Archive for the ‘media’ Category

(Don’t) Like a Broken Record Player

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

6d82a57b6268a57a4b46d6ece3ea7f3dToday, I am in the market for a new turntable.  And depending on how important music is to you, it may well have been awhile since you heard someone say that. Last weekend, the record player on my Detrola entertainment system, stopped working, much to the dismay of my euchre-playing friends. While typically used for its radio, the wood-laden piece can also play vinyl at 45, 33 1/3 and even 78 rpm. I miss it already.

I grew up with records.  And as I recount in by book “No Static at All,” there was nothing quite like the experience of jumping on the Purple bus line of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District and heading to Campustown and Record Service to purchase a new album.  The very name, album, was quite apropos as, from cover art to interior band photos and typically extensive liner notes and lyrics, it was, quite literally, a visual and informational experience – a time capsule glimpse into the inspiration and impetus for who and what made this grouping of songs happen.  The record inside this coffee table book-sized casing, moreover, was also aptly named; it was as much a recording of sound as it was an historical record of what had occurred leading up to and inside of the studio.

The album-buying and listening experience is one I’ve started to gravitate back toward and I know I’m not alone.  My controller’s son, in fact, a 19-year old college student, is in the process of purchasing the Beatles catalogue on vinyl.  He gets it. Leafing through the record bins, for example those at UHF Music in Royal Oak or Found Sound in Ferndale, for long lost gems is once again a favorite albeit too-seldom indulged enjoyment.  Yet, I’m determined to replace at least a small fraction of my at one time several thousand record collection, at some point or another given away in favor of CDs and MP3s.

LPs by their very “unportability” also offer a unique aural experience. Where today we listen to music most often on the run, the album listening experience was ideal for comfortable chair and headphones, focused entirely on the music and where it could take us.  This was also why audio quality was so much important then. Modern technology has made the music more accessible, yet, this same technology, with its compression limitations, has made the music less listenable.

It is why Hall of Fame artist Neil Young has unveiled PonoMusic, a player and service, which promises “lossless” audio files and “ultra-high resolution” aimed at bringing higher quality music back to the masses. Pono promises 192 kHz and 24-bit sound, as opposed to 44.1 Khz and up to 4 bit sound typically offered by traditional MP3s.  The higher the bit rate, the closer to the recreation of the quality of the original recording.

Pono (which translates in “righteous” in Young’s beloved Hawaiian), could be the audio answer for the car and iPhone but I will continue my quest for the appropriate big disk player and a different kind of music enjoyment. History can repeat itself.  Sometimes that’s a good thing.

 

PR Plans Must Reflect Blurred Media Lines

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

mobile_news_02Not too long ago, media relations components of PR plans typically had sections that read “print,” “trade,” “radio” and “TV.” They really shouldn’t anymore.

The always-fascinating 2014 State of the News Media report from the Pew Research Center is out and this year’s takeaways for the PR side of the media business demonstrate the continuation of trends we have talked about for the last several years. If they haven’t already, they need to start impacting the way every PR professional and every client thinks about “placements” and how its audiences consume news.

The study shows 82 percent of news consumers get news, at one time or another, on a desktop or laptop computer. 54 percent of them get news on their mobile devices. That’s more than half of news consumers, up from zero not too many years ago. 53 percent of smart phone users watch news video on their phones, while only 36 percent have shot video. That means that market for news video consumption, whether from a “newspaper” or “TV station” or even “radio station” is larger than the market for using the video function on phones.

The bottom line is that consumers want news when they want it on whatever type of device they’re using at that time. PR pros have to stop thinking in terms of the old “print” and “broadcast” and start considering if they have the right relationships and knowledge to get news into the hands of clients’ target audiences, through whatever news platforms are necessary. Clients also need to continue evolving their thinking. The “print clip” is no longer the brass ring. It’s about simply about reaching the audience (never mind that online coverage is easy to share via email, web and social media, extending its reach and life span).

Here’s a nugget that provides a reality check to those in PR and in news, who are obsessed with who breaks and announces what on Twitter. Only 8 percent of news consumers say they get news on Twitter. Think about that the next time it seems “everyone” is on any one branded platform.

Media Maintains Focus on Malaysia Flight Mystery

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.53.44 AMAs investigators move through day nine in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, media coverage and speculation contained therein also continues at a feverish pace.  Is it too much? Is it at all inappropriate? Or, is it an important exercise in the quest for the truth and the fate of the 239 passengers on board? I would argue it is all of the above.

