Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Bullies Never Garner Loyalty

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

0301Every day, our firm generates, reviews and strategizes on developing and implementing effective communications initiatives. And while those communiqués can take many forms and be delivered through a range of platforms, the end goal is typically the same: Compel audiences to act in a way that positively affects business objectives. Call it relationship building. Call it generating brand loyalty. Call it gaining consensus. But never call it bullying.

Donald Trump wants loyalty from his “team” yet doesn’t seem to even vaguely understand the old adage of: “There is no “I” in “Team.” Instead, he continues to use social media as his cyber-bullying medium of choice. Yesterday, the Director of the FBI, today his Attorney General, tomorrow, who knows. Perhaps most maddening and misdirected was his irrational dialogue this week in front of the Boy Scouts; an impressionable youth in need of mentoring, not hate mongering. As many in Washington have been saying in recent days, Jeff Sessions swore an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, not to the whims of Donald Trump.

Adding more insult to injury, Trump today made the decision – to the shock of a Congressional oversight committee who was studying the matter – to ban transgender individuals from entering the military. Most discovered his decision via Twitter. A bully singles out certain individuals and then carries out words and actions designed to dehumanize them and “keep them down.” The similarities in his modus operandi here and elsewhere are striking.

And so it is both sad and inspiring that the individual with the presence and sense of mind to communicate this week what our country needs from its leaders came from a man returning from surgery and suffering from a serious form of brain cancer: Senator John McCain. He spoke emotionally about the need for his fellow elected officials to put differences aside and work to find common ground and areas for compromise. To get things done while acting in the best interests of the American people. This message was one of unity and selflessness.

We follow leaders who inspire. Who build bridges. Who think before they act and speak. Those who say and do what is right for all of us (or at least the majority of us). Those are the leaders who gain our admiration, our backing, our loyalty. That is earned. And that is what, unfortunately, a bully will never learn.

Sports Coverage Without Clickbait Or Autoplay Videos. Sounds Great. But Will You Pay?

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

CpEohaobA journalist for a local newspaper told me recently that everyone in the newsroom should thank the sports department “for keeping us in business.” At many of them, sports drives web traffic and as news organizations have had to cut deeply to endure the transition from the dollars that classified and print advertising brought in to the pennies that online advertising generates, they need all the pennies they can get.

The business of funding local news organizations impacts consumers more than they realize. Because so much is given to readers at no cost, which they have now largely come to expect, revenue has to come from pop-up ads, auto-play videos and other ad devices that consumers say they don’t like. Because of the imperative to drive web traffic and boost page-view numbers, the slightest sports item that resembles news turns into a clickable story or, worse yet, a carpal tunnel-inducing photo gallery.

A new start-up option for fans, with a new business model, is making its way across North America. The Athletic, a Silicon Valley-born, venture capital funded online platform, is now in expansion mode, adding Detroit and the Bay Area in recent weeks. Craig Custance, the Detroit Editor-In-Chief and a Metro Detroit native, told me last week that he chose The Athletic job after working as ESPN’s national hockey writer for the past six years. The Athletic has “a new business model that I had become convinced was going to work and…a solution to what’s been an issue in journalism and that’s making money digitally.”

The Athletic is subscription-only. Right now, you can subscribe under a special for a year for $40. In return, you get access to their app and to read their stories online, without any advertising on the page. “The product looks different…Really clean. That’s the background of the guys who started the company. They’re tech guys,” Custance said. “The reader now basically has some control over the content because they’re the ones paying the freight…if it’s not different enough, if they’re not learning something, if it’s not unique to what’s being done in the market for free, then people won’t subscribe. There’s a higher standard to what we have to do.”

