Bringing Mental Health Out of the Dark and into the Light

June 22nd, 2016 by Don Tanner

head-brain-imageAre college students who seek mental health help looked upon as potential “bad PR” risks by their schools? That is the focus of a piece written by Sarah Beller and published this week in The Influence.  Her story examines the findings of a newly released 6-month investigation by NBC’s Today that indicates many students are being kicked out of school across the country for seeking such treatment lest something bad happen; thus, begging the question: are these kids being shunned rather than assisted?

According to data collected for Psychology Today by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-third of college students report having experienced prolonged instances of depression with one-fourth indicating they have had suicidal thoughts or feelings. Moreover, half of those spoken to reported their mental health as being “below average or poor.” Alarming indicators all.

So what is a college or university to do?  In light of mental health issues often being related to instances of gun violence, it appears from the investigation’s findings that many are taking no chances. That is understandable. Yet, the investigation also seems to indicate that many schools take things to the extreme – placing students into treatment and/or quarantine when perhaps not warranted and, worse, dis-enrolling kids entirely without warning or recourse.

Thus it would appear that a case-by-case, diligent, cautious and thoughtful approach be taken by school administers and healthcare professionals in instances of student depression or distress. And, while the safety and well-being of the student population at large should always be of the highest priority, it doesn’t mean that students that make up that majority should be treated with disrespect or disregard when going through what could merely be a “bad spell”.

Rather than shuttling such individuals to an ‘out of sight’ backroom or removing them entirely from the equation, these schools should be promoting the resources available to its students and letting those they help serve as advocates and ambassadors to their peers to also enlist help if needed.  This cannot be about shaming or hiding.  This has to be about providing support, guidance and perspective to young minds still trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be.  After all, isn’t that what our educational system is supposed to be about?

 

 

 

 

The Greatest of All Time

June 12th, 2016 by Don Tanner

muhammad-ali-zoom-cfb97fff-3b5d-4161-b998-6457c965a343Long before there was, “The Great One”, there was, “The Greatest”.  An iconic figure who was arguably one of the most revered and recognizable athletes the sports world (and the world) has ever known.  Why, exactly, was that? What was it that has made Muhammad Ali such an enduring and beloved figure? And why did we believe him when he proclaimed he was, “The Greatest of All Time”? There is much to consider.

First and foremost, he had true talent in the ring.  Outside of it, he was just as memorable. Even as Ali first burst upon the scene in 1960 as an 18-year old Gold Gloves Champ and Olympic prospect, he already possessed charisma and outspokenness along with the skills to back it all up. He would soon elevate heavyweight boxing to new heights – not just with his fists but his wit and uncanny skills at self-promotion. He didn’t just box, he would, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” while also employing the “rope-a-dope”.  And,  his fights were not mere fights, they were the “Thrilla in Manilla” and the “Rumble in the Jungle.”  They all lived up to the hype too, spotlighted further by his constant tongue-in-cheek(?) foil, Howard Cosell of ABC Sports.

Moreover, as Rolling Stone noted this week in a piece by Tim Grierson, Muhammad Ali was also the master of multi-media – and not just your typical magazine covers and sports shows.  Very early on (in 1969), Ali appeared in the Broadway musical, “Buck White”.  He would go on to release a children’s album (1976) and appear in: an animated cartoon series (1977), a comic book opposite Superman (1978) and in an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes (1979).  Biopic movies (in 1977 and 2001) helped fuel the legendary fire.

Perhaps most of all, Ali stood up for what he believed in, without fail nor apology.  Born Cassius Clay, he would object to the Vietnam War and being drafted into it, embraced Islam, changed his name and weathered the firestorm that ensued.  He always believed in himself and encouraged others to do likewise.  It was his ‘brand’ and who he was:  The face he called ‘pretty’.  The mouth he used to call-out his opponents.  The moves those opponents could never seem to figure out.  When they all worked in unison, it was pure poetry in motion. Today, those memories are still indelibly and pleasantly etched – in our minds and in history – and there they will remain.

 

 

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Which Car Dealership Is Your Business Like?

June 11th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

dollar_bill_with_wings_0521-1101-2914-0547_SMUSometimes an old adage bears repeating, including one that appears framed on the walls of so many businesses.

“If you don’t take care of your customer, somebody else will.”

This played out in my life as a consumer and it’s a story that’s important to keep front of mind, especially because the business that has now lost me as a customer, like so many, boasts on its website that “It is our goal to provide you with an excellent purchase and ownership experience.”

The subject here is car repair, one that can get the blood pressure rising. The other evening, an indicator light went on showing a problem with an airbag in my wife’s car. As part of the horse trading that is figuring out which spouse will handle which household projects, I took this one. I immediately called the dealership where we have now leased two vehicles. The service department “scheduler” had trouble answering my questions about bringing the car around my work schedule, which, thankfully doesn’t allow much time to sit in a dealership waiting room. I was told that while they are open Saturdays, they only do this type of work Monday through Friday. When I asked how long it would take if I brought it in at their next appointment, two days away, she dumped me into someone else’s voicemail. When I called back, all I got was voicemail. So I called again, asked for the owner (who claims in advertising that his family treats customers like family). I left a message, saying that the service has not met my expectations, and have yet to hear back.

