that reality. So far, though, it seems like the real State of the League is that the status quo will continue to reign.

MSU Class, PR Counselor Contemplate Crisis Communications

January 26th, 2015 by Don Tanner

crisis_communications_1This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking to students of Michigan State University’s Executive MBA program as part of their leadership series training. And while my morning long presentation was designed to get these growing executives thinking, the tremendous minds in the room – most from major corporate entities – also prodded me to exercise my brainpower in the area of crisis communications.

Where adversity management is concerned, over the course of my more than 20 years in the field, I have counseled clients in all manner of crisis situation, including those involving loss of earnings, loss of jobs and, unfortunately, loss of life. As I walked the soon to be MBAs through a range of case studies and scenarios, I continually stressed the core tenets of effectively dealing with crisis: Inform, Take Responsibility, Reassure and Take Corrective Action.

As the class and I discussed case studies and interactive scenarios – including those involving service interruption, CEO bad behavior, corporate downsizing and more, many in the lecture hall asked my opinion on an array of difficult, recent and high-profile ‘real life’ crises; in essence asking me: What would you have done?

Top of mind for most in the room was the current New England Patriots ball inflation craziness. One of the most successful teams in the NFL, the Patriots are arguably the league’s worst at cheating. What would I do if I were the NFL? Simple: Follow the rulebook.  At best, the Pats should be fined for tampering. At worst, a coach suspension and/or equipment person firing should be enacted depending on what the league investigation (which should be swift and judicious) uncovers.

Several students brought up Bill Cosby and his failure to speak to the public on his alleged travails.  If I was innocent, I told the class, and Bill Cosby, I sure would not be silent.  I’d be suing the women who have come forward for defamation while very publicly denouncing their allegations.  To not speak, I suggested, instead spoke volumes.  Further, Cosby’s recent off-the-cuff and inappropriate remarks to a female audience member at one of his shows regarding alcohol underscores further his lack of sensitivity for the topic at hand. If it looks like guilt and smells like guilt…

One question that took me most by surprise was what I might recommend to just convicted murderer Bob Bashara.  Earlier questioning had delved into the ethics of providing communications counsel to someone the police and court system have assigned guilt.  Since a PR professional should always counsel its clients to be ethical and truthful, my advice to Bashara, Kwame Kilpatrick or any convicted felon who continues to deflect blame would be the same:  Admit your wrong doing, seek forgiveness from those wronged and then shut up and do your time.

A final question posed by the class that made me stop and think was the query of which types of crises were the hardest to handle.  And while virtually all such situations – with reputations and careers often on the line – have at least some degree of difficulty, it really gets down to whether the CEO or person in charge is willing to accept your counsel; the, you can lead a horse to water dynamic.  As PR guru Jason Vines puts it: “PR should serve as the conscience of any organization.” It is something many top managers should consider carefully (in good times and in bad) and a role that those of us in the field should never take lightly.

Why PR Needs Newspapers

January 18th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

newspapersFor nearly 30 years, the Detroit market has served as something of a laboratory for the media business. Because of a joint operating agreement (JOA) that survived a challenge that went all of the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the two Detroit-based daily newspapers have survived a labor strike, multiple regional and national recessions and profound global changes in customer information consumption habits, while sharing business operations and maintaining editorial operations. Even with shrinking staffs and plunging revenues, the two “papers” (as they’re still called even though their primary focus has tilted toward their online products), still, for the most part, set the agenda for daily news coverage.

A new report by Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea provides a potential reality check into the business of the JOA, suggesting that looming ownership changes at both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News and an opt-out close that could take effect later this year could create more uncertainty about the papers’ futures.

We, in PR, despite the constant consolidation of the past decade, have benefitted greatly from having two daily, regional newspapers with statewide impact in print and often national impact online. As challenging as it is to get stories told in the mainstream media now, it is even tougher in markets with just one “daily” in a current form. Overall, two newspapers leads to better and deeper relationships for professionals who have the ability to develop them.

Other than paying for subscriptions and regularly providing compelling content, I’m not sure what else we can do. But, for all of us in PR in the Detroit area it’s in our best interest that these two outlets to survive and, if it’s possible, thrive for as long as possible. Elsewhere around the country, PR should have the same interest in viable newspapers, along with strong online-only news outlets, TV stations legitimately committed to news and radio stations that will do more than just read headlines.

