Archive for the ‘media’ Category

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.

5 Questions With The Man Who Got The Real Media Inside Story

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

home_ken_aulettaIt’s a privilege to have the opportunity to write about PR and media trends on this blog and generate conversation that helps our connections understand the changing environment. It’s an honor to be regularly asked by media outlets themselves to analyze their own businesses.

But there’s always room for learning. And no matter what you know, there’s usually someone who knows more than you do. I learned that this summer.

I remember in 1991, a book called “Three Blind Mice: How The TV Networks Lost Their Way” earned attention in media circles. I also remember ignoring it, because, as a budding broadcast journalist, I knew I wasn’t interested in the negatives of the industry. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that back then as I was filled with optimism and determination, my head was, to a great extent, more comfortable in the sand.

23 years later, the fact that I hadn’t read that book began to gnaw at me. It was easy to find, because we have a one-of-a-kind, gigantic used book store in Detroit, John Kings Books, where I picked up the 1991 hardcover for $6, then devoured it on vacation. Author Ken Auletta was given unprecedented access to the executives, strategies, finances and emotions of ABC, CBS and NBC, when all three networks were sold in the ’80s. His 577 pages told, with remarkable detail, the inside story I had only seen from the outside. It was, to say the least, fascinating. I folded down pages, prepared to write in here about what had changed, how it had changed and how, somehow, these networks still exist, albeit in a much different form.

But my words can’t do this justice. I had to find Ken Auletta. Using what I assume are some leftover reporting skills, I was able to track him down. While I could have spent a weekend talking shop with him, just scratching the surface, I asked for five questions, to be respectful of his time. He agreed. And here they are. I hope you can learn from him, as I have:

1) When you finished “Three Blind Mice” how did you envision the three networks would look a generation into the future?

There’s always a problem writing an ending to a story that continues. What I wrote in the last chapter was that the financial problem the three networks faced was that they were reliant on a single source of income, advertising. But if they could tap other sources, including, I wrote, changing fin/syn rules to allow the networks to own more programming and benefit from syndication and overseas sales, they would be better placed. My book was published in 1991. In 1992, Congress passed the Cable Act, which compelled cable system owners to pay broadcast and other networks to air their programs. Today, this generates about $4 billion for various networks and stations. Then the fin/syn rules were altered, opening another revenue spigot for networks. And new digital platforms — Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube — appeared, paying for network programming. Last year, CBS and Fox each received $250 million from Netflix alone.

2) How remarkable is it that while there has been so much change and competition around them, so much of what they were doing then appears to be the same now?

My book was, in part, about how a new technology — cable — was disrupting broadcasting. Today, digital technology and the Internet are disrupting — and sometimes funding — cable as well as broadcasting. The disruptive aspect exceeds the new revenues. For the Internet allows Netflix and others to stream programs directly to viewers. It allows ad-free viewing, or viewers to skip ads. It tells advertisers how many of their expensive ad buys are wasted. It allows viewers to watch what they want, when they want, for as long as they want, and on multiple devices.

3) One fact I learned in your book is that as recently as 25 years ago, network news was a big money loser. I was surprised because in local TV, since almost its infancy, news has been a virtual ATM for station owners. How did the “public service” contingent in newsrooms finally concede they had lost the war?

The idea that news should not be a money loser gained traction when the new owners acquired the three networks in 1985-86. The previous pressure from the Congress for them to provide public service had lessened. And the new owners were corporate businessmen who measured success more by the bottom line, not intangibles like public service.

(Friedman note: In other words, they had no choice.)

4) I have a concept that I would love to see. Maybe you can give me a reality check? Can you foresee a day in which one or more of the old-line networks blows up at least a portion of the schedule that they have adhered to since the 1950s? For example, could you ever see any of them “stripping” news in Prime Time, to fill a void for a straight newscast free from political agenda and screaming heads, on what’s still the world’s most powerful medium, taking advantage of HDTV in a time slot in which modern Americans are not stuck in traffic? That newscast, in part and in whole, could be available on demand, for online viewing. Or will they still insist on a white man reading a prompter to a gray audience at 6:30 p.m.?

No, I cannot imagine the networks placing a newscast in primetime, as some nations — like Israel — do. Why? Ratings and demographics. And the Internet. The average age of the three newscast viewers is 65, thus the ad rates are low. And because the Internet has made possible for citizens to be exposed to news 24/7, fewer people wait to learn what happened today. More likely we’ll see broadcast networks air live and special events — sports, awards shows, the Sound of Music and Peter Pan movies, etc.

5) As far as programming, do you agree that we’re now, despite a lot of the “reality” trash on the air, we may now be in something of a Golden Age, because competition has led to, overall, a better quality of choices across the channel universe?

We have more choices, and better choices. Yes, there’s a lot of crap. But the Good Wife on CBS, or Friday Night Lights (then on NBC), are as outstanding as many of the best shows of yore. And then you have HBO, Showtime, AMC, Netflix, etc. Bruce Springsteen’s lament, 500 channels and nothing on, is wrong.

Listen To Your PR Counsel When They Tell You That You Don’t Have News

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

UnknownThe client didn’t just think she might have a news story, she insisted that she had one. She was wrong.

In the first meeting, I offered simple counsel that while her event was a terrific private fundraiser for her charity, it just wasn’t news. When she brought it up in a second meeting, I let her know that when I was a news producer, I would have never assigned a TV crew to cover this event and, in all of my years in PR, I have never asked for or received coverage of an event like this. When I was out of town, she asked one of my colleagues to invite TV stations to her event. When my colleague counseled otherwise, the client told her to “shut up.” That was the beginning of the end of the relationship.

There is no reason for us to counsel a client advising that what they think is news just isn’t news other than the best interest of the client. We get paid for our time, so it certainly could not logically be argued that we somehow profit from not pitching a story idea to media, which takes less time than pitching would. It could not be argued that we’re passive if we recommend an idea not be pitched, when we are working in the midst of an proactive communications plan that we developed.

If we’re hired to help an organization build its reputation with audiences, we would harm its reputation with journalists if we agree to pitch something that we know would immediately result in a “no.” That puts at risk future potential coverage when the organization has some real news or perspective on news to share.

We understand that some firms simply tell clients what they want to hear. We also know that some firms pitch to media everything clients want, throwing it up on the wall to see what sticks. If you want a firm that does those things, hire one, even though it won’t mean long-term success. Otherwise, listen to your counsel when they say “that’s not a news story.” The only incentive for providing that advice is helping you.