Archive for the ‘marketing’ Category

Business Sustainability – The Secret’s in the Sauce

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

5-steps-sustainabilityOver the past five years the Metro Detroit business community has grown at a degree not seen in literally decades, led in large part by a resurgent city center downtown where, with a nod to Dan Gilbert’s Quicken, more and more people are coming to live, work and play.  Yet, is it sustainable?

On Wednesday May 3rd from 7:30a-1p in Tech Town, the 2017 “Small Business Workshop” will examine exactly that with a theme focused on business sustainability.  The Lee Group, led by media personality and marketing consultant Mark S. Lee, is the presenter and Tanner Friedman a proud sponsor and workshop participant. More here: The conference aims to dive into dynamics and considerations sure to be of value to any business, company or entrepreneur operating in the Southeast Michigan region. We aim to look at both challenges and recommendations for remaining viable in any business climate.

In my area of expertise in marketing and public relations, at the very core, it really comes down to a few foundational considerations, among them: Knowing who you are and who your customers are.  And, from there, how do you communicate value to that audience with messaging that resonates and moves them to action?  Then, for the long haul, once you have those customers, how do you retain them and remain viable?  There, we will look into the importance of delivering on your value proposition and building long-term relationships.  After all, in virtually any industry, your existing customers should be your greatest allies and referral sources.

Marketing, media relations, social media – all factor into how you can build, maintain and grow your business with – again, back to that word – sustainability.  We hope to have a dialogue with you on May 3rd.  Like you, we’re in it for the long haul and eager to share the recipes.


David Cassidy: A (Brand) Identity Lost and Found

Monday, February 27th, 2017

2545764400000578-2936558-image-m-6_1422890689144 I don’t know what I’m up against. I don’t know what it’s all about. I got so much to think about…This week, former pop idol David Cassidy announced to the world that he has dementia and, after nearly 50 years of performing, he is retiring.  His life has been an extreme rollercoaster ride that has touched many and, as much as any, tells a cautionary tale of a brand identity run amok, lost and later found.

A working actor and musician in his teens, Cassidy always sought stardom, appearing on a slew of early 70s high-profile television series, including: “Medical Center,” “Bonanza,” “Ironside,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Adam-12.” But nothing could have prepared him for his role in the Cowsills-inspired “Partridge Family” that would, virtually overnight, elevate his status to one of the most famous and sought after pop stars ever while leaving him wondering who he really was.

For Cassidy, the fame would become both a blessing and a curse as he has described the phenomenon of “him” in interviews over the years.  Media of the day worked both for and against him.  At a time before cable, the Internet, MP3s and video games, there were only three national TV networks; as such, millions watched while millions more bought Partridge Family records (myself among them).  As such, to much of the world David Cassidy was Keith Partridge – whether on television, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine covers, lunch boxes or in concert (where he sang series songs).

Exacerbating the problem for Cassidy was that in a time before the Internet and cable, there were few media platforms to appear as “yourself” – no personal websites to tell the tale of who you really were as an artist rather than fictional character; no E! Entertainment cable network to run stories on a day in your life.  And, further, there were only a handful of network TV talk shows where one might appear “out of costume” as it were; the granddaddy being “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” although this aired late nightly and long after most teenyboppers went to bed.  As a result, David Cassidy lost himself with a personal brand and identity virtually hijacked by a TV network (ABC) that owned his likeness and a recording company (Bell) that owned his voice. It was a disastrous recipe for typecasting and, for many years, resulted in something akin to career suicide. Just ask one-time “Batman” star Adam West.

Cassidy eventually would resurrect his career and take his talents to Broadway and then Vegas and, in time, return to touring and playing (and enjoying) the songs that initially made him famous enough to sell out Madison Square Garden and Wembley Stadium, among others, back in the day.  However, it would take walking away at the top of his fame and drastic measures (appearing mostly nude on the cover of Rolling Stone).  Radio and music buyers would largely eschew his new offerings for years.

They say time can heal all wounds and hindsight is forever 20/20 and, to be sure, in recent interviews he has talked about the positives of extreme celebrity and how it has allowed him the opportunity to positively impact the lives of many. As he enters the twilight of his life and a difficult road ahead, perhaps David Cassidy has also finally come to terms with and accepted the pivotal role Keith Partridge played in his life.  One would think that, at the very least, he’s met him halfway. And you know what they say about that.

