Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Why Our Books Have Lost Their Spines

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 1.18.18 PMThere have been times in recent months where I almost feel like a kid again; and not in a good way.  I am an avid book reader and always have been.  Yet, if I want to go out and pick up a new book to read my options continue to dwindle. Which rhymes with Kindle. And therein lies the rub.

When a friend of mine recently learned that another Barnes and Noble had closed near her house, she was crestfallen. Until I reminded her that she and I were part of the problem.  She hadn’t bought a book in years, opting to always visit the public library.  I, on the other hand, was choosing the downloading route more and more.

Growing up pre-Internet and before the advent of the big box bookstores, I did have access to books via smaller bookstore chains. Yet, when Borders debuted some twenty or more years ago, the tome-buying experience was taken to another level.  With amazing, seemingly endless selections of new and classic offerings.  As importantly and akin to the Starbucks recipe for coffee enjoyment, there was the experience. Browsing over scones and hot chocolate. Discovering new authors and topics amid a sea of wooden bookshelves with nearly unimaginable magazine and newspaper offerings. Storytellers reading picture books to wide-eyed children.

Today, my bookstore options, and perhaps yours as well, are a good 10 miles away in either direction.  The Kindle, meanwhile (or the Nook is you are so inclined – and at least that benefits Barnes & Noble) is always inches from my fingertips with a selection, available 24-7, that would rival fifty bookstores combined.  It’s how we consume more and more. Like our movement from CDs to MP3, we want what we want, when we want it.  Yet, there’s no denying that something is missing: The sense of community.

It is a dynamic lacking all too often in our society today. It is why we are still drawn to city centers and old-fashioned downtowns like those in Rochester, Ferndale and Plymouth while developers and DDAs continue to work to emulate them – in Wixom, Novi and Dearborn – quite often with mixed results. People still need people and shared experiences; or at least have the option.  Let’s hope that never changes.

 

 

In Crisis, The Governor Should Lose His Crutch

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

imagesTo some, this may seem like nitpicking. But when it comes to crisis communications, every word counts, sometimes especially those that are extraneous.

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder, in the midst of a firestorm, has a lingering problem that’s common and likely correctable. Like many public speakers, he uses a word as a crutch when he’s asked a tough question and his brain needs to buy him a second to come up with an answer. But unlike some speakers who use “uhm,” “uh,” “you know” and the like, Snyder uses the word “again” to answer questions, even in situations when he isn’t repeating himself.

If he’s like most, somewhere along the way, he developed this habit to the point where, now, it happens almost involuntarily. But he’s in a crisis situation where every word he says is being listened to and processed by his audiences differently. By answering questions with “Again…” he can seem irritated, dismissive or fatigued.

Take a look at this interview with WDIV-TV’s investigative reporter Kevin Dietz, which aired in Prime Time in the Detroit market as part of a special report on the Flint Water Crisis. He answers multiple questions this way, as if he’s already answered these questions.

Those advising him probably feel like they have a full plate. But maybe in the car on the way to and from Flint (where he should be spending most of his time), they could work with him on losing his crutch.

What Time Should An 11:00 Press Conference Start? How about 11:00?

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

01134The PR aspects of the Flint Water Crisis are a case study in the making, albeit one written in pencil, as the “Wow Factor” seems to increase by the day. But here’s an easy takeaway that shouldn’t evoke controversy. It’s about the staple of PR that isn’t going away, even as the business changes quickly – press conferences.

This past week, Michigan’s Governor hosted a press conference that promised “major announcements” about the Flint situation. It also offered updates, which is always a good idea in a crisis. It promised Flint’s Mayor and other principals. The Governor’s Communications Office billed it to social media followers as a “Live Event” and encouraged online viewing at 11am. Local and statewide media outlets did the same.

But at 11:00, there was no press conference, just an empty podium. I know because, like others presumably, I was watching online. A staffer came out twice to say that the event would be starting “soon.” The second of those announcements came at about 11:15 and was met with resistance, almost heckling, from the assembled media. I could hear on the stream “That’s what you said the last time!” “We’re wasting batteries” and “We have live trucks running.” The frustration was palpable and understandable.

As a viewer, how long do you give something to start before you tune out. A few minutes? Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes? And then when do you go back to it? A few minutes later? Ten minutes later? Never? On time starts guarantee on time audience attention.

The press conference ultimately started at 11:23 a.m. That’s inexcusable. The Governor and other speakers basically started in a hole when they could have started on even ground.

A couple of days later, the University of Michigan announced its new Athletic Director in a manner promoted similarly by the University and media. That press conference started on time, to the minute. Audiences certainly felt more respected.

