That’s What Friends Are For

October 9th, 2016 by Don Tanner

IMG_1992Knowing you can always count on me…for sure…that’s what friends are for.  In the winter of 1986 that song was a huge hit for Dionne Warwick along with Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.  If I never hear that song again, it will be too soon but its message resonated like never before this past week in my (little) hometown.

30 years ago, I found myself nearly a year out of the University of Illinois joining forces with a band of other radio neophytes from Bloomington and Peoria, Illinois, respectively.  Some could say we were exiled to Joliet, Illinois – a depressed (formerly booming) river town best known for a penitentiary and the Blues Brothers.  For us, it was an opportunity for true, full-time on-air work at a little station that could: WJTW (formerly polka station, WAJP).  We were in a strange town, a new station and away from home for the holidays.  ‘Friends’ was one of the first songs we played on the station (and we played it incessantly). It still brings back memories good and bad.

John Weis joined the WJTW air staff from WBNQ in Bloomington, Illinois and instantly became a friend for life as we bonded amid separation from family and friends and worked side-by-side each day.  That friendship was reinforced this week as I found myself unexpectedly back in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois to tend to my ailing mother in the hospital.  Able to work largely from a room in the hospital where I was born (thanks to the hard work and support of my Tanner Friedman colleagues and friends), I found myself nearly 400 miles from the CBS Radio recording studio where, each month, I voice radio commercials for client The Suburban Collection.

A call to John, whom I would see in town on occasion during visits, soon led to lunch at famed Monical’s Pizza for radio reminiscing and an invitation to use one of the production studios at a former radio station (WLRW) where I had worked just prior to moving on to Joliet.  John programs and oversees the now seven-station cluster as well as mans Afternoons as “Jonathan Drake”.  It seemed like old times as that mutual respect, kinship and crazy irreverence was once again experienced with me voicing and him producing. The photo in this blog is me and John in the now (albeit different) WLRW (now Mix 94.5) on-air studio.  With voice tracks laid down and appropriately edited, John was able to then email them to CBS’s Doak Breen in Detroit for final production. After John posted the photo to his Facebook page, other former Joliet colleagues and friends chimed in.  A radio reunion indeed.

As of this writing, my mom is out of the hospital and recuperating in a rehab facility. For nearly eight days I was able to complete work right next to her while also serving as an in-person advocate for her care – work/life balance realized (and not necessarily in that order). And all of this thanks to the generosity of others (like John),  family members, relatives (and, again, my TF colleagues) to give of and be flexible with their time, step up in a time of need and reaffirm friendship and the collaborative spirit. And, I found, I needed the camaraderie and support as much as anyone. Just like Dionne and her friends sang nearly three decades ago. Maybe the song is not so bad after all.

Debate Analysis Has A Conflict Problem

October 9th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

hqdefaultThe tens of millions of American households who keep the TV on after the Presidential Debate or go online for analysis will be a part of something that is otherwise not allowed in journalism or PR. Consumers looking for perspective will receive it from individuals who are walking conflicts of interest.

It’s one thing for a campaign strategist whose livelihood depends on one party or the other to provide insight as part of news coverage to explain why a campaign or a candidate does one thing or another, as part of a strategy. But when it comes to analysis of debate or speech performance – how a candidate delivers a message and connects with an audience – those one-side-or-the-other political types are asked their opinions even though they fit the definition of a conflict of interest.

It’s so predictable. After every debate, the “Democratic Strategists” say that the Democrat “won” and the “Republican Strategists” say that the Republican “won.” The analysts gets to keep their business with campaigns from their selected party and the news organizations can pat themselves on the back for “balance.” But did the audience get to take away anything interesting, valuable or even credible?

It is past time for news organizations to add objective, apolitical analysis into the most-consumed coverage. One suggestion is independent PR professionals, who spend their days counseling clients on message delivery and audience connection, but don’t have a business imperative to favor one party over another.

That is how it works when that type of analysis is needed otherwise by news organizations. During the General Motors Ignition Switch scandal in 2014, for example, I had the privilege of serving as the go-to analyst for multiple news organizations, including on the day when the company’s CEO was in front of Congress. I was asked by each newsroom if I did any kind of business with GM. Only because the answer was “no,” I was able to provide independent commentary. Nor was I paid for my time by any of the news organizations, unlike many of the post-debate analysis Americans see in 2016, many of whom are hired to provide particular partisan points of view (sometimes, with a non-disparagement agreement in hand about a candidate they are supposed to be analyzing).

