How To Overcome The Mackinac Chit Chat Challenge

May 25th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

130530porchThere may be no place where small talk is more important than the World’s Longest Porch this week.

This year’s Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island will be my 15th. I’m once again honored to lead the Conference’s opening session, called “Mackinac 101″ for first-time attendees. Spending three days amid the state’s CEOs, Executive Directors, top entrepreneurs and politicians can be intimidating for some. Success networking on the Hotel’s famous Porch, in between Conference sessions, poses a chit chat challenge even for the most outgoing attendees. It is the Super Bowl of Schmoozing.

For many it can be easy to fall into conversation traps and default into what have become Conference Cliches. It’s really too easy to look at a name tag and ask “How long have you been with (Company Name?” You then usually get a factual answer, but not an insightful one that leads to conversation. It’s tempting, when you don’t have anything else to say, to ask “Where are you staying?” But then you get a description of someone’s hotel room rather than a starting point to get to know them. And a conversation about the weather? That’s something you can do in line at the grocery store, rather than a marquee event that costs thousands of dollars to attend.

Instead, think about how to get to know someone you just met. If they’re not wearing a “first time attendee” ribbon, then ask how this Conference compares to others they have attended. The Conference features national keynote speakers, so ask what your fellow attendees thought of their remarks. Better yet, to get someone you would like to talk to to really start talking, ask a specific business question. Here’s a suggestion: If you’ve been paying attention, you know that all businesses have changed significantly in recent years, due to changes forced by the Great Recession and by advancing technology. So, to get from small talk to big talk, why not ask about the changes they are seeing in their business and how they’re addressing them? There’s really nothing businesspeople like more to talk about than their own business. That’s the start of a real conversation and it should naturally set the table to talk about your business too.

Other than meetings with people we know, we don’t get as much opportunity as we used to for talking face-to-face with people who are new to us. Conferences can be those rare chances. Before heading to The Porch or to any conference, think about what you can say and ask to start conversation that both parties will want to keep going even after the closing session.

For Vintage Media, Internet Archive Takes You Back to the Past

May 17th, 2015 by Don Tanner

mighty_mouseWhile watching the latest developments in media entertainment, one cannot help but also sometimes pine nostalgic; for past programming enjoyed during our youth but also that talked about fondly by our parents and grandparents. That is the beauty of Internet Archive – a digital journey into all things classic television, radio, movies and more. Digital media observer Kim Komando shines a spotlight on the resource gem in her online column today.

Originally founded in 1996 in San Francisco as a non-profit digital library with a mission of providing “universal access to all knowledge” while advocating for a free and open Internet, Internet contains 10 billion petabytes of information (that is, 1,000 terabytes or 1,000,000 gigabytes). That includes one million books in the public domain available free for downloading (in fact, in 2007, the site was officially designated as a library by the State of California).  In other words, there’s a heck of a lot of stuff here. But is it good?

It is, in a word, golden. As, where else can you so many mass media defining moments, performances and innovators?  From silent films from Charlie Chaplin, a Vaudevillian originator of precise physical comedy to an amazing archive of vintage radio programming where visuals sprang from the theater of the mind of its listeners.  There’s live, variety programming such as “(Dean) Martin and (Jerry) Lewis” where comedy melded with crooning and serial programming such as the original “Dragnet” and “Gunsmoke” series (the latter airing a Herculean 480 episodes in its 9 year radio run (before moving to television for another 20).

As intriguing as anything in the TV section of the site’s “Wayback” area are the classic commercials that allow an eye-opening look back at visual persuasion and “shilling” including for cigarettes prior to their being banned from the medium; advertisements that are hard to watch but equally hard to look away from for historical reference.

And, as fun as anything are the early animation reels that harken back to a time when cartoons were only available before movies or on Saturday morning television (both no more). You’ll see Mighty Mouse, Popeye, Betty Boop and more; many most of us did not see when they originated but would later enjoy in other contexts.

Indeed, while everything must evolve and change in order to move forward, comfort can forever be found and lessons learned by also looking back; in particular to special moments that touched or intrigued and left indelible impressions.



Good Ideas Don’t Always Make For Good PR

May 17th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

bigstock-Bright-Idea-5453884One of the hardest conversations we have with businesspeople happens when they have an idea that’s just an idea. Good ideas are the fuel of business. But they aren’t news. Often, they aren’t even worth communicating, at least not toward the beginning.