Custance is now recruiting beat writers to cover Detroit’s teams, including Katie Strang, another ESPN veteran. He says interest among sports journalists is very strong as local reporting jobs are tougher than ever. They now have to tweet, shoot and post photos and video, cover practices, games and press conferences and, by the way, write stories, filing around the clock. There just isn’t as much time for long-form analysis, in-depth reporting or the telling of stories-behind-the-stories anymore, on top of the uncertainty of local “papers” in the online world. It’s the same “more with less” reality we see across media. Custance is telling applicants, “They have to have some sort of unique voice or skill set that makes them stand out, that makes people want to read their work.” The Athletic plans a bricks-and-mortar office in Downtown Detroit.

In recent weeks, Fox Sports, a behemoth in the sports media world, rid its website of sports writing focused only on video, repurposed from TV. But Custance says The Athletic is not deterred because it’s not for everyone. “The beauty of this is we’re not trying to get every single sports fan…Not everybody is going to subscribe to this model…We’re finding there’s a large group of people who say ‘we still want to read quality, well-written work and we’re willing to pay for it because if we don’t, it might not exist at some point.’”

As a sports fan who wants to know more than what I get from just watching the games, I signed up for a subscription. I’m interested to see if enough fellow enthusiasts will make the same decision to keep The Athletic growing.

Media Companies Mess Up PR… And It Matters

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

IMG_0205Unveiling a new logo ranks high among communications challenges. Logos for established businesses contain emotion, which, upon a change, can spill into reaction, especially online in the era of social media outrage.

We have worked with clients in these situations to minimize controversy and maximize explanation and context. Even then, we have prepared clients for rough waters in at least the short-term in an environment where change stirs emotion and everyone feels empowered to take a turn as an art critic.

In a fragile business like media, a logo change should be handled strategically, ensuring that the organization making the change can speak for itself, carefully and deliberately to its audiences about why the change is necessary.

Gannett, owner of the Detroit Free Press and hundreds of newspapers and news websites across the country, took a different approach, at least in Detroit, among other markets nationally. The company changed the iconic Free Press logo to one mirroring its flagship, but non-local, USA Today branding, at least online. In the Detroit market, this is a jarring change, as the Olde English style, shared by the Tigers baseball team, is considered part of the regional identity.

Rather than execute what we would call a “change communications strategy,” which borrows from the fundamentals of crisis communications, corporate overlords sent a morning email to staff (just days after making a change in the executive editor’s office) and ordered the mandated move to go into effect online. In what should have been anticipated as a worst case scenario, it was brought to the public’s attention via social media posts by journalists at competing outlets, as chronicled by this item by Poynter, the nonprofit journalism educational institution.

Notably, there has been no communication from the company to the Free Press’ audience about the change. As we have written here many times before, including when Gannett ordered layoffs late last year, reducing the Free Press’ newsgathering resources without even making an effort to reassure its audiences, the corporations that run media ironically don’t practice the most core principles of PR.

Was this change the right decision? Will Gannett be able to grow revenue by piggybacking off the USA Today brand in a parochial market like Detroit? Does USA Today have stronger identity than a local brand that dates back to 1831? The future of an institution rests on the answers to those questions. This is a decision more than about font and color. It’s part of the future of a resource this community, and every community, needs, whether it’s in print, online or whatever is next. A group in a conference room in Virginia messed up the communications rollout. So often, that’s a symptom of bigger reasons for concern.

What, Me Worry? Radio Remains Relevant, Reach Strong.

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

imagesWhen examining mediums to tout and those to pan, digital continues to be held up as the golden child, while radio seems forever (for lack of a better term) the step-child – seemingly on the verge of inconsequential and the brink of demise. And while turmoil regularly and publicly embroils radio giants iHeart and Cumulus, what does the research say on the industry overall? What do the numbers show? In recent days, Nielsen’s quarterly “State of the Media: Audio Today” was released and featured prominently in Tom Taylor’s “Now” report. The findings may surprise you. Certainly they are enlightening.

