The New Reality: How You Handle PR Is Part Of The Story

September 17th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

UnknownSome of the best journalists in America happen to cover sports. Some of the best orators in America happen to talk about sports on the radio. Few, if any of them, have ever “had a seat at the table” inside a crisis. But even they know that the Minnesota Vikings have bungled the Adrian Peterson situation.

I won’t pile onto the gang tackle about how the Vikings have managed PR during this crisis. To most, the flip-flopping and 1 a.m. news release (like nobody was going to report it in this era of communication) – probably demanded by someone with too much grey hair and too much regard for his or her own grey matter – just seemed like parts of a debacle. Even those paid to analyze Xs and Os on the field know that too many wrong plays were called here. But this is an opportunity to highlight, once again, that how the Vikings handled it was nearly as big of a story of what the Vikings eventually decided to do.

It’s the new reality – how you handle PR in a high-profile situation is part of the story. Once upon a time, journalists would restrict their comments on such things to newsroom chatter. Today, that chatter is public, thanks to social media and opinion-driven broadcasts on radio and TV. Today, audiences of all kinds join in on the analysis. Just like with sports, more non-pros than ever act they’re experts in PR when they’re empowered by a Twitter account and a radio call-in number and, when their voices are aggregated, they shape a narrative.

What likely happened inside the Vikings’ office is likely no different what we have seen many times before. There is fragile ego at the top. There is tension over attention between the in-house PR staff not trained for crisis (often, to borrow a phrase “out of their league”) and and outside agency trying to add perspective and convince people they are potentially meeting for the first time to see it their way. But the real power rests with the lawyers, who are, by nature, risk averse, advising like a drumbeat “don’t get sued, don’t get sued, don’t get sued” and so often the barrier between communications success and what ends up as being analyzed as failure.

The biggest takeaway from this situation is one we feel like we’re pointing out more often than ever these days. PR matters. The media and the public are paying attention. Doing the right things, the right ways, has never been more important.

The Wikipedia Community: An Iron Gate with an Open Keypad by Kristin Sokul

September 15th, 2014 by Don Tanner

Wikipedia_CensoredWith humble beginnings of only 218 active participants at the end of its introductory year in 2001, Wikipedia has grown into a juggernaut of information, second only to Google in informational searching. The site now boasts more than 22 million registered users, 71,000 of which are active “Wikipedians” generating more than 31 million articles, to date. Yet despite its longevity and multitude of editors, Wikipedia continues to be shrouded in mystery for companies and professional communicators who try to harness its power to communicate or mitigate reputation damage.

Though anyone is allowed to make edits to any page, meeting relevancy, tone and sourcing requirements are strictly policed by Wikipedia’s 1,400 administrators to maintain the integrity of the site. This can be problematic for companies or individuals trying to earn a coveted spot on this resource. You must be able to prove information seekers outside of your local geography would care enough to search for you. This requirement is partially achieved with a variety of acceptable sources, which must be published, traceable, relevant and authentic (and cannot just be the news release section of your website). Companies and organizations that have most successfully met these tests are those with long-term media relations campaigns, generating numerous published articles written by credible journalists, proving their worth and factual content.

Yet, even with such threshold requirements met, “tone” can make or break the acceptance of a particular page. The tendency to craft content in the form of a marketing bio or “About Us” backgrounder is rampant among those trying to use the site as a more searchable extension of their own websites. But in Wikipedia world, these are deemed too “promotional” and grounds for dismissal. To earn your spot in the Wikipedia community, think about how you wrote reports with source requirements in high school or college. All facts must be sourced, and it’s best to eliminate most of your adjectives. Even if you know informational content to be true, it must be sourced somewhere to make the cut.

Creating your own page is only one side of the equation. Companies need also to be vigilant of pages created by others. Only Wikipedia administrators can delete a page, and if the material is properly sourced, bad news about a company, CEO or president is there to stay, making a crisis communications plan all the more critical. Once someone else has already told one side of your story, the best you can do is seek to add other content to level the playing field. Think about items you can source, factually and neutrally, demonstrating the positives your company is known for and/or achievements and advancements that round out your story.

Whether you are a Wikipedia content creator or editor, know that this process is not something you can simply throw together in an hour. Be prepared to do the exploration, source your facts and triple-check your tone. This potential blessing and possible curse demands proper time, research and effort, just like your senior year capstone project.

A Coach’s Headset Proves Perceptions Win

September 8th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Michigan vs Virginia TechThe cliche says “perception is reality.” Unlike the many myths that circulate about human opinion, that one often holds true. Once again, sports provides us with an example that demonstrates how perception dominates thinking. This example has spread through social media and sports talk radio and, now, into mainstream traditional media coverage.

