Archive for the ‘media’ Category

NBC = Needs Basic Crisis PR

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

CrshV_OaNow that NBC’s Brian Williams mess enters its second week, and public reaction seems to range from amusement to outrage, we see, once again, how no industry handles a PR crisis worse than the media business.

This is something we first pointed out two years ago. In this case, think about about this situation was handled. First, the highest-profile company spokesman is put on TV, within an hour of the story breaking, to talk about it. Two factors made this unsuccessful. First, the spokesperson was the subject of the story and second, he was woefully underprepared, using the term “misremembered” that may forever be associated with this ordeal. What a difference it would have made if NBC had bought itself some time.

Then, NBC failed to contain the crisis on Thursday and Friday by letting it spread and grow on multiple platforms while, by its relative silence, taking the “Frank Drebin Approach” to PR. The only thing the network announced is that it would handle an investigation about what happened internally, with one of its own journalists leading the investigation. A news organization, with its credibility under scrutiny because of the actions of its main anchor (and, importantly managing editor) decides someone else from its own ranks should investigate? How does that make sense?

Finally, on Saturday, Williams issued a statement saying he will take a leave of absence for “several days” because he was the subject of so much news, which had been the case for more than three days. What a mess. If this had been a corporation or government agency making so many PR missteps, you can bet NBC’s talk platforms would be filled with analysis and criticism.

This is a very challenging point for NBC News management, which is now an organization mired in multiple crises. Its longtime cash cow, “Today,” has slipped almost beyond recognition. Its nightly newscasts are watched by an increasingly elderly audience. Its cable unit, MSNBC, may need yet another remake. Its iconic “Meet The Press” lags behind rivals. Networks don’t have the anchor stables they once did by throwing cash at talent just to keep them away from other networks. Do they fire Brian Williams? Do they suspend him? Do they send him on an apology tour (which, if so, should include its hundreds of affiliates who are unwillingly dragged into this)? Whatever they do, a PR strategy should be paramount. We’ll soon find out if they have one.

Why PR Needs Newspapers

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

newspapersFor nearly 30 years, the Detroit market has served as something of a laboratory for the media business. Because of a joint operating agreement (JOA) that survived a challenge that went all of the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, the two Detroit-based daily newspapers have survived a labor strike, multiple regional and national recessions and profound global changes in customer information consumption habits, while sharing business operations and maintaining editorial operations. Even with shrinking staffs and plunging revenues, the two “papers” (as they’re still called even though their primary focus has tilted toward their online products), still, for the most part, set the agenda for daily news coverage.

A new report by Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Bill Shea provides a potential reality check into the business of the JOA, suggesting that looming ownership changes at both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News and an opt-out close that could take effect later this year could create more uncertainty about the papers’ futures.

We, in PR, despite the constant consolidation of the past decade, have benefitted greatly from having two daily, regional newspapers with statewide impact in print and often national impact online. As challenging as it is to get stories told in the mainstream media now, it is even tougher in markets with just one “daily” in a current form. Overall, two newspapers leads to better and deeper relationships for professionals who have the ability to develop them.

Other than paying for subscriptions and regularly providing compelling content, I’m not sure what else we can do. But, for all of us in PR in the Detroit area it’s in our best interest that these two outlets to survive and, if it’s possible, thrive for as long as possible. Elsewhere around the country, PR should have the same interest in viable newspapers, along with strong online-only news outlets, TV stations legitimately committed to news and radio stations that will do more than just read headlines.

But it’s about a lot more than just coverage for our clients. The fear of “bad press” can be a motivator for those in power, whether it be in politics, business, education or anywhere else where a case could be made that public trust matters. Sometimes, that fear is what ultimately compels those who would otherwise ignore a situation, or worse, to do the right thing. Without a fraction of that factor or, shudder to think, all of it, having fewer “news holes” would be the least of our challenges on this side of The Business.

Why The CNBC-Nielsen Divorce Had To Happen

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

UnknownAs much as the media business has changed in recent years, the TV business is still, to a great extent, set up to cater to Ward Cleaver’s lifestyle.