The next morning, I called a second dealership. I was told it would take several business days to get an appointment. When I asked if I would have to spend hours waiting, I was told they would drive me to Enterprise so I could rent a car, at my own expense. No thank you.

I called a third dealership and the woman who answered the phone listened to my story. She encouraged me to come in the next morning, talk to the “advisors” working and felt optimistic that they could work me in for what is probably relatively minor.

I took her up on that, found someone willing to listen, who offered to squeeze me in but said he couldn’t guarantee that they would be able to look at it that day. Just in case, he arranged for me to have a complimentary loaner car in case it took more time than expected. I drove the loaner to the office where, a few hours later, I got a call that the car was ready, nothing major was wrong and I had until 6 p.m. to return the loaner and get the car. That is an excellent experience.

In this case, dealership one clearly didn’t care about keeping me as a customer. Dealership two didn’t care about gaining me as a customer. Dealership three figured out a way to say “yes.” Should we choose this make of vehicle when the lease is up in less than a year, that is where we will be headed.

The lesson to all of us in business is simple. Be dealership three at every opportunity.

Take A Look At This Netflix Show. I “Dare-devil” You

June 6th, 2016 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 7.55.27 PMThe world of television continues to get more interesting by the minute in terms of who is watching what, when and how.  Many TV executives have conceded that the traditional Neilson ratings have become obsolete, as, by some estimates, more than 50% of viewers are no longer consuming shows in real time thanks to DVRs, Hulu and On Demand.  And did you hear the one about the Netflix Show that may not be renewed – despite a solid following and rave reviews?

Rumors are flying that Season 3 of the Netflix original series, “Daredevil” could be delayed or even scrapped entirely; and not because of a lack of viewers nor disinterest by the show’s stars.  Rather, two of the show’s key production personnel have exited to work on another Netflix superhero offering, “The Defenders.” Which begs this question: With the network already running “Jessica Jones”, and preparing to launch “Luke Cage,” “The Punisher” and ‘Defenders’, has Netflix overextended itself in a potentially disastrous way?

In an industry forever guilty of “borrowing” from what has proven successful, fresh ideas, concepts and characters are often in short supply. Not to mention the creative talent necessary to bring forth those programs successfully. “Daredevil” could well be an unfortunate casualty of too much of a good thing without the resources necessary to keep that good thing going.

If you have not watched the first two seasons of “Daredevil”, prepare yourself for grim and grit.  Once again founded upon the storytelling of a bygone year from master scribe Frank Miller, there has never before been a superhero TV program which exhibits the violence and realism put forth in this version of Hells Kitchen.  In Marvel comics he is billed as: The Man Without Fear. Today, many Netflix fans are quite fearful that a return of the blind red devil to his world of ninjas, mafia bosses and mayhem may not happen. We’ll be watching. Stay tuned.

 

 

PR Tantrum A Symptom Of Bigger Problem

June 5th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

tantrumEvery year, working PR at Michigan’s one-of-a-kind Mackinac Policy Conference, I feel like I walk away learning something. This year, it’s about the PR business, more so than any of the topics discussed on stage. It hit me on the last day of the Conference, based on what I saw first-hand and what I read as I was leaving Mackinac Island.

First, I witnessed a PR professional pitching a fit, the likes of which I had never witnessed, but had heard about from journalists. I saw a representative of an elected government official in full tantrum mode. After verifying this with one of the journalists present, I can confirm that it started when TV news video journalists slightly moved the set-up for a press conference because under the setup the PR person wanted, the lighting would have been poor.

Even though a move toward proper lighting would benefit everyone involved, this PR person didn’t like it one bit. When I arrived, this individual was verbally tearing into the journalists because it wasn’t set up as she envisioned. One of the journalists there to witness the entire display of toddler emotion described it as “immature” and “inconsiderate.” Just after the tirade ended, the government official showed up and the news conference happened in the setup that the journalists wanted. Everything worked well and looked good, in my estimation. But her behavior represented the antitheses of how Tanner Friedman interacts with the media.

Just a few minutes later, I read versions of this story sent to me by friends and watched the accompanying video of how deposed Baylor University President Kenneth Starr’s PR advisor, after not revealing her true identity to a news crew, interrupted an interview to provide on-scene scripting, including a changed answer to a question. What transpired was unethical. It was deplorable and, unfortunately, ill-represents what we do for a living. It shows what happens when a bad client pairs with a unscrupulous excuse for a professional.

These two incidents represent a bigger problem in today’s Public Relations business, particularly on the still-vital media relations side of the industry. Too many in it have too little respect for the job of professional journalists. Too many actually hold disdain for the media, failing to embrace the concept that journalists are their customers also.

If you think you can “control the media,” you should take control of your career and find another way to make a living. If you harbor a lack of respect for journalists, you should do yourself and them a favor, and do something else other than pretend to do media relations. If you think “protecting” the powerful person you work for means trampling over journalists, you are simply doing it wrong. This career path will work for you and all of those you serve if you at least respect the newsgathering process, but it will be best for you if you downright enjoy it.

And what of the CEO, elected official, board chair or, worse yet, PR firm owner who condones this behavior? The simple analysis is that it’s a sign of someone in real trouble.

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.”