CNN and Fox News, in particular have been focusing the majority of their coverage on the mystery virtually around the clock – and it has often been riveting.  With a story that is baffling the aviation and national security agencies, let alone the world, it is difficult for many of us to look away. The theories are numerous and new information is trickling in almost continuously. Like the O.J. trial and 9-11, no one has seen anything like it.  We want to know more; we want to try to understand and solve the for now unsolvable.

Could a Boeing 777 be landed in a remote place?  What could a rapid descent or ascent portend? CNN continues to take us into a flight simulator to give us a glimpse and a sense. Former pilots, ambassadors, security analysts and aviation experts and reporters are all being trotted out to give their take, the New York Times largely among them.  It can make your head spin yet, as one talking head opined: In a case like this sometimes you need to throw a lot of possibilities out there as something is bound to eventually stick.

Yet, in theorizing what’s what, I feel greater caution should be exercised when it comes to pointing a finger at the flight crew, despite the fact that communications systems appear to have been deliberately turned off and evasive action taken. For now, none of us knows for sure what happened and, importantly, whether those initiatives were undertaken under duress.  The apparently liberal modus operandi of one of the crew members when it came to guests in the cockpit and the home flight simulator of another should not be fodder for indictment.

Yet, overall and as always in such a story of international importance and human interest, the national news media is at its finest.  In this case, holding a country to task for not being forthcoming, transparent or expedient in its efforts while continuing to report on what might have happened in order to figure out what ultimately did.

“The Best Weatherman In The Country” To Leave TV News

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

UnknownAbout 15 years ago, when in Atlanta for a long weekend, I stopped by the first TV station that paid me to write and produce news – WSB-TV – for a tour of its new building. While seeing the state-of-the-art broadcast facility first-hand, I was introduced to the station’s news director, who had been hired since I left. When he found out I lived and worked in the Detroit area, he said “Detroit. The home of The Best Weatherman in The Country, Chuck Gaidica.”

In the years since I worked with Chuck at WDIV-TV in Detroit, I heard that title associated with him on more than just that one occasion. And every time I did, I flashed back to a moment in the WDIV newsroom in February 1998. Detroit was expected to get some snowfall one winter’s night. The news director, wanting big ratings in a “sweeps” period, demanded that I make snow the lead story at 6:00 and hype “a major storm” on the way. When Chuck came into the newsroom that afternoon, he made the producers’ desks his first stop (unlike most weather casters, he wanted to actually talk about a shared vision for his role in the newscast, not just how much time he was being given). I asked him if he’d consider what was coming “a major storm.” He looked aghast. He let me know he was only expecting a small amount of snow. When I shared the boss’ plan with him, he was not happy. We agreed, integrity and facts should come first, but I was under strict orders. After we talked, he went to see the news director and when he got back to my desk, he let me know the good news – I was going to have to find a new lead story.

So it should be no surprise that Chuck’s job meant more than just getting to be on TV. But, he did that part exceptionally well, making talking for 4 minutes in front of a green screen with no script or Telepromter then making smart smalltalk with the anchors look easy (it’s not). On screen he’s charismatic, clever and compelling. He is in real life too.

Today’s news that Chuck is leaving his TV weather job in August to join a church as a minister is the fulfillment of a dream for him over the last few years. Even though he has been in the Detroit market since the early ’80s, he’s only 55 (yes, he was that talented in his 20s). He’ll still appear on WDIV on their highly-rated specials, presumably like the Downtown Fireworks and the Thanksgiving Parade.

The first generation of TV legends got to finish their time on TV and then ease into retirement. But that’s not happening as often for this second generation. So many of them are leaving because their contracts aren’t being renewed or management “asks” them to retire. For The Best Weatherman in The Country, it’s a career change sending him off the set, on his own terms, and well-deserved.

Dispute Reveals Storm Clouds For TV

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Storm_cloudsRight now, because of a dispute about fees, one of the original stalwarts and selling points of “pay TV” is not on TV for customers of DirecTV. It’s symbolic of a fight for relevance by some traditional media outlets, even those just 30 years old.

The Weather Channel was a novel concept for much of its existence, providing a weather forecast for the nation and for your area, 24 hours a day. But, today, it is fighting for its existence, at least on DirecTV. Its PR position is that it’s a service essential to safety. The Channel went so far as to produce its own attempt at “viral video” to spread its message, using a tried-and-true tactic of putting a nonprofit group out in front. But, like too much “campaign communication” it is hyperbolic and struggles to be credible. You can watch it here, before weeping for the PR profession.