A Movie To Die For?

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Suicide-Squad-Joker-character-posterAll my friends are heathens, take it slow / Wait for them to ask you who you know / Please don’t make any sudden moves / You don’t know the half of the abuse.  Thus opens the new song by Twenty One Pilots, “Heathens” from one of the year’s most anticipated movies, “Suicide Squad”, in theaters this weekend.  It’s debut will take comic book filmmaking in a totally new direction while showcasing movie marketing at its finest.

Hollywood has a knack for repeating what works and, indeed, this flick will join a long line of still-popular celluloid representations of characters and story lines currently running in the funny papers. Yet, this is superhero-dom with a twist – as these stars are actually anti-heroes – for perhaps the first time ever.  Some might argue that the forgettable “Punisher” movies of yesteryear previously walked this ground, yet, this time, the individuals taking center stage in “Suicide Squad” are villains; some among the most dangerous from the Batman mythos.

Pre-promotion of “Squad” has been heavy and somewhat predictable with early screenings of previews at the country’s top Comicons.  The movie’s stars, including A-Listers Jared Leto (Joker) and Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) have, similarly, been making appearances here there and everywhere, including on the late night “Jimmys”.  As important in the hype, though: the 2016 blockbuster Batman v Superman movie, which set the table for a new Gotham while TV’s “Arrow” and “Gotham” have both shined a light on members of the Squad and the mythical New York City, respectively.

Which brings us back to the music. If you liked the score from “Fury” or “Gravity” – both moody and atmospheric – you’ll similarly be drawn to this one, also composed by Steve Price.  Still, it’s the popular Twenty One Pilots and “Heathens” that really steals the show.  The tune has been rocketing up the charts via radio stations across the country and could someday be considered alongside Prince’s 1989 “Batdance” as one of the greatest super hero movie-related tunes ever.  This is the stuff of James Bond soundtracks and should further ensure that ticket buyers for the new “Suicide Squad” leave the theater both shaken and stirred.


There’s No Place Like Home Plate

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Minor_League_Baseball267Baseball has long been known as the national pastime and for good reason.  Nothing quite beats sitting in the stands on a long summer night, watching talented athletes compete on manicured fields while enjoying the requisite hot dogs, peanuts and a “cold one”.  And nowhere is the fun and frivolity more endearing (and enduring) than in minor league baseball.

This past weekend I crossed another ‘to do’ off my bucket list, embarking on a three-day/night, three-travel-state minor league baseball excursion.  This took me and a friend to Chicago for the Kane County Cougars and Schaumburg Boomers and then to Fort Wayne for the Tin Caps.  All three venues offered a veritable potpourri of marketing and promotional fun and value – just what that level of the sport is known for.  After all, where else can you see a pro sporting event today for as low as $5-$10 for admission and even less for spirits and dogs in most cases. And, speaking of “seeing”, there are typically no bad seats in any such house.

It’s family fun at its finest and getting more and more creative all the time, it seems. Where else can you enjoy people dressed up as sandwiches competing to add toppings to themselves (Tincaps), “Rock, Paper, Scissors” Night (Boomers) or monkeys riding dogs herding goats (our own United Shore Professional Baseball league teams – a client ) in Utica, Michigan?

Best of all, minor league baseball is about community. A place where, besides watching baseball and the festivities at large, you can also picnic, play and celebrate neighbors.  “Hometown Heroes” is a staple at most ball parks, including spotlighting and saluting area veterans and their families. Many clubs also have reading and scholarship clubs; variations include players serving as reading members to area youth as well as team acknowledgments of young scholar accomplishments at local schools.

Finally, many cite the purity of the minor league venue in that its players – typically earning anywhere from approximately $10,000-$12,000 a year – are playing as much for a love of the game as a paycheck.  To be sure, we as a society tend to gravitate toward  things that are (or appear) genuine, pure and down-to-earth.  Attending these games – many off the beaten path – felt like returning to my youth and a time spent on dusty, rocky infields and uneven outfields. It felt like nostalgia. It felt like home.