Comparing radio to other mediums, Audio Today shows radio “reaching more Americans each week than any other platform.” That reach for all adults is 93%, with television coming in second at 89%. The smartphone is now at 83% and PC at 50%. “TV-connected devices” reach 44% of all adults weekly, the tablet 37%

A look at the next generation (18-34), of great concern and focus for all mediums (especially radio), shows that radio is still quite strong (and maybe surprising to many) – reaching 92% of all persons in that demographic each and every week. Considering how millennials consume visual content, not as surprising are numbers that show TV reach has fallen to 79% (smartphone reach, by contrast, is 91%).

Nielsen’s deep dive into radio also examined “America’s top formats” for all listeners age 12+ in all markets from Spring 2016. Top 5 rankings showed: #1 Country (13.6%); News-Talk (11.1%) (does not include All-News); Hit Radio (7.9%) and Adult Contemporary (7.8%) tied for third; with Classic Rock (6.0%) and Classic Hits (5.9%) tied after that. A fairly close race overall and no matter how you slice and dice it.

Moreover, as podcasts gain momentum and popularity, Nielsen examined this medium and listener preferences by genre. Here, comedy leads the way with 48% of podcasting users consuming it. Next comes educational at 40% followed by sports (27%); politics (22% and, one would assume, growing); gaming (18%); and tech/sci-fi at 16% each.

Overall, there is no doubt that radio continues to exert tremendous impact and accomplish cross-demographical reach. To be sure, Nielsen’s numbers in the 90+percentiles are far from new but, rather, have remained consistent for years. Someday they will hopefully and finally serve as a wake-up call to its naysayers. Still, savvy radio programmers understand the need to constantly adapt to ever-evolving consumption preferences and technology. That said, the formula for success remains constant: The need for live, local, relevant and interactive. Take a closer look at the radio stations that still subscribe to this approach. They are thriving. They will survive.

Pick Your Mantra, Then Answer Journalists

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Sometimes, journalists just can’t help themselves. Even when not in an interview, they ask questions that get you thinking.

Last week, one of our clients hosted journalist, author and educator John U. Bacon as a keynote speaker at a charity fundraising event. In conversation before his speech, Bacon asked me a terrific question. When it comes to crisis communication, what is my top piece of advice? He told me his first. After covering and writing about PR crises and speaking to companies across the country, he’s partial to the mantra of former University of Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham: “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story.” Sound advice indeed.

I told him that in a crisis engagement, I typically start with, “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

answer-hiBoth pieces of advice were relevant in a recent week when two separate clients received inquiries from journalists and, remarkably, top executives had the same reaction, “Don’t respond.” To protect client confidentiality, I can’t write about the details of each case. But in both instances, the counsel back to them was the same. There is no upside whatsoever in not getting back to the reporters with, at least, something to say. In both cases, the client executives listened to counsel and allowed for responses that, with the benefit of hindsight, likely protected them against small crises. In one case, the journalist was able to be equipped with facts that prevented, or at least delayed, a story from being written. In the other case, the client’s message made it into the story to provide valuable context (it spoke for itself, so others wouldn’t be given the opportunity).

Was the instinct shared by two senior executives at two different organizations in two different parts of the country the reflection of any kind of trend, such as the anti-media rhetoric coming out of The White House? From the inside of both situations, it seems more coincidental than anything else. One executive was trained as a lawyer and many in that profession believe that not returning a media inquiry is a way to guarantee that you won’t say anything that will get held against you (even though it invites many other repercussions).

But as we start the second half of the year, it’s an opportunity to remember why there are multiple good reasons to make sure you don’t ignore inquiries from journalists. Take your pick – “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story” or “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you” or any other adage you think applies other than “Don’t respond.”

Roger Waters Delivers Another Brick In His Legacy

Monday, June 12th, 2017

E72A2147.jpgWith all due respect to the Beatles, if he didn’t invent the concept album he certainly perfected it.  First with Pink Floyd and later as a solo artist, Roger Waters has never been shy about expressing his emotions – if not kicking his audience in the teeth with them.  His latest rock LP released on Friday, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” – his first in nearly a quarter century – is no exception; a non-sugar coated look at the world today and its all too common and disturbing dysfunction.

