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.

What To Ignore About, Learn From Presidential Campaign PR

July 19th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

Trump__Clinton-2If you’re looking for media relations guidance this summer, whatever do you, don’t take your cues from the Presidential campaigns.

If you want news attention, don’t do what the campaigns are doing. Last weekend, Donald Trump announced Mike Pence as his running mate in a “news conference” that wasn’t a news conference in any way, shape or form. In fact, the campaign excluded certain journalists while reportedly letting in tourists off the street. Journalists who were allowed inside were not permitted to ask questions. Yet, in its reporting of the event, the New York Times referred to it as a “news conference.” That’s not going to happen if you pulled in the same stunt in the market where you do business.

The same goes for the Hillary Clinton campaign. According to The Washington Post, she has not answered questions in a press conference format since December 2015. There is no scenario that comes anywhere close to mind that would allow anyone in business to get away with any kind of equivalent.

Collectively, national news outlets are spending millions of dollars to cover these campaigns and will do so regardless of the level of access they are provided. That’s not going to work for whatever you do. If you ignore the media who may cover you (if there are even resources left over from a decade of consolidation and cuts to do it), then it would result, at best, in you being ignored by journalists and, at worst, negative coverage.

Over the years, we have heard would-be clients who try to compare their communications challenges to campaigns or even White House scenarios. The fact is that there’s more different than there is in common between whatever type of strategy you need and those that are employed in the national political arena.

But if you’re consuming election coverage at a high rate and want some sort of takeaway to chew on, go online and consider PR in the broadest sense. Even though every news organization is expending resources at covering the campaigns, and that is significant and contributes to the effort to reach audiences, they know that is only one way to communicate. They understand that social media should be more than just a checklist item, it can be a way to craft compelling, shareable messages to individuals. They understand that video can be a powerful, credible storytelling tool that can bring to life the stories that traditional media can’t or won’t do. Those are the lessons from the campaigns, among many other entities, that you should consider emulating, regardless of whether you embrace the messages.

The “Little” Station That Could – And Is

July 18th, 2016 by Don Tanner

imgresIt might not yet be the ‘little station that could’ but it sure is the radio station that’s trying.  And, however you choose to look at things, Kevin Adell’s self-anointed “Superstation 910 AM” is showing up in the Detroit radio ratings after a relatively short time on-the-air.  Bill Shea goes into great detail in the latest issue of Crain’s Detroit Business.

Adell has populated his station with top-notch talent including the likes of Steve Hood, Cliff Russell, Karen Dumas and others.  At the same time, the oft-controversial owner has also brought in what some might refer to as a “cast of characters” including disgraced former Michigan lawmakers Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser for separate shows.  Talk radio should be insightful but also entertaining and such additions bring both a curiosity factor and ‘wow’ level that can motivate listeners to tune in.

What is also impressive about the upstart is the level of promotion that is being utilized.  Billboards, live appearances (including the recent Detroit Chamber Mackinac Conference), snazzy station vehicles (including a metallic-painted broadcast-ready mini-trailer) ensure high-profile awareness. This harkens back to radio’s heyday of the 60s and 70s when stations and their personalities were “everywhere” and promoted heavily.

Most importantly, they say timing is everything and certainly “The voice of the urban community”, as the station positions itself, has come along at the right time.  No matter your politics and no matter your position on recent and on-going tragic police/African American events across this country, a dialogue is necessary – vital.  Right now, 910 AM is doing this as well as anyone. Providing a forum, a platform, to talk, debate and, one would hope, move toward understanding and resolution.

It is what media is supposed to do – act in the public interest.  And while it is early, the Superstation is an interesting one to watch and listen to.

Carlson-Ailes Lawsuit Could Teach Litigation Communications Strategy

July 10th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

9780525427452_large_Getting_RealLitigation communications can be a challenging subset of our industry. It is often handled poorly, because lawyers can be resistant to anything that feels like giving up a fraction of control.

But, over the years, our relationships with multiple leading law firms have led Tanner Friedman to a significant track record of successful litigation communications, working with both plaintiffs and defendants on a consistent string of high-profile cases.

The recent lawsuit that seized attention within the media business should also serve as example of how a law firm and a PR firm can work together in the shared best interests of a client. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Fox News chief Roger Ailes, one of the biggest names in the media world, for sexual harassment that she says led to her firing. Carlson’s New Jersey law firm obviously trusted her New York PR firm and the two, in concert, seized the opportunity provided by the process to plaintiffs, who typically enjoy an inherent advantage in litigation communication.

As this Politico story details it, Carlson’s teams worked together to carefully plot a strategy and timeline and then seemed to execute it all flawlessly. They selected the right day, two days after a holiday when business news can be relatively quiet yet still draw an audience, and were able to get the news out before the defendant even had a chance to see the suit. The defense could only respond to a long list of impassioned allegations with the typical litany of cliches in a statement, “The suit is baseless and without merit and will be defended vigorously,” or something along those lines.

Now, Fox News is faced with a PR challenge, which is part of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ legal strategy. Sometimes a win in the court of the public can put pressure on a defense team in the court of law. The key for defense is to be prepared and it seems they could have seen something coming when the didn’t renew Carlson’s contract. But, it seems this didn’t happen here.

The lesson for anyone on either side of a potentially high-profile case can be learned here. Have a strategy, commit to executing it and make sure, above all, that your legal and PR teams can work cohesively with mutual respect.

America Must Think, Talk, Act as One

July 9th, 2016 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.54.43 AMScary. Disheartening. Tragic. Wrong.  All of us can come up many, many more words and sentiments to describe what has transpired not just in past days but years and decades in this country. But what do we do with those words and sentiments – most recently with possibly race-related events in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas – in terms of putting thoughts and potential solutions into action? And, let’s not forget Orlando.

Detroit Free Press reporter Rochelle Riley’s article in this morning’s paper suggests exactly that in its headline: “Tragedies Should Fuel Conversation.” Importantly, she describes the senselessness of all of these deaths including those of the police offers gunned down, terming them acts of ‘domestic terrorism’ against ‘community soldiers’. Rochelle Riley is an outstanding columnist with a large following and reputation for telling it like it is.  She is also African American and, for this article at this time, that is important.

If you saw the movie “Selma” you saw recounted a pivotal time in the civil rights movement led by perhaps one of history’s greatest advocates for equality, Dr. Martin Luther King, King worked tirelessly to affect change – albeit accomplished peacefully. Violence, as he espoused, is never the answer on either side of this equation. Neither is merely conversation.  Positive, corrective action, however, is essential.

So how is this accomplished? Can racism ever be vanquished once and for all? We must start with an overriding principal and understanding that all lives matter. We must move beyond stereotypes based on race and socioeconomics. Communities and police need to come together to talk and listen to each other; to work to understand each other in an effort to un-do dangerous adversarial dynamics. And, of course, that coming together needs to happen at all levels of society.

As far as police procedures and tactics go (and I realize I am way out of my element here), stops and approaches have to be handled with a different mind set.  Any stop can be potentially dangerous for a police officer, however, if they are based on unfounded racial profiling, the potential for force is already there.  As for weapons (again, no expert here), what about (in particular for “routine” events) giving law officers a greater range of options, such as tasers and rubber bullets – articles designed to stun and incapacitate rather than maim and kill? More intense training overall appears to be sorely needed as well.

I am an expert in communications and, bringing this full circle and back to Riley’s column, it starts there: with communication.  Rational, open-minded individuals can find a common ground.  By talking. By educating. By working together. By identifying a shared purpose and potential solutions.  People are people. The key is to treat each other that way.