When Doves Cry

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Prince_logo.svgAnother artist gone too soon.  There have been many in recent weeks with Prince, sadly, among the most notable and pioneering.  He was James Brown meets Jimi Hendrix – a rocker who merged funk, R&B, electronica and soul as well as anyone ever did.  A trendsetter and visionary.  An amazing songwriter and incredible singer with range that one moment expressed emotion, another sexuality.

As a radio disk jockey as his career began and progressed, I experienced first hand how traditional radio at first shunned and then openly embraced him.  When I first hit the airwaves in 1981, music from his first offerings, “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy” were too controversial for anything but Urban formatted stations to play, typically late at night and edited.  At the same time, traditional “Hit” radio was the exact opposite of color and gender blind. They rarely played African American or female artists. Then came Michael Jackson and MTV.

The timing was perfect for Prince and he took full advantage – releasing his swan song, “Purple Rain” and the beautiful “When Doves Cry” to radio and MTV.  The movie, “Purple Rain”, would become the silver screen’s first long-form music video since the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine”.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

What would follow, in fact, was a legendary career that would offer the eclectic (“Rasberry Beret”), the socially relevant (“Sign of the Times”) and the out-and-out fun (“Kiss”).  A master marketer, he was among the first to release music free and or without promotion online – approaches later emulated to great success by Radiohead, Beyonce and Drake.

Always pushing boundaries.  Always setting trends.  A chameleon who was first a name and then a symbol and then a name again.  At times we might have wanted to look away, but we could never take our eyes or ears off him.

Batman v Superman? How about DC v Marvel

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 6.04.31 PMDespite the fact that DC Comics (originally known as National Allied Publications) has been around since 1935, it has never before featured two of its superheroes – let alone its most iconic – in one feature length motion picture.  In the newly released movie, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which opened in theaters Friday, not only we do we get to see two of comicdom’s oldest and most storied characters, we are also presented with Wonder Woman and, (spoiler alert) a glimpse at Aquaman and (it is rumored) The Flash (I have yet to see the film).  Obviously DC is looking to take on Marvel with a league of its own.

As I have written previously, when it comes to the Silver Screen, Marvel has forever ruled the roost (Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Iron Man) with DC possessing a monopoly on the boob tube (Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow).  Now, DC plans to borrow a page from their cross-town publishing rival’s playbook and release two movies a year over the next five years, building toward their super team team-up.  Where Marvel has the Avengers, DC has the Justice League; but first we have to get to know the players. Wonder Woman will be the next to star in her own film. One would assume Aquaman is next.

What is perhaps even more intriguing about “Batman v Superman” is what the story is based on.  Frank Miller (he of “3000″ and “Sin City” movie fame) is also widely recognized as one of the best comic book writers of our time and, indeed, his top grossing movies were based on his graphic novels.  Along with “Watchmen” (which he did not write), “The Dark Knight Returns” comic book series, originally published in 1984, is hands-down the greatest Batman graphic series ever, featuring an aging, retired Bruce Wayne who confronts a bought-and-paid-for by the federal government Superman.  You’ll even see certain scenes in “Dawn of Justice” that come directly from “Dark Knight” (including this blog’s featured image). The plot might be different in “Dawn” but its foundation is pure Miller.

And that’s a good thing.  Once again, the celluloid creators who have been entrusted to stay true to the characters and their lore are showing they deserve it.  Watch “Arrow” and “Flash” on TV and you will see it: references to events and names and obscure characters that demonstrate show writers have done their homework and respect comic history. It’s basically Marketing 101: know who you are trying to reach and then create and message a product or service that will motivate your audience to action.  If the trailers for “Batman v Superman” are any indication, we are in good hands once again.



How Should Trump Make You Think About Your Communications Strategy?

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

UnknownA few days ago, I met with a longtime client with whom we are privileged to share a model relationship of trust and respect. The president of the company had a simple question that went something like this: “I’m watching Trump and what’s happening. Should we be doing anything different?”

