Special Delivery: PR Advice After A Miserable Failure

September 18th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

UnknownAs a business-owner, you don’t put yourself in too many opportunities to use the #sundayfunday tag on social media. We’re not the type to spend Sundays amid mimosas and half-day meals. Sunday is often a day to be with the laptop, catching up from the previous week and trying to eek ahead of the next one.

While, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to buy food for my family each week, the practical reality is that a weekly grocery shopping is a time-sucking exercise. Let’s face it – the system that was setup for “Mad Men” era housewives who theoretically had all day to shop for their families endures today. You walk a big store, picking what you want, put it in a cart and then wait in line to pay for it.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Meijer, a regional chain of 24-hour “superstores.” While the private, Michigan-based charity has proven to be a good corporate citizen, it’s frustrating that it usually takes 60+ minutes to shop for a family of four. On Sundays, the deli counter alone, buying school lunch ingredients average about 20 minutes and checkout averages about a half-hour. Shopping there is the enemy of productivity.

So imagine my glee when on September 1st, Meijer announced a partnership with a tech company called Shipt for online grocery home delivery. The company staged an enviable PR blitz with a release embargoed for that morning, followed by a large advertising campaign. They captured the Detroit market’s attention, built “buzz” and motivated use of the new service starting September 15th. There was just one problem: Meijer over promised and under delivered. They, along with Shipt, now can’t meet the demand that they created. I know because I tried to order delivery this morning, to save myself an hour or more, and was told, online, no delivery windows were available.

I went to Shipt’s online customer service chat and was told this by “Jasmine”:
“Unfortunately, there are no delivery windows in your area at this time, I sincerely apologize for that. We are experiencing a much higher demand these first couples of days after the launch and we are actively hiring shoppers to keep up with this demand. I know it is frustrating and we really want to make things right for you. I do apologize for the inconvenience, but we ask if you could please bear with us these first couples of days as we hire and add more shoppers as quickly as we can. Again, I’m so sorry about this.”

That is an admission of guilt.

So when do I try again? Next week? Next month? Never (and ask for a refund of the annual fee)?

At Tanner Friedman, we have extensive experience in communicating new product launches. One of the pieces of advice we always give clients is not to communicate widely until a concept becomes a product for real. If you’re going to create demand for a product, it had better be available to meet expectations. If not, roll it out gradually with “soft launches” to ensure 100% that it’s “Ready For Prime Time.”

When it comes to timing PR right on the concept/product continuum, Meijer failed. That’s the takeaway for any business: it is better to wait to do something right than rush to wear the “first to market” tag and alienate customers by not meeting expectations.

So what did I do? I went out of my way to Meijer’s arch rival Kroger, where I dropped three figures as well as lost, with drive-time included, nearly 90 minutes of my day. But at least I now have groceries at home.

For WXYY, Sports Is Just The Ticket

September 8th, 2016 by Don Tanner

sports-ticketsIn my many years working in and observing the business of radio I have pretty much, done, experienced and seen it all.  Yet, I was still struck in recent days at the miniscule level of discourse being afforded a key morning show personnel change at one of this town’s top stations, as Bill McAllister exited CBS sports juggernaut “The Ticket”.  Far be it from me to question the move, although it does beg a bit of examination.

First of all, there is no denying that, love him or not, McAllister is a true broadcast talent.  With CBS and previous iterations of WXYT-FM for more than a decade, he proved himself able to adapt and jive with a myriad of on-air co-hosts – from Jay Towers to Mike Stone – and formats – from music to sports.  His true strengths lie in an uncanny knowledge of music and pop culture.  And, having had the opportunity to guest with him on the music podcast, TrackAddicts, I can attest firsthand that he knows both well.

So what happened exactly? Why did we hear one week ago during the “Valenti and Foster” afternoon show that Jamie Samuelsen would be part of a new, revamped, all-sports morning program dubbed, “Jamie and Stoney”, which put McAllister out on the steet? There are a couple of theories to consider.

