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.

 

 

Here’s How Not To Fire Your PR Firm

July 5th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

unnamedThere are two kinds of owners of PR firms. One will admit that the firm has been fired by a client. The other is lying.

When you spend all day trying to build and strengthen relationships, you don’t want to think about when and how they will someday, somehow, inevitably end. But when they do, it’s hard not to let the postmortem occupy your thoughts, especially when a longtime client does exactly what you shouldn’t do if you ever have to fire your firm.

Recently, a 12-year client ended a relationship with us in a way we did not expect or deserve. This was a client that, once legally able, joined us after a multi-year track record with us at our previous firm. Much of our work with this client focused on serving as direct communications counsel to the CEO. This client, because of the strength of our relationship and a mutual feeling of trust, donated a portion of our professional time to the community where it is headquartered to help raise awareness for the business and living opportunities there. This is a client that also entrusted us to work closely with its Board of Directors on some of its most sensitive matters.

At no point in the 12 years of working together did anyone working for this client provide any constructive feedback about our performance. We never heard “We’d like you to do this differently” or “We’d like more of that instead.” At no point was any dissatisfaction about work product communicated whatsoever. When we would suggest new ideas, we were often met by budget concerns, but that didn’t deter us from trying to add as much value as the client would allow us to provide.

In fact, after our contract was terminated and we were informed there would be a search process, we were told that it was because “we’re examining all of our outside contracts.” It was reassuring when we were hired soon after that for project work, which yielded results. Then, when an RFP was issued and I called the CEO asking if there is a change mandate and, if so, should we even take the time to complete the process, I was strongly encouraged to submit a proposal. So, after 12 years of working together, I gathered our team, critically evaluated our performance and re-pitched the business in a written proposal.

We didn’t even get an interview.

A few weeks later, I received a voicemail from the in-house marketing person. It said that they had hired another firm, one from a city even farther away from the client than where we are located. It said that they were particularly impressed by that firm’s research capabilities. “Research?” I thought. “Research?” There was nothing in the RFP about research. 12 years of working together and the need for research never even came up in conversation. We have a terrific relationship with an outstanding market research company with particular experience in this client’s sector. If only they had asked we could have told them, but, for some reason, they didn’t even want to know.

12 years was reduced to a voicemail. Well, that and an email “making sure” I got the voicemail.

I don’t know what happened on the client’s end of this story. I likely never will. Probably, they grew dissatisfied with our work, but didn’t have the guts to tell us. Why? Was I going to yell at them? Argue? Swear? Cry? Sue? How bad would it have been?

Or maybe they just thought the grass would be greener someplace else. So why couldn’t we talk about it? What’s so scary about a tough conversation?

As the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. But after a long, successful relationship, do it from the top and don’t do it with a voicemail. Show some class and some stones. Have a real conversation, answer questions, clear the air and then, both sides can move on.

The Publication of Independence

July 4th, 2016 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 7.23.08 PMToday, news dissemination and consumption are virtually real-time and immediate. Social media, cell phones and the internet all ensure what is posted can and will be seen as soon as certain information is written and shared.  Of course, not all that long ago that was not the case.  Go even further back to earlier centuries and the passing on of particular news could take weeks if not months – typically moving via letter and, later, newspapers.  So, how long did it take for the colonies, England and the world to learn of America’s independence in 1776 – and who and what spread that news?

A fascinating look comes from AllThingsLiberty.com and a piece by Todd Andrik, researched and written in a recent year. The article recounts how, on July 2, 1776, Congress voted for independence and approved the text of its official declaration two days later on the holiday we celebrate. This news of independence from England was first reported in the July 2nd Pennsylvania Evening Post and on July 3rd by the Pennsylvania Gazette. Full text of the Declaration of Independence was then made available on July 4th.

Across the pond in England, however, news moved a bit slower, with the announcement coming via ship-sent letter, written July 7th from a stateside General to a London Lord, arriving the second week of August. As such, the August 10th issue of the London Gazette reported for the first time to the English masses of the decision by the colonies to break away from the motherland and of the resulting Declarations of War.  It wouldn’t be until 1777, however, that the American public would learn the names of all 55 signers of the Declaration via a printed broadside (or pamphlet) commissioned by Congress. (Note: the 56th signature came later).

And so word of perhaps the most momentous occasion in American history was communicated to the masses in not an immediate yet still surprisingly short period of time.  The power of the press had previously informed the people of tyrannical actions by England and fervently stirred the Patriots to revolution.  The great thirst for independence could then only be quenched by action – and the timely and accurate reporting of that action; a free press and soon-to-be free country working hand in hand toward liberty.

 

WMGC: Wherefore Art Thou Going Next?

June 30th, 2016 by Don Tanner

imagesIs this where we cue the DJ to play Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust?” Sadly, the death of another radio station format in Detroit is no laughing matter – not when jobs and livelihoods are lost.  Yet, after just three years, that is exactly what has happened again in this town as Greater Media announced last night that its Sports/Talk station, 105.1 WMGC, is switching formats. Most staffers, it has been reported, will not be retained.