The other exception to the rule made for debates is “The Spin Room.” It is perhaps the only time that journalists are encouraged by their bosses to seek B.S. rather than avoid it. They know they are being fed lines of bull and they eat it up. Day-to-day, they are encouraged and look forward to finding independent sources of credible analysis. But after a debate, the herd mentality leads them to a place where those they interview are required to talk glowingly, deserved or not, about whomever they represent.

As consumers, we accept a double standard. For many, it seems, they just want to hear someone of perceived authority speak well of their “team” and ill of the other. But for the growing segment of independent voters, it’s past time for more independent voices, not on anyone’s payroll, to provide some much-needed rational perspective.

How Will Radio Survive The Cars of The Future?

October 2nd, 2016 by Matt Friedman

14485135_10155219735769908_8228594928117918541_nJust when we thought there might be a small stretch of relative stability in the media business, a new wave of change is already in the fast lane.

This past week, I had the privilege of working in media relations at the World Mobility Leadership Forum, a two-day conference that convened experts from around the world near Detroit to talk about the short-to-medium term future of personal transportation. The program featured the Chairman of Ford Motor Company, the CEOs of General Motors and Volvo and executives from Tesla and Lyft, along with government officials from the U.S., Finland and other countries.

The consensus among the participants was that autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are coming, as quickly as within the next 5 years. The technology is beyond most Americans’ wildest expectations. The other trend exploding and showing no signs of reversing is ride sharing. The experts predict that it will continue to grow fast – far beyond Millennials taking Uber to the bars in big cities.

All of this threatens the medium of terrestrial radio. While radio has withstood threat after threat, ever since the proliferation of television after World War II, radio has survived because of its primacy inside the American automobile. But what will happen when cars drive themselves and the driver is free to consume entertainment or information without hands on the wheel and eyes on the road? Or when a ride-sharing driver is increasingly in control of the dashboard while the passenger does work, goes online or even sleeps during the car trip?

The challenge for radio now is to make itself invaluable, especially for information formats that truly could be distinguished from music streaming services. Satellite radio has increased its level of portability, with a place on the phone/earbud combo beyond the car. But local terrestrial radio must create value to go with its audience into the next chapter of transportation. How will that happen? The largest owner of radio stations, IHeartMedia, is carrying more than $20 billion in debt. The largest owner of all-news stations, CBS, is spinning off its radio division into a new company. Could either afford to put new resources into the product to make it indispensable?

Throughout so much change, radio has proven to be powerful, personal and resilient. Now, it’s going to take what the auto and technology companies are making priorities to secure their futures – ingenuity and investment

Special Delivery: PR Advice After A Miserable Failure

September 18th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

UnknownAs a business-owner, you don’t put yourself in too many opportunities to use the #sundayfunday tag on social media. We’re not the type to spend Sundays amid mimosas and half-day meals. Sunday is often a day to be with the laptop, catching up from the previous week and trying to eek ahead of the next one.

While, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to buy food for my family each week, the practical reality is that a weekly grocery shopping is a time-sucking exercise. Let’s face it – the system that was setup for “Mad Men” era housewives who theoretically had all day to shop for their families endures today. You walk a big store, picking what you want, put it in a cart and then wait in line to pay for it.

The closest grocery store to my house is a Meijer, a regional chain of 24-hour “superstores.” While the private, Michigan-based charity has proven to be a good corporate citizen, it’s frustrating that it usually takes 60+ minutes to shop for a family of four. On Sundays, the deli counter alone, buying school lunch ingredients average about 20 minutes and checkout averages about a half-hour. Shopping there is the enemy of productivity.

So imagine my glee when on September 1st, Meijer announced a partnership with a tech company called Shipt for online grocery home delivery. The company staged an enviable PR blitz with a release embargoed for that morning, followed by a large advertising campaign. They captured the Detroit market’s attention, built “buzz” and motivated use of the new service starting September 15th. There was just one problem: Meijer over promised and under delivered. They, along with Shipt, now can’t meet the demand that they created. I know because I tried to order delivery this morning, to save myself an hour or more, and was told, online, no delivery windows were available.

I went to Shipt’s online customer service chat and was told this by “Jasmine”:
“Unfortunately, there are no delivery windows in your area at this time, I sincerely apologize for that. We are experiencing a much higher demand these first couples of days after the launch and we are actively hiring shoppers to keep up with this demand. I know it is frustrating and we really want to make things right for you. I do apologize for the inconvenience, but we ask if you could please bear with us these first couples of days as we hire and add more shoppers as quickly as we can. Again, I’m so sorry about this.”

That is an admission of guilt.

