Archive for the ‘media’ Category

The Ticket To 20 Years Of Motivation For TV and PR

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Legal padIf there’s one key to success in whatever you do, it’s motivation. Sometimes, during challenging stretches, you need to find motivation from new places, just to walk through the office door to face a grinding day. Here’s a story of where I store some extra motivation that I can access when I need it, like tapping a reserve fuel tank, that I hope can be helpful to you.

20 years ago this month, I made what ended up being a significant career and life decision to leave my job at a number one station in a top-ten market for a poorly-rated station in a smaller market. At the time, my employer, WSB-TV in Atlanta, had the most-watched local news operation in the country. For the first time in my career, I had to tell my bosses that I had decided to leave to accept another job offer. That offer was from WCPX-TV in Orlando, which fit the industry cliche at the time – “A number four station in a three station market.”

Because everyone “ahead” of me was under contract, WSB essentially offered me two more years of producing on the weekends and writing during the week. WCPX offered me a chance to hone my producing skills five days per week, Monday through Friday, as a part of a team trying to build a winner, working for an Executive Producer who had been my colleague at WSB. I made the move I thought was best to build my career and accepted the job of 10:00 News Producer (WCPX produced a nightly 10:00 news show for “UHF” station WKCF-TV).

To say the management at WSB didn’t see it my way would be an understatement. The same company owned a station in Orlando. They saw it as me leaving for a lowly-regarded competitor. The Assistant News Director shouted “You’re leaving for a cable show? I mean, I would understand if you were leaving for another number one station.” I was called to the General Manager’s office who declared, “You’re throwing your career away. You’re going to come back here asking for your job back and the answer will be ‘no.’” The Executive Editor, my immediate supervisor, wouldn’t look me in the eye and didn’t speak to me for my final two weeks. Maybe I should have been flattered? Maybe they were just freaked out that the “young guy” willing to work Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, Saturday morning and Sunday from 7am-7pm, usually getting called in on Monday and/or Tuesday, would be hard to replace on the schedule? I was just confused. Breaking up is, indeed, hard to do.

But the most powerful zing that day came from the News Director. A large, imposing man with a booming voice, on his way out the door that night, came over to my desk, reached across it with a pen, found a piece of paper and wrote “1.3/2″ on it. “Do you know what that is?” he asked. “I think so,” I said. He said, “It’s the rating and share for your new newscast from last night. Good luck with that.” In other words, in his skeptical mind, I was leaving a secure ratings powerhouse for unsalvageable microscopic scraps. That was all of the motivation I needed.

I went into the Orlando experience with a fire inside that I had never felt before and wouldn’t feel again until co-founding Tanner Friedman. I was determined to raise the ratings and had full support of my bosses and anchor. I helped make some tweaks, tried to inject energy that the audience could feel and tried to provide advocacy for the product. Several months later, when the show was enjoying ratings in the 4s and 5s instead of 1s and 2s, I was moved to other newscasts to “try to do the same things.” A year later, I was on my way back to the Top 10, to Detroit TV, as a proven producing commodity with a reputation for helping to fix issues.

I still have that mangled sheet from a legal pad with the News Director’s handwriting on it. It’s there for me when I need it, nestled in a basement file drawer. It helped propel me to a career and personal experience in Orlando that I’ll always cherish. From time to time, it still helps to this day. To get that battery charged when you need it, I recommend figuring out what’s your “piece of paper.”

“8 Track” Tale of Past Technology, Modern Application

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 4.59.56 PMIf you know anything about me, you know that I absolutely love music, radio and pop culture. You may also know that I wrote a book on all of those things called, ”No Static at All – a behind the scenes journey through radio and pop music.” As such, I have tremendous respect for authors and also count among my great passions writing and reading.

That’s why R.J. King’s new book, “8 Track – The First Mobile App” holds such great appeal for me.  Released in recent days by the longtime, award-winning journalist and dbusiness magazine founder and editor, “8 Track” takes readers through a multi-year journey of invention, innovation and consumer applications, much of which I had never heard of before.

In the mid-to-late 70s, I recall the 8-track player as being as much a temporary media fad as anything else.  Growing up with vinyl – first 45s and then 33 1/3s – the 8-track was an oddity that clicked between cuts and, at one point on each 8 Track cassette, faded out in the middle of a song only to fade back in for its completion, post-click.  My purchases of this medium were few with the Steve Miller Band’s “Book of Dreams” and Kiss’ “Kiss Alive II” being the only ones I can recall.  The smaller, more portable cassette tape (on which we taped music off the radio or record album) would soon catch on to a greater degree with my generation, in particular for mix tapes and car radios.