In this modern era, when press conferences are for more than press, it’s imperative to start them on time. In a crisis, it remains fundamental to not to anything to antagonize the media. It’s really not very complicated.

Detroit Lions and CBS Radio Part Ways, Beg Questions

Saturday, November 21st, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 2.19.21 PMThis week ended with perhaps one of the most interesting sports radio stories in recent memory as the Detroit Lions continued their off-the-field changes by announcing they will be leaving CBS Radio and 97-1 “The Ticket” for Cumulus’ Newstalk 760 WJR after the season.  A veritable ‘he said, she said’ scenario ensued bringing to the forefront issues of censorship, media relations protocol and the power, money and control of professional sports teams in general. Who was right and who was wrong? I’d rather examine a couple of ‘what ifs’ and ‘lessons learned.’

‘What if,’ let’s assume for the sake of examination, both the Lions and CBS are telling it like it is.  ‘What if,’ as Ticket Afternoon star Mike Valenti asserts, the Lions sought to censor what he said during his show, going so far as to call him while on-the-air? I know that when I was an on-air talent back in the day, if I was in the studio and behind the microphone, I took direction from one person and one person only: my program director. After the show was another matter and a more appropriate time for a more in-depth conversation with listeners regarding what I might have said.  ‘If’ the Lions couldn’t reach Valenti outside of his show, trying to send him a message during it might not have been inappropriate. In the world of media relations, we always recommend going to the host or journalist first to discuss concerns. If that fails, going to their superiors is the next resort.

On the other hand, ‘what if’ the Lions did indeed threaten to leave CBS unless Valenti was let go, as Valenti charges.  Many years ago, another PR firm in town requested an editorial board meeting with one of Detroit’s major print dailies to discuss a client’s concern about negative coverage, a not uncommon and often recommended practice. However, rather than talk out the situation and seek a resolution based on dialogue and mutual respect, the PR firm relayed the message that unless coverage improved in tone, their client would be pulling its advertising from the paper – entirely wrong and unethical.  The PR professional was quickly told to do something unnatural to himself and that incident, when recounted, still entails steam coming out of the ears of the editors and journalists in attendance.

So, who really knows exactly what happened behind closed doors? CBS and Valenti say they won’t be bought nor censored.  Good for them.  The Lions, on the other hand, are saying publicly that the new deal with WJR is all about business and a return to roots. Good for them.  Because where any business relationship is involved, it should not be only about the money but also respect and a proper fit culturally.  In other words, not just dollars and cents but also what makes sense for all involved.

Network TV Breaking News Coverage With Civility and Insight? Yes. Really.

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Unknown-1On nights like last Friday, TV news still can have a communal experience. Households across the country turned on their TVs to find out more about the Paris attacks they likely learned about first on social media.

But those of us on the northern border of the United States had a distinct advantage in trying to stay informed and try to make sense of what was unfolding across the Atlantic. We didn’t have to rely solely on American TV networks.

We hear frustration all the time from within our business network about the state of American TV news, especially when “the big story” breaks, especially internationally. The word “sensational” comes up often to describe the visual presentation of a clutter of attention-grabbing words on the screen. The word “political” comes up often to describe the I-can-yell-louder-than-you-can talking heads. Many even tell us they have stopped or delayed watching because the obsession with being first leads more often than ever to being wrong.

American adults with a real thirst for information and knowledge can get frustrated by “YouTube’s Greatest Hits” on traditional broadcast network nightly newscasts on top of Fox News’ political agenda (unless it’s their own), MSNBC’s seemingly constant reinvention and even CNN, which used to be the go-to destination for news consumers in times of crisis, is more often than not “CNN in name only” to many of its former fans.

I made a different choice on Friday night, the CBC, which is available via cable and even antennas here in the Detroit market. Granted, the Canadian network operates in a much different competitive environment. But its coverage hit the mark in every respect. It was serious, but understated. It featured reporters with information, even from foreign bureaus, something U.S.-based networks cut significantly to please their corporate owners. It offered commentary from on-set and via-remote analysts that was relevant, insightful and lacked a political agenda. There was a balanced sense of “here’s what we know, but here’s what we don’t know yet.” Watching simply as a viewer, with different expectations than when watch solely as a media analyst, I was fulfilled.

The American networks can brag about their Friday night ratings. They can pat themselves on the back talking about how they drew an audience that evening. Grading on a curve, some of them probably would score relatively highly. But CBC set the standard for those of us who could see it.

They’ll Be Right Back…But Will You?