But it’s about a lot more than just coverage for our clients. The fear of “bad press” can be a motivator for those in power, whether it be in politics, business, education or anywhere else where a case could be made that public trust matters. Sometimes, that fear is what ultimately compels those who would otherwise ignore a situation, or worse, to do the right thing. Without a fraction of that factor or, shudder to think, all of it, having fewer “news holes” would be the least of our challenges on this side of The Business.

“Je Suis Charlie” Fights Terrorism With Words

January 11th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 9.10.58 AMThis week’s terrorist acts in Paris, centered around the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hedbo, have once again underscored how misguided and outrageous acts perpetuated by proponents of radical Islam just really are. While bringing temporary fear, in the end they once again accomplished the very opposite of what they intended – serving instead to unite the world against them and their heinous acts.

Just consider the fallout for Charlie Hedbo.  Nothing can ever bring back those staffers so callously murdered.  Yet, once struggling with a typical circulation of 60,000 issues per run, the January 14th issue of the paper will see a million copies printed and distributed (and no doubt purchased and read worldwide) – thanks in no small part to donations of between $1-$2 million from the likes of the French government and Google’s press innovation fund. This money will also serve to assist with underwriting ongoing operations for the once fledgling media outlet.

Moreover, T-shirts, banners and signs showcasing the message: “Je Suis Charlie” (French for: “I am Charlie”) have gone viral across the globe, with celebrities, including NBA stars, publicly wearing t-shirts to communicate solidarity and support of freedom of speech, religion and thought.

The Charlie Hedbo incident is tragic but far from isolated. In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked worldwide controversy and protests when it published 12 editorial cartoons depicting Muhammad.  A plot to firebomb the paper was even uncovered and foiled, yet, several hundred people still lost their lives in demonstrations and other acts of violence across the world. And, more famously, Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, published back in 1988, instantly saw a bounty placed on the author’s head by the supreme leader of Iran.

Perhaps most importantly, in the wake of such terrorist actions, true Muslims and followers of Islam are speaking out publicly against those who would compromise their religion.  On Time.com this week, NBA Hall of Fame legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put it well: “I and other Muslims long for…the day when these terrorists praising Mohammad or Allah’s name as they debase their actual teachings are instantly recognized as thugs disguising themselves as Muslims.”  Powerful words and further proof that through it all, the pen and virtue are truly the mightiest of weapons.

Why The CNBC-Nielsen Divorce Had To Happen

January 6th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

UnknownAs much as the media business has changed in recent years, the TV business is still, to a great extent, set up to cater to Ward Cleaver’s lifestyle.

The same network evening weekday schedule, developed in a bygone era, is in place today, as if to cater to early dinnertimes, after dad walks home from his 9-5 job. Local news at 6, network news at 6:30, an hour for local stations at 7, followed by network programming in the evening then a late local newscast, before a late night network show. It’s one of the few media elements that can unite generations.

The same has gone for the way TV has been measured. While technology has evolved, the most important number in the TV ratings game has been the count of “households” watching. That’s because, when the Cleavers and their contemporaries watched TV, it was only at home (and only one TV). All of these decades later, the Nielsen ratings system is still home-based.

But consider CNBC. The network’s live business coverage and conversation is among the rare “DVR-proof” content on TV. That makes it theoretically more valuable to advertisers.But they don’t have the ratings to show for it because, not surprisingly, businesspeople watch daytime TV at work (where there’s a flat screen in virtually every office suite), rather than at home. Since CNBC’s inception, those sought-after viewers have never been counted to determine the channel’s ratings. That’s why CNBC has dumped the Nielsen ratings service, as explained in the Wall Street Journal.

This overdue move could signal an increasing intolerance for the flawed system that has long determined fates and fortunes in the TV business. One advantage Web platform have over broadcast is the precision of audience measurement. For example, we’ll know exactly how many individuals read this post. But, we will never really know exactly how many will see a story that appears on TV. In order for broadcast outlets to maintain their roles as cash cows for their corporate owners, they must be able to sell advertisers on their audiences.

Some company must be able to deliver accurate audience data. It appears if broadcasters just “Leave It To Nielsen,” they will fall behind in the analytics game.