Ahh, cars.  King’s book recounts with detail how, in the 1960s, the 8-track player was originally perfected and utilized by and for the auto industry in conjunction with competing inventors Earl Muntz and Bill Lear; the latter of Lear jet fame. Lear, in fact, had originally dabbled in the technology for potential use in his corporate jets where radio signals were unusable. Muntz pushed a 4 Track option (again, I had never heard of), Lear the 8.  The technology would soon “wow” everyone from radio stations and record companies to manufacturers, distributors and, of course, the public.  First in automobiles where it outperformed air conditioning as an option then on to the consumer market where it caught on like hot cakes.

The book is obviously a labor of love for King whose dad, John P. King, was hired by Ford Motor Company in 1965 as the project engineer who would see the 8 Track project to fruition, including through collaborations with Motorola’s radio production facility and RCA’s record factory.  The story of the 8 Track is tumultuous and ingenuous, cut throat and cutting edge.  It was a technology whose time had come and would eventually pass but not before leaving an indelible mark on the history of music and engineering. King captures it well, like sound on magnetic tape, to be consumed and enjoyed.

Here’s Why You Cared About Britt McHenry’s Video

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

images-1In the midst of all that is going on in the news – and an active time of the year for sports – a “B List” ESPN sportscaster berating the employee of a towing company on a security camera doesn’t seem like it would become one of the most talked about news stories of the week. But get below the surface just a bit and you’ll understand why Britt McHenry is now the focus of so much talk, on the air and online.

There are multiple factors at work. First, as a culture, we are fascinated by seeing people via video who are acting like they aren’t being captured on video. That has been true since the days when Allen Funt first became became a household name.

But most notably, there is a media reality that we experience on a regular basis. Media consumers really want to know what the people they see, hear and read “are like in real life.” Because we work with visible journalists and media personalities on a regular basis, we are frequently asked “Is he a good guy?” or “Is she as sweet as she seems like she is?” A few years ago, I spent the bulk of a basketball game with friends of a friend answering questions from a police officer/avid news viewer along those lines. He went through essentially a checklist of every reporter and anchor in the market.

That factor played huge into the ongoing discussion of McHenry. Can someone who presents themselves professionally while on TV turn into such a prima donna away from work? The answer is yes, sometimes. But, based on 25 years in and around media, the vast majority of people you see on TV, hear on the radio and read in print or online are “in real life” exactly how you would expect them to be if you pay attention to their work. Yes, there are exceptions to that and, when I talk about them, it seems like consumers of media are fascinated by it.

Another note on this: There are some in the audience who resent news and sports media in a way right out of the 1985 Dire Straits song “Money For Nothing.” While the viewers feels like they work hard all day, some “yo yos” get paid “big bucks” to talk about sports or read news off of a script. And in the electronic age, a skill like column writing seems to some readers like it’s as easy as posting on Facebook (it’s not, at all). When something like this happens to someone like an ESPN reporter, it just feeds that unhealthy negativity. In this perilous environment, that’s about the last thing the media profession needs.

Remembering Mike Fezzey and the Media-Community Connection

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

B99256315Z.1_20150328132245_000_GKMFLRBV.1-0There’s no business in a community that has enough potential to do good for the community than the media business. While reflecting on the sudden loss of friend, client and role model, Mike Fezzey, who ran Detroit’s WJR radio for nearly 20 years, it’s easy to see the stark contrast between those who “get” that potential and those who don’t. The bad news is, so many don’t.

Fezzey often made statements along the lines of “what’s good for the community is good for business.” In WJR, he realized that he had a 50,000 watt asset that could bring the community together and make money for its parent corporation at the same time. It was not one or the other, as it seems to be so often in this age. WJR was a very high-billing radio station and a very community-connected one. That feels like an endangered species today.

Here’s an example. More than a decade ago, I represented a national corporation that had formed a national partnership with an anti-drug organization. They wanted Detroit to be a pilot market to host a local “town hall” meeting on “keeping our communities drug free.” They wanted local broadcast media as partners. I called Mike, who I didn’t know as well at that time as I would later, and he immediately said “yes,” on the phone, to WJR giving up an hour of time to air the forum, with one of its talk personalities as its moderator. There were no corporate approvals needed and no meetings to plan meetings about it. Could that happen today? It doesn’t seem like it.

In this age of corporate mandates, syndication, automation, voice tracking, cost cutting, click baiting and ratings grabbing, how much community involvement do we really see from local media? Not much. How many local media executives do we see sitting on community boards, as Fezzey did so passionately? Very few. How many local media executives can pick up the phone and put coalitions and projects together, as Fezzey did so often? Very few, if any.