There’s no question that weather is important in today’s media environment. Just look at any social media news feed and you’ll see that first-hand. But how important is The Weather Channel? I asked DirecTV customers, in the coveted 25-54 demographic, many of whom grew up with cable TV, and asked them if they miss the Channel and why or why not. Here are representative responses:

-”I love and use their app several times a day but I don’t remember the last time I turned on the channel.”
-”I would miss the channel if I could rely on them to be doing weather anytime I turned them on.”
-”I usually watch local weather news or check my weather app.”
-”5 years ago, I would have been upset…”
-”I have never once flipped to The Weather Channel.”
-”Actually had no idea it was gone.”
-”I don’t miss TWC. For weather info, I go to the weather apps on my phone and broadcast weather casters.”
-”I didn’t even realize I didn’t have The Weather Channel.”
-”My trusty Weather Channel app will detect my GPS location and give me current conditions and the forecast for that spot right on my screen.”
-”I just get the local forecast from local TV stations or go to weather.com.”

Based on this unscientific sampling, which confirmed my guesses, TV, especially national TV, is a much less preferable form of weather information than it used to be. DirecTV knows this and The Weather Channel probably does too. Of course, they can bring in much, much more revenue by selling national TV commercials than they can from any space on their app or website. Much like newspapers, their customers prefer new platforms while their business model dictates they cling as long as possible to the original platform.

As communicators, we need to understand how the changes in media consumption affect both how consumers want information and the way the media business works. This is yet another example of the profound changes occurring before our eyes.

Larry Lujack, Radio Pioneer, Innovator, Super Jock

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

LarryLujackDon McLean famously wrote about ‘the day the music died’ in his 1971 career swan song “American Pie” – a tribute to Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper who died together at the apex of their careers in a tragic plane crash in 1950. This past week, an iconic radio voice was silenced forever as Larry Lujack died in New Mexico of cancer at the age of 73.

Over a more than 20-year run on Chicago Top-40 station WLS-AM through the 70s and 80s, Lujack ruled the airwarves and dominated Morning Drive radio – and not just in the Windy City. Broadcasting on a 50,000 watt, clear channel AM frequency (ala WJR in Detroit), Lujack and his on-air brethren were beamed into cars, offices and homes across the country. Why was he so popular? As veteran Chicago Sun-Times media writer Robert Feder noted this week in his tribute to Lujack, the self pronounced “Super Jock” was different; an often dour and sarcastic personality in a land of overly effervescent, put-on, hit music DJs.

Lujack as much as anyone else I listened to growing up inspired my first career in radio. Traversing the airwaves into my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, he and WLS were to me like CKWW in its hey-day were to millions in Detroit – exciting, fast-paced, fun and funny, creating an irresistible ‘theater of the mind’ with hit music interspersed with interesting bits (i.e. ‘Animal Stories’ which would later inspire David Letterman’s ‘Stupid Pet Tricks’). Listening to WLS at that time was like listening to a whirlwind of music and comedic entertainment that was hard if not impossible to resist. For a sample, click here: http://youtu.be/Jnl8_tdEtA8

Lujack was in the right time at the right place with the right platform. While many complain today that traditional radio plays the same songs over and over and/or the jocks talk too much consider this: Top 40 radio was exactly that: the same most popular 40 songs played over and over and over again. Yet, with jocks like Lujack (and John ‘Records’ Landecker and others on WLS), you listened as much for what they had to say as to the music. And, their quick-witted, rapid-fire banter (often delivered right over the beginnings of the songs they played) meant the music and overall programming virtually never stopped (these guys often read the commercials live in their own comedic style), leaving you spell-bound and coming back for more. These jocks were also promoted significantly by their stations including on billboards, in television commercials and via personal appearances. I remember being in awe as a kid at getting Lujack’s autograph on a copy of the photo shown in this blog during a Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place.

As I am apt to say, as a former radio personality, programmer and observer, today’s programmers and management should be required to watch video airchecks of the greats like Lujack. One local programming master and appreciator of classic music radio, CBS’s Tim Roberts, has his WOMC-FM humming along like the stations of old with an adept blend of catchy songs and great personality, an even more audacious task in the shadow of today’s Portable People Meter audience monitoring system. Such programming is an all too often lost art today as is the voice, style and talent of a personality like Larry Lujack. Though off the air for the past 25 years, the terrestrial radio dial last week lost a bit more of its luster and connection to when radio was at its finest.