Brady Hoke is the Head Football Coach at the University of Michigan. Since his arrival as the football boss in Ann Arbor, Hoke has an inconsistent won-loss record. While skilled as a recruiter of both assistant coaches and players, interviews and press conferences are not his strong suit. What fans and reporters hear is a mix of coach-speak and simplistic answers. We have no idea what his players and coaches hear in private. But what really shapes Hoke’s reputation is the fact that he doesn’t often wear a headset while coaching on the sidelines during games.

“What’s the big deal?” It somehow creates the perceptions with fans and critics alike that, coupled with his public persona otherwise, that Hoke is, essentially, a “big dumb jock.” Football fans fancy their head coaches as “field generals,” who are in control of men and tacticians who order plays via headset, just like coaches such as Michigan’s legendary Bo Schembechler. Schembechler’s Sports Illustrated photo gallery‘s first two photos show him wearing a headset.

The “headset issue” has led some (many?) to believe a range of perceptions. That Hoke is just a rah-rah leader, that he’s just a figurehead, that Athletic Director Dave Brandon is running the game management or that Hoke is simply not smart enough to make decisions during a football game. Today, this went mainstream with Detroit News columnist Terry Foster’s piece calling for Hoke’s likely firing, with the headset “situation” as a support argument (really).

That’s the perception. The reality, I’m told by a sports professional who carefully has watched the Michigan sidelines during games for Hoke’s entire tenure, is that he’s constantly in communication with his coordinators, especially now that his offensive coordinator coaches from the sidelines. Hoke has a graduate assistant with him to help as a conduit for that communication. He pays his attention, otherwise, to players who are coming off and on the field during the game.

Brady Hoke may or may not be a competent head coach. The truth is the fact that he doesn’t like to wear a headset will not decide that question. Like all of us in our jobs, results will. And that’s just reality.

Don’t Let Emotion Guide Your Crisis Media Analysis

September 7th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

emotionsWorking as an outside voice on a client project that’s filled with emotion can be one of the biggest challenges in PR. You are brought in to operate above the fray and provide counsel that takes the emotion of the situation into account, but not be driven by it.

Recently, one of these crises was covered by a community news outlet. The president of the client organization asked me to review the comprehensive story that chronicled the latest on the emotionally-charged controversy. I read the lengthy piece and advised that while the story contained a little sloppy writing, it was overall very fair, included points of view from both sides and carried a headline closely aligned with the message the client wants to communicate. There were several points of view from the “other side” that the client wouldn’t like to see in print, but the news organization was just doing its job.

The president responded that “It is not fair.The article…simply gives (the other side) a forum.” I explained that giving both sides in a controversy is, journalistically, the definition of a fair piece. After a little back and forth, the discussion ended, but I realized just how common these conversations are in our business.

Clients need to remember that there’s no reason for us to want anything other than fair coverage, at the very least, for them. During coverage of a controversy, the story is factually correct, if opposing viewpoints are all attributed to the opposition, if your point of view is included and your messages are getting out and if a reporter is respectful of your position, then you have all the ingredients fair story. It’s our job to help you see it that way.

Too often, emotion clouds decision-making during difficult situations. Emotion can also cloud analysis. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced professional provide the perspective to understand how the public really sees your news coverage.

Verlander-Upton Learn a Lewd Lesson in Celebrity

September 2nd, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 5.55.03 PMWhile many take time off during the annual Labor Day weekend, some brazen hackers were recently hard at work stealing very private photos from a host of top celebrities, Tiger Justin Verlander and girlfriend/model/actress Kate Upton among them.  Should they have known better? Could they have avoided the situation? How should they have responded? What does it portend for their careers, moving forward?  WDIV-TV Channel 4 covered the story (see it here) featuring our perspectives. Yet a lot was left on the cutting room floor. Allow me to elaborate.

As for the first two questions, we all have to concede the fact that, with reality TV and social media, we have become a very voyeuristic society. We like to take pictures and movies and show them (sometimes aimed just at our significant others).  What we all also must realize, however, is that the technology that supports those tendencies is far from secure. If Target or the federal government can be hacked, so can our cloud-based phones.  Celebrities, further and as we see over and over again, are targets for exploitation – whether out of jealousy or for monetary gain.  While we all have to be careful what we post in public or shoot in private, the rich and famous have to be even more so.  Because once ‘it’ is out there – social media spreads it like wild fire.

