Archive for the ‘communications’ Category

Bullies Never Garner Loyalty

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

0301Every day, our firm generates, reviews and strategizes on developing and implementing effective communications initiatives. And while those communiqués can take many forms and be delivered through a range of platforms, the end goal is typically the same: Compel audiences to act in a way that positively affects business objectives. Call it relationship building. Call it generating brand loyalty. Call it gaining consensus. But never call it bullying.

Donald Trump wants loyalty from his “team” yet doesn’t seem to even vaguely understand the old adage of: “There is no “I” in “Team.” Instead, he continues to use social media as his cyber-bullying medium of choice. Yesterday, the Director of the FBI, today his Attorney General, tomorrow, who knows. Perhaps most maddening and misdirected was his irrational dialogue this week in front of the Boy Scouts; an impressionable youth in need of mentoring, not hate mongering. As many in Washington have been saying in recent days, Jeff Sessions swore an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, not to the whims of Donald Trump.

Adding more insult to injury, Trump today made the decision – to the shock of a Congressional oversight committee who was studying the matter – to ban transgender individuals from entering the military. Most discovered his decision via Twitter. A bully singles out certain individuals and then carries out words and actions designed to dehumanize them and “keep them down.” The similarities in his modus operandi here and elsewhere are striking.

And so it is both sad and inspiring that the individual with the presence and sense of mind to communicate this week what our country needs from its leaders came from a man returning from surgery and suffering from a serious form of brain cancer: Senator John McCain. He spoke emotionally about the need for his fellow elected officials to put differences aside and work to find common ground and areas for compromise. To get things done while acting in the best interests of the American people. This message was one of unity and selflessness.

We follow leaders who inspire. Who build bridges. Who think before they act and speak. Those who say and do what is right for all of us (or at least the majority of us). Those are the leaders who gain our admiration, our backing, our loyalty. That is earned. And that is what, unfortunately, a bully will never learn.

Sports Coverage Without Clickbait Or Autoplay Videos. Sounds Great. But Will You Pay?

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

CpEohaobA journalist for a local newspaper told me recently that everyone in the newsroom should thank the sports department “for keeping us in business.” At many of them, sports drives web traffic and as news organizations have had to cut deeply to endure the transition from the dollars that classified and print advertising brought in to the pennies that online advertising generates, they need all the pennies they can get.

The business of funding local news organizations impacts consumers more than they realize. Because so much is given to readers at no cost, which they have now largely come to expect, revenue has to come from pop-up ads, auto-play videos and other ad devices that consumers say they don’t like. Because of the imperative to drive web traffic and boost page-view numbers, the slightest sports item that resembles news turns into a clickable story or, worse yet, a carpal tunnel-inducing photo gallery.

A new start-up option for fans, with a new business model, is making its way across North America. The Athletic, a Silicon Valley-born, venture capital funded online platform, is now in expansion mode, adding Detroit and the Bay Area in recent weeks. Craig Custance, the Detroit Editor-In-Chief and a Metro Detroit native, told me last week that he chose The Athletic job after working as ESPN’s national hockey writer for the past six years. The Athletic has “a new business model that I had become convinced was going to work and…a solution to what’s been an issue in journalism and that’s making money digitally.”

The Athletic is subscription-only. Right now, you can subscribe under a special for a year for $40. In return, you get access to their app and to read their stories online, without any advertising on the page. “The product looks different…Really clean. That’s the background of the guys who started the company. They’re tech guys,” Custance said. “The reader now basically has some control over the content because they’re the ones paying the freight…if it’s not different enough, if they’re not learning something, if it’s not unique to what’s being done in the market for free, then people won’t subscribe. There’s a higher standard to what we have to do.”

Custance is now recruiting beat writers to cover Detroit’s teams, including Katie Strang, another ESPN veteran. He says interest among sports journalists is very strong as local reporting jobs are tougher than ever. They now have to tweet, shoot and post photos and video, cover practices, games and press conferences and, by the way, write stories, filing around the clock. There just isn’t as much time for long-form analysis, in-depth reporting or the telling of stories-behind-the-stories anymore, on top of the uncertainty of local “papers” in the online world. It’s the same “more with less” reality we see across media. Custance is telling applicants, “They have to have some sort of unique voice or skill set that makes them stand out, that makes people want to read their work.” The Athletic plans a bricks-and-mortar office in Downtown Detroit.

In recent weeks, Fox Sports, a behemoth in the sports media world, rid its website of sports writing focused only on video, repurposed from TV. But Custance says The Athletic is not deterred because it’s not for everyone. “The beauty of this is we’re not trying to get every single sports fan…Not everybody is going to subscribe to this model…We’re finding there’s a large group of people who say ‘we still want to read quality, well-written work and we’re willing to pay for it because if we don’t, it might not exist at some point.’”