 

Is There Still A Place In PR For Media Training?

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

3326693-woman-presenter-holding-a-microphone-in-handIf you’re a business executive, particularly in a privately-owned company, chances have never been lower at any point in your career that you will be interviewed by a journalist.

That’s because there are simply fewer journalists covering less news than ever before. It’s challenging enough to get the stories you want told in the media, never mind actually having to answer questions about them. At the same time, TV news investigative reporting, which used to strike fear in the minds of executives who worried about being ambushed in their driveways, has now shifted focus in many markets to public officials, whose acts of arrogance make them easy targets.

Those factors, coupled with the Great Recession-induced de-emphasis on PR by many public companies, has led to a slowdown in what was once a lucrative and consistent part of the PR business – media training. At one time, firms could charge $1000 on up, per participant, for training sessions that could last 4-8 hours. Many of them would be cookie-cutter lessons in classroom style, with little more than dusting off the playbook time and time again. Clients, acting out of fear of “bad coverage,” would eat it up and pay a premium for it, even including executives far removed from the communications function “just in case.”

But, in recent years, media training has become ground Kona coffee in a 7-11 world.

While leading a modernized media training session for a group of executives last week, it became clear that there is still value in such a session, if done the right way, with respect for the client. Here are a few of the reasons:

-For some organizations, media coverage has waned less than for others. If you are still covered by media or have news coming up, training can still be valuable to prepare for news stories that your executives would actually be a part of. That requires customized training and practice on real-life scenarios, rather than worst-case hypotheticals.

-Costs can be flexible. Firms that do training should base fees on time spent, not on how much money they think they can get away with charging.

-Media training should be message development training. It should also be mindset training. When executives can learn an appreciation for how professional communicators think and work, it can be valuable for the entire organization in its effort to build its brand.

-Learning how to deliver a message via the spoken word is a valuable skill. A good media training session should have value beyond media interviews and can teach executives and spokespeople how to tell the organization’s story via verbal communication.

Like just about everything else in PR, the fundamentals still work, it’s just a matter of how and when they are applied. Media training can still be a valuable part of some communications programs, if media realities and client realities are taken into consideration.

Just Because You Have A Good Story, Doesn’t Mean You Have News. But That’s OK

Monday, October 28th, 2013

storytime1Fundamentally, we say our business is about helping our clients tell their stories and deliver their messages to the audiences that are important to them, to support their business objectives. We are fortunate to work with clients who have some really good stories and they entrust us to help use those stories to build their brands and drive toward their business goals.

We often counsel clients on how to formulate and tell a good story. But it’s important to remember, as we have to remind clients now more than ever, that not every good story is a news story. That was even true in the days of 12-page sections in two daily newspapers per day and is especially true now, after the Great Recession has left behind much smaller news organizations at every level.

Also, if you have a dominant, long-term story like we do in the Detroit area with the City of Detroit’s municipal government bankruptcy, it means fewer stories than ever will make it into news coverage. Last week, Columbia Journalism Review studied the Detroit newspapers’ coverage of the bankruptcy and reported that at the Detroit Free Press, “To coordinate it all, the Free Press holds meetings on the bankruptcy story every Tuesday afternoon, with 20 or 30 people in attendance. ‘Everyone from the food critic on down is expected to contribute if they have a story.’” Yes, the bankruptcy even limits the amount of time and space that can be spent on stories about restaurants. It has impacted the coverage of everything expect perhaps sports.

In order to get news coverage, you have to identify and communicate bona fide news. PR professionals should not be expected to “talk to your friends in the media” or “spin a story” anymore. Instead of trying to live up to those inaccurate stereotypes, we can work with our clients to determine what about them is actually new (that is the basis of the word “news”), what is prominent, what is part of a trend or what expertise is within the client could be helpful to coverage of news that is already on the traditional media agenda.

Anything that doesn’t fit into the category of news can and should absolutely be communicated. Every organization has more storytelling tools than ever at the ready, if it chooses to use them. These are tools that can also shape opinion and drive results. This includes social media (as long as it is one tool of several), your website, video, e-newsletters, events and so many others.

Sure, it used to seem easy to think you could just send out a press release and someone at a news outlet would “pick it up” (in reality, it really wasn’t that easy). Now, and probably forever, to make it into news coverage, you have to have news. But to communicate, you just need a compelling story.

Does Robin Thicke ‘Got to Give it Up’?