The same network evening weekday schedule, developed in a bygone era, is in place today, as if to cater to early dinnertimes, after dad walks home from his 9-5 job. Local news at 6, network news at 6:30, an hour for local stations at 7, followed by network programming in the evening then a late local newscast, before a late night network show. It’s one of the few media elements that can unite generations.

The same has gone for the way TV has been measured. While technology has evolved, the most important number in the TV ratings game has been the count of “households” watching. That’s because, when the Cleavers and their contemporaries watched TV, it was only at home (and only one TV). All of these decades later, the Nielsen ratings system is still home-based.

But consider CNBC. The network’s live business coverage and conversation is among the rare “DVR-proof” content on TV. That makes it theoretically more valuable to advertisers.But they don’t have the ratings to show for it because, not surprisingly, businesspeople watch daytime TV at work (where there’s a flat screen in virtually every office suite), rather than at home. Since CNBC’s inception, those sought-after viewers have never been counted to determine the channel’s ratings. That’s why CNBC has dumped the Nielsen ratings service, as explained in the Wall Street Journal.

This overdue move could signal an increasing intolerance for the flawed system that has long determined fates and fortunes in the TV business. One advantage Web platform have over broadcast is the precision of audience measurement. For example, we’ll know exactly how many individuals read this post. But, we will never really know exactly how many will see a story that appears on TV. In order for broadcast outlets to maintain their roles as cash cows for their corporate owners, they must be able to sell advertisers on their audiences.

Some company must be able to deliver accurate audience data. It appears if broadcasters just “Leave It To Nielsen,” they will fall behind in the analytics game.

Watching More Than Football On New Year’s Day

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

UnknownWhen the University of Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh to be its Head Football Coach this week, the millions in salary announced along with the hire shocked those who don’t follow the businesses of media and sports closely. But the reason why he and other football coaches outlearn many business CEOs is on display on your your flat screen TV today.

If you’re watching college football today and/or tonight, you’re watching TV differently from how so many will watch TV in 2015 and it’s the fuel for bigger money and bigger stakes in big time college sports. That’s because you’re watching commercials too, rather than fast-forwarding through them on your DVR.

College football is America’s second most popular TV sport, second only to pro football. And it’s just about DVR proof, as virtually all fans prefer to watch games live, whenever possible. That means advertisers are virtually guaranteed the maximum value for their commercials and they will pay a premium for them. That translates into rising rights fees paid from the TV networks to the colleges that are members of the “Power 5″ athletic conferences. That “football money” gives them more to do whatever they feel like they need to do to have a competitive football team that wins games and the prestige that comes along with that. That is the money that makes even assistant coaches millionaires.

It’s a chain that starts with getting you in front of the TV to watch commercials, along with football.

The 6 Months That Changed Detroit Media Forever

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

01Everywhere you go in and around Detroit this week, you hear talk about the death of a true media icon- Bill Bonds, the news anchor at undisputed #1 WXYZ-TV from the ’70s through the early ’90s. He was a bona fide TV star and attracted a now unfathomably huge audience of both fans and what would now be called “haters.” As one of his former producers once told me, “With Bill, we could have run test patterns and Bonanza reruns in between newscasts and still been #1.”

I never worked with Bonds or competed directly against him, but I ended up in his Detroit News obituary over the weekend because of a little insight I shared with a reporter. I remarked that “Detroit really became the competitive news market it is today after he left Channel 7.”

While I know that statement to be absolutely true, I decided to do some digging about the context of his departure, as I was working in TV outside of the market at the time. Sure enough, it was the first in a series of coincidental events over just six months that changed the Detroit media market forever.

WXYZ-TV fired Bill Bonds on January 11, 1995 after a series of alcohol-related issues. At the time, the station’s general manager told Crain’s Detroit Business “We are not concerned” about his departure. As a reporter noted, “Life without Bill Bonds isn’t expected to be much different from life with him at Channel 7 – except calmer – said executives.”

How wrong that proved to be. Bonds’ departure from WXYZ paved the way to parity in the Detroit TV market. WDIV-TV, which had been nipping at WXYZ’s heels as a strong #2 station, thanks to consistent anchors and strong NBC lead-ins, did what would have been unthinkable just a decade earlier and frequently overtook WXYZ in the ratings in the coming years making it, as one consultant called it in the late ’90s, “the most competitive two station race in the country.” Although, when I started at WDIV in 1996, 18 months after Bonds left WXYZ, many of the WDIV newscasts were still arranged in what can only be described as “Beat Bonds” mode. It took another year or so to break those habits in news rundowns and react to changes WXYZ had made after he left.

