Here’s How High-Profile Execs Should Be Fired

November 17th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

UnknownWhen I was a TV news intern back in the analog days, I remember being told by one of the managers that there were two kinds of news directors. There were “those who have been fired and there are those who will be fired.” The same is true in many industries where high-profile businesspeople get fired all the time. It comes with the territory.

As we have written before, so many of the communications surrounding those firings is pure bull****. Statements around those firings are filled with euphemisms, vagueness and, often, downright lies. They rarely, if ever, answer the question that all audiences want to know – “why?”

But here’s an example from sports, where firings are talked about much more openly than they are in the rest of business. Over the weekend, the University of Florida fired its Head Football Coach, Will Muschamp. The simple reason is that his teams didn’t win enough games, and that was clearly reflected in Athletic Director Jeremy Foley’s statement. This is how the firing was communicated to public audiences:

“Upon evaluation of our football program, we are not where the program needs to be and should be. I’ve always said that our goal at the University of Florida is to compete for championships on a regular basis,” Foley said. “Coach Muschamp was dedicated to developing young men both on and off the field. Our student-athletes showed tremendous growth socially and academically under his leadership. His players were involved in campus activities, engaged with the local community and represented the University of Florida with pride.”

Sometimes, it takes a forensic scientist to decipher statements when an executive is fired. In this case, it’s abundantly clear. It is handled with distinct lack of bull****. Also, a statement like this helps both parties move forward. It helps position Florida as place with high-expections, but where coaches can be treated well. It also lets potential employers know that Muschamp has potential to succeed otherwise, elsewhere. The lawyers should even be happy with this one.

This should be a model for this type of communication. Yes, you can be classy, clear and controversy-free.

When Clients Collaborate, Coordinate

November 11th, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 8.50.46 PMIf you view the brand video on the Tanner Friedman website Home Page, you’ll see the term “making connections” in describing our firm’s areas of expertise (click here to take a look). In the world of public relations there are few things as rewarding as bringing clients together on a particular initiative.

Today is Veteran’s Day and client Detroit Public Television has just debuted a new series of video vignettes featuring veterans in the workplace.  When we initially heard that programming was being prepared we immediately turned to clients Goodwill Industries, whose “Operation Good Jobs” trains vets and IT firm GalaxE.Solutions who not only has collaborated with Goodwill on that very initiative but whose Chief Security Officer is also an ex-Marine. You can view the series here.

And, tomorrow morning, Tanner Friedman will be ‘ringside’ as the Greatest Show on Earth comes to Detroit Public Schools.  In this case, our firm brought together DPS with Feld Entertainment, which we assist in promoting a range of top national shows including the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Together, an elementary school attendance competition was put in place with the winning school incentivized by and soon to be treated to an exclusive student assembly filled with show performers. It truly will be a sight – and sound(s) – to behold.

Collaborations. Partnerships. Teamwork.  When accomplishing project goals it is often who you know as much as what you know. And when you can build relationships while also achieving specific objectives, so much the better – for all involved.

From The White House To Your House, Act More Quickly In Crisis

November 3rd, 2014 by Matt Friedman

Businessweek-Obama-Crisis-Management-cover1The public and private sectors have something in common. Organizations in both sectors must get with the times when it comes to publicly responding to crisis.

A recent cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek examines the crisis management style of the Obama White House. It mirrors what we see in business. When there is bad news, decision-making lags, despite the “right now” environment that is not likely to get any slower. Customers and media often are vocal, via Twitter and other platforms, while waiting out a response that is caught up in a process of “analysis paralysis.” As Businessweek reports about the White House, “Administration veterans describe Obama’s crisis-management process as akin to a high-level graduate seminar.” The same could be said about corporations and other institutions.

Here are some ways we recommend that you work as fast as the marketplace dictates during a crisis:

1) Quickly bring in an outside resource with the experience to know and practice the fundamentals but the vision wide enough to recognize and account for the nuances of your situation. Give this expert (it doesn’t need to be a team, especially when you have to work fast), latitude to offer counsel and relationships that can help you.

2) Keep the decision-making group small. Organizations are often plagued by the “too many cooks” syndrome. Instead, consolidate power in a crisis.

3) Minimize the involvement of lawyers. Yes, their voice can and often should be heard. But putting them in charge or involving too many of them distances you from your audiences and lengthens the process as the attorneys obsess over commas in statements.

4) Remember the ticking clock at all times. Even the biggest organizations can work quickly when tasked with a goal, as long as egos and insecurity are checked at the door. A constant focus on the vision for success should be balanced by a need to communicate fast or, better yet, get in front of your audiences.