The most extreme example of this occurred a few years ago when an enterprising engineer came to see us to tell us about a new product he invented. Once we started talking about it, we realized it hadn’t really been invented yet. It was just an idea. He wanted news attention for it to attract the interest of investors so it could be developed and taken to market. It was an interesting idea, but he had no track record. He had no news. I had to tell him that we couldn’t help him. We didn’t want to waste his money, our time or float a ludicrous pitch to journalists.

We see this, to a less extreme degree, with our clients. For example, maybe they have an idea for an event. Until there’s a date set, actual participation and the public can be invited, then there’s nothing to communicate. It won’t be newsworthy until it meets other criteria (most notably, timeliness). Other examples include ideas for new product lines. Until they are ready for “prime time,” they are just ideas.

We tell clients and would-be clients that there is a timeline that exists on which a concept becomes a product. That’s when an idea becomes “real,” complete with proof, customers and availability to audiences. It is best for us to get involved just before that tipping point and take action with communications just after. If it’s too far before, we really have nothing to communicate but one of billions of ideas. If it’s too far after, you may miss your window of opportunity for interest and exposure.

Sometimes, we end up hurting feelings when we tell someone we can’t help them or just that the timing isn’t right. But think about this – why would a firm that you that it didn’t want to do work on a project for you because the timing isn’t right be for any reason other than your best interest? Why would we turn away revenue unless it was really in everyone’s best interest? That should be an idea worth understanding.

The Ticket To 20 Years Of Motivation For TV and PR

May 3rd, 2015 by Matt Friedman

Legal padIf there’s one key to success in whatever you do, it’s motivation. Sometimes, during challenging stretches, you need to find motivation from new places, just to walk through the office door to face a grinding day. Here’s a story of where I store some extra motivation that I can access when I need it, like tapping a reserve fuel tank, that I hope can be helpful to you.

20 years ago this month, I made what ended up being a significant career and life decision to leave my job at a number one station in a top-ten market for a poorly-rated station in a smaller market. At the time, my employer, WSB-TV in Atlanta, had the most-watched local news operation in the country. For the first time in my career, I had to tell my bosses that I had decided to leave to accept another job offer. That offer was from WCPX-TV in Orlando, which fit the industry cliche at the time – “A number four station in a three station market.”

Because everyone “ahead” of me was under contract, WSB essentially offered me two more years of producing on the weekends and writing during the week. WCPX offered me a chance to hone my producing skills five days per week, Monday through Friday, as a part of a team trying to build a winner, working for an Executive Producer who had been my colleague at WSB. I made the move I thought was best to build my career and accepted the job of 10:00 News Producer (WCPX produced a nightly 10:00 news show for “UHF” station WKCF-TV).

To say the management at WSB didn’t see it my way would be an understatement. The same company owned a station in Orlando. They saw it as me leaving for a lowly-regarded competitor. The Assistant News Director shouted “You’re leaving for a cable show? I mean, I would understand if you were leaving for another number one station.” I was called to the General Manager’s office who declared, “You’re throwing your career away. You’re going to come back here asking for your job back and the answer will be ‘no.’” The Executive Editor, my immediate supervisor, wouldn’t look me in the eye and didn’t speak to me for my final two weeks. Maybe I should have been flattered? Maybe they were just freaked out that the “young guy” willing to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, Saturday morning and Sunday from 7am-7pm, usually getting called in on Monday and/or Tuesday, would be hard to replace on the schedule? I was just confused. Breaking up is, indeed, hard to do.

But the most powerful zing that day came from the News Director. A large, imposing man with a booming voice, on his way out the door that night, came over to my desk, reached across it with a pen, found a piece of paper and wrote “1.3/2″ on it. “Do you know what that is?” he asked. “I think so,” I said. He said, “It’s the rating and share for your new newscast from last night. Good luck with that.” In other words, in his skeptical mind, I was leaving a secure ratings powerhouse for unsalvageable microscopic scraps. That was all of the motivation I needed.

I went into the Orlando experience with a fire inside that I had never felt before and wouldn’t feel again until co-founding Tanner Friedman. I was determined to raise the ratings and had full support of my bosses and anchor. I helped make some tweaks, tried to inject energy that the audience could feel and tried to provide advocacy for the product. Several months later, when the show was enjoying ratings in the 4s and 5s instead of 1s and 2s, I was moved to other newscasts to “try to do the same things.” A year later, I was on my way back to the Top 10, to Detroit TV, as a proven producing commodity with a reputation for helping to fix issues.

I still have that mangled sheet from a legal pad with the News Director’s handwriting on it. It’s there for me when I need it, nestled in a basement file drawer. It helped propel me to a career and personal experience in Orlando that I’ll always cherish. From time to time, it still helps to this day. To get that battery charged when you need it, I recommend figuring out what’s your “piece of paper.”