1973′s “Dark Side of the Moon,” a tale of passing time, greed and mental illness told with jazzy instrumental flourishes and background vocals, is still considered by many as one of the greatest albums of all-time and, certainly, it is among the top selling.  Want barnyard animals to unsubtly communicate your disdain for the political elite? Look no further than 1977′s “Pigs.” Yet, for perhaps the biggest emotional ‘bang for the buck’ there’s 1979′s “The Wall,” a tale of disenchantment and isolation. Buying and playing this album for the first time in high school, I could not believe what I was hearing.  Like an individual coming across a bad accident, I was disturbed but could not look away.

This ability to force us to consider and then consume a sometimes-bitter pill is what Roger Waters is a master at. It is what we have come to expect – even embrace – from his work.  I just downloaded his latest and, through listening previously to samples and reading about some of the lyrics and themes, I am incredible excited to take a full listen and, it appears, from early reviews, with good reason. Stark, beautiful, poetic and humorous, “Is This The Life” is also bleak, angry and unapologetic with topics ranging from drone warfare to terrorism to refugees.  And, consider this line: “Picture a s-house with no f-ing drains. Picture a leader with no f-ing brains.”

When he arrives at the Palace of Auburn Hills later this year, Roger Waters is sure to give quite a show. Always theatric, I’ve read of on-stage visuals at recent shows that have Vladimir Putin holding a baby Donald Trump in his arms. Indeed, where Roger Waters is concerned, the phrase: We don’t need no education simply does not work.  Because, as Waters once again proves, we do need his commentary – be it no holds-barred or delivered with subtlety.  We just need it more often.

 

 

Original Caped Crusader Most Endearing

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-06-11 at 5.58.45 PM‘Holy Heartbreak, Batman!’ exclaimed the USA Today on Friday as we learned of the death of actor Adam West, 88, of leukemia.  The article’s headline, homage to the trademark remarks of Burt Ward’s Robin on the hit “Batman” TV program of the 1960s in which he costarred with West, was picked up in newspapers and online media outlets from coast-to-coast.  It was a reminder that, while West was revered in later years, the show’s campy approach and by default, its star’s deadpan style would cause a fan backlash that would last decades.

I’ve written before about typecasting and, not since George Reeve’s TV take on Superman in the 1950s had anyone become more locked into a public mindset than Adam West would become with the Caped Crusader.  Airing for the first time in 1966 on ABC the series was a runaway success, marking the first time Batman had ever taken to the airwaves in any broadcast medium (the 1940s had seen Saturday morning movie theater serials produced).  With a catchy theme song, kaleidoscope costumes ideal for the newly minted color TV and twice weekly broadcasts (the second settling a cliff-hangar from the previous show) the program jumped off the screen with camp, humor and POW! BIFF! WHACK! action. I know I was hooked.

Yet, the actual Batman comic books were becoming dark and serious at that time, thanks in no small part to a young new writer, Denny O’Neill and wildly talented artist, Neal Adams, who brought a new reality to the medium that has endured for over 40 years.  The shift brought an end to the comics code and, as the “Batman” TV series ended (after 3 years) and its audience (like me) grew up, the irreverent silliness of the show became passé, even embarrassing to us; and Adam West became relegated to B-lister and “has been” in the eyes of many through the 1970s and 80s.

Now, hindsight can be often be ’20/20′ and, as Joni Mitchell so famously sang in ‘Big Yellow Taxi’: Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.  The main premise, further, of pop culture author Chuck Klosterman most recent book, “But What If We’re Wrong,” is that, more often than not, we as a society don’t recognize an individuals’ talents or significant contributions while they are still living. The same might be said about Adam West, although redemption actually would come much sooner.