One is virtually every radio group’s #1 morning nemesis: WRIF’s “Dave & Chuck The Freak”. Their male-dominated, lewd, all-talk humor fest has proven too hot to dent for many. The Ticket often delved into similarly tasteless material albeit without the same level of crudeness. And if you can’t beat ‘em at their own game, you alter the game plan and play to other strengths – in the Ticket’s case: sports.

Another theory has to do with a ratings system that the industry is still working to adapt to: The Portable People Meter (PPM). With this tool, programmers can view online at any broadcast moment, what listeners are responding well to (and continuing to listen) and what is not resonating (and resulting in tune out).  So, this theory might follow, when the morning show talked sports (which it did on occasion) the PPMs showed that time spent listening went up, while, perhaps, non-sports talk was demonstrating more button pushing.  And, thus, the decision to go ‘all sports all the time’.

Finally, while former sports/talker 105.1 was never a real factor in the ratings, they did eschew sports in recent weeks for classic hip hop.  That move left crosstown WDFN (“The Fan”) as the only station in town focusing on sports in the morning. Why let that station get all the 105.1 fan fallout?

Only CBS knows for sure but no matter the true reasons or rationale, it is yet another example of how, in radio, talent does not always translate into longevity – at least not in one spot.  Samuelsen is also great at what he does yet started elsewhere (at “The Fan”). He will thrive while McAllister will revive and survive somewhere else.  In the end, this industry truly lives and dies not by the sword but by a little transmitter, worn by a very small sampling of listeners, recording, via soundwaves, who listens to what and when with the ‘why’ quite often a mystery.

Ghosting Doesn’t Just Happen In Movies and Dating

September 5th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

ghostingThe time from the day after Labor Day until mid-December is really the last lap of business for the year. In the PR world, event season heats up quickly in September and goes through just before Thanksgiving. But across industries, projects procrastinated during the summer must be completed at the same time as planning for the coming year. Over the past decade, it has become clear that this dash to the finish line is the most intense time of the year.

It’s an annual challenge to look at the longest to-do lists of the year while also planning ahead. The one thing that simply can’t be done is to look backward as every milliliter of energy is required to be successful during “crunch time.” So, I share this story now:

In May, we received a referral to a company facing an uncertain business future because of some new competition. The referral source thought a strategic, focused PR campaign could be helpful. I met, on very short notice, with the company’s CEO and, after a friendly and thoughtful discussion, agreed to work together on a specific project to begin communicating in a new way. That initial project, as it should have, focused on developing a plan for a campaign.

Once engaged, we met to discuss the company’s situation, in more detail and protected by confidentiality, how that campaign could work. They had a relatively high sense of urgency, so we committed to a one month project, taking us through June. Within just a couple of weeks, my colleague and I developed a draft of the plan and sent it to the CEO and the company’s in-house legal counsel, who had become involved. That was the week before Father’s Day. I was on vacation the next week and was surprised not to hear anything back when I returned, so I checked in. On June 30th, I received this email:

“We are still reviewing your proposal and will be in touch after the holiday.”

That would be the 4th of July. I responded that was OK, but I thought they had a sense of urgency and tried to explain that I was not preparing a proposal, I was preparing a plan, as we had agreed.

By July 12th, I contacted them again with language that included the following:

“It has been another couple of weeks, so I’m just checking in.

My intention prior to Father’s Day was to present you with a draft of a plan that encapsulated our conversations to date and included a suggested roadmap on how to accomplish what we had discussed as the goals, which I also outlined, along with a draft of a “script” that would be needed (REMOVED TO PROTECT CONFIDENTIALITY).

At this point, I’m curious if you had a change of direction, a reprioritization or maybe what I provided did not meet your expectations. My intent was to give you something that would advance, not end, our conversation. If I did not set your expectations properly, I apologize.

I would appreciate an update, if you are able…”

That email received no response. On July 30th, I sent a handwritten note to the CEO along with an invoice for the time incurred in June. As of this writing, that request had not received a response.

