In The News? Ignore The Comments Online.

June 29th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

comments-icon-1Over the past few days, in unrelated situations, it has become clear that the worst part of any piece of news coverage is the comments section attached to it. Maybe it’s time for news organizations to consider whether the extra page views are worth it?

Last week, I worked around the clock for a client that knew an adverse situation was coming. The goal was to work to ensure that its message was included to help balance negative news stories. In reviewing the coverage, it was clear that the objective was achieved until someone on the client side decided to delve into what has become the seedy underbelly of online journalism – the comments section.

Later that day, a member of my family was the subject of news coverage. The news stories themselves reflected very positively and served as a source of pride for all of us. That is until I ignored the advice I typically give clients and looked at the comments on Facebook, where one of the articles was posted.

Two days later, a journalist I know and respect used his time on an opinion-driven TV show to let his audience know, for the first time, that he is gay. In a subsequent article, he referred to the online comments about his bold commentary as “vulgar.”

Since the advent of online news, reader comment forums have been a gathering place for the negative, disgusting, ignorant and attention-starved. Most journalists I know are embarrassed by them. An effort in recent years to move away from anonymous posting and a use of real names (via Facebook accounts) has not helped these sections attain a higher level of civility. Rather than being representative of a dialogue that furthers an issue, they are typically outlets for society’s fringes.

Too many subjects of stories look to the comments section for some sort of analysis of public reaction. That must stop. The vast majority (an educated guess would be 98%, if talk radio is a guide) of regular readers will never post a comment.

If you or your organization is the subject of a news story, don’t read the comments. Resist temptation. Don’t give into the urge. All it will do is disturb you. But if you can’t help yourself, don’t let them cause you any stress. They are simply not representative of anything, other than a subset of a subset of readers.

It’s Time To Talk Honestly About Measuring PR

June 21st, 2015 by Matt Friedman

tape_measureThere’s a struggle going on that nobody in PR really likes to talk about. In our business, it’s really hard, and sometimes virtually impossible, to “measure” what we do in the traditional sense. But the CFO and MBA types demand it, driving us nuts. Too often, what we give them to essentially justify our existence in their budgets is flat-out nuts.

Reputation is the most important aspect of business that you can’t see clearly in an Excel document. Unless you spend big money on reliable, scientific market research, you can’t see it clearly on a graph or in a Powerpoint “deck.” It takes a certain amount of “feel” and honest conversation to evaluate, something that the pace and hierarchy of business often doesn’t allow. A PR campaign is virtually impossible to fully evaluate using the common “scorecard,” “dashboard” and management-by-objective systems used to answer the corporate question cliche “What does success look like?”

So we try, often in vain, to fit into the rigor of the same tools used to evaluate objective business factors, such as revenue. Many PR programs spend significant portions of their budgets on entry-level firm or company employees just to manage “reporting” (that is, essentially, what junior employees at big agencies do all day). This ends up adding to the cost of a program that executives worry might be “too costly.” Some examples include:

-”The ad value of PR” – This is the business equivalent of believing in the Tooth Fairy. It’s an attempt to show PR’s cost effectiveness by using a formula to show how much news coverage “earned” through PR would cost if the equivalent time or space was purchased through advertising. It’s amazing that something so full of BS has continued in practice.

-”Potential impressions” – This is adding up the circulation or estimated audience for each media placement to boast about how many total audience members could have potentially seen the coverage. The rise in Internet news coverage and lack of reliable third-party data on website news consumption, not to mention the fact that not every audience member ever consumes every piece of content, have made this a very shaky approach.

-”Total number of placements” – Every PR campaign should absolutely track its tangible outcomes. But sometimes an obsession with tracking leads to trouble. When you “score” every placement the same, you lose context. For example, a newswire release picked up on the back end of a news website should ideally not count the same as a story that runs on the home page of a site that squarely targets your audience. Not all “hits” have equal impact.

-Quotas – Years ago, I worked with a client executive who demanded, from his relatively large, but previously sleepy, PR department, “1,000 Tier One News Placements” in a year. “Tier One” was defined clearly, but the department lost focus on communicating messages and just became obsessed with the quota. I have never seen so many bad, desperate pitches that I believe damaged the organization’s reputation inside newsrooms. The executive soon moved onto a job that had no PR oversight, with another company.

Social media has compounded this situation. The social networks now all allow us access to their “metrics,” which we try to convince our clients and/or executives are relevant to our strategy, even if they are not. The networks define for us what “engagement” means and then we try to sell that to financial decision-makers, hoping they let survive programs we know will ultimately be effective over time. Numbers should be a part of an evaluation, not the evaluation. We make charts and graphs but we rarely have the candid conversations about “Is this helping, gradually, to do what we wanted it to do?”

Ideally, that’s the answer. Put aside the grids and graphs for a meeting or two. Have and build trust. And this is the toughest part of all for the many, many organizations that live quarter-to-quarter – look at reputation, image and brand building over the long-term. Look at how it impacts other aspects of the organization, not alone in its own “silo.”

Pie in the sky? Probably. We are likely stuck with a measurement obsession shoved down our throats. In each situation, while gasping for air, it’s up to us to suggest some new ways of thinking that benefit the organization and won’t drive us nuts.

Radio Legend Alan Almond Signs Off for Last Time

June 17th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 10.39.48 PMHe was a pioneering figure in radio that courted fame and fortune yet demanded a personal life. To be sure, for more than 25 years in Metro Detroit, millions went to bed with him each night yet virtually no one ever saw his face. Everyone, however, knew his voice.  Alan Almond, king of the nighttime and best known for his “Pillow Talk” program on WNIC, passed away this week at 67.  He was truly one of a kind.

