Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Dare Mighty Things – With The Right Approach

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 9.38.06 PMAlways interesting and forever eventful, the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference always brings something new to the table. This year, my 22nd on the island, I had the good fortune to experience the knowledge and perspectives of our next generation, via the Chamber’s “Emerging Leaders” group – an experience both enlightening and thought provoking. I only wish the ‘EL’ initiative was in place in my more formative years.

Each year, the Chamber selects a number of “young professionals” to attend the conference and be a part of the overall conversation, including attending sessions, networking and being provided with a slew of special programming opportunities. One of those interactions was a sit-down with Tim Smith, Owner and CEO of Skidmore Studio in Detroit including a discussion based around his forthcoming book, “Dare Mighty Things,” that examined such areas as personal and professional brands, personas and potential conflicts between them.

It is always interesting to hear both “sides” of the millennial/baby boomer interaction dynamic and this particular gathering contained no lack of opinions.  One particular individual took the conversation into contiguous areas, including his impassioned thoughts on why millennials should not ask for or earn but, rather, demand both a seat at the decision-making table in business and when seeking access to capital. “They need us,” he implored.

Now, I’ve been at this for a long, long time and I know what it is like to feel as if you don’t have a say or stake in the complicated world of business and commerce. I also know that having a ‘say’ is not demanded but earned- not necessarily over a long period of time but through a demonstrated willingness to collaborate and cooperate. Being a ‘disruptor’ is fine. However, that approach should come with constructive solutions to adjusting or replacing the ‘status quo.’ I hope other young professionals looking to find their way will at least consider this advice: It’s not about tearing down walls but, rather, building bridges.  Take the long view and you’re much more likely to succeed over the long run – and accomplish mighty things.


The Pros and Cons of Comic Con

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 4.36.02 PMIn recent days I was with client “Downtown Dearborn” recounting an initiative we had successfully promoted that saw the Dearborn Symphony and the city’s Green Brain Comics join forces for a pop concert of “comic book” music.  One of the participants in the meeting said she had no idea people still read comics.  With a smile I informed her, ‘you have no idea.”

In reality and after this weekend it appears I had no true idea just how much the comic book industry had grown in recent years. On Saturday I attempted to attend the 2017 Motor City Comic Con at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi only to make a hasty exit upon realizing there was no parking left for miles and there was a line of eager convention goers virtually wrapped around the outside of the building.

It really is no surprise when one considers what the industry is today. Fueled by mega-budget super hero movies, TV shows, merchandise and video games, the industry has never been hotter. The last time I attended a comic convention (I believe some 20 years ago), the lot was half full and I walked right in.  By Sunday I had learned my lesson, purchasing advance tickets online and arriving 30 minutes before doors opened. This time, there was a small line inside the venue, which moved quickly toward securing a wristband and program.

As the industry has grown, so have the comic conventions, including the annual event here in Detroit.  That has meant an even greater caliber of guest celebrities and artists.  Among those I was able to meet for the first time was Neal Adams.  Most likely you have never heard the name, but in the early 1970s he would turn comic book art on its ear – bringing grim reality and emotion to the ink-filled pages like no one had ever done before.  You’ve heard of Stan Lee? As an artist, he couldn’t hold Adams’ pen.  Adams’ turns on Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow in fact ensured the ‘funny paper’s were no longer called that as his books began tackling far-ranging social issues – including racism and drug addiction – comics code be damned.

I will always remember fondly and nostalgically evenings where my dad came home from Skelton’s Pharmacy in Champaign, Illinois bearing gifts.  For me, it was a Batman comic. For my younger brother John, typically Richie Rich or Donald Duck.  The story telling joy those books brought then are even better today (if not sometimes a bit too violent) with Neal Adams (at 76) still at the top of his game.  I can tick another item off the bucket list.  Next time, I just need to do a little better job planning ahead and remembering: I’m no longer the only comic book geek in the room.

Business Sustainability – The Secret’s in the Sauce

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

5-steps-sustainabilityOver the past five years the Metro Detroit business community has grown at a degree not seen in literally decades, led in large part by a resurgent city center downtown where, with a nod to Dan Gilbert’s Quicken, more and more people are coming to live, work and play.  Yet, is it sustainable?

On Wednesday May 3rd from 7:30a-1p in Tech Town, the 2017 “Small Business Workshop” will examine exactly that with a theme focused on business sustainability.  The Lee Group, led by media personality and marketing consultant Mark S. Lee, is the presenter and Tanner Friedman a proud sponsor and workshop participant. More here: The conference aims to dive into dynamics and considerations sure to be of value to any business, company or entrepreneur operating in the Southeast Michigan region. We aim to look at both challenges and recommendations for remaining viable in any business climate.

In my area of expertise in marketing and public relations, at the very core, it really comes down to a few foundational considerations, among them: Knowing who you are and who your customers are.  And, from there, how do you communicate value to that audience with messaging that resonates and moves them to action?  Then, for the long haul, once you have those customers, how do you retain them and remain viable?  There, we will look into the importance of delivering on your value proposition and building long-term relationships.  After all, in virtually any industry, your existing customers should be your greatest allies and referral sources.

Marketing, media relations, social media – all factor into how you can build, maintain and grow your business with – again, back to that word – sustainability.  We hope to have a dialogue with you on May 3rd.  Like you, we’re in it for the long haul and eager to share the recipes.


Fake News: It’s Not A Real Epidemic

Sunday, March 12th, 2017

unnamedWe got an email this week from a respected college professor putting together a PR conference. The question was simple, “Do you know of anybody willing to talk about being bitten by fake news?”

The answer, from our end, was also simple. We don’t. That is because there is no “epidemic of fake news” in the day-to-day world of PR.