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

radioguy_smNext to newspapers there is perhaps no other medium so closely watched, scrutinized and debated as radio.  This, despite the fact that radio remains among the most successful and far-reaching of them all (to the tune of 91% of all adults 18+ every week, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau).  Yet, can this trend continue, many ask, as generational tastes, consumption and alternatives for attention evolve.

Doug Spero, Professor of Mass Communication at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, opines on that very topic this week in a guest blog on Huffingtonpost.com. In particular, he examines the dynamic of the commercial “stop set” where programming stops and a series of ads are run.  How intrusive to the masses are they, he asks, as many “breaks” have steadily grown to anywhere from 9-12 minutes – especially to younger demographics as comfortable with spot-less streaming and MP3s?

I know when I was an on-air rookie back in the day, radio mentors instructed me away from calling attention to a coming commercial break.  Why say, “We’ll be right back?” After all, where was I going? I was still there pushing the buttons. And I certainly didn’t want my listeners to leave.  Similarly, “More after these messages” was nothing more than a signal that ads were forthcoming and, at least temporarily, more music was not.  I also worked very hard at every radio stop to offer value to my listeners, giving them every reason to come to my show and stay.

Everyone has at least some tolerance for airwave interruption – but not a lot.  In Spero’s blog, he details a study of approximately 160 students (ages 18-24) demonstrating 50% of the small sample, unsurprisingly, preferred 1-2 minute breaks; 36% 2-3 minutes.  Interestingly, KNDD-FM, a Seattle alternative station, earlier this year instituted the “2-minute” promise of no more than 120 seconds of commercials per break. Of course, shorter stop sets mean more of them. After all, something has to give in money making enterprise.

When all is said and done, every media outlet seeks to attract and retain a significant audience as consistently and for as long a period of time as possible. To that end, content is king.  You’ll sit through commercials when you know the quality programming you are really there to hear can be found nowhere else and is coming back post haste. That includes, in very large part, the on-air personalities behind the microphone – those that generate the listeners and ratings through which advertisers and their dollars are ultimately attracted.

Can “Bullied Mom” Set Precedent For More Positive News Stories?

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 7.50.48 PMHow often do you watch, listen to or read the news and say to yourself regarding a particular story or stories: “That’s news?” A friend of mine recently asked me that very question after watching a Channel 7 story on a woman from Fort Gratiot, Michigan who was bullied by two other women in a coffee shop and then proceeded to do the unexpected: she paid for the women’s coffee.

The story caught the attention of ABC World News Tonight out of New York, while Channel 7 did a more “local” take.  Soon, the story had become a Facebook and internet sensation. News? Absolutely and a welcome and refreshing change of pace from the types of stories that typically dominate the headlines.  In fact, I sometimes quip that the news should be called the “bad news” as, all too often, we are exposed to our society’s lowest common denominator. A car jacking. A shooting. A rape. A murder. A robbery. If one didn’t know better you would think it was unsafe to leave your home for fear of being a victim.  More often that not in our society, people are good and good things happen.  The news does cover them; I would just argue not often enough.

That is why the tale of the Michigan mom is special and deserved attention.  Bullying continues to be a real problem in our society albeit typically involving school kids. And here, rather than the protagonist lashing out against her antagonists, perhaps with verbal or physical violence that is also all too common today, this special women “killed them with kindness” – paying for their coffee and walking away.

Good for her, good for Channel 7 and good for ABC News.  They all proved in recent days that most people are inherently good and that those people deserve to be recognized more often for their example-setting behavior. Hopefully it will help set a trend for positive news coverage that’s also good for business. After all, positive stories get shared as often if not more so than negative ones on social media. That means more clicks, share of audience and, one would hope in the end, a spotlight on more “good guys” and less on bad.

Media Relations: Not Rocket Science But There is a Science to It

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 7.12.20 PMMedia coverage.  More often than not, our firm is employed to secure print, broadcast and online stories with local, regional and national – even international – media outlets.  And, while our success record is incredibly high, certain realities ensure the journey from idea to coverage is often challenging and always interesting but rarely a sure thing.  Thinking about hiring a PR firm for this? Read on.

There is a method to the “madness” that should be followed and understood.  Relationships, first of all, are vital.  These are built over time and on a core foundation of trust and mutual respect. With producers, assignment desks, news directors, reporters, columnists and writers.  As important is having a story that is truly newsworthy.  It’s our job to possess those alliances and from there to package stories in the right way for the right media at the right time. And if it is not a news story? It’s our responsibility to tell you that too.

