Archive for the ‘media’ Category

Detroit Bankruptcy Highlights PR and Media Reality

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

DetroitLast week’s filing of Chapter 9 Bankruptcy by the City of Detroit helps prove something we frequently tell clients. It’s something that takes time to understand. The fact is that news consumers don’t often pay attention to the details you want them to, which is one of the reasons why it takes so long to shape reputation via the media and takes even longer to change reputation.

On Friday, the day after the filing, I traveled to New York City for a long-ago planned trip. There, everywhere I went, when those I would meet would find out where I live and what I do for a living, they wanted to talk about what they thought they know about the new filing. Also, I stayed in touch via social media, primarily Twitter, where opinions flew all day long.

First, it was obvious how much the average news consumer didn’t grasp about the initial reports. The proper noun “Detroit” is used in so many different ways, conversationally, that it seemed hard for many to understand what happened. “Detroit” is used to name the entire Metro Area of more than 4 million people. “Detroit” is used to name the entire U.S. automobile industry. Neither of those “Detroit’s” filed bankruptcy. It was, in fact, just the city government in the actual City of Detroit. I even heard someone in public say “The State of Michigan declared bankruptcy.”

Also clear was how a moment like this can crystallize perception. As I toured one of the nation’s top broadcast newsrooms, a producer asked me what it was like to own a business “in Detroit.” I let her know that, “right now it is the most fun that I’ve had in business in the ares in years.” Before I could explain about all of the momentum underway, she gave me a look as if I had told her that I am the reigning Heavyweight Champion of the World. When I tried to explain that things are going better than they have in a long time, with the city government lagging far behind, she said “it was nice meeting you” and picked up the phone. She just didn’t want to believe it.

The last few years in and around Detroit have been a microcosm of many PR campaigns – three steps forward, two steps back. It all underscores one of the fundamentals of what we do – communicate your facts and messages to your audiences over and over again, at every opportunity, over the long-term, making progress along the way. As you go through it, it’s sometimes frustrating to see what Simon and Garfunkel sang about play out in real life: “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

TV News Needs Innovation, Will This Deliver?

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

home_heroIt’s no secret in the media business that younger viewers really don’t like TV news as we know it. The news is on TV in time slots that are relics from a network schedule developed when their grandparents were their age. They simply don’t regularly depend on the presentation of anchors presenting stories riddled with cliches that are lampooned on Comedy Central and The Onion – two platforms younger audiences consume more than broadcast news itself. They see “Prime Time” (which is not necessarily the case in their lives) filled with talking heads, usually their parents’ age, spouting political opinion often inconsistent with their own.

Traditional media companies are not exactly busting their budgets with product development projects that could be designed to address this looming crisis. But this week, a start-up emerged promising a video news product that will work on mobile devices, computers and eventually maybe even on TV, to give young news consumers more of what they want, whenever they want it over the platform they choose.

It’s called TouchVision. One of the visionaries behind it is Lee Abrams, whose innovations we have written about before. This article in Adweek explains the premise and how it plans to work once it launches.

I was given a chance to preview TouchVision this week and it’s certainly intriguing. News stories are presented with high-end graphics, music and voice-over narration. It’s all available on-demand and you only watch the stories you select from the system’s menu. Most of the stories seemed to run about two minutes, so they can easily be watched in one sitting or on the go.

One thing I liked about what I saw with TouchVision is that the stories don’t talk down to the audience. One thing Abrams has long professed is that news can be “intelligent without being intellectual” and that appears to be the case here. Personally, the music behind the stories didn’t do anything for me. But I’m not the target audience here. For some, it could help make getting the news they want more interesting and fit better into their lives.

Is this the answer? Chances are there won’t be just one answer. There will need to be many, to meet increasingly customized consumer demands. When TV news first proliferated, it was done with a formula (anchors, desk, news, sports, weather, chit chat). Now, it’s going to take a lot more than that to satisfy a more diverse and complex marketplace.

