Archive for the ‘media’ Category

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.

Why The CNBC-Nielsen Divorce Had To Happen

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watching More Than Football On New Year’s Day

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

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

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

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

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

The 6 Months That Changed Detroit Media Forever

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The PR You Want May Not Be The PR You Need

Monday, November 24th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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