Though he never appeared in any of the seven Batman theatrical releases he was considered for the role of Bruce Wayne’s father in the 1989 Tim Burton “Batman” – which exposed most to a Dark Knight many a fan boy had been reading about for more than 20 years. Burton’s masterpiece and follow-up would ignite an insatiable appetite for all things Caped Crusader and West would soon begin lending his voice talents to Batman cartoon features.  Over the next 20 years he would subsequently and gradually make peace with this career and become an admired and appreciated pop icon; this through regular appearances at Comic Cons nationwide and well-received turns on “The Simpsons” and “Fairly Odd Parents,” as well as a recurring animated role on “Family Guy.” A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame would follow.

Funny thing, nostalgia.  It can come back to grab you by the heart and mind.  Two years ago, DC Comics premiered a “Batman ’66″ comic with characters styled from the 60s TV Show.  And, last year, West participated in the animated adventure “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders,” a direct to DVD but full-length feature which also showcased the voice work of ‘Robin’ Burt Ward and Julie Newmar (Catwoman). This will now be considered West’s swan song; “Batman” from 1966-1969, a classic. Holy vindication, Batman! It’s just how pop culture – and human nature – works sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Stunt, Will Journalists Keep Going Back To Calley?

Monday, June 5th, 2017

UnknownFor five weeks leading up to the Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, had journalists thinking he would announce his candidacy for Governor on May 30th, on the first day of the Conference.

All over social media, the Calley camp bought ads teasing “5.30.17.” In this interview with WJR’s Frank Beckmann on April 24th, Calley did nothing to refute the idea that that indeed would be the day he would announce.

Upon arriving in the island, Conference attendees were greeted, literally every few feet, by college-age barkers handing out invitations to the “major announcement” event, giving the island’s main drag a Las Vegas Strip feel. Multiple journalists arrived on the island early to be in place for what they expected to be the official beginning of the 2018 campaign. Instead, they were victims of a bait and switch stunt, burning them, along with other attendees who delayed registration for the Conference to file into a restaurant, expecting news to be made before their eyes.

Instead of announcing his candidacy, Calley, surrounded by the paid college-age staff, called for a plan to make Michigan’s Legislature part-time. With scripted chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and “Clean It Up!” amid cries against “The Establishment” (the 7-year Lieutenant Governor previously served as a legislator, full-time), Calley held an event apparently only a political ringmaster could appreciate. Several journalists and attendees called it everything from “weird” to “a waste of time.”

This is yet another example of the difference between business and political PR. If a business hyped an announcement for five weeks, then switched it to appeal to a niche constituency rally, it wouldn’t get a second chance. But, in politics, some Roger Ailes wannabe is probably doing self back patting for getting a bunch of news coverage in one day to “help name recognition” and “fire up the base” while “creating a show.” Sooner or later, they are going to have to make the announcement the assembled media thought it was getting last week.

Begrudgingly, journalists will still cover the Calley announcement, whenever and wherever it happens. But will they forget about what happened on Mackinac? To quote the great PR analyst L.L. Cool J – I don’t think so.

For DJ, Life After Radio Means Still Putting Fans, Music First

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The “suits” who lay off radio hosts are the same as the bean counters who eliminate budgets for PR firms. They just care about “hitting the numbers,” without consideration of the damage of destroying long-term relationships. But sometimes, the relationships can prevail.

Two months ago, corporate ownership of Windsor, Ontario station CIMX-FM, known as 89X, cut its U.S. based staff serving the Detroit market. Among the budget casualties was Cristina, a part-time DJ. She hosted a Sunday morning classic alternative show called “Time Warp,” which appealed to GenXers in particular who enjoy the sounds of the ’80s and ’90s. Cristina didn’t just play music, she guided her audience through the music, with palpable enthusiasm, compelling personality and extensive knowledge.

Classic alternative is one of the music genres that I enjoy, at least in part. For almost 20 years, “Time Warp” was appointment listening. Even though some of the tunes weren’t for me, I always learned something interesting from Cristina and even discovered some music I wish I hadn’t missed when it was new. Listening to someone with a true enthusiasm for what they do, not phony hype, is a lost experience in media. But Cristina brought that every week, establishing her brand as the authority on retro alternative music.