It is also our job to know media beats and areas of focus, especially in our own backyard. In auto-centric Detroit, the New York Times bureau covers automotive. So too the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.  The Associated Press here, meanwhile, watches auto closely while also having a reporter focused on other statewide news and happenings. Want a non-auto story from those outlets? We know to look outside the marketplace as well as to other news holes inside that might work.

Timing, further, can be everything, in particular in the resource-challenged world of today’s news media.  You can have the greatest story in the world along with the best media relationships. Yet, if the resources aren’t there (i.e. reporters handling multiple beats with the inability to get to your story at that particular time) or, more likely, there is breaking news, your idea might not find a home at that moment. It’s not fatalism, its reality.  It is also why you must be flexible. Perhaps a media outlet doesn’t have time to come to you.  You must be willing also to come to them, including in-studio or on-set.

Forever proactive, appropriately aggressive with respect earned, our firm always strives for results and doing what’s right and best as we collaborate with our clients. That includes a tremendous expertise in how today’s media works and thinks, culled from decades working with and within that machine (and it’s evolving daily).  Ultimately, it is essential that those who work with us understand this dynamic, trust us, respect us and our work and let us do our job.  We’re not going to tell a banker, an attorney, an automotive engineer how to do theirs. Acceptable? Make sense? Need a PR firm? Let’s talk. We look forward to it.

When Bosses Make Too Many PR Mistakes, Audiences Will “Hook ‘Em”

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

635779106099234597-USATSI-7657137In a high-profile position, bad PR can cost your job.

We have seen it again in college athletics, where respect for emotionally-connected audiences has proven to be paramount. The Athletic Director at the University of Texas, one of the biggest and most visible college sports operations in the country, Stave Patterson, was fired by the school’s President after a two-year series of PR mistakes reportedly led to anger, in particular, among influential donors.

Here’s how the Associated Press reports it: “One of his first missteps was an awkward public push to have the city of Austin help finance a new basketball arena after having not ‘invested a nickel’ in the current Erwin Center over the previous 30 years. Those comments caught city officials off guard and forced the school to backtrack.”

Other issues with Patterson included:

-One report says he “alienated” audiences “with his management style and failure to communicate.”
-Firing a Sports Information Director known to have exemplary media relationships
-Raising football ticket prices after a losing season, including charging for parking.

As the local newspaper in Austin reports, it got so bad for the former pro sports executive, “Eventually, public perception so turned against Patterson, he was getting blamed for things he didn’t even do. An Internet-based report indicated Patterson was charging Texas Tech band members for tickets to the game. Two days later — eons in the social media world — UT officials released a statement saying that wasn’t true.”

This is another example of why executives who fail to include PR-influeced thinking in making decisions can be doomed. While change may be needed (in this case, the Athletic Department incurred a financial loss for the first time in more than a decade), change is made easier through careful communication. When PR is involved on the front end of situations to prevent messes, not just asked to clean up after messes are made, that’s good for all.

For organizations that still receive media coverage in the age of consolidation and cutbacks, particularly where customers are fans, the margin of error for missteps has never been lower.

Marketplace Moves New Music Tuesdays

Monday, September 7th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 3.50.43 PMIn recent weeks, the official release day for all music worldwide almost quietly moved from Tuesday in the U.S. to Friday everywhere.  Previously, new music also debuted Fridays in Australia and Mondays in the U.K.  The reason, as recently reported by Brian Mansfield in the USA Today, is fairly simple: With music being consumed differently today via streaming and online sources, the old “bricks and mortar” methodology has largely become obsolete. The only real wonder is why this change did not happen sooner.

Previously, retailers could sell through initial demand early in the week and still have time to gauge continuing interest and order more in time for the weekend.  The new model, however, is necessitating these same retailers anticipating that demand in advance and pre-ordering in appropriate numbers accordingly.

Another dynamic, reports Mansfield, is how bands touring worldwide will overcome the challenge of a uniform release date when, previously, according to Keith Caulfield of Billboard, “they could appear in Australia, then Europe, then the U.S. to maximize their visibility throughout the week, as the album was released” via a staggered schedule.

On the positive side, says Tom Becci of Universal Music in the USA Today piece, when a new song leaked on a Thursday or Friday before a Tuesday U.S. release, weekend pirating ramped up dramatically.  A universal Friday debut date, he feels, will lead to more legal downloads and, in turn, less demand for illegal fare.

Like anything else, time will tell and an evolving marketplace will continue dictate what changes and what stays the same – a bit akin to the movie industry where the hottest new movies, forever released on Fridays afternoon/evenings, are now more often unveiled 12-13 hours earlier at midnight, in order to maximize buzz and weekend box office takes. Like anything else in marketing, its all about adapting to demand and to the wants and needs of your audience.