After Mike surprisingly (even to him) left radio and became a regional president of a bank, because he saw an opportunity to “do more good” helping Michigan out of The Great Recession with business access to capital, he went “off script” and spoke about his values, rather than just a company pitch, to a business group session I helped put together for him. In the October 2011 speech, he credited former Capital Cities Communications executive Dan Burke with teaching him how business and community can go together. I remember Mike saying, “If you focus on doing business the right way, the profits will come.” I related that to our values and culture at Tanner Friedman and it felt validating and reassuring. Later that day, Burke passed away. Now that we have lost both Fezzey and Burke, who will fill their void in media? If trends continue the way they are, it will be a missed opportunity for so many.

PR Needs To Stop Spamming Media Inboxes

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

flUvRvwWe, as an industry, are doing it wrong.

That’s the feedback from one of our most important customer bases, the journalists we depend on, at least in part, to help us tell our clients’ stories.

A week ago, I moderated a Detroit Regional Chamber panel that featured a TV news planning editor, a business magazine web editor and the senior managing editor of an all-news radio station. All talked about the hundreds of emails they receive every day from PR types, on top of “did you get my press release?” phone calls. All talked about PR being the lifeblood of at least part of their coverage. But all talked about the PR garbage that can get in the way.

Later in the week, a journalist friend called attention to this article via Twitter. It says, in part, “In no small part, corporate communications and PR agency teams are to blame for journalists’ increasing level of stress, a new survey reveals. Lazy PR practitioners send out ineffective emails and half-hearted pitches, most typically via email, for story opportunities they rarely expect to succeed.” 68% of journalists surveyed are unhappy with PR pitches.

This is a serious communications and image crisis for an industry that is supposed to know more than a thing or two about communications and image. The worst part about it is that this broken model is so profitable for so many. PR operations, especially the Big Firms, actually make more money assigning more “worker bees” to assemble bigger media lists and pitch more journalists, even for stories of limited interest, to feed their big overhead. The Detroit web editor’s complaint about a New York agency pitching her New York consumer stories when her employer is squarely focused on Southeast Michigan business news is in direct conflict with the New York agency’s business model. That’s troubling.

Call it “spray and pray.” Call it “mass distribution.” Call it “throwing sh** on the wall to see what sticks.” It simply doesn’t work. Instead, we should all be finely targeting our lists, as we encourage our clients to target their audiences. We need to make editorial decisions, of sorts, before anything goes out.

It’s time to start having respect for journalists. Let’s cut down the clutter in their inboxes and focus on helping them do their jobs, while helping our clients. Any PR professional should be willing to admit that a 32% approval rating means things need to change, even if it costs money.

Sometimes, Sportswriters Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

imagesWriting about sports for a living isn’t as dreamy as it seems. Generally speaking, the hours are lousy, the money is lacking and editors’ appetite for “clickable” content can seem insatiable. As consumers, though, we lap it up and rely on them as our sources of information.

But this weekend, maybe because of personal vendettas against a coach with a long history of erratic, at best, media relations and maybe because of the need to “feed the beast” with content that drives web traffic, some sportswriters ventured into an area where they showed ignorance more than insight.

Syracuse University Head Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim didn’t participate in a post-game news conference after his team’s last game of the season, the day after he was the subject of a blistering report on violations found by investigators from the NCAA after a lengthy process. The report is both ugly and controversial and the University has said that Boeheim plans to appeal at least part of the penalties. Multiple sportswriters ripped Boeheim for not answering media questions. Instead, the University issued a statement attributed to Boeheim and made top Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins available to answer questions about the game.

On the surface, this appears to violate high-level fundamentals of PR. And, on the surface and out of context, I agree with why journalists would be critical. However, in the Real World and in context, these sportswriters prove that they are ignorant to the factors that go into this type of decision-making. Unless you have sat in the conference rooms and participated in the conference calls, drafted and redrafted statements and gone toe-to-toe with administrators and legal counsel, you have no idea. We have done all of those things and, simply, in this case, the sportswriters don’t know what they don’t know.

Based on previous experience I can confidently say that the post-game press conference decision was not Boeheim’s alone, as sportswriters have alleged. This was a University decision made by a relatively large group of “main campus” and athletic administrators, PR people, most importantly, lawyers. They weighed all of the factors and, in order of magnitude, they very likely were:

-Legal: Make sure Boeheim doesn’t say anything that can be used against him in his appeal
-Human: After an emotional game, coaches (especially this one) can be emotional. Lawyers and PR pros would agree that emotional should be minimized in the wake of the NCAA report.
-Appearances: Balancing whether Boeheim as a no-show, with Hopkins still available as a “face” to talk about the game itself, would be worse than Boeheim providing “no comment” after “I can’t comment” and “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment” in likely snarky fashion (see the human factor) on a loop on SportsCenter.

In cases like this, lawyers typically dominate the discussion. In fact, based on our experience, they are “undefeated, career” to use sports parlance, in these situations. PR people just have to advocate for the best deal possible for the media and public constituencies important to them, (but not at all to the lawyers).

