Archive for the ‘media’ Category

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:

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 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.

The CW: In a (Justice) League of It’s Own

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 9.25.58 PMWhile the proliferation of superhero movies on the silver screen continues (with Marvel leading the charge with the upcoming The Wolverine and second Thor flick), DC Comics is looking toward the smaller delivery format – television – where it continues to generate success; sometimes against all odds.

No one, for example, expected the CW Network’s Arrow to be a 2012-2013 season sleeper hit.  After all, the “emerald archer” had never been a headliner in any media incarnation, funny books or otherwise.  And, if the success (or lack thereof) of Ryan Reynolds’ 2012 celluloid space age Green Lantern was any indication, the earth-bound playboy turned Robin Hood stood nary a chance of catching on. Wrong.

TV has been an interesting place for the masked avenger genre, in particular early on. The Lone Ranger and Green Hornet caught on from radio while Superman and Batman made a successful transition from the Saturday morning theater serials.  Batman’s “Technicolor” success in the late 60s would also spawn a series of tongue-in-cheek imitators (remember, for example, Mr. Fantastic, the gas station attendant, who by taking a magic pill and turning his jacket inside out to reveal a shiny cape fought evil to a canned laugh track)? The 80s would see The Greatest American Hero, the 90s a Danny Elfman scored The Flash and Superman revival Lois & Clark.

Perhaps the most successful and certainly longest running superhero TV show has been Smallville which helped establish, appropriately enough, a once fledgling network, the CW.  And, it is the CW that is now looking at a potential Arrow spinoff of The Flash (after he appears in the upcoming season), announced today at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.  Other Justice Leaguers – from Black Canary to Batman could also make Arrow appearances and cameos in the not to distant future. Next, it is further being reported, a Wonder Woman television program is being prepped for development.

It is said there are only so many great ideas and that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. It is also said by some that Hollywood has lost its creativity and is too risk averse. I would argue that the time-tested stories of good over evil can never go wrong, especially when enacted by heroes we grew up with and are ingrained in our American pop culture.

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.