“8 Track” Tale of Past Technology, Modern Application

April 28th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 4.59.56 PMIf you know anything about me, you know that I absolutely love music, radio and pop culture. You may also know that I wrote a book on all of those things called, ”No Static at All – a behind the scenes journey through radio and pop music.” As such, I have tremendous respect for authors and also count among my great passions writing and reading.

That’s why R.J. King’s new book, “8 Track – The First Mobile App” holds such great appeal for me.  Released in recent days by the longtime, award-winning journalist and dbusiness magazine founder and editor, “8 Track” takes readers through a multi-year journey of invention, innovation and consumer applications, much of which I had never heard of before.

In the mid-to-late 70s, I recall the 8-track player as being as much a temporary media fad as anything else.  Growing up with vinyl – first 45s and then 33 1/3s – the 8-track was an oddity that clicked between cuts and, at one point on each 8 Track cassette, faded out in the middle of a song only to fade back in for its completion, post-click.  My purchases of this medium were few with the Steve Miller Band’s “Book of Dreams” and Kiss’ “Kiss Alive II” being the only ones I can recall.  The smaller, more portable cassette tape (on which we taped music off the radio or record album) would soon catch on to a greater degree with my generation, in particular for mix tapes and car radios.

Ahh, cars.  King’s book recounts with detail how, in the 1960s, the 8-track player was originally perfected and utilized by and for the auto industry in conjunction with competing inventors Earl Muntz and Bill Lear; the latter of Lear jet fame. Lear, in fact, had originally dabbled in the technology for potential use in his corporate jets where radio signals were unusable. Muntz pushed a 4 Track option (again, I had never heard of), Lear the 8.  The technology would soon “wow” everyone from radio stations and record companies to manufacturers, distributors and, of course, the public.  First in automobiles where it outperformed air conditioning as an option then on to the consumer market where it caught on like hot cakes.

The book is obviously a labor of love for King whose dad, John P. King, was hired by Ford Motor Company in 1965 as the project engineer who would see the 8 Track project to fruition, including through collaborations with Motorola’s radio production facility and RCA’s record factory.  The story of the 8 Track is tumultuous and ingenuous, cut throat and cutting edge.  It was a technology whose time had come and would eventually pass but not before leaving an indelible mark on the history of music and engineering. King captures it well, like sound on magnetic tape, to be consumed and enjoyed.

Don’t Let New Business Pitch Throw You Curves

April 20th, 2015 by Don Tanner

79300005It is doubtful that anyone in any industry truly enjoys writing a new business proposal.  Then again, it beats the alternative and it is absolutely essential in the process of securing work in many, many fields – including PR.  That was the focus, in fact, of my guest lecture today at the invitation of Central Michigan University and professor Richard Ren.  It is a topic of vital foundational importance for future professionals and one with many, many considerations.

First, I am often asked, how do you even attract potential clients? The answer is simple: do an outstanding job for the clients you already have. In a referral business, as with any professional service industry, new business opportunities most often come your way through those with whom you have strong business relationships – those based on trust, transparency and mutual respect.  That can mean current and past customers as well as former colleagues, vendors, even competitors.  It’s just one more reason why treating people the right way is the right thing to do.  We can all point to companies out there who have not operated that way over the years and now are struggling to survive both a bad reputation and dwindling referral sources.

Once a new business opportunity presents itself, we discussed in senior-level JRN 556, it is vital not to “charge ahead” but, rather, to first and foremost: listen. What are this potential client’s goals and business objectives? Are they realistic? Can you do the job? And, as importantly, are they a good cultural fit with your organization, especially in terms of ethics, modus operandi and mutual respect? I relayed the story of a law firm prospect that wanted us to cut our hourly rate significantly in order to meet their budget.  When we suggested we instead cut scope and number of hours as our fees were not negotiable, they balked.  That told us they were not a good fit for our agency and we walked away.

And then there’s the Request for Proposal – the dreaded RFP.  My advice there was to make sure before spending the time and effort, to conduct appropriate due diligence into whether a particular RFP is on the “up and up” or just for show to, for example, appease a Board.  Over the years, we have found, too many RFPs are a formality with the eventual winner already chosen.  If someone familiar with the process or particular entity can tell you otherwise, only then is it worth taking the time and making the effort.

Put simply, while the PR proposal will always be with us, the amount of time, detail and creative product put forth by you within its pages should always be predicated on potential future rewards and transparency between all parties. Stephen Stills once famously sang, “Love the One You’re With.”  Here, I would argue, it’s best when you “Know the One You’re Pitching” – at least as much as possible.