How and why did this occur? A look back (and of course, hindsight is always 20/20) illuminates what some might deem missteps. When WMGC flipped from Adult Contemporary “Magic” (with Jim Harper) it brought Drew Lane, the legendary morning man from sister station WRIF-101.1 FM, over to apparently anchor the new competitor to CBS juggernaut WXYT (97.1 FM The Ticket).  However, Lane was inserted not into his customary AM drive slot but rather into PM drive.  A lot of that could have been due to the fact that Lane had publicly shared his disdain for the life-style-challenging early morning shift.  His audience, however, did not follow him in the droves that had been anticipated or at least hoped for.

Other air personalities were similarly mismatched and moved around. As a result, top talent such as Matt Dery and Tom Mazawey were not allowed to flourish nor build particular daypart followings. The station did set itself apart from its crosstown rival with a plethora of regular live, on-air interviews.  In many ways, though, this was countermanded by too much national (ESPN) content, including for a time, much of its primetime weekday morning programming.

In the end though, WMGC could simply not compete with other Detroit radio heavyweights long known for their sports team pedigrees and acumen – including CBS and Cumulus’ WJR. The Pistons were on board, sure, yet decades removed from the “Bad Boys” days of fanatical citywide excitement; having not possessed the panache of the Tigers or Red Wings (or event Lions) for far too long.  They certainly were not enough to carry a station on its back.

So, what’s next for WMGC? From a formatics standpoint, the one glaring hole in this town would appear to be the Adult Contemporary format.  And while WOMC and Greater Media sister WCSX often dip a toe into the waters of Elton John and other traditional A/C staples, only iHeart’s WNIC is considered a true A/C.  Listen for a time to 100.3 though and ‘NIC often sounds like the more-current leaning WDVD 96.3 FM, if not a Hot Hit station.  Perhaps it is time for a more sedate, adult-focused format that more intuitively merges new songs with old.  WMXD 92.3 FM has done this very successfully, albeit with a more urban/R&B flavoring. For now, ‘MGC is simulcasting content from the WCSX HD-2 classic oldies format channel.

Ironically, WMGC was A/C before Sports/Talk yet with a more upbeat, current/recurrent bent.  It might be time for a return, although with the twist I am suggesting. To get anyone to go up the dial to 105.1 FM, though, especially in these days of Pandora, Satellite and MP3s, it is going to take an investment in truly local and name-recognizable talent.  How about luring Jim Harper out of retirement and re-teaming him with Chris Edmonds? Putting Lynne Woodison back on the Detroit airwaves? Hiring Ann Delisi to program and do what she wants on both sides of the mic? Kevin O’Neil and Tom Force should be back on the regular airwaves again too. The key to success will be investment – in forethought, strategy, true name-brand talent and an appreciation for what really makes radio great. I’ll keep my fingers crossed – but am not holding my breath.

 

 

 

 

Facebook Live: Don’t Get Too Annoyed, Or Attached

June 30th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

UnknownWhat did the self-proclaimed “social media guru” tell you last week, along with patting himself on the back for being a “thought leader?” Whatever it was, it could be outdated today.

Just yesterday, Facebook announced that you’ll be getting more in your news feed from your friends and family and less from “publishers,” such as traditional news organizations. That’s just what we all want in an election year, don’t we?

So before you fall completely in love with the results from Facebook Live, keep in mind that it’s going to change sooner or later. It’s tempting though. Facebook Live is creating some big audience results. While some are annoyed by the alerts, there’s no doubt it has created curiosity on the platform that some had viewed as stale.

Sometimes, it’s a neighbor bird watching on the deck. But other times, it has provided an opportunity to experience a live event or one-of-a-kind access. One TV journalist told me that a recent Facebook Live “broadcast” attracted more viewers than one of that station’s newscasts on TV that day. We have seen it too at Tanner Friedman, where our Facebook Live posts of press conferences have attracted views and shares like nothing else we have posted lately.

But remember not too long ago when “business” posts with photos were like that? Any post with a photo got seen more widely and seemingly instantly drew likes, shares and comments. Then what happened? Facebook started throttling that content and even some of your most fervent fans couldn’t see your posts unless you paid Facebook a few bucks to “boost” them. It’s safe to assume that’s going to happen with Facebook Live.

Right now, Facebook wants to get you hooked on Facebook Live. It’s only a matter of time before Facebook throttles Live content and hides it from major portions of your audience unless you pay otherwise. That’s no conspiracy theory. It’s just business.

So our advice on Facebook Live now is to sample with it. Get to know it. Give it a chance to see how you can use it to communicate. But don’t get hooked on it because, like everything else, it’s going to have to be a moneymaker for the global public corporation that owns the platform but can give you a false sense that it is yours.

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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