Archive for the ‘communications’ Category

When News Organizations Make Cuts, Others Have To Speak For Them

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

1462736-hand-with-scissors-cutting-out-an-article-from-newspaperOne of the first things I learned in the PR business was “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

Companies that have nothing to say in times of bad news will have the comment vacuum filled quickly. It was true then and even more obvious now as social media can empower just about anyone to be a de facto company spokesperson.

We’re finding, in this time of multiple crises for media organizations, that their lack of PR acumen is biting them once again. As we have written about in recent weeks, around the country, the end of the year is meaning more cuts in newsrooms that can ill afford them. But plunging revenues, changing audience habits and other factors are leading to job eliminations across the industry. In one case, privately-owned business news outlet Crain’s Detroit Business, the outlet outlined its changes for its customers in this story placed on its website. But in most cases, especially corporate-owned entities, the news organizations are, ironically, leaving the storytelling to others.

As we have written, both the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are in the process of making cuts. At a client meeting the other day, I heard that situation spoken of as “what the Free Press and News announced.” Actually, they didn’t announce anything. Other outlets got their hands on internal memos. The news organizations themselves have said nothing to customers. Word about who is accepting buyouts is coming out in drips on journalists’ personal social media pages.

Contrast this with when news organizations are on the other side. When companies they cover make changes, journalists demand detailed information on behalf of the communities they cover. I remember one time when a client closed a facility, and didn’t yet know how many exactly jobs would be affected because of a combination of retirements, layoffs and open jobs not being filled, several reports accused the company of “hiding information.”

This is even happening at the national level. Word leaked Friday night via the New York Post that CBS Radio News would push several well-known anchors into retirement. The company did not comment. The next morning though, one of the company’s journalists, Steven Portnoy, did. The company lucked out that a thoughtful, respectful employee was the one to step forward and fill the void. Here is an excerpt:

“You may have read the news that we’ve been wishing some of our very best friends and colleagues at CBS well as they enter retirement with a bit of corporate encouragement. A word on that —

The people we’ve hailed are, frankly, irreplaceable. They represent a big chunk of the institutional memory of our newsroom and their departures leave us feeling quite sad.

It’s important for radio fans to understand why this is happening. It is NOT because fewer people are listening. In fact, just the opposite is true! Nielsen and Edison Research tell us that radio now reaches more people than any other medium, including the social one you’re reading right now. Many of our stations are at the very top of the ratings in their markets. Tens of millions of Americans of all ages learn about our world from network radio news — don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, we’ve got the data that proves it’s just not true.

The trouble is, marketers — the companies that buy advertising, in the hopes that you’ll buy the things they sell — are always looking for the newest, most cost-efficient way to reach people in a crowded media universe. They’re spending less money on advertising generally and are trying to figure out whether that will work for them. The jury is still out, but network radio in particular has taken a pretty tough hit from the shifting dollars. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the idea that fewer people are listening isn’t one of them.

It’s with this backdrop that CBS has, however, been forced to make tough, careful decisions about our staffing. My understanding is that no more cuts are planned.

What’s important for you, a fan of radio news, to know is this — each hour, 24 times a day, 7 days a week, 365 days each year, the that proudly introduces our newscast will continue to signal the very best in broadcast journalism.

The people of CBS News are as committed as ever to living up to a legacy that began with Robert Trout and Ed Murrow, evolved with Douglas Edwards, Dallas Townsend and Christopher Glenn, and continues today with Frank Settipani, Steve Kathan, Dave Barrett, Pam Coulter and countless others who have made it their life’s work to bring the most up-to-date news to you, a member of one of the largest audiences any media entity in America can claim…

…Thanks for keeping our colleagues and what we do in your thoughts, and thanks for listening.”

If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you. Others won’t get as lucky as CBS and will continue to suffer via public opinion.

Nobody Needs PR Now Like News Organizations

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

imagesThe “Divided Nation” seems more united over one perception than any other – news outlets failed them during the 2016 Election Cycle.

Did national news organizations based in Manhattan fail to see the country as it is? Did TV networks, by providing him with unprecedented, unfiltered air time carry Donald Trump from celebrity reality star to conspiracy theorist to bona fide candidate in the name of ratings (in the words of CBS head Les Moonves “It (Trump’s candidacy) may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”)? Did news organizations of virtually all types focus too much on the “horse race” and not enough on the issues? Did journalists focus more overall on Trump’s foibles than on Hillary Clinton’s because, if nothing else, they were easier (and cheaper) to cover? Did media’s, particularly cable news’, constant debate and confrontation genre create an atmosphere where it was probably safe for the candidates to not hold regular question and answer sessions with journalists? The answer to those and other questions is “yes.”