Here’s Why You Cared About Britt McHenry’s Video

April 19th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

images-1In the midst of all that is going on in the news – and an active time of the year for sports – a “B List” ESPN sportscaster berating the employee of a towing company on a security camera doesn’t seem like it would become one of the most talked about news stories of the week. But get below the surface just a bit and you’ll understand why Britt McHenry is now the focus of so much talk, on the air and online.

There are multiple factors at work. First, as a culture, we are fascinated by seeing people via video who are acting like they aren’t being captured on video. That has been true since the days when Allen Funt first became became a household name.

But most notably, there is a media reality that we experience on a regular basis. Media consumers really want to know what the people they see, hear and read “are like in real life.” Because we work with visible journalists and media personalities on a regular basis, we are frequently asked “Is he a good guy?” or “Is she as sweet as she seems like she is?” A few years ago, I spent the bulk of a basketball game with friends of a friend answering questions from a police officer/avid news viewer along those lines. He went through essentially a checklist of every reporter and anchor in the market.

That factor played huge into the ongoing discussion of McHenry. Can someone who presents themselves professionally while on TV turn into such a prima donna away from work? The answer is yes, sometimes. But, based on 25 years in and around media, the vast majority of people you see on TV, hear on the radio and read in print or online are “in real life” exactly how you would expect them to be if you pay attention to their work. Yes, there are exceptions to that and, when I talk about them, it seems like consumers of media are fascinated by it.

Another note on this: There are some in the audience who resent news and sports media in a way right out of the 1985 Dire Straits song “Money For Nothing.” While the viewers feels like they work hard all day, some “yo yos” get paid “big bucks” to talk about sports or read news off of a script. And in the electronic age, a skill like column writing seems to some readers like it’s as easy as posting on Facebook (it’s not, at all). When something like this happens to someone like an ESPN reporter, it just feeds that unhealthy negativity. In this perilous environment, that’s about the last thing the media profession needs.

Detroit Tragedy a Call for Personal Responsibility, Accountability

March 29th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 7.43.33 PMThe horrific happenings of the past week in Detroit where children Stoni Ann Blair and Stephen Berry were discovered murdered in their home by their mother underscores what is really so sorely, painfully lacking in our society today.  It’s not about race and its not about poverty – its about a lack of personal responsibility for one’s actions and the actions of others.

Columns today by Rochelle Riley and Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press and Nolan Finley of the Detroit News each touch on these issues (and far more eloquently than I) yet I felt compelled to encapsulate some of their views, melding them with mine.  Maybe if we all write about it and talk about it and, in turn, live it, a difference will have been made.

Stoni Ann Blair and Stephen Berry were innocent children who deserved to be protected, loved and guided through life like any other 9 and 13 year old.  Instead, they were tortured and murdered by the very person that should have sheltered them most vigilantly.  Far be it for them to have counseled their mother on personally taking responsibility for actions that lead to four children by two fathers; neither of whom seemed to care for the ramifications of their actions before or after their children were born.

Albom also asks where the neighbors in the family’s apartment building were and it is a legitimate question.  National news outlets last night showed video of a man on a public transit train in St. Louis repeatedly punched and kicked by three young punks. And no one did a thing.  Not one person stepped in to intervene, even though the men were using fists and appeared to have no weapons. Would you have stood by idly? What kind of human being does?  Riley asks other, equally legitimate questions in the Detroit case: Where was the state?  Where was the school truancy officer? It is obvious that these poor souls were not heard or looked out for by anyone – and that cannot stand.

In the end it all gets down to family.  As Finley writes, 70% of all babies in Detroit are born to single mothers. Moreover, teen mothers give birth to half of all babies in the city.  It is a recipe for a vicious cycle of despair.  My grandparents immigrated to America from Italy in the early 1900s, settling in southern Illinois. Terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan and dirt poor they worked hard in the coalmines, grew and raised much of their own food and survived – largely through love, support and community.  They raised their own with great responsibility and looked out for their neighbors. Idyllic? Concepts whose time have passed? No, they are ideals that need to be brought back and fast.

In an urban world where traditional family units are few and far between, community leaders also need to act and speak more responsibly.  This week at a vigil of mourners for the slain children, the Reverend Horace Sheffield did just the opposite, saying:  “We can run this city. We need another Coleman Young-like mayor…I’m tired of being treated like we can’t run nothing.”  Ridiculous comments that give the irresponsible an open door to continue destructive behavior. Instead, we all need do all we can to underscore the importance of taking responsibility and accountability for our actions, working hard to better our station in life and, most importantly, possess a selfless concern for humanity. To do anything less dooms our society to failure and our children to a terrible future.