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Screen-shot-2013-08-16-at-8.16.59-AMI honestly can’t believe it didn’t happen sooner.  When I first heard Robin Thicke’s latest mega-number-one single, “Blurred Lines” I thought for sure I was listening to Marvin Gaye’s 1977 classic “Got to Give it Up”.  From its baseline and cowbell to falsetto and ‘call and response’ elements the two songs are very, very similar.  But similar enough to be considered plagiarism?

In an interesting move nearly unprecedented in the music industry, it was reported this week that Thicke and fellow songwriters Pharell Williams and T.I.  have filed suit in Los Angeles federal court against Bridgeport Music, a Southfield, Michigan-based song publisher and the Marvin Gaye estate. The move is a preemptive strike in anticipation of a lawsuit from the Gaye family and Brideport; in essence Thicke and company are asking the court to mediate the matter now, prior to possible litigation being filed.

Proving plagiarism in music is typically quite difficult although not without precedent.  The most famous case ever involved the Chiffon’s 1962 hit “He’s So Fine” and George Harrison’s 1971 tune, “My Sweet Lord”.  Harrison lost to the tune of over $500,000.  Chuck Berry actually received a songwriting credit on the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” as the courts ruled it was too close to Berry’s early classic, “Sweet Little Sixteen”. And, more recently, Vanilla Ice was frozen out of a percentage of royalties when he sampled the primary bass line from Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” for “Ice Ice Baby” without permission.

Just as common as such obvious and high profile cases, are lesser-known instances that would, at face value, appear to be as blatant as any other. Listen to Jethro Tull’s obscure “We Used to Know” next to the Eagles’ “Hotel California”. The latter, interestingly enough, opened for the former in the early 70s, at a time when Tull’s touring set featured the tune.  And, the outstanding website Songfacts.com highlights a comparison I had never previously heard of: Jazzman Horace Silver’s 1965 “Song for My Father” and 1974′s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” from Steely Dan. The intros are absolutely identical.

In the end, with only seven chords to choose from, song similarities are seemingly impossible to avoid. And, intended or not, some artists actually seem to appreciate the appreciation.  In fact, Pete Townsend is also in the news this week saying he considers similarities in boy band One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” to the Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” a tribute and sees no reason for legal action. In the case of Thicke vs. Gaye, however, for now the line between a ‘nod’ and ‘borrowing generously’ are indeed blurred, soon to be in the sights of the court system.

 

A New Battle In The War Against Your DVR

Monday, August 12th, 2013

fox-sports-1-300x300As Don notes this week, the companies that own radio stations are using sports talk as one of their best hopes against you using Sirius-XM, Pandora or your iPod in your car. Inside your home, a similar war is being waged against your DVR.

Even in the era of media consolidation that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, there’s one battleground that keeps going and, just like radio, with TV it’s sports. While the personalization of TV viewing via DVRs and streaming services like Netflix is booming, sports is one area – maybe other than a coverage of big news story, the only area – in which the time-shifted experience pales in comparison to the live one. That’s why Fox, much as it did when it shocked the broadcasting world nearly 20 years ago by buying rights to the NFL, is betting big on sports and this time with a national all-sports channel. This is happening in an era where there is so much sports programming, even the major pro sports leagues and largest college athletic conferences have their own channels.

Come Saturday, the Speed Channel will be no more. That real estate on your cable or satellite lineup will be Fox Sports 1 the channel Fox is using to aim all the way to the top – at ESPN. While ESPN’s “SportsCenter” has featured personality but no personality has ever been allowed to be bigger than the brand, Fox Sports 1′s upstart “Fox Sports Live” promises personalities who will keep their coverage “light” and “fun.” As one executive told the Los Angeles Times, their criteria for selecting “talent” is “Do you want to hang out and have nachos with our guys?”

But, more than the highlights and analysis shows (which are no longer “scores and highlights shows” as scores can so easily be found on smartphones and computers), the coverage of the games is the most lucrative for these channels. Games on TV are virtually DVR-proof and often provide a better experience on TV than at the venues themselves in-person. That is why the cost of TV sports continues to skyrocket. Fox just landed the U.S. Open Golf contract and expect more big money battles to come.

Competition on TV has been especially good for viewers in recent years in other genres. While it has watered down the “news” into dueling political debate channels, this is widely considered the “golden age” of TV dramas, because the level of competition has increased. For the packaging of sports highlights, information and analysis, may Fox Sports 1 and ESPN battle to be better than one another, not be first to the bottom of the content pool.