But, media consumption was exceptionally high during this cycle. Maligned CNN had its highest-rated election night ever. Clicks and ratings were up across the board. But disdain for the news media is also extremely high, even by those who don’t just want to hear news about their favorite “team.” Add to the equation that the media business is still in turmoil, with more cuts and downsizing by margin-hungry corporate owners looming around every corner. This is, by any definition, a PR crisis.

PR, when done well, connects companies with audiences. It informs, even enlightens. Internally, it reminds companies of who they are, what they do and how they’re different. The media business needs this now at, essentially, a time of crisis, when audiences need direct reassurance and attention to concerns.

For example, the New York Times should be communicating with its audiences about its daily “scoreboard,” which showed the “chances of winning” for each candidate, often in recent weeks showing Clinton with upwards of 90+%, updated frequently based on highly-flawed polling. Should that continue, in any form? How does it create value? Outlets of all sizes should be talking to audiences about the tradition of trying to predict, rather than report on, outcomes by “calling” elections using exit polling. The Detroit Free Press “called” Michigan for Clinton, which turned out to be incorrect, causing embarrassment. The paper apologized but, in a competitive environment, should constantly communicate its value to its customers. There are myriad examples that could be provided for cable TV.

Commercial media should take a cue from public television. Trust is paramount to a mission. For 13 years in a row, public television is rated the most trusted institution in America in public opinion surveys. This year’s election coverage showed why. If you watched the NewsHour or Frontline you understand.

Full disclosure: Detroit Public TV is a longtime client. But that should tell you something. Communicating with audiences is a priority of the organization, which is not the case even with commercial news outlets that have “publicity shops.”

Please take less than 4 minutes and watch this exchange on public television between Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press and respected news anchor Devin Scillian of WDIV-TV, who speaks with great candor about the state of political media this year. Scillian shares a lesson from journalism school that I remember too. We were taught how to make important stories interesting. Too often now, they struggle to make interesting stories important.

Ratings and clicks will always come first to commercial news owners. But trust must be in the same breath or the entire enterprise is at risk. Now is the time for news organizations to reflect as they plan for the future. They need to regain confidence to meet basic audience expectations. Just like other companies in crisis, PR tools can lead the way.

An Open Letter To Dr. Meeting Blowoff

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

UnknownDear Dr. Blowoff,

Since you didn’t have the guts to call me yourself after you failed to show up for our scheduled meeting this past week, I have no choice but to call out your behavior in this forum.

First, though, allow me to recap how we got to the point in which I was sitting in your empty waiting room at 7 a.m. being told by your staff, “I’m sure he’s on his way,” as they have been obviously trained to do when you’re late.

In August, a mutual contact offered to get us together to talk about your business plans beyond your medical practice. Tanner Friedman has extensive niche experience in health care business communications, so that certainly made sense. I was asked to provide available dates for a meeting and I provided several of them. Unfortunately, none of them worked for you and your “busy schedule.”

Two months later, I was told you were finally ready to meet and could do so at the time of my choosing, as long as it was 4 p.m. on Friday, the following day, or sometime on Saturday. I told our mutual contact that’s a giant red flag in our book. Someone who can only be available, after two months, on short notice outside of business hours, was not going to be a good client for us. This was clearly not a crisis management project, where we can throw typical schedules out the window. We need access to clients. So, thanks but no thanks.

A few minutes later, though, a call came from your secretary. “The doctor really wants to meet with you,” she said, “But he can only do it at 7 a.m. on Wednesday in his Ferndale office.” “The only time?,” I asked. “Yes,” she said. “Please just meet with him,” our mutual contact had asked. “OK,” I said. I received an Outlook confirmation from your assistant minutes later.

Wednesday morning, I woke up early, answered client emails at 6am and drove 30 minutes completely out of my way to your office to be there at the time you demanded. But you didn’t show up. The staff on-site didn’t bat an eye. One worker did say “I’m sorry” and I said “It’s not your fault, it’s his fault.” She nodded in agreement, as if she had heard that one before.

Several hours later, your assistant called. She claims it was her fault, that I shouldn’t blame you for her “scheduling mixup.” It sounded like she was lying through her teeth. I told her that I couldn’t imagine doing business with someone who treats people this way. She didn’t argue. I explained that we have standards with whom to do business and this doesn’t meet them. That was that.

Doctor, you have a medical degree, meaning at some point in your academic career, you were good at science. It doesn’t make you omnipotent. It doesn’t exempt you from the rules of business etiquette. And it doesn’t require me to kiss your rear end.

Tanner Friedman was built on values and nearly 10 years later, they, not you, dictate how we operate and with whom we work. Chief among them is mutual respect, something you clearly don’t understand.

To paraphrase the business philosopher Taylor Swift, we are never, ever, ever doing business together.