The Businessweek piece ends with a quote from former White House advisor David Axelrod. He says, “As Obama used to say all the time, this sh** would be really interesting if we weren’t right in the middle of it.” All of usewho work with crises have felt that way at one time or another. But we don’t have time anymore to think that way when it’s time to get to work.

It Doesn’t Have To Take 14 People, $782k For Crisis PR

October 29th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

imagesAnytime there’s a news story about PR agency fees, it can’t be good. And the latest story paints PR firms as greedy, overcharging, budget-sucking wastes of money.

Here’s the story from the Raleigh News and Observer about how much the University of North Carolina has spent on a global firm that threw a bunch of bodies on a crisis project, billing what would be the annual revenue of a robust small to medium firm in just a few months.

To be fair, that’s the size of a small national advertising campaign. Also, I’m reasonably certain the firm did deliver some results. I was able to see a communication sent from the UNC Athletic Department to alumni after the investigation findings were announced and it was an impressive piece of communication – candid, straightforward and comforting. But make no mistake, it does not take 14 people and $782,000 to manage a crisis.

In the late ’90s, I was part of a team that managed communications during a significant client crisis. Three of us worked on the business and in a full year, we billed probably around $200,000 (keep in mind, there has been some fee deflation since then). We achieved results and built long-term relationships on the client side. And that was, by any definition, a huge undertaking.

Today, we are frequently asked to work with clients of all sizes on crisis management and recovery projects. Don and/or I lead those projects frequently. We wouldn’t even know what to do with 14 people. Sometimes, we are able to help clients via short-term engagements that wouldn’t raise a single auditor’s eyebrow. Then again, we don’t have the overhead of the global firms, nor their billing mandates.

Please let me reassure you that this UNC work is on the high end, nationally, of cost and resources. There is absolutely no reason to think that that is what it necessarily takes, for an organization of any size, to communicate during or after an adverse situation. Hire a nimble, experienced, cost-consicous firm and you can get counsel, results and value at the same time.

From Madness to Method in Adversity Management

October 22nd, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 12.13.44 PMIn recent days and weeks, a lot of high profile parties have been apologizing.  The NFL in the wake of the domestic violence scandal; Dallas’ Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital amid the Ebola crisis; Microsoft’s CEO comments on equality of pay for women.  The best recipe to avoid apologizing? Doing the right thing in the first place. And, if not: having a crisis communications strategy in place and ready to go.

No matter the crisis, no matter the situation, no matter the company, adversity is best managed when dealt with immediately and resolutely. First and foremost, that means having a crisis communications team and plan in place. That team should be nimble and include top management and public relations professionals who are instantly reachable and accessible 24-7.  Importantly, any action plan should consider all potential audiences that may be affected and should be communicated to – internally and externally.

Time is always of the essence in issuing reassurances and demonstrating corrective action. Just consider recent predicaments in pro and college sports and questions related to who knew what and when.  When handling a crisis, those involved must look ahead and take the long view; putting themselves in others’ shoes and then act in the best interests of their constituents first.  Let me provide an example.

In a recent week, Tanner Friedman was retained to handle a crisis related to the criminal behavior of a coach for a local youth sports team.  The investigation was well under way when we came on board and would soon lead to formal charges being announced.  However, one of the agencies involved in the police matter was not sure when they would be ready to officially announce the matter publicly. Could we wait to make any formal announcements?  Our answer: Absolutely not.

As it would not at all compromise police work, our top concern was for the kids and their parents.  The coach was immediately dismissed and the parents communicated to virtually same day.  Weren’t they owed that? Can you imagine waiting days or weeks until a press conference was held, timed no doubt to pump up the particular official in charge, to make that information known to these fathers and mothers? ‘When did you know?’ ‘Why weren’t we told sooner?’ ‘What action was taken? When?’ Those questions would have been far, wide and loud – and rightly so.

Our client and their legal counsel agreed and acted accordingly and appropriately. And, while the news was painful, the parents appreciated knowing in a timely manner.

In the world of adversity management, tenets of communication you have heard us tout before – honesty, transparency, integrity – are vital in relaying what happened, why and when.  They then provide the foundation for rebuilding trust, repairing reputation and living another day.



Bright Careers on the “Dark Side”

October 16th, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 8.05.58 PMI’ll always remember interviewing a locally-based reporter who was working at the Detroit Bureau of a national news outlet. “I can’t believe I’m considering coming over to the dark side,” he commented on the possibility of moving from media into public relations.  Today, many years later, he is a prominent and respected PR lead for a top automotive OEM, having successfully made the transition from the one telling the stories to the one pitching them.