I have heard from single friends about “ghosting,” when they’re dating someone and then all of a sudden, the other party just stops responding. That’s what happened here. I was professionally “ghosted.” This is yet another piece of evidence that business people today would rather do anything than engage in difficult conversation.

It probably would have been fulfilling to have been able to finish the plan, act strategically and help this company solve its problem. Instead, it’s time for them just to pay the bill and move on. It’s the end of the year and we have good, collaborative, communicative and dependable clients who need our time. We don’t have to call Ghostbusters because we ain’t fraid of no ghosts. We just don’t have time for them.

Mylan Backtracks While Kaeperick Sits

August 29th, 2016 by Don Tanner

WjI5dlphVEV0YzNSdmNtVXVkMkZzYldGeWRDNWpZUzlwYldGblpYTXZUR0Z5WjJVdk1EUTBMekpmTVM4eU5qQTBOREpmTVM1cWNHYz0yeGxjM1ZqYTNNThis past week saw not one but two high-profile crisis communications stories – one in the area of sports and the other in pharmaceuticals.  The latter is alarming while the former is thought-provoking.  Both have sparked great reaction and underscore the importance of thinking before acting and considering the potential ramifications of your actions, both for your constituents and yourself.

Fledgling San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, first of all, created a firestorm of controversy for himself over his defiant demonstration of one, choosing to sit rather than stand during a preseason game singing of the National Anthem. He was protesting, he said, this country’s oppressive behaviors and attitudes against people of color.  His actions blew up social and traditional media, with, interestingly enough, a fairly even split between those for and against his stance. Did Kaepernick consider his actions ahead of time? Probably. Did he consider the possible ramifications for himself – including his fight for the starting quarterback position and future sponsorship/endorsement deals? Or, was he instead more interested in making an important high-profile statement that he felt passionately about at any and all costs? After all, while some now view him as unpatriotic others now see a man often referred to in the past as brash, selfish and immature instead as an individual filled with conviction and conscience.

Of more importance to consider is drug giant Mylan’s announcement that they planned to raise the price of their lifesaving EpiPen by 400% as CEO and executive board compensation also rose to – by many estimates – obscene amounts.  In the wake of  the firestorm that followed, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch initially went on the defensive blaming a ‘broken healthcare system’ for the unavoidable price hikes. The next moment, however, 50% off coupons were being made available while the company also announced it would soon begin offering patients a much more affordable generic brand option.

Mylan’s actions tell me one of three things related to communications counsel. Either communications was not at the boardroom table when the price increases were being discussed; communications input against such action was discounted; or whomever is handling PR for Mylan didn’t have the balls to speak up. I’m guessing it was (1) or (2). The company’s initial actions, as such, reeked of stupidity and greed, in particular for a produce for which there is virtually no competition. Their response, in turn, to the public uproar was almost as pathetic, demonstrating they should never have gone down the path of price increases some were calling criminal in the first place.

The motto of these stories? Think before you act and don’t act before you think because there will be consequences one way or the other. The trick is careful considering ahead of time of what those consequences might be and then, if necessary, taking the path best traveled for ensure future credibility and reputation.

A Return to Radio Roots

August 19th, 2016 by Don Tanner

newyorktimes_rootsrockradio_wesduvallWith apologies to author Thomas Wolfe, sometimes you can go home again. At least I was afforded the unique opportunity to do so this past week – returning to my radio roots for an on-air thrill ride that was equal parts fun and hard work.

I have written previously and been quoted in Crain’s on Superstation 910 AM, owner Kevin Adell’s still young and well-timed venture aimed at providing a prominent media voice and forum for the African American/urban community.  As such, Tanner Friedman often seeks to book appropriate clients on station shows, including with midday man Cliff Russell and afternoon host Karen Dumas.  Interviews conducted on the station are typically in-depth, long form and enlightening; again refreshing and needed.  And then came the request.

