Archive for the ‘media’ Category

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.

A Coach’s Headset Proves Perceptions Win

Monday, September 8th, 2014

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Michigan vs Virginia TechThe cliche says “perception is reality.” Unlike the many myths that circulate about human opinion, that one often holds true. Once again, sports provides us with an example that demonstrates how perception dominates thinking. This example has spread through social media and sports talk radio and, now, into mainstream traditional media coverage.

Brady Hoke is the Head Football Coach at the University of Michigan. Since his arrival as the football boss in Ann Arbor, Hoke has an inconsistent won-loss record. While skilled as a recruiter of both assistant coaches and players, interviews and press conferences are not his strong suit. What fans and reporters hear is a mix of coach-speak and simplistic answers. We have no idea what his players and coaches hear in private. But what really shapes Hoke’s reputation is the fact that he doesn’t often wear a headset while coaching on the sidelines during games.

“What’s the big deal?” It somehow creates the perceptions with fans and critics alike that, coupled with his public persona otherwise, that Hoke is, essentially, a “big dumb jock.” Football fans fancy their head coaches as “field generals,” who are in control of men and tacticians who order plays via headset, just like coaches such as Michigan’s legendary Bo Schembechler. Schembechler’s Sports Illustrated photo gallery‘s first two photos show him wearing a headset.

The “headset issue” has led some (many?) to believe a range of perceptions. That Hoke is just a rah-rah leader, that he’s just a figurehead, that Athletic Director Dave Brandon is running the game management or that Hoke is simply not smart enough to make decisions during a football game. Today, this went mainstream with Detroit News columnist Terry Foster’s piece calling for Hoke’s likely firing, with the headset “situation” as a support argument (really).

That’s the perception. The reality, I’m told by a sports professional who carefully has watched the Michigan sidelines during games for Hoke’s entire tenure, is that he’s constantly in communication with his coordinators, especially now that his offensive coordinator coaches from the sidelines. Hoke has a graduate assistant with him to help as a conduit for that communication. He pays his attention, otherwise, to players who are coming off and on the field during the game.

Brady Hoke may or may not be a competent head coach. The truth is the fact that he doesn’t like to wear a headset will not decide that question. Like all of us in our jobs, results will. And that’s just reality.

Don’t Let Emotion Guide Your Crisis Media Analysis

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

emotionsWorking as an outside voice on a client project that’s filled with emotion can be one of the biggest challenges in PR. You are brought in to operate above the fray and provide counsel that takes the emotion of the situation into account, but not be driven by it.

Recently, one of these crises was covered by a community news outlet. The president of the client organization asked me to review the comprehensive story that chronicled the latest on the emotionally-charged controversy. I read the lengthy piece and advised that while the story contained a little sloppy writing, it was overall very fair, included points of view from both sides and carried a headline closely aligned with the message the client wants to communicate. There were several points of view from the “other side” that the client wouldn’t like to see in print, but the news organization was just doing its job.

The president responded that “It is not fair.The article…simply gives (the other side) a forum.” I explained that giving both sides in a controversy is, journalistically, the definition of a fair piece. After a little back and forth, the discussion ended, but I realized just how common these conversations are in our business.

Clients need to remember that there’s no reason for us to want anything other than fair coverage, at the very least, for them. During coverage of a controversy, the story is factually correct, if opposing viewpoints are all attributed to the opposition, if your point of view is included and your messages are getting out and if a reporter is respectful of your position, then you have all the ingredients fair story. It’s our job to help you see it that way.

Too often, emotion clouds decision-making during difficult situations. Emotion can also cloud analysis. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced professional provide the perspective to understand how the public really sees your news coverage.

Now You See Him, Now You Hear Him Too

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

17212275_BG1It may well be unprecedented.  This week, it was announced that Fox-2 Weekend anchor Jay Towers would be replacing Alan Lee on the weekday Fox Morning News program. Lee left in recent days to pursue his passion for writing books.  And what of Towers’ morning show on WNIC?  Oh, he’ll be doing that too – simultaneously.  Unprecedented for sure and sure to be quite logistically interesting.