As a sports fan who wants to know more than what I get from just watching the games, I signed up for a subscription. I’m interested to see if enough fellow enthusiasts will make the same decision to keep The Athletic growing.

Media Companies Mess Up PR… And It Matters

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

IMG_0205Unveiling a new logo ranks high among communications challenges. Logos for established businesses contain emotion, which, upon a change, can spill into reaction, especially online in the era of social media outrage.

We have worked with clients in these situations to minimize controversy and maximize explanation and context. Even then, we have prepared clients for rough waters in at least the short-term in an environment where change stirs emotion and everyone feels empowered to take a turn as an art critic.

In a fragile business like media, a logo change should be handled strategically, ensuring that the organization making the change can speak for itself, carefully and deliberately to its audiences about why the change is necessary.

Gannett, owner of the Detroit Free Press and hundreds of newspapers and news websites across the country, took a different approach, at least in Detroit, among other markets nationally. The company changed the iconic Free Press logo to one mirroring its flagship, but non-local, USA Today branding, at least online. In the Detroit market, this is a jarring change, as the Olde English style, shared by the Tigers baseball team, is considered part of the regional identity.

Rather than execute what we would call a “change communications strategy,” which borrows from the fundamentals of crisis communications, corporate overlords sent a morning email to staff (just days after making a change in the executive editor’s office) and ordered the mandated move to go into effect online. In what should have been anticipated as a worst case scenario, it was brought to the public’s attention via social media posts by journalists at competing outlets, as chronicled by this item by Poynter, the nonprofit journalism educational institution.

Notably, there has been no communication from the company to the Free Press’ audience about the change. As we have written here many times before, including when Gannett ordered layoffs late last year, reducing the Free Press’ newsgathering resources without even making an effort to reassure its audiences, the corporations that run media ironically don’t practice the most core principles of PR.

Was this change the right decision? Will Gannett be able to grow revenue by piggybacking off the USA Today brand in a parochial market like Detroit? Does USA Today have stronger identity than a local brand that dates back to 1831? The future of an institution rests on the answers to those questions. This is a decision more than about font and color. It’s part of the future of a resource this community, and every community, needs, whether it’s in print, online or whatever is next. A group in a conference room in Virginia messed up the communications rollout. So often, that’s a symptom of bigger reasons for concern.

What, Me Worry? Radio Remains Relevant, Reach Strong.

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

imagesWhen examining mediums to tout and those to pan, digital continues to be held up as the golden child, while radio seems forever (for lack of a better term) the step-child – seemingly on the verge of inconsequential and the brink of demise. And while turmoil regularly and publicly embroils radio giants iHeart and Cumulus, what does the research say on the industry overall? What do the numbers show? In recent days, Nielsen’s quarterly “State of the Media: Audio Today” was released and featured prominently in Tom Taylor’s “Now” report. The findings may surprise you. Certainly they are enlightening.

Comparing radio to other mediums, Audio Today shows radio “reaching more Americans each week than any other platform.” That reach for all adults is 93%, with television coming in second at 89%. The smartphone is now at 83% and PC at 50%. “TV-connected devices” reach 44% of all adults weekly, the tablet 37%

A look at the next generation (18-34), of great concern and focus for all mediums (especially radio), shows that radio is still quite strong (and maybe surprising to many) – reaching 92% of all persons in that demographic each and every week. Considering how millennials consume visual content, not as surprising are numbers that show TV reach has fallen to 79% (smartphone reach, by contrast, is 91%).

Nielsen’s deep dive into radio also examined “America’s top formats” for all listeners age 12+ in all markets from Spring 2016. Top 5 rankings showed: #1 Country (13.6%); News-Talk (11.1%) (does not include All-News); Hit Radio (7.9%) and Adult Contemporary (7.8%) tied for third; with Classic Rock (6.0%) and Classic Hits (5.9%) tied after that. A fairly close race overall and no matter how you slice and dice it.

Moreover, as podcasts gain momentum and popularity, Nielsen examined this medium and listener preferences by genre. Here, comedy leads the way with 48% of podcasting users consuming it. Next comes educational at 40% followed by sports (27%); politics (22% and, one would assume, growing); gaming (18%); and tech/sci-fi at 16% each.

Overall, there is no doubt that radio continues to exert tremendous impact and accomplish cross-demographical reach. To be sure, Nielsen’s numbers in the 90+percentiles are far from new but, rather, have remained consistent for years. Someday they will hopefully and finally serve as a wake-up call to its naysayers. Still, savvy radio programmers understand the need to constantly adapt to ever-evolving consumption preferences and technology. That said, the formula for success remains constant: The need for live, local, relevant and interactive. Take a closer look at the radio stations that still subscribe to this approach. They are thriving. They will survive.

