Radio Rules of Engagement Continue to Change, Mystify

July 29th, 2015 by Don Tanner

373085301608719867327944687886nIf content is king then consistency is queen.  And in the world of radio, both concepts are being turned on their respective ears.  Just days after longtime WWJ Newsradio 950 evening anchor Paul Snider was forced to sign off for the final time after several decades behind the mic, Allyson Martinek of WDVD’s successful morning duo, “Blaine and Allyson,” was also jettisoned from the airwaves.

Anyone who has worked in the industry understands its competitive, often cutthroat nature.  Being on-the-air is not unlike being an actor – employed one day, unemployed the next.  In fact, when I was trying to make the transition to public relations some 20 years ago, a potential employer looked at my resume and called me a ‘gypsy.’ I quickly explained that that was the way it was in radio.  Once you secured a position, you started looking for your next.

It’s called “living and dying by the ratings.” Get good ratings, you’re fine. Don’t and you’re fired.  Or so it used to be.  According to the latest Nielson report (June 2015), the “Blaine and Allyson” Morning Show ranked #3 with Adults 25-54, trailing only WRIF and Channel 9-5-5′s “Mojo in the Morning” for the top spot.  So what gives?  The station hasn’t commented, leaving one to speculate that living and dying by the ratings sword has been replaced by bean counters as the radio axmen of the new era.

As I commented in Detroit News reporter Susan Whitall’s story this week, you don’t mess with success and certainly not with successful high-profile drivetime personalities.  Allyson has been with the Cumulus station for 20 years and was as integral a part of her morning show as anyone in town; a talented female voice on a station that skewed female in its listeners. Over at CBS, meanwhile, the fate of talented and longtime Afternoon Drive anchors Jayne Bower and Greg Bowman also hangs in the balance as they contemplate early retirement buyout offers.  Their program just missed the Top 10 in the latest ratings book.  They are the best at what they do.

Social media has been buzzing with discourse over the state of Detroit radio with many threatening to stop listening due to recent and pending changes in town.  Advertisers must be wondering what is going on as well, especially as the options for their dollars continue to grow.  Perhaps it is these two key groups – listeners and advertisers – that corporate radio suits will ultimately listen to should they continue to make their confusion and distaste known.  And one hopes traditional radio will take note. After all, what really differentiates its product from MP3s, online media and satellite radio if not top air personalities that we look to to deliver us live, local news, music and entertainment? If  the powers that be don’t understand that, then there’s too much static going on between the ears of too many key decision makers.

 

 

 

Daily Politics Outrage Doesn’t Translate To Business

July 28th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

imagesAnother day, another set of outrage in the 2016 Presidential Election that somehow still has 15 months to go. Whether it’s Donald Trump’s callous comments about John McCain or Trump’s attorney’s insensitive, at best, comments about rape or Mike Huckabee’s Holocaust allusion or Jeb Bush’s comments about Americans needing to work more (or something like that), there has been something to be outraged about virtually every day recently.

First, the outrage starts with social media reaction to campaign trail reporting. Then, as a cheap and easy news, traditional media takes the baton and runs with it. Then, it’s a story until the next controversial comment comes along. Or maybe a big story will temporarily break the cycle, like a new poll or something really big, like an East Coast heat wave.

Sarcasm aside, it’s remarkable how much things have changed since Michigan Governor George Romney sunk his would-be Presidential campaign in August of 1967. In an interview on local Detroit TV, Romney said he was part of a “brainwashing” by military generals before forming his own opinion on Vietnam. Here it is, in context. Apparently, nearly 50 years ago, there was no margin for error, in contrast today, where is seems that “error” is expected and even celebrated by ideologues.

It’s important to remember that the rules of political PR don’t apply to business, and vice versa. When a CEO of a public company makes a comment to cause outrage, the apology had better be perfect or a golden parachute will be put in use very soon. Even if a lowly customer service representative is recorded saying anything offensive, any business will act quickly toward termination. But in the strange world of politics, there is a much different standard. Outrage sells. It drives clicks, ratings and, perhaps, in 2016, votes.

CBS Radio Layoffs Show How Wall Street Changes The Media Rules

July 14th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

6a00e54f069c4188340133f3568248970bThe rules of the game in the broadcasting business used to be pretty simple: If you rule the ratings and pull in enough revenue to make a big profit, you get to keep your job. But the sad news this week for some outstanding broadcast professionals is that the rules have changed. Ratings, revenue and profits just aren’t enough anymore.