As the station prepared to broadcast live earlier this week from Oakland Hills and the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship, the opportunity suddenly presented itself for me to co-host Dumas’s “The Pulse” Show on Tuesday. Now, some may know and others not that radio was my a first love and initial career – starting in college as a music radio air personality and newsman and continuing for 10-years after graduation. Following on-air stints on several stations in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, I moved on to suburban Chicago and then to Detroit.  In town, I was most known for reporting traffic and weather, including on WWJ, WXYT, WLLZ and others. That ended in 1994 as I entered the world of PR, and, while I still do voicework for radio commercials and videos, I have not worked in the industry in over 20 years. That is, until this week.

For those who have never before hosted a 3-hour radio talk show (like me) it is very hard work.  You need to be knowledgeable, upbeat, intuitive, engaging, adaptable and, perhaps most importantly, possess the ‘gift of gab’.  Really listen to the masters – Karen and Cliff among them – like Paul W. Smith and Frank Beckman and the crew at WWJ , and you’ll truly appreciate how good, smart and prepared they are. Thankfully, with a bit of handholding from Karen, the three hours went by fairly fast.  Yet, like running a marathon (something else I’ve never done), the long haul can leave you content with your accomplishments yet drained by the effort put forth. All applicable here.

Indeed it was a thrill but for now I will stick with my day job, free from massive amounts of show prep, headphone hair and the need, quite often, to extend an interview to fill time and accommodate a show clock.  At the same time, I remain eager to get back into the hot seat in the not too distant future to talk to the masses while quenching my own thirst for living on the air – at least every so often.

The Best PR Example In Rio Will Likely Be An Announcer

August 13th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

ElliotteFriedmanFor sports fans who live near the Canadian border, we knew who Elliotte Friedman was before this week. Every once in a while, I’m asked if I’m related to him (I’m not).

He’s basically the Adam Schefter of hockey on CBC. A skilled broadcaster, he’s best known for his reporting and has become a trusted source of information on the flagship “Hockey Night In Canada” show and also online.

The other game, though, he gained international infamy by messing up the call of what was actually the 22nd Gold Medal of Michael Phelps swimming career. It was such a shame because, as those of us along the northern border know, CBC’s Olympics coverage is typically excellent and not deserving of ridicule by U.S. fans.

Immediately, that Mr. Friedman’s PR response was genuine, honest and exemplary. He immediately tweeted “I’m sorry everyone. I blew it. No excuses.”

Think about that for a second. What if every time someone public made a mistake, it was handled quickly like that? Think about an executive, even a celebrity or Heaven forbid a politician. That would completely change crisis PR, especially in this media environment. But it has to come from the heart and soul, two places not explored often enough in times of bad news and controversy.

When Elliotte Friedman says “no excuses,” he means it. As seen in this interview with Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg (read it if you’re even a little interested), he doesn’t blame the fact that he was only given the assignment with weeks notice, originally scheduled for Rio in his more comfortable role as a reporter. And he doesn’t blame a producer which, as a former producer of live television, I find especially impressive because I always believed a producer’s primary job was to protect talent. Thanks to the way he has handled this, his career is poised for continued success and this situation will be put behind him more quickly than it would have otherwise.

Of course, when it comes to handling PR situations well, we want you to remember Tanner Friedman. But, also, remember Elliotte Friedman.

A Movie To Die For?

August 4th, 2016 by Don Tanner

Suicide-Squad-Joker-character-posterAll my friends are heathens, take it slow / Wait for them to ask you who you know / Please don’t make any sudden moves / You don’t know the half of the abuse.  Thus opens the new song by Twenty One Pilots, “Heathens” from one of the year’s most anticipated movies, “Suicide Squad”, in theaters this weekend.  It’s debut will take comic book filmmaking in a totally new direction while showcasing movie marketing at its finest.

Hollywood has a knack for repeating what works and, indeed, this flick will join a long line of still-popular celluloid representations of characters and story lines currently running in the funny papers. Yet, this is superhero-dom with a twist – as these stars are actually anti-heroes – for perhaps the first time ever.  Some might argue that the forgettable “Punisher” movies of yesteryear previously walked this ground, yet, this time, the individuals taking center stage in “Suicide Squad” are villains; some among the most dangerous from the Batman mythos.