The answer was ultimately “no,” but it requires much more than a soundbite response. That’s because, as we have written about many times, there are significant differences between political and business PR. And in Trump’s case, his PR, such that it is, has followed a celebrity PR script for 30 years, which is closer to political PR but even farther away from business PR, as celebrity PR is all about making and keeping an individual famous.

There are examples in presidential elections for which everyone in communications has benefited. For example, 1992′s election of Bill Clinton proved for all that Baby Boomers were a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace. 2008′s election of Obama proved the power of the Internet, even to those still skeptical at that point. A similar broad lesson may be learned in 2016. But that is still very much unclear.

While Trump is obviously tapping into “something” in the marketplace (we’ll leave that to the political analysts and sociologists), it’s hard to imagine a business that would benefit from emulating his antics, so matter how successful in the political arena they may be to date. What kind of business would gain market share mocking the disabled or proposing that individuals of a different religion be banned from the country, as just a couple of examples?

What Trump shows us clearly, however, is that America’s obsession with celebrity is alive, well and perhaps more powerful that ever. Trump has spent countless dollars across a generation, building himself into a household name, wanting you to think of him as the embodiment of success and the East Coast lifestyle of the rich and famous. Through bragging biographies, tabloid marriages, talk show appearances and a highly-rated Prime Time network reality show, he has made sure you know who he is and what he wants to stand for.

So I told the client “No…but.” Their company should keep doing what it’s doing, clearly communicating at every opportunity who they are, what they do and how they’re different, remaining true to their values. Years ago, they capitalized on the culture of celebrity, using a household face and voice as a spokesperson for their country. That ran its course but is worth remembering. For now, I say, leave “The Trump Effect” to the game of election politics. The client agrees.

Radiohead’s “Spectre”: Nobody’s Done 007 Better

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.25.38 PMOver the past five decades there has never been a movie series as enduring and for millions as endearing as creator Albert Brocolli’s James Bond films. Never mind Furious 7, How about 24 x 007.  And through those dozens of movies the expert melding of action and music remains integral to the franchise’s success, in particular the opening credits which set the tone for each flick.  As detailed in Wikipedia, the actual iconic James Bond theme – featuring the surfer-esque “Dum-de-de-de-Dum” guitar riff was created by composer Monty Norman and scored by the legendary John Barry.  It has been utilized in the opening credits from the very beginning, including 1962′s “Dr. No” and 1963′s “To Russia with Love” as well as many of the closing credits through the very latest film.

By 1964s “Goldfinger” however, the movie’s openings would be dominated by popular singers and groups of that particular era.  And so it was that Welch singer Shirley Bassey took on that title track and took it to #1 for a 200 week run on the Billboard charts (#14 in the UK), garnering a Grammy nomination as well. Bassey would return in 1971 for “Diamonds are Forever” and again in 1979 with “Moonraker.”  As the Bond marketing and promotions machine continued to churn with radio airplay and soundtrack sales for its celluloid offerings, the franchise officially entered the rock era in 1973 with perhaps one of its best known and successful themes: “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings. Composed by George Martin, it marked the first Bond song to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Best Original Song), reaching #2 in the U.S. and #9 on the UK charts.  The song also won a Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists).

Thus would begin a non-stop run of popular artists in every film that has included, most notably: Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Chris Cornell and Alicia Keys. To say nothing of a slew of top performers that have contributed tunes to the closing credits: Louis Armstrong, K.D. Lang, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Moby. And despite mega superstar Adele performing “Skyfall” in 2012, no Bond song had every topped the charts in the UK until Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” entered them at #1 in recent weeks on behalf of the latest 007 chapter, “Spectre.”

Which brings us to what I and many feel is one of the best Bond songs ever: “Spectre” by Radiohead.  Released to fans this past week online as something of a “Christmas gift” it does not appear in the film nor soundtrack as the hauntingly beautiful tune was passed over in favor of Smith. It’s not the first time top artists have lost out in favor of other options.  Consider these “losers”: Johnny Cash (Thunderball), Brian Wilson (for a James Bond theme song: “Run James Run” which would later appear on “Pet Sounds”), Alice Cooper (The Man with the Golden Gun), Blondie (For Your Eyes Only [Sheena Easton] and Pet Shop Boys (The Living Daylights). It would seem, then, that Radiohead is in very good company. And thought enough to make it available to enjoy through the power of social media.

