Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Media Pros Opine on Today, Tomorrow

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

imagesHow is media evolving and adapting today to market forces and realities? What does the future hold?  These are questions that many of us ask everyday. Today, PRSA Detroit met the media and posed those very questions at a morning program with some enlightening results. The event featured a roundtable discussion with Alan Stamm/Deadline Detroit, Marge Sorge/Detroit News Hub, Jon Zemke/Metro Mode-Model D and Dustin Blitchok/Metro Times.  Yours truly had the good fortune to moderate in my role as 2016 Chapter president.  No journalist shied away from any topic or question; on the contrary all were candid and open.

How is media evolving and adapting today? For one thing it is doing more with less. Less people, less money and less time.  What none of these seasoned veterans will ever compromise is journalistic integrity and quality.  Yet, that is continually challenged, as Marge Sorge noted, by buyouts and early retirements whereby up and comers miss out on the mentoring of those who have been there done that.  After all, any skilled trade requires apprenticeships.

Moreover, less available time portends a need to receive materials from communications and PR professionals that are tailored, ready-made and more substantial (without overwhelming).  For example, a press release sent to one of these online outlets on a charity event should also include a couple of interesting photos as well as an event logo – even a short video snippet if apropos.

As for the future, who knows exactly.  The panel pointed to traditional print media outlets across the country that are already going entirely online save perhaps a Sunday print edition.  Also expected are more foundation-supported and organizational (i.e. union) news sources with, of course, their respective individual biases.

We are all staying tuned, of course, for what may come next.  Some can be anticipated while others cannot.  One thing, though, is certain. In the world of media, the more things change, the even less they stay the same.

 

 

“You Cut My Favorite Anchor.” “I Don’t Care.”

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Famous-Improvised-Movie-Moments-EMGN4When word got out this week that a highly-rated local TV station, owned by a global public corporation, was letting go three popular, respected on-air anchors and reporters amid other cuts, we started getting questions. Don’t they understand how much the audiences likes and trusts these guys? Don’t they get that they will lose viewers in the long term? Aren’t they concerned this will hurt their product?

I believe local management does understand that and is concerned about it. We know them and work with them. This is a station that takes its community role seriously and this has to hit hard. But, ultimately, in today’s media world, it isn’t their call. As one former general manager once told me about most local stations, “They’re an ATM for headquarters.” It used to be all about gaining ratings points and selling commercials. If ratings and sales were good, headquarters would leave you alone. Today, as with every public company, it’s about making a corporate spreadsheet look a certain way. Yes, management by Excel document dictates who you see on TV.

It reminds me of the famous scene in the movie “The Fugitive.” The escaped prisoner, played by Harrison Ford tells the Deputy Marshal, played by Tommy Lee Jones that “I didn’t kill my wife.” Jones, whose only job was to find him, responds, “I don’t care.”

In the powerful accounting and finance departments of big public companies, when it comes to things like customer loyalty, brand building and long-term reputation, they don’t care. They really only care about three things – hitting their numbers, hitting their numbers and hitting their numbers. It’s all about this quarter’s targets and meeting number expectations for this year. The cruel reality is that while journalists lose their jobs, headquarters bean counters will earn bonuses for making their marks.

This is just how it works with Wall Street. Several years ago, we did enormously successful work for a New York-based public company. While providing highly-specialized niche services, we received accolades from within the company and won awards within our industry. We accomplished this at a tiny fraction of the cost of the global firms the company used otherwise. But when corporate ordered cuts, our track record and relationships didn’t matter, nor did our efficiency. Someone took a look at a spreadsheet and cut our budget completely, along with some of the big firms’ work and multiple in-house, full-time positions. Not only was there a hole in our business, the company’s corporate communications was decimated and the company’s reputation suffered. But, that’s just not a priority in the modern corporate world.

We have seen the hard evidence from newspapers and radio that cutting aspects of the product that customers notice is not a pathway to growth or increased relevance in a fast-changing media landscape. TV follows this path at its own risk. They will hit their numbers now, but risk their long-term viability. The number crunchers just don’t care.

Everyone Needs A Murray Feldman

Monday, March 28th, 2016

hqdefaultI firmly believe that success in business and in life are not possible without mentors and role models. Looking back, I’m thankful that nobody had that better than me. I realize this now, as one of the professionals most instrumental to my early accomplishments in communication is, maybe for the first time ever, the subject of news rather than the one reporting it.

Murray Feldman has been at Detroit’s WJBK-TV for 40 years. I met him 30 years ago. He let me spend an off day from school shadowing him in the newsroom and out on stories. Just days after my 16th birthday, he invited me to spend a whole week off school doing the same. At the beginning of the week, I was opening his mail. By the end of the week, he had me at the typewriter, writing stories for air (on carbon paper).