How should Verlander and Upton have publicly responded? I suggested on TV that they took a page from the playbook of actress Jennifer Lawrence, herself a compromising photo victim in recent days.  Her representatives talked about working with the authorities to investigate and, in time, take legal action against the perpetrators.  Had these celebrities gone back to social media or held an unnecessary press conference to address the issue, it would have been akin to an arsonist watching from afar as fire crews worked to extinguish the blaze. Why give these hackers more satisfaction by seeing their victims react?

I was also asked by Channel 4 (again see cutting room) whether either Verlander or Upton would be affected sponsorship/pitchman-wise.  I replied that I doubted we’d see the Tiger ace shilling for Disney World or Cracker Jack anytime soon but wouldn’t be surprised if he popped up in a vodka or sports car commercial down the road.  I presume Upton will also be fine, as the majority of her career success has already been based on sex appeal.

In the end, the entire situation had to be for the young couple very embarrassing, although not career-damaging.  It is just a hard lesson once again underscored: Public celebrities do not have private lives. For better or for worse, if you are in the limelight, learn that lesson and think before you act – even behind closed doors.

Stewart’s Decision To Race Tonight A Mistake

August 31st, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-08-31 at 5.46.43 PMNASCAR superstar Tony Stewart should not be racing tonight in Atlanta.  22 days and three Sprint Cup races missed are simply not enough time and space away from a still-unexplained tragedy.  Not when an ongoing investigation continues.  Not when a life has been lost.

Setting aside the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. on August 9th, Stewart and his handlers made their first blunder by indicating in the aftermath that it would be ‘business as usual’ and that Stewart would race the next day.  After a public outcry ensued, Stewart changed direction and opted instead to sit on the sidelines.  And while he has indicated deep regret for what occurred, his statements since possess an unsettling theme: how the event has affected him.

“This has been one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with both personally and professionally,” he read from a statement at a press conference Friday. “(It)…is something that will definitely affect my life forever.” Among his unsurprising supporters (enablers?) has been Brett Frood, executive vice-president of Stewart-Hass Racing, who said: “(Stewart) being in a racing car right now is about him getting through what has been a very emotional two weeks, what his next step is in coping with this.”

What would I recommend if I were counseling Stewart? Stay on the sidelines. Give it time. Out of respect for Ward. To heal yourself.  For how long? Until the investigation has officially been completed. Until he can meet with Ward’s family. Until they indicate they would support his return to the racetrack.  In his defense, Stewart did reference during the press conference, by name, various members of Ward’s family and that we was, “everyday thinking about them and praying for them.” As well he should.

I hope Kevin Ward’s family can rebuild their lives and I do hope Tony Stewart the man and the racer survives this horrible event.  But, beyond the remorse, he has to proceed with selflessness and respect. With helmet off and foot off the gas pedal, he needs to focus on doing the right thing and he needs to do it the right way.

Now You See Him, Now You Hear Him Too

August 24th, 2014 by Don Tanner

17212275_BG1It may well be unprecedented.  This week, it was announced that Fox-2 Weekend anchor Jay Towers would be replacing Alan Lee on the weekday Fox Morning News program. Lee left in recent days to pursue his passion for writing books.  And what of Towers’ morning show on WNIC?  Oh, he’ll be doing that too – simultaneously.  Unprecedented for sure and sure to be quite logistically interesting.

A radio talent broadcasting on television at the same time is certainly nothing new. Don Imus simulcasts his Cumulus Radio program over the Fox Business Network, much as he did his ABC radio show on MSNBC-TV before the Rutgers women’s basketball team controversy brought a temporary end to his dual medium diatribes. “Mike and Mike” have appeared in words and pictures on ESPN Radio and television for the better part of the past 16 years.  And, more recently, Dan Patrick’s Premiere Radio Network program has become a stable of the NBC television Sports Network. As for TV on the radio, just turn on Sirius XM to hear what is being broadcast on literally hundreds of television networks – including news outlets like CNN and MSNBC.

What is unique in the case of Fox-2 and WNIC, of course, is that Jay Towers will be anchoring two different shows at virtually the same time.  Can it be done? If anyone can do it, Towers and Clear Channel can.  With boundless energy, Towers has, for all intents and purposes, worked a 7-day week for years. Weekdays on 100.3 FM and weekends on WJBK-TV doesn’t allow for much time off or sleeping in.  Now with two days off each week, his newfound life should bring new life to his ‘can-do’ M.O. Clear Channel Radio on the other hand, is the originator of voice-tracking and pre-recorded radio segments. To be sure, more of Tower’s radio show will have to go this route out of necessity while also relying more on his sidekicks for time checks and real-time news, traffic and weather.