It seems we are entering the next chapter of increased media experimentation. At this point, it’s virtually impossible to pick winners. But one thing that seems certain, the status quo, should anyone maintain it, shapes up to be a loser.

Everything I Needed To Know About Media Relations I Learned…

Monday, June 24th, 2013

UnknownIn the communications business, the TV news internship is one way to get a basic education in the way things work, in a fast-paced, competitive environment. 22 summers ago, I was a TV news intern at WJBK-TV in Detroit, then “TV 2,” a CBS affiliate.

In that internship, I learned enough about broadcast news that I got a paying job at WWJ Radio, then located in the same building, for the following summer. I met contacts who would continue to help me decades later. Now, after finding some old coverage in my basement recently, I realized that I learned a lot about PR that summer too.

If you can spare fewer than 3 minutes, take a look at this story. I did the behind-the-scenes legwork on it. In fact, that’s me in the hallway scenes, on the left (with all of the hair).

The story, reported by my incomparable original mentor in communications, Murray Feldman, revealed information about the nonprofit organization that once organized the Detroit Grand Prix, Detroit Renaissance. The organization had been criticized for its revenue and spending and, under Murray’s direction, after days of denying requests for interviews, I asked for simple permission to review the organization’s tax statements (that was well before Form 990s for nonprofits were as accessible as they are now).

As is now clear for all to see, the organization completely mishandled working with us and made some critical errors that, upon reflection, turned into lessons that have stayed with me for more than 20 years:

-If you don’t speak for yourself, others gladly will speak for you. Detroit Renaissance management wouldn’t be interviewed, so we found an expert of our choosing to talk about them on TV. Did he say what management would have said? I doubt it.

-Telling a TV station that they can’t bring their cameras in an office will always be used against you, as it was here.

-Acting like you have something to hide will make an uncomfortable situation worse. It turned out their forms didn’t reveal anything sinister. So why the secrecy? The subject’s decisions took what could have been a more straightforward story and made it more negative.

When working on that story, I never pictured myself on “the other side.” Now that I’m on it, I realize this is as good example as any of what not to do when working with journalists (interns or otherwise). This is yet another example of how the right internship can pay dividends across a career.

PR Leaks: HQ Move Latest Example Of Losing Control

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

leak_detectionLast Thursday night, while attending an event at the Mackinac Policy Conference hosted by a media organization, one of that organization’s reporters pulled me aside. He let me know that the Wall Street Journal was reporting that PulteGroup, a longtime Michigan-based company and the parent company of Pulte Homes, was moving its headquarters and hundreds of jobs to Atlanta. He wondered if I had any PR contacts at Pulte.

When I went online that night and first thing the next morning, I saw stories like this – all based off the initial report, with speculation from others, and nothing, not even a message point, from the company. In fact, it took about 14 hours after the first report for the company to put out its release and its explanation. In this case, Pulte was the latest company to fall victim to the enemy of effective PR management – leaks.

Thanks to text messaging and social media, it is tougher than ever to contain leaks. But in a situation like this, it remains imperative to consider leak prevention the most important core to the communications strategy. Most importantly, the company should be “first to market” with its messages and its story. Also, employees should hear the news from the company, not via the media. Additionally, government officials should learn of the news from the company and not told by journalists looking for information (in this case, key staff people for Michigan’s Governor found out from reporters at the Conference).

We have worked with announcements like this in the modern era of communications. Our strategies have been based around a small circle of those “in the tent” with knowledge of the situation and a detailed and compressed timeline of when others know the news and how they find out, with affected employees and communities finding out before news can be widely reported, with the company’s messaging leading the way. That often means moving quickly, with precision. But if top management buys into a plan, it can happen effectively and respectfully.

Last week’s Pulte announcement should serve as a case study and a lesson. If you don’t have a system to contain leaks in place, no PR pro can help contain the waterfall of coverage that happens without your consent or control.