Pre-promotion of “Squad” has been heavy and somewhat predictable with early screenings of previews at the country’s top Comicons.  The movie’s stars, including A-Listers Jared Leto (Joker) and Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) have, similarly, been making appearances here there and everywhere, including on the late night “Jimmys”.  As important in the hype, though: the 2016 blockbuster Batman v Superman movie, which set the table for a new Gotham while TV’s “Arrow” and “Gotham” have both shined a light on members of the Squad and the mythical New York City, respectively.

Which brings us back to the music. If you liked the score from “Fury” or “Gravity” – both moody and atmospheric – you’ll similarly be drawn to this one, also composed by Steve Price.  Still, it’s the popular Twenty One Pilots and “Heathens” that really steals the show.  The tune has been rocketing up the charts via radio stations across the country and could someday be considered alongside Prince’s 1989 “Batdance” as one of the greatest super hero movie-related tunes ever.  This is the stuff of James Bond soundtracks and should further ensure that ticket buyers for the new “Suicide Squad” leave the theater both shaken and stirred.

 

There’s No Place Like Home Plate

August 2nd, 2016 by Don Tanner

Minor_League_Baseball267Baseball has long been known as the national pastime and for good reason.  Nothing quite beats sitting in the stands on a long summer night, watching talented athletes compete on manicured fields while enjoying the requisite hot dogs, peanuts and a “cold one”.  And nowhere is the fun and frivolity more endearing (and enduring) than in minor league baseball.

This past weekend I crossed another ‘to do’ off my bucket list, embarking on a three-day/night, three-travel-state minor league baseball excursion.  This took me and a friend to Chicago for the Kane County Cougars and Schaumburg Boomers and then to Fort Wayne for the Tin Caps.  All three venues offered a veritable potpourri of marketing and promotional fun and value – just what that level of the sport is known for.  After all, where else can you see a pro sporting event today for as low as $5-$10 for admission and even less for spirits and dogs in most cases. And, speaking of “seeing”, there are typically no bad seats in any such house.

It’s family fun at its finest and getting more and more creative all the time, it seems. Where else can you enjoy people dressed up as sandwiches competing to add toppings to themselves (Tincaps), “Rock, Paper, Scissors” Night (Boomers) or monkeys riding dogs herding goats (our own United Shore Professional Baseball league teams – a client ) in Utica, Michigan?

Best of all, minor league baseball is about community. A place where, besides watching baseball and the festivities at large, you can also picnic, play and celebrate neighbors.  “Hometown Heroes” is a staple at most ball parks, including spotlighting and saluting area veterans and their families. Many clubs also have reading and scholarship clubs; variations include players serving as reading members to area youth as well as team acknowledgments of young scholar accomplishments at local schools.

Finally, many cite the purity of the minor league venue in that its players – typically earning anywhere from approximately $10,000-$12,000 a year – are playing as much for a love of the game as a paycheck.  To be sure, we as a society tend to gravitate toward  things that are (or appear) genuine, pure and down-to-earth.  Attending these games – many off the beaten path – felt like returning to my youth and a time spent on dusty, rocky infields and uneven outfields. It felt like nostalgia. It felt like home.

 

The “Next” Ice Bucket Challenge? Good Luck.

July 27th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

ice_bucket.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeThe best PR coup in recent days is the stealing of the headlines from the Democratic Convention by the national ALS Association. They marked the two year anniversary of the Ice Bucket Challenge craze, that significantly raised funds for their mission, by breaking the news that money raised during that time period led to an important new scientific discovery.

Two years is an appropriate amount of time to reflect on the phenomenon that had people all of the world taking videos of themselves dumping water on their heads and challenging others to do the same. Nobody watched it all more closely than the nonprofit community. “This changes everything,” one nonprofit CEO told me at the time. But now, with the benefit of perspective, the Ice Bucket Challenge is more of an anomaly. It’s one that should be celebrated but it’s time to admit that it likely won’t be replicated.