Once not as common, reporters moving from media to public relations/communications has been a fairly consistent occurrence over the past decade.  And it’s happening more and more every day. This past week, Robin Schwartz announced she was leaving Fox-2 after 17 years with the station to join Bedrock as their PR Director.  Similarly, longtime WDET-Radio anchor Craig Fahle exited the studio for the Detroit Land Bank as Communications Director while weatherman/TV legend Chuck Gaidica traded the set for the pulpit in August.

As someone who also made the switch from radio to PR (in 1994), I have observed the shifts in attitudes and job titles firsthand.  The tipping point was the Detroit newspaper strike of 1995.  Before the strike, quite often I experienced long-time reporters with no respect for the public relations professional. “I don’t need some snot-nosed kid to tell me what’s news,” I heard more than once.  And while, unfortunately, many of these same writers would ultimately lose their jobs, those taking their place were largely green and without source contacts. They understood immediately how I could assist with access to top sources that would help them in identifying new stories and trends.  An attitudinal shift followed.  Media and PR, once demonstrating mutual respect, would become collaborators rather than typecast adversaries.

With stigmas pushed aside, many reporters and writers through the years to today have made the logical move to communications. After all, who better to know how to package and pitch news stories and information to media outlets and other audiences?  As important in such moves is the quality of life factor.  Matt and I both tired of working early morning, late nights and weekends in our on-air roles. TV personalities in particular work 3p-11p when at the top of their game.

But the theme you hear most often when talking to former media talent who have opted away from the bright lights and notoriety? A desire at a certain point in life to do something more. More rewarding. More difference-making. More family-friendly. In the case of Schwartz and Fahle, in particular, the opportunity to be a part of Detroit’s resurgence was no doubt too good to pass up. For Gaidica, a higher-calling to preach trumped reporting on low pressure systems.

Bottom line for media and PR practitioners: We are all professionals dedicated to telling stories and communicating effectively, strategically, truthfully.  No dark sides. Only transparency.



What “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” Can Teach You About PR

October 13th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

5753449_stdNever mind that someone invited me to a daylong conference (cost, $75) to hear local PR and branding people speak. That didn’t even bother me as much as what was on the flyer. One of the speakers promises “The Secret Sauce Of Media Relations” in a presentation.

It instantly reminded me of a scene from the ’80s classic movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” One of the main characters, Brad Hamilton, is training a new employee at fictional fast food joint All-American Burger and is asked “What’s the secret sauce?” The answer: “Thousand Island dressing.” We then find out that the “secret sauce” at rival Bronco Burger is “ketchup and mayonnaise.”

I then took to Twitter to find out what some journalists think about the suggestion that there might be such as thing as a “secret sauce” to working with them. One instantly responded “Ew.” Another responded like this: “Returns calls ASAP, be honest and fair, give us the info, provide scoops, know cycles/needs/competitors. Done.”

In other words, use good judgment, good fundamentals and show professionalism and mutual respect. Remember that relationships work two ways and put yourself in the “shoes” of the pro on the other side of the call, email or text. And when you’re talking to a journalist, it’s not on your time, it’s on, as Mr. Hand from “Fast Times” might put it, it’s on, from the journalist’s point of view, “my time.”

Just like at the movie fast food places, it’s not that complicated. And it’s no secret at all.

Want Local Coverage? Get In Line.

October 7th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

line_up_technicians1Recently, I was asked by a longtime businessman why a client of ours isn’t “sending out more press releases so the newspapers can use those stories as filler.” I had to take a deep breath and explain that the media world has changed, since whenever that concept was planted in his brain. In short, news outlets certainly don’t need “filler” anymore.

In fact, most local news outlets have more than they could possibly cover. It became as obvious as ever today, as yet another “high profile” murder trial began around here, that there is a pecking order and to assure coverage, your story had better fall into it or you are put at the back of a long line.

Many years ago, at the dawn of the PC era, a news director of mine called crime coverage the “default setting” of broadcast news. Many days, that’s still the case. How many resources does local news have left after it’s done covering “cops and courts?” Throw in election year politics and sports and, jobs news in a market like Detroit with a dominant industry, and what’s left to cover you in an era of very few journalists on payrolls? Many days, it’s not much.

A few weeks ago, we had to explain to a prospective client why we couldn’t help them with a project. They wanted some weekend events covered by TV news in a rural corner of the market. I had to explain, in these words, “Each station has one crew to cover all of the news in a market of 4 million people during the day on weekends. How can they be expected to send that crew to your township and then miss what could be the lead story happening anywhere else in a six county area?” That helped drive home the point. Chances are, most weekends, that lead story will be a crime, or fire, or car accident not too far from the TV stations. It’s just a fact we have to work around.