Surprise! PR People Need To Hear These Words More Often From Media

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Yes-Checkboxes-Blackboard-1070271It was just three simple words. It took no more than three seconds to write and send. But it was so refreshing, it should be a model of communication.

“No thank you.”

That was the simple email I received back from a media decision-maker who we have worked with for more than a decade. She just wasn’t interested in the story I pitched her, and that was perfectly fine as it’s her job to make those decisions. At least I had an answer, which can be hard to come by these days.

We respect and appreciate the job of the journalist. We understand one of the toughest parts of working in traditional media these days must be contending with the email inbox. We know that too many PR people have no idea how to target a pitch or offer real news and, instead, they “throw it all on the wall and see what sticks.” We even worked with someone years ago who insisted on pitching a feature on a local shopping area to CNN. We also receive emails that are way too long and have trouble getting to the point or have cryptic subject lines. So we know the inbox is filled with more garbage than reporters, editors and producers could possibly answer. It must be really, really annoying.

We know you have more to do than ever before and less help to do it. That’s why we work hard to narrow things down as much as possible before deciding to contact you in the first place.

So, here’s a suggestion that would help us all work better together in this modern age – when it’s an email from a familiar sender or a subject line about a familiar company or organization, or whenever it’s possible to spare a few seconds – please respond.

When you don’t answer, we don’t know what to make of it. Did you not read it? Are you on vacation? Are you not interested? Are you just busy? Should we call? Should we wait a few days? Sometimes, it makes dating seem downright straightforward.

“No thank you” made me want to thank the sender, much to her surprise. But, it meant we didn’t have to call to follow-up. It actually prevented annoyance.

So, whenever possible, something like “I like it. Give me a week,” or “Sorry – just not a fit” or “I’ll call you later” or “call me at 2 p.m.” takes literally just a few seconds and would really be appreciated, especially when we know each other. Most importantly, it prevents an annoying phone call, a second email or even the dreaded, ugly and not recommended “I want to make sure you received the release.” Anytime that can be prevented, it has to be considered a step in the right direction.

Media, National Events This Week Make Us A Community of One

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Boston_Blast_Tuesday_P9It is often argued that there is no longer any such thing as “mass media”.  After all, it has been decades since we all watched the same programming broadcast by a mere three television networks.  Matt examines that dynamic in greater detail in his post this week. Today, we consume our news and entertainment programming from hundreds (if not thousands) of different media platforms – all vying for our attention.  In this way, formatically, we are, quite often, literally and figuratively, segregated. Until a crisis hits – and we once again become a community of one.

We saw it in the aftermath of tragic events this past week in Boston. Who wasn’t glued to TV or radio for continuing coverage as well as up-to-the-minute print and broadcast outlet updates online – each of us seeking information and a way to somehow make sense of it all.  As the manhunt for the bombing suspects heated up on Friday, many office phones were silent across the country with individuals web streaming coverage from their desks and others eschewing cell phone calls by car in favor of the latest radio reports.

A wise man once said that how we handle adversity can define us. It is at times like these that the media – mass media such as the major networks and news outlets – are at their finest. Oft maligned for being sensational, political or worse, unnecessary, it is they who we turn to for accurate information and keen perspective. More often than not, they get it right.

It is particularly heartening to think that we all worked together, perhaps like never before, toward delivering justice. As the FBI made public the pictures of the terrorist brothers, they knew that the media would beam their images to the world and that, further, we would then post and share and tweet them even further; a grass tops and grass roots collaboration. It was two-way “mass” communication both basic and complex and truly at its finest.

TV Flashback: “The Big 3″ Shined In Boston Coverage

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

UnknownWhen I tell my children that when I was their age, there were only a few channels on TV, they look at me the way I’m sure I looked at my grandfather when he told me he could buy lunch for a nickel. I’m not even sure they could rattle off “ABC, NBC and CBS” if I asked them to name the one-time “Big 3.”