The University would have helped matters if they had been able to add “On the advice of counsel, because of a pending appeal to the NCAA” somewhere in Boeheim’s statement. But, overall, this was handled by Syracuse in the way just about any school would have. The reality, at least for now, is that the school will be a “lighting rod” and should get used to being the subject of sportswriting, even when the writers step out of bounds.

oWOW.com Aims to Bring “Wow” Factor Back to Radio

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 3.01.13 PMFormer Cleveland radio super-programmer John Gorman bemoans the state of traditional radio today where, he recently described to FreshwaterCleveland.com: “Studios are all empty. They don’t have an air staff. Most of them are disembodied voices coming from another city.” Gorman aims to change that with an exciting new internet station: oWow.com.

Tom Taylor’s daily Now online newsletter, which reports on the radio industry, also covered the new property prominently this week including the station’s key differentiators: Local ownership; live, local, experienced air personalities well-known to the Cleveland marketplace; and a wide variety of music (programmed locally) featuring as the station describes on its website: “A diverse blend of rock and roll featuring both new and timeless music, most of which gets little to no media exposure in the Greater Northeast Ohio region…an eclectic playlist of rock, progressive pop, singer songwriters, reggae, and more.”

Importantly, the site goes on to say: “oWOW’s airstaff serve as musical gatekeepers, presenting and providing the best in new music combined with timeless album tracks from the past.  oWOW’s playlist is the result of a collaborative process in which all staff members have a voice.  We’re real live people. We’re based in Cleveland. We can do all the things that radio can no longer do.”

It is an approach harkening back to the hey-day of commercial music radio where stations reflected the local landscape of the cities they served – including its jocks and music – free of interference from outside consultants and voicetracking. And, Gorman has the chops to make it work – having programmed Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame rock station WMMS “The Buzzard.”  Even the oWOW logo possesses a touch of nostalgia – with original Buzzard logo designer David Helton doing the honors in creating the look of the new upstart media outlet.  And, as for the all-important question of funding, early ‘buzz’ is bringing significant returns including support from a local bank, a grant from the city of Cleveland and private investors.

Only time will tell whether oWow can sustain long-term listener and sponsor interest.  I for one am rooting for them as a potential model to be returned to elsewhere – whether on-air or online.  In Detroit, imagine a property that returned personalities such as Dick Purtan, Ken Calvert, Arthur Penhallow, Lynn Woodison and others to the airwaves with musical variety that featured a plethora of Detroit-grown artists.  It’s enough to make both mouths drool and ears perk up in eager anticipation.

Entrepreneurs: Success Starts With A Solid Foundation

Monday, February 16th, 2015

blue_panel_report_fThis past week was Detroit Entrepreneur Week and, as reported by Crain’s Detroit Business reporter Amy Haimerl, it was seven days filled with resources for recent and aspiring entrepreneurs, most notably through the Michigan Center for Empowerment and Economic Development.  The week’s activities, in fact, included what was termed a “Small Business Legal Academy,” hosted Saturday at Wayne State University Law School, where a track advised attendees on marketing, branding and legal considerations. Amy moderated the panel and I participated.

The room was filled with talented and engaged individuals either on the verge of launching an endeavor or looking to take their enterprise to the next step and questions ran the gamut: How can I determine the best avenue to take – whether PR, advertising or marketing? How do I target my customers more effectively? I have had early media stories on my product, but what should I do next?

With panelists Dan Dalton of the law firm of Dalton Tomich and Trevor Pawl of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the importance of laying the initial groundwork – no matter the initiative or undertaking – was stressed as the best starting point.  Has a business plan been developed? A handbook with legally-binding verbiage protecting the business owner from operational and intellectual concerns? From a branding standpoint, the discussion progressed, attendees were challenged to introspection: Do you know who you are? Who your audience is? What sets you apart from the competition? What is your value proposition?

A woman looking to start a non-profit. A successful snackmaker looking to create a like-minded entrepreneurial community. A bed and breakfast owner aspiring to open another. A tech provider seeking to gain greater awareness for his product.  No matter the project, it was discussed, the key tips and takeaways of the nearly      2-hour session were the same: The exact road to success varies and potential tactics are many, including the ability, beyond stories in the newspaper or on TV, to tell your own stories via social media, video, e-communications and strategic networking; in short, a multi-platform approach based on the best means by which to reach your customers with as many touch points as possible.

Finally, while many in the room acknowledged they needed additional guidance from professionals they were far less sure of how best to go about it from a due diligence and cost-effectiveness standpoint. Our best advice: shop around. Seek recommendations from friends, fellow business owners and the media. That’s right, call a reporter or newsroom and see whom they most respect. From there, narrow the field and conduct one-on-one face-to-face interviews to talk-out not only how they work but also to ensure similar values and ethics and, as importantly, flexibility in billing to meet budgets and expectations.

 

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.