What is perhaps most interesting is the cooperation between Fox-TV and Clear Channel Radio to make this polygamedia relationship possible. Both undoubtedly understand the ratings pull that a popular personality such as a Jay Towers brings to the table, in particular considering his years of successful service to both entities. In the end it will be quite interesting to see and hear how this juggling act comes to fruition and whether listeners or viewers can tell the difference. I would suggest they at least appreciate the effort and broadcast history in the making.







Craig Fahle Exits WDET: Big Shoes, Shows to Fill

August 10th, 2014 by Don Tanner

bildeDick Purtan. JJ and Lynne. Drew and Mike. Ken Calvert. Joe Donovan. Arthur Penhallow.  All longtime Detroit radio legends who have either exited the airwaves in a recent month or year or moved from drivetime.  And, while the name Craig Fahle is perhaps not as well known or endured as long, his exit on Friday from WDET-FM after nearly a decade as the station’s top day-to-day air personality is significant. Bill Shea’s story in this week’s Crain’s Detroit Business tells the tale well with a bit of my perspective thrown in.  Read the piece here.

If you never took the opportunity to listen to Craig Fahle, you missed out; although you can still hear him via archived podcasts at  I and members of the Tanner Friedman team had the good fortune to work with Craig on many occasions through the years, booking our clients on his show. No matter the topic, no matter the guest, Craig Fahle was always prepared.  He has, in fact, always been known for his voracious reading and thorough show prep.  As a guest myself on his show after publishing the updated version of my book on radio: “No Static at All,” I was amazed at how much of my book he had devoured and maintained a recall of as he asked his questions and made his points.

From a ratings standpoint, one might look at Fahle’s or WDET’s numbers in general and be less than impressed.  Yet, statistics alone can be very deceiving. Public Radio stations, with their schedules of varied niche programs typically never see the numbers of popular commercial stations.  Fahle’s 9a-11a show, however, typically enjoyed a respectable 7,000 listeners a day; another 4,500 at night during the 7p-9p repeat of his broadcast.  And, even more importantly, Fahle held his listeners for an amazing 45 minutes at a time, 30 minutes at night. Bottom line: his listeners were dedicated – vital for fundraising for a non-commercial entity.

So, what’s next? For Fahle, a new role as Director of Public Affairs for the Detroit Land Bank Authority.  And while the move was at first shocking it was not surprising, considering Fahle’s love of the city and desire to make a difference. For WDET, there are big shoes and two time slots to fill.  I hope the station takes its time and considers its candidates carefully to find genuine, informed, dedicated, non-promotional, non-agended and a person who truly cares about Detroit. It’s what Craig Fahle brought to the airwaves everyday and what we all deserve more of.

5 Questions With The Man Who Got The Real Media Inside Story

August 10th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

home_ken_aulettaIt’s a privilege to have the opportunity to write about PR and media trends on this blog and generate conversation that helps our connections understand the changing environment. It’s an honor to be regularly asked by media outlets themselves to analyze their own businesses.

But there’s always room for learning. And no matter what you know, there’s usually someone who knows more than you do. I learned that this summer.

I remember in 1991, a book called “Three Blind Mice: How The TV Networks Lost Their Way” earned attention in media circles. I also remember ignoring it, because, as a budding broadcast journalist, I knew I wasn’t interested in the negatives of the industry. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that back then as I was filled with optimism and determination, my head was, to a great extent, more comfortable in the sand.

23 years later, the fact that I hadn’t read that book began to gnaw at me. It was easy to find, because we have a one-of-a-kind, gigantic used book store in Detroit, John Kings Books, where I picked up the 1991 hardcover for $6, then devoured it on vacation. Author Ken Auletta was given unprecedented access to the executives, strategies, finances and emotions of ABC, CBS and NBC, when all three networks were sold in the ’80s. His 577 pages told, with remarkable detail, the inside story I had only seen from the outside. It was, to say the least, fascinating. I folded down pages, prepared to write in here about what had changed, how it had changed and how, somehow, these networks still exist, albeit in a much different form.

But my words can’t do this justice. I had to find Ken Auletta. Using what I assume are some leftover reporting skills, I was able to track him down. While I could have spent a weekend talking shop with him, just scratching the surface, I asked for five questions, to be respectful of his time. He agreed. And here they are. I hope you can learn from him, as I have:

1) When you finished “Three Blind Mice” how did you envision the three networks would look a generation into the future?