Have A Nice Day,

Matt Friedman

The “Next” Ice Bucket Challenge? Good Luck.

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

ice_bucket.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlargeThe best PR coup in recent days is the stealing of the headlines from the Democratic Convention by the national ALS Association. They marked the two year anniversary of the Ice Bucket Challenge craze, that significantly raised funds for their mission, by breaking the news that money raised during that time period led to an important new scientific discovery.

Two years is an appropriate amount of time to reflect on the phenomenon that had people all of the world taking videos of themselves dumping water on their heads and challenging others to do the same. Nobody watched it all more closely than the nonprofit community. “This changes everything,” one nonprofit CEO told me at the time. But now, with the benefit of perspective, the Ice Bucket Challenge is more of an anomaly. It’s one that should be celebrated but it’s time to admit that it likely won’t be replicated.

Fundraisers nationwide are still looking for the “next” Ice Bucket Challenge. They haven’t found it. About a year and a half ago, one of our nonprofit clients, a terrific organization funded by exceptionally generous individuals, wanted to try. I explained to them that it’s like music promoters trying to find “The Next Beatles” or basketball scouts looking for “The Next Michael Jordan.” Everyone wants it, but it’s not likely to happen. The Ice Bucket Challenge was a product of a moment in time and everything clicked far better than if a group of PR people sat around a conference table trying to plot it out. What it made it authentic, different and, perhaps most significantly, unprecedented, made it successful.

Our client heard all of that and asked that their staged version happen anyway. We tried it, starting with videos featuring a group of kids because, who doesn’t like sharing cute stuff that kids do online? It bombed. Hard. Just like The Bay City Rollers and Harold Miner.

“The Next Ice Bucket Challenge,” as predicted, just couldn’t gain momentum. As expected, as hard as everyone tried, it felt like a knockoff. In this case, it’s virtually impossible to see how something like what happened in 2014 could ever happen again.

But there are some takeaways from the Ice Bucket Challenge that should stay top of mind. It showed the power of online video. It showed how friends can take cues from friends via social media to donate small amounts of money that can add up to make a difference. It showed that serious subjects can be handled in a fun way and still be respectful. If you’re going to imitate anything, think about that.

Texting and Driving: A Trend That Must Become Extinct – Before we Do

Monday, July 25th, 2016

imgresThis past weekend I was stopped at a light with a line of cars in front of me for at least 20 seconds when I heard screeching tires behind me.  Looking into my rear view mirror I saw a newer, midsized car barreling down on me. At the last minute, they swerved into a shallow ditch just behind and to the right of my vehicle. Inside, a younger girl glared at me.  I suspect she was embarrassed and frightened. At the same time, I am sure she had been texting.

Consider these alarming 2016 statistics from distracteddriveraccidents.com:

  • 1 out of every 4 car accidents are caused by texting while driving
  • Every year, 421,000 people are severely injured in accidents involving texting and driving
  • Every day, 11 teenagers die because they were texting and driving. That’s approximately 330 per month and nearly 4,000 per year. (To put that into context, 37,000 individuals of all ages perish in auto accidents annually).

Pedestrian deaths by car are also on the rise.  Clearly, we have an epidemic.  Cleary, we need solutions.

Face-to-face communication is obviously not always feasible. Not in our hectic, time-sensitive and geographically far-ranging world.  Email has largely replaced snail mail and, especially for millennials, texting has replaced talking on the phone as the preferred mode of one-on-one and/or group interaction.  It has gotten to the point, in fact, that many in the younger generational demographic never use the phone; they have become so text dependent. What to do about this?

I have suggestions. With two twenty-something children in my family, I am constantly striving to get their attention on this issue.  If you can’t avoid communicating from the car, I tell them, then use Bluetooth and talk. Pure and simple. Today’s generation must recapture the ability to talk by phone and enhance their interpersonal skills – whether for school, business or their personal lives.

Now a suggestion for the Department of Transportation, NHTSA, automotive safety suppliers and the cellular phone companies: Get together and put legal mandates and high technology to work to save lives.  How about tech in every car that renders the cell phone of the individual in the driver’s seat unable to text? The phone still works for Bluetooth calls. Others in the car can still text, just not the driver until the car is turned off.  Impossible? There is technology out there such as sensors in a driver’s front window that can detect when a driver’s eyelids are fluctuating such to indicate they are falling asleep and then set off an alarm. This can and should be done.

Otherwise, it is only going to get worse. In the span of three weeks, Matt Friedman, one of my daughters and I were all rear-ended in three separate accidents, two causing injury.  Look at anyone driving oddly (slowly, swerving) and you will see them texting.  Communicating is important – only in the right way, at the right time. Anything else is dangerous, even deadly.