Case in point is CBS Radio and, more specifically, WWJ-AM, one of the country’s only remaining all-news radio stations. Nationally, CBS is essentially the nation’s most successful radio group, maintaing profitability in big markets during The Great Recession. Locally in Detroit, the company owns the three most-listened to radio station in the most recent ratings. On WWJ, “All News All The Time” and the market that spends its days and nights on wheels have been a successful marriage for more than 40 years on a station with a history that dates back to 1920. It was #1 in the ratings in the winter months, when drivers relied on its news, traffic and weather while navigating snow and ice-covered roads. But none of that is enough for a company that apparently wants profit margins to equal movie theater popcorn.

Full disclosure: I am a fan of WWJ. That is where I earned my first paid job in broadcasting. I consider many of the longtime staffers to be friends. We at Tanner Friedman work with the professionals there on news stories almost every day. As a businessperson who often spends hours per day in the car, I rely on their all-news product to stay informed in the mornings, afternoons and evenings when I can’t safely read online. But now, that product is being damaged, along with the careers of talented and knowledgeable broadcasters, because apparently being successful isn’t enough for big corporate media anymore. Here are the facts, as reported by The Detroit News: Reporter and producer jobs cut, the afternoon anchor team bought out, salespeople laid off and, perhaps worst of all for the community, overnight news won’t be news at all – it will be recorded (in what is still a “shift town”).

Nationally, it’s the same story, even at powerhouses that are also pillars of their communities, like WCBS in New York and KMOX in St.Louis. Still unfathomable, after all of these years of cuts in the media, is why a company would want to make its product worse in the name of growing its customer base. It’s a rationale that can’t possibly work.

Also, it’s one thing when failing companies have to cut to turn themselves around. But when the survivors of the media change of the past decade make cuts like this, it begs the question “What’s going on?” Unreasonable profit mandates? Or is CBS trying to attract investment, a merger partner or, potentially worst of all, a buyer? CBS won’t say. In fact, the company did not make any sort of public statement in the 24 hours since the story first broke.

It just brings to mind a quote from the movie “Wall Street.” Bud Fox, the would-be mogul, after finding his conscience says this to the greedy raider Gordon Gekko: “How much is enough, Gordon? When does it all end, huh? How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough, huh?”

Kid Rocked by Confederate Controversy

July 12th, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.18.27 PMIn all of my years of social media posting, liking, retweeting and sharing, I have never experienced a resulting debate like the one spurred by my sharing of and expressed admiration for Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea’s Opinion piece, “Kid Rock’s continued embrace of Confederate flag is offensive — and a stupid business decision.” It is an article that makes a strong and well-argued case for why the local music star’s refusal to eschew the Confederate flag is perhaps not well thought out; especially considering the inhuman condition the colors ultimately stood for and represented.

One individual, a news reporter, took me to task for calling Shea’s work “reporting.” Before public relations, I worked in both print and broadcast journalism, including as a reporter.  In both mediums, I often reported and opined in my on-air and written work, although my radio news reporting was at music stations and I wrote for a radio industry trade magazine (rather than hard news outlets).  And while Shea’s article was clearly marked “Opinion,” he is a reporter; and in my view, a reporter reports.  To me it is semantics. If you disagree, then we’ll have to agree to disagree. Instead, what is more important, and what we should all be focusing on, is what Kid Rock is doing, or not doing, surrounding this controversy.

Depending on what you read or whom you talk to, Kid Rock either did or did not make an official statement regarding the flag.  According to the Detroit Free PressFox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly told her audience that Rock’s message to detractors was as follows: “Please tell the people protesting that they can kiss my ass.” The paper reports further that, according to Rock’s publicist Rick Stern, the remark came from a conversation between Rock and Kelly.  Perhaps her sharing a conversation on the air was wrong (“bad reporting”). Perhaps Rock should have known better.

Ultimately, Kid Rock is not racist. As Shea notes, his son is biracial and he has been awarded in the past by the NAACP.  What Bob Richie is being is incredibly insensitive on an issue that is as sensitive as they come.  With racism and racial inequality front and center today in the nation’s consciousness, dismissing what the Confederate flag ultimately represented cannot be dismissed.  I have heard and read the arguments saying it stood for brave soldiers in the South fighting for their families, homes, liberty and freedom.  What was ultimately at stake, as we know, was a way of life and an economy predicated on the terrible, back-breaking toil of those who had no freedom, no lives of their own through slavery.