Crain’s Detroit Business Publishes Tanner Friedman Guest Column

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Zz52NGJMCrain’s Detroit Business has published a guest column, authored by Tanner Friedman Co-Founder Matt Friedman. The column focuses on the retirement, after 41 years, of WBFH-FM radio station manager Pete Bowers, who gave Friedman’s communications career a start when he was a sixth-grader interested in broadcasting.

Here is a link to the column, which explains how Bowers’ influence will last long after his retirement and should sere as an example for business people everywhere.

Dare Mighty Things – With The Right Approach

Monday, June 5th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 9.38.06 PMAlways interesting and forever eventful, the Detroit Regional Chamber Mackinac Policy Conference always brings something new to the table. This year, my 22nd on the island, I had the good fortune to experience the knowledge and perspectives of our next generation, via the Chamber’s “Emerging Leaders” group – an experience both enlightening and thought provoking. I only wish the ‘EL’ initiative was in place in my more formative years.

Each year, the Chamber selects a number of “young professionals” to attend the conference and be a part of the overall conversation, including attending sessions, networking and being provided with a slew of special programming opportunities. One of those interactions was a sit-down with Tim Smith, Owner and CEO of Skidmore Studio in Detroit including a discussion based around his forthcoming book, “Dare Mighty Things,” that examined such areas as personal and professional brands, personas and potential conflicts between them.

It is always interesting to hear both “sides” of the millennial/baby boomer interaction dynamic and this particular gathering contained no lack of opinions.  One particular individual took the conversation into contiguous areas, including his impassioned thoughts on why millennials should not ask for or earn but, rather, demand both a seat at the decision-making table in business and when seeking access to capital. “They need us,” he implored.

Now, I’ve been at this for a long, long time and I know what it is like to feel as if you don’t have a say or stake in the complicated world of business and commerce. I also know that having a ‘say’ is not demanded but earned- not necessarily over a long period of time but through a demonstrated willingness to collaborate and cooperate. Being a ‘disruptor’ is fine. However, that approach should come with constructive solutions to adjusting or replacing the ‘status quo.’ I hope other young professionals looking to find their way will at least consider this advice: It’s not about tearing down walls but, rather, building bridges.  Take the long view and you’re much more likely to succeed over the long run – and accomplish mighty things.

 

After Stunt, Will Journalists Keep Going Back To Calley?

Monday, June 5th, 2017

UnknownFor five weeks leading up to the Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, had journalists thinking he would announce his candidacy for Governor on May 30th, on the first day of the Conference.

All over social media, the Calley camp bought ads teasing “5.30.17.” In this interview with WJR’s Frank Beckmann on April 24th, Calley did nothing to refute the idea that that indeed would be the day he would announce.

Upon arriving in the island, Conference attendees were greeted, literally every few feet, by college-age barkers handing out invitations to the “major announcement” event, giving the island’s main drag a Las Vegas Strip feel. Multiple journalists arrived on the island early to be in place for what they expected to be the official beginning of the 2018 campaign. Instead, they were victims of a bait and switch stunt, burning them, along with other attendees who delayed registration for the Conference to file into a restaurant, expecting news to be made before their eyes.

Instead of announcing his candidacy, Calley, surrounded by the paid college-age staff, called for a plan to make Michigan’s Legislature part-time. With scripted chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and “Clean It Up!” amid cries against “The Establishment” (the 7-year Lieutenant Governor previously served as a legislator, full-time), Calley held an event apparently only a political ringmaster could appreciate. Several journalists and attendees called it everything from “weird” to “a waste of time.”

This is yet another example of the difference between business and political PR. If a business hyped an announcement for five weeks, then switched it to appeal to a niche constituency rally, it wouldn’t get a second chance. But, in politics, some Roger Ailes wannabe is probably doing self back patting for getting a bunch of news coverage in one day to “help name recognition” and “fire up the base” while “creating a show.” Sooner or later, they are going to have to make the announcement the assembled media thought it was getting last week.

Begrudgingly, journalists will still cover the Calley announcement, whenever and wherever it happens. But will they forget about what happened on Mackinac? To quote the great PR analyst L.L. Cool J – I don’t think so.

The City Coming Off Bankruptcy May Be Investing More In Communications Than Your Company

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Detroit-City-Council-Districts-Map-1The City of Detroit is still emerging from bankruptcy. But chances are, the city government is embracing creativity in communications much more than the place where you work. Let this be a wake-up call.

Tanner Friedman had the privilege of providing analysis for this Detroit News article on how the City of Detroit is investing in writers and platforms to tell the stories that traditional media, which has contracted in Detroit and across the country over the past decade, can no longer tell. While this effort, like anything you do, must be credible to audience. It must not come across as propaganda. As Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press points out, as a government entity, it must not be a re-election campaign effort for the Mayor. In this case, Mike Duggan has a history of communications innovation. Early in his tenure as CEO the Detroit Medical Center, it was among the first hospitals in the country, if not the first, to offer patients a video library of professional videos that helped ease concerns prior to surgeries and other procedures.