But, this week, like we have seen recently in the car business in Detroit, the Big 3 showed that they can rise to the occasion. When it came to the most accurate reporting, the most solid analysis void of hyperbole or speculation, compelling storytelling from the field and tone-appropriate anchoring, the three “legacy networks” led the way on TV, every step of the way. The highlights include NBC’s Justice Correspondent Pete Williams batting 1.000 with his sourced reporting and CBS’ John Miller, who has split his career between broadcast news and law enforcement, providing measured insight into what was happening behind the scenes. Their websites were also complete, easy-to-navigate, up-to-date and straightforward. Overall, it seemed they were the most careful on what they reported via Twitter.

Meanwhile, on the “cable channels,” CNN had its widely-reported gaffes and subsequent PR issues (see the blog post on that below) and Friday night’s climactic standoff and arrest was “anchored” on Fox News Channel by slugfest host Bill O’Reilly and shock TV pioneer Geraldo Rivera and MSNBC’s coverage was “anchored” by political debater Chris Matthews.

If, as I wrote last week, “cable news” gives viewers the choice between “the conservative channel,” “the liberal channel” and “the channel that gets it wrong,” then it would seem “network news” would be the place for straight news coverage. Not so fast. The network morning shows are filled with content like celebrity gossip, domestic murder trials from around the country, missing young white women and New York City weather. CBS is experimenting with a Charlie Rose-anchored, news-focused show, but they have never really been able draw a competitive audience in the morning with any talent pairing or format. In the evening, the news broadcasts are tied to 1960s lifestyles with a 6:30pm broadcast. Prime Time generally has magazine-style shows, but fewer of those then anytime in the last 20 years.

Maybe one of the networks will realize its opportunity and replace sitcoms in Prime Time with a straight newscast for viewers who are busy during the day and want more than empty debate at night. But it’s expensive and risky and would be foreign to so many who have become accustomed to what national TV news has become.

Oh well. It was nice to have the “Big 3″ back for a few days. Hopefully, their budgets will still be in tact the next time we need them.

This Just In: CNN Has A PR Problem

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

cnnIf you were online, in front of a TV or listening to the radio mid-afternoon Eastern time today, you were exposed to some of the most frustrating moments a news consumer could have.

Multiple “big brand” news organizations, notably CNN via its correspondent John King and the Associated Press, which feeds virtually every bona fide news organization in America, reported first an “an arrest is imminent” and then “a suspect is under arrest” and then “the arrested suspect is being taken to Federal Court.” Some of the reports even included detail about how authorities identified the suspect. At the same time, other news organizations were either holding off or directly refuting the CNN and AP reports.

About an hour later, law enforcement began announcing, through their own channels, that there were no arrests. CNN’s King started backtracking, blaming bad information from his source. That source, it turns out, was a single source (which, as a standard was once not enough to even report a shred of news in a story like this), inside Boston law enforcement, which the public knows was playing a secondary role in this case.

From a PR standpoint, CNN comes out of this looking the worst because the AP is staffed by largely anonymous journalists and its service is often invisible to consumers. On the other hand, CNN is engaged in a public battle to win back the relevance it has lost over the past 20 years. In fact, on Monday of this week, hours before the Boston bombing, CNN President Jeff Zucker compared CNN to the “spare tire” you use only when you need it (breaking national news) and “the challenge for us is how to make CNN more essential, how to make it one of the four tires on the car.” Two days later, CNN faces a reputation challenge.

Compounding matters and likely contributing to the dubious reporting and generous “green lights” from management today is the inherent challenge for cable channels that typically just run cheap, easy political debates with talking heads all day to suddenly transform themselves into news reporting organizations. Most days, there’s not a lot of news on “cable news.” So when there is, they have to operate differently, which is a tough task from top to bottom.