Richie shouldn’t – can’t – ignore history.  He should at least be open to meaningful conversation.  To acknowledge both sides of the debate. To give the topic more than a cursory wave of his hand and turn of his back.  And though Richie views the Confederate flag as a ‘rebel’ symbol and a nod to southern rock, he needs to take off the blinders. In this instance, on this topic and at this time, his opting to be an “American Badass” simply throws up too many red flags.

We Are All DeAndre Jordan

July 12th, 2015 by Matt Friedman

deandre-jordan-dunk-faceThere’s plenty of outrage this weekend after the communication choices of NBA player DeAndre Jordan, who backed out of a verbal agreement to sign a contract with the Dallas Mavericks and re-signed instead with the Los Angeles Clippers. The controversy centers somewhat around Jordan’s decision to “change his mind” but, more recently, mostly around the fact that he didn’t tell the Mavericks’ celebrity owner Mark Cuban personally about his decision.

Jordan took to Twitter to offer his apology, rather than calling Cuban or otherwise contacting him directly. The jilted Cuban then went online to publicly say that he doesn’t accept the apology. Jordan is taking most of the heat publicly and, on the surface, the criticism makes sense. Etiquette and integrity standards dictate that Jordan should have let Cuban know one-to-one that he was backing out on his verbal agreement. But, reality proves that we are all part of a culture of DeAndre Jordans.

It’s easy to place the blame on the Millenial generation and social media, but the avoidance of difficult conversations is ingrained in our culture of business and personal relationships. Long before the advent of the Internet, we would send a letter rather than deal with an issue face-to-face. If you’re of a certain age, you’re kidding yourself if you won’t admit to calling someone before or after hours to leave an answering machine or voice mail message, rather than having to get them on the phone for two-way dialogue. Email has now been around about 20 years and has been used throughout to avoid tough talk to deliver one-way messages like “we decided to go in another direction.”

The phenomenon of “ghosting” has been written about in media in recent weeks, which is a step beyond breaking up via text or social media – an avoidance of a breakup at all. But, in business, that’s nothing new. We have all had prospects who just decide not to return calls or answer emails rather than say “We decided not to hire you because…” For many years, we have heard about job candidates who literally never hear back from a prospective employer, left to presume that someone else got the job.

There is no defending DeAndre Jordan’s behavior. He absolutely should have handled it differently, under the category of “the right thing to do.” But before you criticize him, take a look in the mirror. You too, like all of us, one one time or another, in your professional or personal life, have been guilty of the same charge.

“Right To Be Forgotten” A Complicated Proposition

July 1st, 2015 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 9.35.14 PMAs we counsel our clients on strategies related to the ever-evolving world of social media, there remains one consistent caveat: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want published or broadcast via traditional media.  All too often, what one individual might post as a tongue-in-cheek remark or off-color “joke” is instead taken all too seriously – often with drastic, long-term consequences for reputations and livelihoods.

In his new book, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” author Jon Ronson examines multiple cases of “jury by Twitter”; whereby off the cuff posts resulted in firestorms of controversy involving mob mentality movements aimed at defaming and deflating, with replies and retorts often worse that the original tweets.  In more prominent, high profile cases, jobs have been lost.  And, adding insult to injury, resulting traditional media coverage can exacerbate the problem, adding fuel to the funeral pyre by ensuring such incidents live on via Google and Yahoo! – complicating hopes for second chances.

To be sure, the “right to be forgotten” argument has perhaps never been more prominent.  In recent weeks, the European Court of Justice ruled that Google must remove links to content that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” or face a fine.  As reported in the June 26th Daily Telegraph, such content is not deleted but, rather, Google discontinues listing it in their search results. The Telegraph also reported that over 250,000 requests had been made for links to information to be removed by Google’s European site branches. Of course, this ruling does not apply to Google in the United States.

With our “next generation” utilizing social media more (and more casually) the possibility for more misunderstandings and offending are sure to increase.  And while one of the positives of the medium is its real time immediacy, it would behoove all to be more cautious in expressing opinions rather than throwing caution to the wind.

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.”