A few months later, I landed what I thought was a big interview with a radio personality for my community radio station. But when I got back to the station, I realized the interview didn’t come out. It was a blank tape. I was devastated. As hormones pumped through my body, tears ran down my face. I got home, plopped on my bed and looked at the carbon copies of the scripts I had written not long before. I called Murray for advice. He told me it happens to everyone. It has happened to him. It’s part of the business of electronic journalism. Sometimes the equipment fails. My focus now should be looking forward, not back. So, I did.

I’d send Murray tapes, he’d send me critiques. When I got to college, he helped me get an internship at Channel 2, rare for a freshman (the photo here is from that year). I got to work half-time with him and half-time for his Executive Producer. That EP soon became the news director at WWJ Radio and gave me my first paying job. Murray has done business reporting for WWJ, in addition to his TV work, for about 30 years, so we became colleagues. He was always honest about “The Business” and never tried to do anything but help me chart my own path.

Murray was my first phone call after my parents when I got my first full-time broadcast news job. He was my first phone call when I became an equity partner in a PR firm. I talked to him on the first day of Tanner Friedman. He has always been encouraging, nurturing and in my corner.

Thanks to Murray, I have now been among news people for 30 years. I have never met anyone in the media industry with his consistent class, professionalism, attention to detail and commitment to teaching. After 40 plus years as “talent,” he has never thrown a tantrum, never acted like a stereotypical anchor. He has been anything but.

Now, Crain’s Detroit Business reports he’s leaving the station. Circumstances aren’t clear (Fox doesn’t allow its journalists to talk to reporters, keeping a “corporate employee” type policy). I just hope he’s leaving on his own terms. While I’ll miss working with him on stories, maybe we’ll have more time for lunches and dinners? I’m trying to be like Murray – to think positive, to look forward, not too far back.

Everyone who wants to be successful needs a Murray Feldman. I will be eternally grateful that mine has been Murray Feldman himself.

CBS Is Getting Out Of Radio? What About You?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

cbsradioCBS Radio owns many of the best radio stations and employs many of the best broadcasters in the country. Its top stations generate profit margins so large they almost don’t even seem real to business people when they learn about them. But yesterday, CBS announced to investors that it plans to get out of the radio business.

CBS? Out of the radio business? The business that started it all, as its logo brags, in 1928? Wouldn’t that be like Ford getting out of selling cars or Kellogg getting out of cereal?

Maybe it would, except ABC got out a decade ago, with Disney selling its radio division to a company called Citadel, which ended up in Bankruptcy. And NBC has been out of owning and operating radio stations since the late ’80s.

For CBS, like just about everything traditional media, radio has moved in recent years from “slow growth” to “no growth” to “declining revenue.” That means it has been treated as a failing business. There are many reasons for it across the board, including dramatically changing media consumption habits and a “moving target” approach by advertisers chasing elusive audiences, unsure of where to get the most for their dollars. But, among the reasons is a lack of investment in product and the inability to introduce the product to new audiences. Stations have seemingly been in cost cutting mode for almost 25 years.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I posted this on Facebook last night: “Question for those younger than 40 who drive a car: What if there was a way for you to get updated on live news without a particular political focus – more than headlines but less than long-form reporting – get updated weather forecasts and traffic information and even sports information, all while you’re safely driving, rather than looking at your phone, piped through the speakers in your car. Cost to you? Nothing, as long as you’ll be exposed to some advertising. Would you be interested in such a thing? Why or why not?”

I got a few serious responses but the punchline here is that product exists in CBS’ largest markets in the all-news radio format, which has been a money maker and audience grabber for decades. But its audience is getting older and it makes me wonder if the younger audience was ever given a chance to find it and experience its usefulness and ease. Is there any chance there are more of them listening, just not being measured? Do they really want to carry around a pager-sized Portable People Meter? Those could be, quite literally, billion dollar questions.

All-news radio, when done well, can be the greatest form of media in the moments when you need it most. I think of last summer, driving from the Chicago suburbs to Detroit, trying to get in front of a storm that included a tornado. I could actually see the storm in my rear view mirror as I drove through Downtown Chicago in traffic, trying to get south then east as soon as I could. CBS’ WBBM kept me updated every step of the way, keeping me informed, calm and reassured between traffic updates, weather updates and “all hands on deck” coverage, with reporters, even those on days off, calling in from across the region. This all happened live, on a Sunday afternoon, while every other station in the market was playing music or syndicated programming. If CBS doesn’t do live news, who will? That’s a scary question. For some of us anyway.

Radio was my first communications love. The first paycheck I ever earned in communications was cut by CBS Radio. I remember an old timer telling me then, “As long as you stick with CBS, Westinghouse or Infinity, you’ll always have a job in radio news.” For the past 20 years, those have been one company. Soon, they won’t be a company at all. That, above all, illustrates the profound changes in media that just won’t stop.

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.