There are many options for storytelling and brand building on the days when there’s just no room for you in typical local news coverage. It takes a whole new way of thinking to cut the line.

U2, Apple Mark a New (Year’s) Day for Music

September 28th, 2014 by Don Tanner

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 4.31.01 PMIn 2004, U2 became one of the first rock bands ever to launch a new record via TV commercial as their then-new single “Vertigo” also introduced the iPod “U2 Special Edition.”  In recent days, the band and Apple have taken their relationship to another level, joining forces to provide free, automatic downloads of U2′s long-time-coming Songs of Innocence LP to iTunes subscribers.  And, reporter Catherine Mayer/Cupertino writes in the September 29th issue of Time, there is a method to this seeming madness.

Of course, U2 is far from original in giving their music away.  Prince, Radiohead and others have already tread that once hallowed ground.  Yet, no one has ever taken this approach so grandly and boldly with more money paid in advance and more potential future rewards hanging in the balance.  Consider the following: In 2013, music industry revenue continued its 13-year slide to its lowest levels since 1985, a time where newly minted CDs began nudging vinyl records for supremacy.  And, in an era and to a generation where “free” music is the expectation (via pirating, YouTube, etc.) thia alarming sales trend is only expected to continue. Simultaneously, concert revenue is rising; and the numbers are staggering.  In fact, U2 stands at the top of the list of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time: $772 million over 110 shows for 2009-11, with an elbow-to-elbow 66,110 attending each concert.

No one is confirming how much Apple is paying U2 for this and future collaborations but it is rumored that the digital giant pledged more than $100 million to market Songs alone.  Why does it make sense? For U2 (or any band today) music drives concert ticket sales. For U2 and Apple, the promotion of the first single “Miracle” has caused a major spike in the band’s 30-year catalogue, with music from days past leading download sales charts across the world.  An acoustic version of Songs of Innocence is also coming soon while a companion album, Songs of Experience, is also in the works.

But, perhaps most interesting are reported plans for U2 and Apple to create, as Bono describes it in the Time piece, “an audiovisual interactive format for music that can’t be pirated and will bring back album artwork in the most powerful way, where you can play with the lyrics and get behind the songs when you’re sitting on the subway with your iPad or on these big flat screens. You can see photography like you’ve never see it before.” Perhaps it will mark a turning point for positioning music once again as a valuable experience rather than entitled commodity. It appears Bono and U2 are headed that way with Apple - hopefully with rather than without you.


The New Reality: How You Handle PR Is Part Of The Story

September 17th, 2014 by Matt Friedman

UnknownSome of the best journalists in America happen to cover sports. Some of the best orators in America happen to talk about sports on the radio. Few, if any of them, have ever “had a seat at the table” inside a crisis. But even they know that the Minnesota Vikings have bungled the Adrian Peterson situation.

I won’t pile onto the gang tackle about how the Vikings have managed PR during this crisis. To most, the flip-flopping and 1 a.m. news release (like nobody was going to report it in this era of communication) – probably demanded by someone with too much grey hair and too much regard for his or her own grey matter – just seemed like parts of a debacle. Even those paid to analyze Xs and Os on the field know that too many wrong plays were called here. But this is an opportunity to highlight, once again, that how the Vikings handled it was nearly as big of a story of what the Vikings eventually decided to do.

It’s the new reality – how you handle PR in a high-profile situation is part of the story. Once upon a time, journalists would restrict their comments on such things to newsroom chatter. Today, that chatter is public, thanks to social media and opinion-driven broadcasts on radio and TV. Today, audiences of all kinds join in on the analysis. Just like with sports, more non-pros than ever act they’re experts in PR when they’re empowered by a Twitter account and a radio call-in number and, when their voices are aggregated, they shape a narrative.

What likely happened inside the Vikings’ office is likely no different what we have seen many times before. There is fragile ego at the top. There is tension over attention between the in-house PR staff not trained for crisis (often, to borrow a phrase “out of their league”) and and outside agency trying to add perspective and convince people they are potentially meeting for the first time to see it their way. But the real power rests with the lawyers, who are, by nature, risk averse, advising like a drumbeat “don’t get sued, don’t get sued, don’t get sued” and so often the barrier between communications success and what ends up as being analyzed as failure.

The biggest takeaway from this situation is one we feel like we’re pointing out more often than ever these days. PR matters. The media and the public are paying attention. Doing the right things, the right ways, has never been more important.