Just two weeks after Bonds was fired, on January 23, 1995, the O.J. Simpson trial began. The “Trial of the Century” was essentially free ratings-grabbing content that helped teach local TV stations how to attract an newscast audience without any local reporting. That proved to be catnip for cost-cutting managers in Detroit and everywhere else.

At the same time, starting in earnest with the February ratings period, new Fox affiliate WJBK-TV (which had recently switched from CBS) was adding news in the morning and establishing itself at 10 p.m. It was capitalizing on underserved day parts for news. The longtime #3 news operation (one 1995 article described its ratings in key news times as “anemic”) was establishing a point of difference rather than just trying to compete head-to-head-to-head.

In July of 1995, workers at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News went on strike. Without going into the gory details, it’s safe to write that the once-mighty newspapers were diminished by decreased circulation, hits on advertising and striking, experienced journalists who never returned.

The firing of the biggest TV audience draw the market has ever seen, the TV trial that helped form a “new normal,” the beginnings of three-way competition among TV outlets and the “game changing” newspaper strike all occurred within six months. Of course, the proliferation of the Internet (not to mention digital cable and satellite TV) had a greater impact on collective media than even this remarkable confluence of events. But that all happened over a much longer period of time. Much of what we see at work, in this market and others, is directly attributable to what happened in a fraction of 1995.

One additional note from the research for this piece. In February 1995, Crain’s Detroit Business reported that during the end of the Bonds Era at WXYZ-TV, a 30-second spot on the 11 p.m. news cost up to $3000 at both WXYZ and WDIV. In today’s dollars, according to two calculator websites, that’s $4670. A media buying professional tells me the most seen spent this year on a 30-second spot this year was just $1000. That, above all, explains the expansion into morning news, weekend morning news, late morning news, afternoon news, early evening news all, of course, with continuing budget cuts and restrictions. Like many businesses, TV stations have had to add volume to deliver mandated profits to their corporate owners.

The PR You Want May Not Be The PR You Need

Monday, November 24th, 2014

shutterstock_73029673Here’s some perspective from our colleague Kristin Sokul, based on some recent experience:

With so many avenues to communicate in different ways to different audiences, it’s no surprise that when it comes to business communications, sometimes what you think you want isn’t what you need.

I recently met with a business to discuss the media relations and social media strategy their former PR firm had recommended before they parted ways. They didn’t want to skip a beat with local television and radio stations that covered them for annual consumer pieces, and they were ready to take the social media plunge because, simply, “isn’t every company investing their resources in Facebook and Twitter?” Yet, when we talked about who their target audiences are and how they generate business, neither of these answers pointed toward the business-to-consumer targets they were reaching under their current strategy.

After spending some time listening to their actual goals and whom they really needed to reach, it became obvious that the campaign they were sold on should have actually been a business-to-business strategy. Unfortunately, they had been led astray from the media outlets that should have been hearing their story and the social media platforms that would make the connections they need.

By the time we concluded our meeting, the business’ management determined it needed to rethink its entire approach to communications.

As public relations strategists, it’s our responsibility to counsel our potential and existing clients with strategies tailored to their business objectives and exhibit the kind of leadership to help businesses consider what communications tactics they need.

Sometimes what the company needs is obvious, and sometimes it takes a dedicated planning process to identify those needs and prioritize them, but any firm that has all the answers without first asking the right questions should be viewed with a critical eye.

The strategies and tactics selected should support the end goals of the overall business plan if it’s really going to be effective. Some firms may rely on the “easy wins” or build a strategy based on what the client thinks it wants, not what it needs. In the short term, both are happy with one another, but weeks, months or years later when all the communications goals have been met, but the “needle doesn’t move,” someone has some explaining to do. Instead, it should be the firm that does the explaining, right from the beginning.

Bright Careers on the “Dark Side”

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

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

Monday, October 13th, 2014

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.

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

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.

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

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

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.