Fundraisers nationwide are still looking for the “next” Ice Bucket Challenge. They haven’t found it. About a year and a half ago, one of our nonprofit clients, a terrific organization funded by exceptionally generous individuals, wanted to try. I explained to them that it’s like music promoters trying to find “The Next Beatles” or basketball scouts looking for “The Next Michael Jordan.” Everyone wants it, but it’s not likely to happen. The Ice Bucket Challenge was a product of a moment in time and everything clicked far better than if a group of PR people sat around a conference table trying to plot it out. What it made it authentic, different and, perhaps most significantly, unprecedented, made it successful.

Our client heard all of that and asked that their staged version happen anyway. We tried it, starting with videos featuring a group of kids because, who doesn’t like sharing cute stuff that kids do online? It bombed. Hard. Just like The Bay City Rollers and Harold Miner.

“The Next Ice Bucket Challenge,” as predicted, just couldn’t gain momentum. As expected, as hard as everyone tried, it felt like a knockoff. In this case, it’s virtually impossible to see how something like what happened in 2014 could ever happen again.

But there are some takeaways from the Ice Bucket Challenge that should stay top of mind. It showed the power of online video. It showed how friends can take cues from friends via social media to donate small amounts of money that can add up to make a difference. It showed that serious subjects can be handled in a fun way and still be respectful. If you’re going to imitate anything, think about that.

Texting and Driving: A Trend That Must Become Extinct – Before we Do

July 25th, 2016 by Don Tanner

imgresThis past weekend I was stopped at a light with a line of cars in front of me for at least 20 seconds when I heard screeching tires behind me.  Looking into my rear view mirror I saw a newer, midsized car barreling down on me. At the last minute, they swerved into a shallow ditch just behind and to the right of my vehicle. Inside, a younger girl glared at me.  I suspect she was embarrassed and frightened. At the same time, I am sure she had been texting.

Consider these alarming 2016 statistics from distracteddriveraccidents.com:

  • 1 out of every 4 car accidents are caused by texting while driving
  • Every year, 421,000 people are severely injured in accidents involving texting and driving
  • Every day, 11 teenagers die because they were texting and driving. That’s approximately 330 per month and nearly 4,000 per year. (To put that into context, 37,000 individuals of all ages perish in auto accidents annually).

Pedestrian deaths by car are also on the rise.  Clearly, we have an epidemic.  Cleary, we need solutions.

Face-to-face communication is obviously not always feasible. Not in our hectic, time-sensitive and geographically far-ranging world.  Email has largely replaced snail mail and, especially for millennials, texting has replaced talking on the phone as the preferred mode of one-on-one and/or group interaction.  It has gotten to the point, in fact, that many in the younger generational demographic never use the phone; they have become so text dependent. What to do about this?

I have suggestions. With two twenty-something children in my family, I am constantly striving to get their attention on this issue.  If you can’t avoid communicating from the car, I tell them, then use Bluetooth and talk. Pure and simple. Today’s generation must recapture the ability to talk by phone and enhance their interpersonal skills – whether for school, business or their personal lives.

Now a suggestion for the Department of Transportation, NHTSA, automotive safety suppliers and the cellular phone companies: Get together and put legal mandates and high technology to work to save lives.  How about tech in every car that renders the cell phone of the individual in the driver’s seat unable to text? The phone still works for Bluetooth calls. Others in the car can still text, just not the driver until the car is turned off.  Impossible? There is technology out there such as sensors in a driver’s front window that can detect when a driver’s eyelids are fluctuating such to indicate they are falling asleep and then set off an alarm. This can and should be done.

Otherwise, it is only going to get worse. In the span of three weeks, Matt Friedman, one of my daughters and I were all rear-ended in three separate accidents, two causing injury.  Look at anyone driving oddly (slowly, swerving) and you will see them texting.  Communicating is important – only in the right way, at the right time. Anything else is dangerous, even deadly.