Take a listen, decide for yourself and let me know what you think. You’ll find a link to the Soundcloud version here as well as a YouTube version of how it might have worked/looked over the actual opening credits here. And, with Radiohead four years removed from their last studio LP, one can’t help but get excited by the shape of things to come.








Phil Collins’ Groovy Kind of Leave

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-10-31 at 2.49.18 PMThey say absence makes the heart grow fonder and perhaps nowhere is that more apropos than in the world of music. I was reminded of this dynamic this week with the news that Phil Collins, he of Genesis and solo fame, is planning his first LP of new material since 2002.  While most of us strive for retirement at 64 years of age, Collins is coming out of it to record and tour. He’s obviously ready. Are we?

As New York Post music writer Hardeep Phull put it this week, throughout the 1980s and 90s, Collins’ music, “used to saturate radio and TV to the point of mind-numbing omnipresence.” And, indeed, Phil was here, there and everywhere – including radio stations from coast to coast, MTV, even “Miami Vice” – year after year after year.  And, after multi-million-dollar sales and sold out concerts, Collins flamed out and went away on an extended leave of absence. I know I, for one, welcomed the extended sabbatical.

More contemporarily, the seemingly unstoppable Justin Timberlake experienced this same dynamic with his legion of fans.  In the brightest spotlight of fame beginning in 1995 with NSync, his 7-year boy band career saw the selling of more than 50 million albums.  An even more successful solo recording career would last another decade including major forays into TV (“Saturday Night Live” and “Jimmy Fallon”) and movies (nearly twenty silver celluloid appearances).  When “20/20 Experience” was released in 2013, fans had grown weary with Timberlake reading the writing on the wall and heading for the mountains – for a time at least.

Today more than ever celebrities in general walk a fine line between popularity and overexposure.  Never have we had more access to news, information, photos, video and overall artist content.  From TV talk shows with “The Jimmys” to YouTube and other online media there exist a multitude of communications mediums for engaging fans – and potentially burning them out.  Do too little and you risk not capitalizing on what could be fleeting fame. Do too much for too long and you risk alienating your fan base and also becoming a footnote. To be sure, it takes a balance directed by audience input and gut.  And, rather than being too available perhaps keep ‘em guessing and coming back for more.





One Week Fantasy Sports: Ad Blitz Now, PR Issues Later?

Monday, September 21st, 2015

football-moneyIf you even casually watch or follow sports, especially America’s most popular TV sports, football, there is no doubt you have felt saturated by TV commercials, radio host endorsements, web banners and social media ads for two websites competing in a new gaming platform called “one week fantasy sports.”

Fans and journalists alike are taking to social media to voice opinions about being inundated with ads for Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Without the backing of PAC money weeks before an election, it’s hard to imagine more frequency for any other ad barrage.

Some reports estimate the total ad spend in recent weeks at nearly $30 million. But it sure seems like more than that, especially when you factor in the local in-stadium advertising that is new for this football season. There’s no doubt that level of attention has piqued fan curiosity and led to sign-ups and sampling. These two sites and their fledging business models are now part of the consciousness of their target audiences. But at what price?

These two companies must now be prepared to be in the PR crosshairs. They need to be ready for for a flurry negative media attention, as fans inevitably lose money via those sites. They need to be ready to be attacked by politicians, as the companies toe the line between gambling and entertainment. They must be prepared to deal with direct complaints via social media in a timely and professional manner.

There’s no doubt they have their talking points ready to go in their defense. But is there anything they have planned to be proactive? One of them could start poking a little good natured fun at themselves and join the chorus talking about the sheer volume of ads to avoid being cast quickly a “big, bad” image. Or one could follow the lead of casinos, which have largely rid themselves of stigma in the last generation by aggressively positioning themselves as good corporate citizens. Or will one of them start using PR tools to highlight their winners in their local markets?

From a PR standpoint, buying the quantity of advertising is the equivalent of placing a gigantic target on the back of your company in the battle for attention. While their efforts have so far been driven by marketing tactics, PR needs to have the proverbial “seat at the table” in order for these companies to grow successful businesses.