First, it was a much-discussed error in reporting the Supreme Court’s health care law decision last year. Now, it’s this report of the arrest that wasn’t. For all of the focus on personalities and formats, credibility really does matter to the public, whether they follow the news minute-by-minute or much less often.

The TV business now operates in a perilous time, especially on cable where younger viewers are starting to think it’s not worth the money. If the choices really do become “the conservative channel,” “the liberal channel,” or “the channel that gets it wrong,” an important segment of the audience will continue to migrate from the platform.

Media Relations: The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

pinwheelOf all of the lines about the media business I have ripped off over the years, the one that I seem to use the most consistently is “The ‘T’ in TV stands for ‘Today.’” In TV news, for as long as I can remember, if a story doesn’t have a “today” hook and a sense of “now,” it’s probably not going to get covered. “Evergreen” stories are nearly impossible to get covered. Now, it isn’t just TV where that applies.

The significant reduction of traditional media resources and space has caused a wave of changes in the PR business. But one of them is a a change in mindset. We have had to learn how to get used to waiting for even “good stories” to get done and then usually wait some more for them to appear.

A few weeks ago, we got a call from a reporter who had been assigned a business trend story by her editor. She thought one of the organizations we work with could be helpful. We provided information and access right away and she had what she needed relatively quickly, considering it was an enterprise story. Yet, the story took 13 days to appear online and in print.

Three weeks ago today, a TV station interviewed one of our Tanner Friedman clients for a planned “promotable” story. It has yet to go on the air because a glut of “day of” news has gotten in the way. 22 days ago, a business reporter got back to us with some follow-up questions about a possible story. That reporter hasn’t been able to get back to it since.

It’s important to remember when bringing potential news to journalists that “the news of the day” is always going to win. Everything else, even if reporters and editors like the story, is going to have to wait. That can be frustrating, but it is important to remember that it’s the new reality and something you need to condition your clients to expect.

The best way to get coverage now is either to have something that can’t wait, like an announcement that meets news criteria, or to offer an angle to a story that the media is already covering. Otherwise, it is going to require patience for you and your client. That is something we didn’t need as much in this job just a few years ago. Now, it’s an imperative quality.

Time For The NCAA To End Its PR Madness

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

ncaa bkb logo(3)This year, as the on-court performance of 18-22 year-olds takes over part of the nation’s collective attention, the body that is supposed to regulate college athletics, the NCAA, is under the PR microscope.

And speaking of a microscope, a really powerful one is what you might need to find the NCAA’s PR strategy in the face of adversity because it can’t be detected by the naked eye. One of the adages we preach to clients who are faced with PR challenges is “speak for yourself because others who don’t share your agenda will gladly speak for you.” That is certainly happening in the case of the NCAA.

From commentators like ESPN’s Jay Bilas (a former college basketball player and practicing attorney) who calls the NCAA’s model “profoundly immoral” in this Wall Street Journal interview to University Presidents like Miami’s Donna Shalala, whose school was at the crosshairs of a NCAA investigation handled improperly, to the attorneys of a case against the NCAA that could entitle players to payment for their likeness, the NCAA is being lambasted in the media. Everybody with an interest seems to be talking, except the NCAA.

In the next three weeks, with everyone from casual office pool participants to hard-core fans to loyal alumni watching, how will the NCAA take steps to try to convince its audience of its value? It is in the best interest of the NCAA, to use this opportunity to communicate its messages and explain to the public how it plans to evolve its model if, in fact it does, or defend its model if it does not. This is the opportunity, while it has the public’s attention for its marquee event (it does not control college football’s championship), to enter the dialogue with its own story, beyond its 30-second “student athlete” commercials.

But, it’s important to remember that the NCAA is ruled by an Executive Committee, comprised of presidents of the universities for which the NCAA represents to rightsholders and sponsors and over which the NCAA polices behavior. Since the Miami investigation scandal broke, a statement reported in this story is all that has come out from the Executive Committee. So, despite the PR madness, expect the show go on as usual, with critics taking the lead.