So when do I try again? Next week? Next month? Never (and ask for a refund of the annual fee)?

At Tanner Friedman, we have extensive experience in communicating new product launches. One of the pieces of advice we always give clients is not to communicate widely until a concept becomes a product for real. If you’re going to create demand for a product, it had better be available to meet expectations. If not, roll it out gradually with “soft launches” to ensure 100% that it’s “Ready For Prime Time.”

When it comes to timing PR right on the concept/product continuum, Meijer failed. That’s the takeaway for any business: it is better to wait to do something right than rush to wear the “first to market” tag and alienate customers by not meeting expectations.

So what did I do? I went out of my way to Meijer’s arch rival Kroger, where I dropped three figures as well as lost, with drive-time included, nearly 90 minutes of my day. But at least I now have groceries at home.

For WXYY, Sports Is Just The Ticket

September 8th, 2016 by Don Tanner

sports-ticketsIn my many years working in and observing the business of radio I have pretty much, done, experienced and seen it all.  Yet, I was still struck in recent days at the miniscule level of discourse being afforded a key morning show personnel change at one of this town’s top stations, as Bill McAllister exited CBS sports juggernaut “The Ticket”.  Far be it from me to question the move, although it does beg a bit of examination.

First of all, there is no denying that, love him or not, McAllister is a true broadcast talent.  With CBS and previous iterations of WXYT-FM for more than a decade, he proved himself able to adapt and jive with a myriad of on-air co-hosts – from Jay Towers to Mike Stone – and formats – from music to sports.  His true strengths lie in an uncanny knowledge of music and pop culture.  And, having had the opportunity to guest with him on the music podcast, TrackAddicts, I can attest firsthand that he knows both well.

So what happened exactly? Why did we hear one week ago during the “Valenti and Foster” afternoon show that Jamie Samuelsen would be part of a new, revamped, all-sports morning program dubbed, “Jamie and Stoney”, which put McAllister out on the steet? There are a couple of theories to consider.

One is virtually every radio group’s #1 morning nemesis: WRIF’s “Dave & Chuck The Freak”. Their male-dominated, lewd, all-talk humor fest has proven too hot to dent for many. The Ticket often delved into similarly tasteless material albeit without the same level of crudeness. And if you can’t beat ‘em at their own game, you alter the game plan and play to other strengths – in the Ticket’s case: sports.

Another theory has to do with a ratings system that the industry is still working to adapt to: The Portable People Meter (PPM). With this tool, programmers can view online at any broadcast moment, what listeners are responding well to (and continuing to listen) and what is not resonating (and resulting in tune out).  So, this theory might follow, when the morning show talked sports (which it did on occasion) the PPMs showed that time spent listening went up, while, perhaps, non-sports talk was demonstrating more button pushing.  And, thus, the decision to go ‘all sports all the time’.

Finally, while former sports/talker 105.1 was never a real factor in the ratings, they did eschew sports in recent weeks for classic hip hop.  That move left crosstown WDFN (“The Fan”) as the only station in town focusing on sports in the morning. Why let that station get all the 105.1 fan fallout?

Only CBS knows for sure but no matter the true reasons or rationale, it is yet another example of how, in radio, talent does not always translate into longevity – at least not in one spot.  Samuelsen is also great at what he does yet started elsewhere (at “The Fan”). He will thrive while McAllister will revive and survive somewhere else.  In the end, this industry truly lives and dies not by the sword but by a little transmitter, worn by a very small sampling of listeners, recording, via soundwaves, who listens to what and when with the ‘why’ quite often a mystery.

Ghosting Doesn’t Just Happen In Movies and Dating

September 5th, 2016 by Matt Friedman

ghostingThe time from the day after Labor Day until mid-December is really the last lap of business for the year. In the PR world, event season heats up quickly in September and goes through just before Thanksgiving. But across industries, projects procrastinated during the summer must be completed at the same time as planning for the coming year. Over the past decade, it has become clear that this dash to the finish line is the most intense time of the year.

It’s an annual challenge to look at the longest to-do lists of the year while also planning ahead. The one thing that simply can’t be done is to look backward as every milliliter of energy is required to be successful during “crunch time.” So, I share this story now:

In May, we received a referral to a company facing an uncertain business future because of some new competition. The referral source thought a strategic, focused PR campaign could be helpful. I met, on very short notice, with the company’s CEO and, after a friendly and thoughtful discussion, agreed to work together on a specific project to begin communicating in a new way. That initial project, as it should have, focused on developing a plan for a campaign.