A radio talent broadcasting on television at the same time is certainly nothing new. Don Imus simulcasts his Cumulus Radio program over the Fox Business Network, much as he did his ABC radio show on MSNBC-TV before the Rutgers women’s basketball team controversy brought a temporary end to his dual medium diatribes. “Mike and Mike” have appeared in words and pictures on ESPN Radio and television for the better part of the past 16 years.  And, more recently, Dan Patrick’s Premiere Radio Network program has become a stable of the NBC television Sports Network. As for TV on the radio, just turn on Sirius XM to hear what is being broadcast on literally hundreds of television networks – including news outlets like CNN and MSNBC.

What is unique in the case of Fox-2 and WNIC, of course, is that Jay Towers will be anchoring two different shows at virtually the same time.  Can it be done? If anyone can do it, Towers and Clear Channel can.  With boundless energy, Towers has, for all intents and purposes, worked a 7-day week for years. Weekdays on 100.3 FM and weekends on WJBK-TV doesn’t allow for much time off or sleeping in.  Now with two days off each week, his newfound life should bring new life to his ‘can-do’ M.O. Clear Channel Radio on the other hand, is the originator of voice-tracking and pre-recorded radio segments. To be sure, more of Tower’s radio show will have to go this route out of necessity while also relying more on his sidekicks for time checks and real-time news, traffic and weather.

What is perhaps most interesting is the cooperation between Fox-TV and Clear Channel Radio to make this polygamedia relationship possible. Both undoubtedly understand the ratings pull that a popular personality such as a Jay Towers brings to the table, in particular considering his years of successful service to both entities. In the end it will be quite interesting to see and hear how this juggling act comes to fruition and whether listeners or viewers can tell the difference. I would suggest they at least appreciate the effort and broadcast history in the making.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Craig Fahle Exits WDET: Big Shoes, Shows to Fill

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

bildeDick Purtan. JJ and Lynne. Drew and Mike. Ken Calvert. Joe Donovan. Arthur Penhallow.  All longtime Detroit radio legends who have either exited the airwaves in a recent month or year or moved from drivetime.  And, while the name Craig Fahle is perhaps not as well known or endured as long, his exit on Friday from WDET-FM after nearly a decade as the station’s top day-to-day air personality is significant. Bill Shea’s story in this week’s Crain’s Detroit Business tells the tale well with a bit of my perspective thrown in.  Read the piece here.

If you never took the opportunity to listen to Craig Fahle, you missed out; although you can still hear him via archived podcasts at WDET.org.  I and members of the Tanner Friedman team had the good fortune to work with Craig on many occasions through the years, booking our clients on his show. No matter the topic, no matter the guest, Craig Fahle was always prepared.  He has, in fact, always been known for his voracious reading and thorough show prep.  As a guest myself on his show after publishing the updated version of my book on radio: “No Static at All,” I was amazed at how much of my book he had devoured and maintained a recall of as he asked his questions and made his points.

From a ratings standpoint, one might look at Fahle’s or WDET’s numbers in general and be less than impressed.  Yet, statistics alone can be very deceiving. Public Radio stations, with their schedules of varied niche programs typically never see the numbers of popular commercial stations.  Fahle’s 9a-11a show, however, typically enjoyed a respectable 7,000 listeners a day; another 4,500 at night during the 7p-9p repeat of his broadcast.  And, even more importantly, Fahle held his listeners for an amazing 45 minutes at a time, 30 minutes at night. Bottom line: his listeners were dedicated – vital for fundraising for a non-commercial entity.

So, what’s next? For Fahle, a new role as Director of Public Affairs for the Detroit Land Bank Authority.  And while the move was at first shocking it was not surprising, considering Fahle’s love of the city and desire to make a difference. For WDET, there are big shoes and two time slots to fill.  I hope the station takes its time and considers its candidates carefully to find genuine, informed, dedicated, non-promotional, non-agended and a person who truly cares about Detroit. It’s what Craig Fahle brought to the airwaves everyday and what we all deserve more of.