Remembering Mike Fezzey and the Media-Community Connection

March 29th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

B99256315Z.1_20150328132245_000_GKMFLRBV.1-0There’s no business in a community that has enough potential to do good for the community than the media business. While reflecting on the sudden loss of friend, client and role model, Mike Fezzey, who ran Detroit’s WJR radio for nearly 20 years, it’s easy to see the stark contrast between those who “get” that potential and those who don’t. The bad news is, so many don’t.

Fezzey often made statements along the lines of “what’s good for the community is good for business.” In WJR, he realized that he had a 50,000 watt asset that could bring the community together and make money for its parent corporation at the same time. It was not one or the other, as it seems to be so often in this age. WJR was a very high-billing radio station and a very community-connected one. That feels like an endangered species today.

Here’s an example. More than a decade ago, I represented a national corporation that had formed a national partnership with an anti-drug organization. They wanted Detroit to be a pilot market to host a local “town hall” meeting on “keeping our communities drug free.” They wanted local broadcast media as partners. I called Mike, who I didn’t know as well at that time as I would later, and he immediately said “yes,” on the phone, to WJR giving up an hour of time to air the forum, with one of its talk personalities as its moderator. There were no corporate approvals needed and no meetings to plan meetings about it. Could that happen today? It doesn’t seem like it.

In this age of corporate mandates, syndication, automation, voice tracking, cost cutting, click baiting and ratings grabbing, how much community involvement do we really see from local media? Not much. How many local media executives do we see sitting on community boards, as Fezzey did so passionately? Very few. How many local media executives can pick up the phone and put coalitions and projects together, as Fezzey did so often? Very few, if any.

After Mike surprisingly (even to him) left radio and became a regional president of a bank, because he saw an opportunity to “do more good” helping Michigan out of The Great Recession with business access to capital, he went “off script” and spoke about his values, rather than just a company pitch, to a business group session I helped put together for him. In the October 2011 speech, he credited former Capital Cities Communications executive Dan Burke with teaching him how business and community can go together. I remember Mike saying, “If you focus on doing business the right way, the profits will come.” I related that to our values and culture at Tanner Friedman and it felt validating and reassuring. Later that day, Burke passed away. Now that we have lost both Fezzey and Burke, who will fill their void in media? If trends continue the way they are, it will be a missed opportunity for so many.

Managing Adversity and the CEO

March 23rd, 2015 by Don Tanner

10208_thumb2_220x244Friday night marked a return to Michigan State University – this time in Lansing before students of the Eli Broad School of Businesses’ Executive MBA program – to talk about “Leading in Crisis”.  I had the good fortune to chat with MSU’s Troy-based class earlier in the year to discuss adversity management tenets and practices good and bad.  Both classes were smart and engaged.

During the Q&A session toward the end of the evening, the conversation moved, as it had in Troy, to dynamics related to how best to counsel, guide and motivate CEOs to do the right thing in a crisis situation.  As I relayed in a recent blog, with the tone of any organization set at the top, a CEOs acting expediently and appropriately is vital. At the same time, getting them to do so is often one of the most difficult things for any crisis consultant or team member to accomplish. Why exactly is that?

After all, escaping a crisis is rare if not impossible. Statistics show that 59% of all decision makers have experienced a crisis and 79% believe they will experience a another within the next year.  Of course, doing nothing is never an option. Yet, many executives hide their heads in the sand hoping things will “blow over.” Contrast that with the fact that public opinion polls indicate that 62% believe that when a company utters “no comment” or “could not be reached for comment” it implies guilt or that the company or individual in question has something to hide.  At Tanner Friedman, our argument is that you can always say something. And when a story is being prepared on the situation anyway, wouldn’t you rather tell your side of it – or at least provide perspective?

So how does one motivate the top person to proper decision-making and action? It definitely gets easier with experience but, first and foremost, the key is gaining that individual’s trust and respect overall.  Even then, however, fear, legal ramifications and ego can all muddy the waters and get in the way. My recipe in that case is to present a 360-degree perspective that presents possible ramifications should they act counter to what you are recommending. They might not want to hear them but you’re not doing your job if you don’t make such scenarios known.  Sometimes, in the end (and as long as nothing illegal or dishonest is being put forth) you may need to agree to disagree and live to fight another day.  They don’t call it adversity management for nothing.