Once engaged, we met to discuss the company’s situation, in more detail and protected by confidentiality, how that campaign could work. They had a relatively high sense of urgency, so we committed to a one month project, taking us through June. Within just a couple of weeks, my colleague and I developed a draft of the plan and sent it to the CEO and the company’s in-house legal counsel, who had become involved. That was the week before Father’s Day. I was on vacation the next week and was surprised not to hear anything back when I returned, so I checked in. On June 30th, I received this email:

“We are still reviewing your proposal and will be in touch after the holiday.”

That would be the 4th of July. I responded that was OK, but I thought they had a sense of urgency and tried to explain that I was not preparing a proposal, I was preparing a plan, as we had agreed.

By July 12th, I contacted them again with language that included the following:

“It has been another couple of weeks, so I’m just checking in.

My intention prior to Father’s Day was to present you with a draft of a plan that encapsulated our conversations to date and included a suggested roadmap on how to accomplish what we had discussed as the goals, which I also outlined, along with a draft of a “script” that would be needed (REMOVED TO PROTECT CONFIDENTIALITY).

At this point, I’m curious if you had a change of direction, a reprioritization or maybe what I provided did not meet your expectations. My intent was to give you something that would advance, not end, our conversation. If I did not set your expectations properly, I apologize.

I would appreciate an update, if you are able…”

That email received no response. On July 30th, I sent a handwritten note to the CEO along with an invoice for the time incurred in June. As of this writing, that request had not received a response.

I have heard from single friends about “ghosting,” when they’re dating someone and then all of a sudden, the other party just stops responding. That’s what happened here. I was professionally “ghosted.” This is yet another piece of evidence that business people today would rather do anything than engage in difficult conversation.

It probably would have been fulfilling to have been able to finish the plan, act strategically and help this company solve its problem. Instead, it’s time for them just to pay the bill and move on. It’s the end of the year and we have good, collaborative, communicative and dependable clients who need our time. We don’t have to call Ghostbusters because we ain’t fraid of no ghosts. We just don’t have time for them.

Mylan Backtracks While Kaeperick Sits

August 29th, 2016 by Don Tanner

WjI5dlphVEV0YzNSdmNtVXVkMkZzYldGeWRDNWpZUzlwYldGblpYTXZUR0Z5WjJVdk1EUTBMekpmTVM4eU5qQTBOREpmTVM1cWNHYz0yeGxjM1ZqYTNNThis past week saw not one but two high-profile crisis communications stories – one in the area of sports and the other in pharmaceuticals.  The latter is alarming while the former is thought-provoking.  Both have sparked great reaction and underscore the importance of thinking before acting and considering the potential ramifications of your actions, both for your constituents and yourself.

Fledgling San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, first of all, created a firestorm of controversy for himself over his defiant demonstration of one, choosing to sit rather than stand during a preseason game singing of the National Anthem. He was protesting, he said, this country’s oppressive behaviors and attitudes against people of color.  His actions blew up social and traditional media, with, interestingly enough, a fairly even split between those for and against his stance. Did Kaepernick consider his actions ahead of time? Probably. Did he consider the possible ramifications for himself – including his fight for the starting quarterback position and future sponsorship/endorsement deals? Or, was he instead more interested in making an important high-profile statement that he felt passionately about at any and all costs? After all, while some now view him as unpatriotic others now see a man often referred to in the past as brash, selfish and immature instead as an individual filled with conviction and conscience.

Of more importance to consider is drug giant Mylan’s announcement that they planned to raise the price of their lifesaving EpiPen by 400% as CEO and executive board compensation also rose to – by many estimates – obscene amounts.  In the wake of  the firestorm that followed, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch initially went on the defensive blaming a ‘broken healthcare system’ for the unavoidable price hikes. The next moment, however, 50% off coupons were being made available while the company also announced it would soon begin offering patients a much more affordable generic brand option.

Mylan’s actions tell me one of three things related to communications counsel. Either communications was not at the boardroom table when the price increases were being discussed; communications input against such action was discounted; or whomever is handling PR for Mylan didn’t have the balls to speak up. I’m guessing it was (1) or (2). The company’s initial actions, as such, reeked of stupidity and greed, in particular for a produce for which there is virtually no competition. Their response, in turn, to the public uproar was almost as pathetic, demonstrating they should never have gone down the path of price increases some were calling criminal in the first place.

The motto of these stories? Think before you act and don’t act before you think because there will be consequences one way or the other. The trick is careful considering ahead of time of what those consequences might be and then, if necessary, taking the path best traveled for ensure future credibility and reputation.

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.