I was disappointed to hear that she was among the cuts at 89X, a station I felt as if I had “outgrown” otherwise. But a few weeks later, I discovered on Twitter that “Time Warp” was still alive. Cristina was now streaming a version of the show on her own, on Sunday mornings, online. How cool is that?

I reached out to her for this blog to hear how and why that happened. Here is, in part, what she told me:

“I just listened to this documentary on Andy Patridge from XTC…He made this comment that music just infected him…that he got infected with music…That’s kind of what happened to me… Music isn’t just a hobby, it’s part of my being and part of my life. So after when everything went down at the end of March, it meant my radio career is probably over. But that doesn’t mean your love for music and love for what you live for is over… I also felt that it was terrible for the listeners as well, people who really enjoyed the old school classic alternative music…There’s this void so why not fill it?”

Cristina paints the picture of what it’s like for so many in radio now by telling me, “We weren’t sure what exactly was going to go down but we knew something would change because there were a lot of weird things going on. So, in the back of your mind, every time you’re doing a show, you’re thinking…’Well I hope this isn’t the last one.’” Amid those thoughts, she considered her backup plan. She had some equipment and software at home. She thought, for her listeners, she would figure out a way to do the show online.

She doesn’t see this as a business opportunity. “It’s a service to the classic alternative community… It’s really an opportunity for me to offer something that I’m really passionate about and frickin’ love. The fact that there are people willing and they want to listen to it and they love it? That’s sweet!”

There are some legal restrictions because of music licensing, but Cristina does a very enjoyable version. In at least one way, it’s better than the original. You don’t have to suffer through Canadian public service announcements to get to the music, or to her insights.

She has also proven to be nimble, doing an hour plus special streaming show on the day singer Chris Cornell died in Detroit, playing his music from Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and even his friends’ onetime band, Mother Love Bone. “That’s what radio can offer to people is to help them wrap their brain around something that’s unthinkable,” she said. “It helped me grieve, maybe it helped someone else?”

It did, Cristina.

“The outpouring of support (from listeners) has really blown me away… It really helped me get through a crappy period in my life…losing something that meant so much…Doing the show is kind of my gift to them.”

To get the streaming link on Sunday mornings, follow Cristina on Twitter at @cristinarocks or check out this link

The City Coming Off Bankruptcy May Be Investing More In Communications Than Your Company

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Detroit-City-Council-Districts-Map-1The City of Detroit is still emerging from bankruptcy. But chances are, the city government is embracing creativity in communications much more than the place where you work. Let this be a wake-up call.

Tanner Friedman had the privilege of providing analysis for this Detroit News article on how the City of Detroit is investing in writers and platforms to tell the stories that traditional media, which has contracted in Detroit and across the country over the past decade, can no longer tell. While this effort, like anything you do, must be credible to audience. It must not come across as propaganda. As Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press points out, as a government entity, it must not be a re-election campaign effort for the Mayor. In this case, Mike Duggan has a history of communications innovation. Early in his tenure as CEO the Detroit Medical Center, it was among the first hospitals in the country, if not the first, to offer patients a video library of professional videos that helped ease concerns prior to surgeries and other procedures.

Often, we counsel prospective clients on the opportunities – if not the need – for telling their own stories over platforms that they control to complement whatever bona fide news their organizations can generate. They nod their heads and act like they understand. But when it comes time to provide budget for this type of proactive work, too many scoff. They still think they can generate reach for their information like they did 20 years ago through traditional media alone.

The world has changed. Communications have changed. There are very few opportunities for “mass media” in a personal media world. But companies, nonprofit organizations, even cities have stories that are worth connecting with audiences, even if they fall short of news thresholds or there just are not the news resources to cover them. If the city coming out of the worst financial crisis in U.S. history can find the means to communicate in new ways to its audiences, so should you.