Often, we counsel prospective clients on the opportunities – if not the need – for telling their own stories over platforms that they control to complement whatever bona fide news their organizations can generate. They nod their heads and act like they understand. But when it comes time to provide budget for this type of proactive work, too many scoff. They still think they can generate reach for their information like they did 20 years ago through traditional media alone.

The world has changed. Communications have changed. There are very few opportunities for “mass media” in a personal media world. But companies, nonprofit organizations, even cities have stories that are worth connecting with audiences, even if they fall short of news thresholds or there just are not the news resources to cover them. If the city coming out of the worst financial crisis in U.S. history can find the means to communicate in new ways to its audiences, so should you.

PR’s Looming Crisis of Crediblity

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

crisis-ahead-road-sign-cloudy-sky-background-53806269In one of the most thought-provoking public conversations I’ve been a part of in recent years, the Public Relations Society of America’s Detroit Chapter invited me, along with Crain’s Detroit Business Publisher/Editor Ron Fournier and Finn Partners’ Taylar Koblyas, to sit on a panel last week, in front of a packed room on the campus of Wayne State University, entitled “The Role Of The PR Practitioner In The Era Of Fake News.”

We all agree that hoaxes have always been around, that provable facts haven’t always guided public opinion (see the flat Earth controversy of 1492) and that what makes today different is the speed and omnipresence of what looks like news in the palms of our hands. It’s true that news has trust issues today, which can hinder PR and its relationship with news.

In the midst of this, PR faces a looming crisis of credibility. We do not exist if not for our relationships, grounded in trust, with journalists and the audiences we work to reach. Right now, though, our actions threaten those relationships more than ever.

How can journalists trust us when, more often than ever, we won’t even talk to them? We encourage email “interviews” and push paper (in the form of statements) rather than people (human-to-human contact). We can’t build trust when we flood their inboxes with pitches and releases that we know would never be news in the current environment, rationalized by thinking “we’re casting a wide net” or so we can show clients and bosses “impressive” media lists, just to cover our rear ends.

How can the public trust us when all we say to our most important audiences is that the company is “Excited to leverage assets” or other corporate mumbo jumbo, written for our clients and bosses and not for our audiences? We need to revisit the concept of writing for the individual who approves our copy, rather than writing for the audience who is, more than ever, depending on the company to tell them what’s going on.

And then there’s this story – sent to me after the panel discussion. How can we be trusted to work with or provide information to anyone when those from our ranks bill a public school system $4.5 million over just three years for work? Any kind of work? The days of “charge the biggest number you can get away with until you’re fired” need to be over in order for the rest of us to be able to work with clients on the “need to have” services that will fulfill their most important objectives and provide the most value.

All of us in PR want the news business to be successful and credible in the eyes of our audiences. In order for that to happen, we have to be a part of the solution. But, on a day to day basis, we are too often a part of the problem.

Before Sears Disappears, Catalog Your PR

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Sears_1969_logoNews this past week that Sears may have trouble staying in business beyond the immediate future shouldn’t make you think of just retail. It should also get you thinking about your business.

If when you heard the news about Sears you thought “Sears? Are they still around?,” you weren’t alone. And if you have anything to say about the communications and marketing where you work, you should consider that question the worst case scenario for your business, whether it’s a professional services firm, a nonprofit organization, a manufacturer, a health care entity or even a media company. Examples on a weekly basis prove that the key to business success is relevance.

PR strategy conversations with clients have changed significantly over the last decade. It used to be “How can we get you media attention?” Now, it’s “How can we help you stay in front of your audiences?” Sometimes, that includes news coverage, if situations warrant. But, always, it’s about communicating to audiences proactively about who you are, what you do and how you’re different, in a variety of ways, across multiple platforms. Think about what you’re doing. If it’s like Sears, just being there at the end of the mall hoping customers would come in while resting on the historical value of your brand, that’s just not going to work.

Business challenges don’t develop overnight. Don’t believe those who tell you that Amazon alone is forcing Sears out of business. Sears has been in this spiral for decades. Personally, I haven’t set foot in one of their stores in more than 20 years, after an all-time customer service debacle about which nobody from the company seemed to care. When we walk into organizations suffering reputation challenges, it’s rarely just “one thing” that causes a situation. Often, brands are the victims of collective negligence. When merely surviving becomes a top priority, things like service and PR just don’t get done and cause the company increasing levels of harm.

“I didn’t know you were still in business” is something you never want your audiences to say. Communicate to them, engage with them and that’s something you’ll never have to hear.