To explain, let us please agree on the definition of “fake news.” What we are talking about in this post is the disguising of fictional content, using familiar people’s names, on websites that look like news sights but are created just to spread this fiction. It what, before the ease of sharing websites via social media, were called “hoaxes” or “urban legends.” We used to see this kind of stuff in the grocery store checkout lines in tabloids (the Weekly World News often featured front page “stories” about politicians and aliens) or, from our friends (who could talk to us even before Facebook), like when those of us of a certain age heard that Mikey from the Life cereal commercials died after mixing Pop Rocks candy with some sort of carbonated beverage.

What we are not talking about here is news coverage from a bona fide, commercially viable, familiarly-named outlet that does not paint the sitting President of the United States in a favorable light, in his opinion. We are also not talking about news coverage that includes errors in reporting.

Now that we have that straight, you can begin to understand the answer we gave the professor. The “fake news epidemic” has been limited to national politics. That has been the focal point of news consumption since last year and that is what is driving clicks online. That is where there is money to be made and attention to be had by the fraudsters online. This is not a phenomenon that is seriously impacting day-to-day business in the rest of the country. That is not to suggest that some sort of fabricated item that looks like news couldn’t show up online about the place where you work or a company with which you do business. The potential is there but the reality is not.

This is similar to the “supermarket tabloid” heyday. There was much more of a chance of a “fake” story about Carol Burnett getting drunk and getting into a verbal altercation with Henry Kissinger in The National Enquirer (that happened, resulting in a lawsuit) than anything about anyone not a celebrity. The reason is simple – celebrities (and diet tips) have always moved paper in grocery store lines, the way stories about the President and politics drive clicks now.

In every community in the country at certainly at the national level, both the news and PR businesses are facing some serious issues and challenges. But, for the vast majority of us, today, this just is not one of them.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Thursday, October 27th, 2016


“Legends of Tomorrow” More Watchable Than Ever Today

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

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.





The Best and Worst of CVS’ Big News

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Unknown-1This morning, the giant CVS drugstore chain made big news by announcing it would no longer sell cigarettes and other tobacco products in its stores, effective later this year.

The company broke through with a national news splash and re-shaped the news day before it began in earnest. Here are a couple of initial observations, with the full disclosure that I worked on PR for CVS’ entrance into the Michigan market in 1999:

They exceptionally orchestrated this announcement, with a 7 a.m. embargo that was honored by every news organization that had the story ahead of time, ready to go. As far as degree or difficulty goes in PR, this is about a “9.” They also set up their CEO for a round of interviews and had a website online with their messaging, in various forms. The strategy and execution of this announcement is a positive case study waiting to happen.

However, what keeps this from being a flawless announcement (if there is such a thing) is that in its messaging, the company does not talk directly to its customers. It seems to talk around them. The CEO’s language is filled with healthcare-ease and corporate-ease, in between powerful lines like “tobacco products have no place in a setting where healthcare is being delivered.” For example, he talks a lot about “outcomes” (a term popular in healthcare circles that consumers don’t use) and an upcoming smoking cessation program that is promised to be “robust” (another favorite in corporate communications that rings hollow for the public). He told CBS, in a quote that ran on the radio World News Roundup, “(this decision) positions us for future growth and the opportunity to play a bigger role in our evolving health care system.” Huh?

It’s important, when making news, to communicate directly to your key audience. In mainstream media, for a retail company, that is customers. Conversational language and a second-person tone using “you” and “your” would have taken this announcement from “really good” to “great.”

Detroit: Autopsy or Right Place to Be?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 7.47.37 PMOver the course of the past two years, Detroit has become, perhaps like at no other time, an American curiosity – a microcosm of this country’s economic decay and fight for renewal.  It is quite apropos, then, that two books should appear in recent weeks, both of which examine the city’s histories, trials and tribulations, including what could have been and what might still be: Mark Binelli’s “Detroit City is the Place to Be” and Charlie LeDuff’s “Detroit: An American Autopsy.”

While both are extremely well-written and interweave Detroit’s history (dating back to its founding in the 1700s) with today’s headlines, the similarities largely end there.  LeDuff, the Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, former Detroit News writer and current Fox-2 reporter takes a bleak, gritty, autobiographical approach.  By its very name, “Autopsy” unsurprisingly but sometimes shockingly is rife with dead bodies (literally) including an overflowing city morgue, corpses in abandoned buildings and his own family’s fatal failings fueled by alcohol and poverty on the city’s southwest side.

Binelli, on the other hand, while exposing the underbelly of desolate neighborhoods, corrupt politicians and failed policies, gives equal time to the many visionaries and opportunities that exist and are being enacted in a town seeking to reinvent and rejuvenate. Ala Time magazine, which embedded journalists to report on Detroit’s “good” and “bad”, Binelli, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, returns to his hometown to live and write near Eastern Market, breathing in and reporting on in its sights, smells and especially its people.

Despite the differing approaches, both books are well worth reading.  While more dark than not, LeDuff is often a crusader against injustice – whether exposing police and fire department inefficiencies in the wake of a firefighter’s death, or writing a Detroit News piece that helps raise money for a grandmother too poor to bury her young granddaughter in the aftermath of a senseless shooting. Binelli, by contrast, takes a more ‘everyman’ approach with observations and assertions that allow us to form our own opinions – or at least contemplate what they should or could be.

I finished ‘Autopsy’ in a weekend (last) and am halfway through “Detroit City”. I strongly recommend reading them back-to-back as have I.  They are up-to-date, insightful and the ideal complement to each other and to Detroit’s current backdrop of emergency financial manager infighting and downtown business and residential living resurgence.  Perhaps, you may well think upon completing especially Binelli’s edition, Detroit City really is the place to be.