His career started in the 1970s and would continue into the 90s, largely with WNIC but also with stops at a pre-WCSX WMJC, WOMC, WMXD, WXYT-AM and WJZZ.  His dulcet-toned delivery was ideal for nights and a love-song format, which he conceptualized and implemented to incredible success.  Where today radio after-dark is dominated by teenyboppers and programming aimed at that demographic, Almond generated #1 ratings via an adult, mostly female audience who eagerly consumed a steady diet of love songs, dedications and ruminations on life and love.

And his voice.  Like audio from God himself reverberating from the ether, slowly, deliberately and, to his audience, sensually. If radio is at its best as theater of the mind, Almond was a Tony-worthy actor, affecting for his listeners a radiowave landscape of dinner by candlelight and walks along the beach.

So key to his success, of course, was the mystique surrounding what Alan Almond actually looked like.  While desirous of out-of-studio privacy, Almond was also a master marketer and brand imager – understanding the value of never showing his face to ensure his fans forever maintained their own mental and emotional image and perception of who and what he was.  One of a kind, yet a man of a million faces, his voice and legacy will live on as we remember and treasure.

 

 

 

 

“No Offense, But Most Press Releases Are Bullsh*t.”

June 7th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

images-1If I have to sit next to someone at a wedding who I don’t know, it may as well be a voracious news consumer. At least we have something in common.

That was the case this weekend when the man sitting next to me was a former Wall Street banker who sold his firm and now concentrates on private investments. It sounds like a nice gig if you can get it. He asked me what news sources I rely upon to follow trends in business and he was surprised to learn my opinion that the traditional nameplates really, most often, still do serve best. He said, though, in today’s media environment, it’s a challenge to find the real “meat” of mergers and acquisitions news because, as he put it, “No offense, but most press releases are bullish*t.”

None taken, Buddy. None taken whatsoever. Nowhere is stereotypical corporate PR BS on display bigger and bolder than when it comes to announcing “M&A” deals. Here are a few gems from just a quick search of recent releases:

-”We are thrilled about the unique opportunities this merger will create for our
 consumers worldwide, as well as our employees and business partners.”

-”Today’s announcement is a transformative step in our objective to become the industry leader…”

-”This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a…connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.”

As is so often the case, releases and their quotes are written primarily for the executives who made the deal, with not enough thought given to the audiences that may be able to rely on the releases for information. Rarely do these announcements spell out the “why” of a deal, beyond buzzwords and platitudes. Usually, that’s for business journalists to find out and there are fewer and fewer of them each year.

So, if my wedding reception neighbor doesn’t trust press releases and the stories that result from them to get the information he needs, where does he turn? He says he frustratingly has to “dig” on this own to find the story behind the story, importantly, details on funding sources being used.

I’m not asking for sympathy for the “private investor” who has to track down information on this own time. But, it would seem companies coming together are doing it, among other reasons, to attract new investment. Their cliche driven press releases not only make our eyes roll, they may turn off one of the audiences they’re trying to interest. That’s something that should be considered in “The C Suites.”

“Legends of Tomorrow” More Watchable Than Ever Today

May 31st, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 6.32.19 PMIn case you hadn’t noticed, television is currently being invaded by a league of superheroes who are conquering their respective program competitors and paving the way for more costumed champions.  Unsurprisingly, this movement began and continues to be largely fueled by cable channels apart from the network “Big Three” where more chances are typically taken and programming is allowed greater latitude in “taking hold.”

The CW continues to lead the charge with “Arrow”, which just completed its second season and spinoff “The Flash” which just aired its first season finale.  And, coming next season, fans will see a brand new series begotten of both the scarlet speedster and the emerald archer, “Legends of Tomorrow,” with the Atom, Firestorm and (like the Atom last year), the upcoming debut of a DC Comics character never before seen in live action: Hawkgirl.  If you’re an admitted comic book geek like me, that’s a big deal.

So why now? Why such a proliferation of funny paper foes and heroic foils on the boob tube than perhaps ever before?  First, if anyone was going to do it, you knew it was going to be DC and the CW, whose “Smallville” ran from 2001-2011 to great fanfare for both its writing and character development.  Today’s CW is just as well written and even better acted; the former with continuing nods to comicdom history and lore.  Perhaps as importantly, add in superior technology and production values, which have trickled down from the movies with greater affordability and accessibility, allowing Flash to time travel and Arrow to scour the streets of Starling City with a look and feel heretofore only experienced on the big screen.  Netflix’s “Daredevil” is also generating rave reviews for its film noir grit and cinematic scope.

I would also add acceptability to the reasons why superheroes are so popular on television today.  Put simply: comics are cool to a larger segment of society including coveted millennials.  Graphic novels have helped lay that groundwork (including masterpieces from the likes of Frank Miller, who penned “300″, “Sin City” and “The Dark Knight Returns,” from which the upcoming “Superman v Batman” borrows extensively).  The wildly popular “Walking Dead” on TNT also paved the way. And have you been to a comic con lately? They are equal parts nostalgia fests and pop culture celebrations for “kids” of all ages.  Finally, even the top show on television today, CBS’ “Big Bang Theory” (which will welcome “Supergirl to the network in the Fall), pays consistent homage to the art form – a medium whose time has come, across multiple universes and timeslots.

 

 

 

 

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 https://archive.org – 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 Archive.com 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.