There’s always a problem writing an ending to a story that continues. What I wrote in the last chapter was that the financial problem the three networks faced was that they were reliant on a single source of income, advertising. But if they could tap other sources, including, I wrote, changing fin/syn rules to allow the networks to own more programming and benefit from syndication and overseas sales, they would be better placed. My book was published in 1991. In 1992, Congress passed the Cable Act, which compelled cable system owners to pay broadcast and other networks to air their programs. Today, this generates about $4 billion for various networks and stations. Then the fin/syn rules were altered, opening another revenue spigot for networks. And new digital platforms — Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube — appeared, paying for network programming. Last year, CBS and Fox each received $250 million from Netflix alone.

2) How remarkable is it that while there has been so much change and competition around them, so much of what they were doing then appears to be the same now?

My book was, in part, about how a new technology — cable — was disrupting broadcasting. Today, digital technology and the Internet are disrupting — and sometimes funding — cable as well as broadcasting. The disruptive aspect exceeds the new revenues. For the Internet allows Netflix and others to stream programs directly to viewers. It allows ad-free viewing, or viewers to skip ads. It tells advertisers how many of their expensive ad buys are wasted. It allows viewers to watch what they want, when they want, for as long as they want, and on multiple devices.

3) One fact I learned in your book is that as recently as 25 years ago, network news was a big money loser. I was surprised because in local TV, since almost its infancy, news has been a virtual ATM for station owners. How did the “public service” contingent in newsrooms finally concede they had lost the war?

The idea that news should not be a money loser gained traction when the new owners acquired the three networks in 1985-86. The previous pressure from the Congress for them to provide public service had lessened. And the new owners were corporate businessmen who measured success more by the bottom line, not intangibles like public service.

(Friedman note: In other words, they had no choice.)

4) I have a concept that I would love to see. Maybe you can give me a reality check? Can you foresee a day in which one or more of the old-line networks blows up at least a portion of the schedule that they have adhered to since the 1950s? For example, could you ever see any of them “stripping” news in Prime Time, to fill a void for a straight newscast free from political agenda and screaming heads, on what’s still the world’s most powerful medium, taking advantage of HDTV in a time slot in which modern Americans are not stuck in traffic? That newscast, in part and in whole, could be available on demand, for online viewing. Or will they still insist on a white man reading a prompter to a gray audience at 6:30 p.m.?

No, I cannot imagine the networks placing a newscast in primetime, as some nations — like Israel — do. Why? Ratings and demographics. And the Internet. The average age of the three newscast viewers is 65, thus the ad rates are low. And because the Internet has made possible for citizens to be exposed to news 24/7, fewer people wait to learn what happened today. More likely we’ll see broadcast networks air live and special events — sports, awards shows, the Sound of Music and Peter Pan movies, etc.

5) As far as programming, do you agree that we’re now, despite a lot of the “reality” trash on the air, we may now be in something of a Golden Age, because competition has led to, overall, a better quality of choices across the channel universe?

We have more choices, and better choices. Yes, there’s a lot of crap. But the Good Wife on CBS, or Friday Night Lights (then on NBC), are as outstanding as many of the best shows of yore. And then you have HBO, Showtime, AMC, Netflix, etc. Bruce Springsteen’s lament, 500 channels and nothing on, is wrong.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name…And Your Reputation

August 5th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 9.41.03 AMThis Tanner Friedman Blog entry is authored by our Account Manager Maggie Sisco. We’ll continue to share perspectives from our colleagues, whenever we have an opportunity.

Every company is known for something and not always for what they want it to be. What a company “stands” for and what a company is known for are often times two very different things.

When thinking about how a company is known, remember that the office walls are thinner than ever. People talk, they text, they email, tweet, update statuses, share, like. We live in a time when the global population is more communicative than ever. That means news travels fast. Good news AND bad news.

Why does it matter? Because if you’re looking to start a career, build your own personal brand, or even start client relationships, you should first know what’s already been said about the company you are about to associate yourself with.

I once did a job shadow with a company early in my college career at the encouragement of a very well-meaning mentor. The experience turned out to be a total disaster. Sitting in an office for 8 hours listening to the latest office gossip and learning about the newest version of whatever online game was popular at the time felt like a waste of time, and money (since I had taken the day off from my paying job).

Following that experience I asked around and heard similar stories about that company from three different colleagues. With the benefit of hindsight I realize that I should have done my homework. I should have asked questions. In an era where Google has made obtaining information exponentially easier, I should have spent some time online and saved myself a little time and trouble.

This can be a common mistake early on in any professional relationship, whether it be finding that right fit at a company or with a client.

There are always calculated risks when making any professional decision. Just be sure you’re taking the right ones, before you jump into the “mud.”