What To Ignore About, Learn From Presidential Campaign PR

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Trump__Clinton-2If you’re looking for media relations guidance this summer, whatever do you, don’t take your cues from the Presidential campaigns.

If you want news attention, don’t do what the campaigns are doing. Last weekend, Donald Trump announced Mike Pence as his running mate in a “news conference” that wasn’t a news conference in any way, shape or form. In fact, the campaign excluded certain journalists while reportedly letting in tourists off the street. Journalists who were allowed inside were not permitted to ask questions. Yet, in its reporting of the event, the New York Times referred to it as a “news conference.” That’s not going to happen if you pulled in the same stunt in the market where you do business.

The same goes for the Hillary Clinton campaign. According to The Washington Post, she has not answered questions in a press conference format since December 2015. There is no scenario that comes anywhere close to mind that would allow anyone in business to get away with any kind of equivalent.

Collectively, national news outlets are spending millions of dollars to cover these campaigns and will do so regardless of the level of access they are provided. That’s not going to work for whatever you do. If you ignore the media who may cover you (if there are even resources left over from a decade of consolidation and cuts to do it), then it would result, at best, in you being ignored by journalists and, at worst, negative coverage.

Over the years, we have heard would-be clients who try to compare their communications challenges to campaigns or even White House scenarios. The fact is that there’s more different than there is in common between whatever type of strategy you need and those that are employed in the national political arena.

But if you’re consuming election coverage at a high rate and want some sort of takeaway to chew on, go online and consider PR in the broadest sense. Even though every news organization is expending resources at covering the campaigns, and that is significant and contributes to the effort to reach audiences, they know that is only one way to communicate. They understand that social media should be more than just a checklist item, it can be a way to craft compelling, shareable messages to individuals. They understand that video can be a powerful, credible storytelling tool that can bring to life the stories that traditional media can’t or won’t do. Those are the lessons from the campaigns, among many other entities, that you should consider emulating, regardless of whether you embrace the messages.

Here’s How Not To Fire Your PR Firm

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

unnamedThere are two kinds of owners of PR firms. One will admit that the firm has been fired by a client. The other is lying.

When you spend all day trying to build and strengthen relationships, you don’t want to think about when and how they will someday, somehow, inevitably end. But when they do, it’s hard not to let the postmortem occupy your thoughts, especially when a longtime client does exactly what you shouldn’t do if you ever have to fire your firm.

Recently, a 12-year client ended a relationship with us in a way we did not expect or deserve. This was a client that, once legally able, joined us after a multi-year track record with us at our previous firm. Much of our work with this client focused on serving as direct communications counsel to the CEO. This client, because of the strength of our relationship and a mutual feeling of trust, donated a portion of our professional time to the community where it is headquartered to help raise awareness for the business and living opportunities there. This is a client that also entrusted us to work closely with its Board of Directors on some of its most sensitive matters.

At no point in the 12 years of working together did anyone working for this client provide any constructive feedback about our performance. We never heard “We’d like you to do this differently” or “We’d like more of that instead.” At no point was any dissatisfaction about work product communicated whatsoever. When we would suggest new ideas, we were often met by budget concerns, but that didn’t deter us from trying to add as much value as the client would allow us to provide.

In fact, after our contract was terminated and we were informed there would be a search process, we were told that it was because “we’re examining all of our outside contracts.” It was reassuring when we were hired soon after that for project work, which yielded results. Then, when an RFP was issued and I called the CEO asking if there is a change mandate and, if so, should we even take the time to complete the process, I was strongly encouraged to submit a proposal. So, after 12 years of working together, I gathered our team, critically evaluated our performance and re-pitched the business in a written proposal.

We didn’t even get an interview.

A few weeks later, I received a voicemail from the in-house marketing person. It said that they had hired another firm, one from a city even farther away from the client than where we are located. It said that they were particularly impressed by that firm’s research capabilities. “Research?” I thought. “Research?” There was nothing in the RFP about research. 12 years of working together and the need for research never even came up in conversation. We have a terrific relationship with an outstanding market research company with particular experience in this client’s sector. If only they had asked we could have told them, but, for some reason, they didn’t even want to know.

12 years was reduced to a voicemail. Well, that and an email “making sure” I got the voicemail.

I don’t know what happened on the client’s end of this story. I likely never will. Probably, they grew dissatisfied with our work, but didn’t have the guts to tell us. Why? Was I going to yell at them? Argue? Swear? Cry? Sue? How bad would it have been?

Or maybe they just thought the grass would be greener someplace else. So why couldn’t we talk about it? What’s so scary about a tough conversation?

As the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. But after a long, successful relationship, do it from the top and don’t do it with a voicemail. Show some class and some stones. Have a real conversation, answer questions, clear the air and then, both sides can move on.

Facebook Live: Don’t Get Too Annoyed, Or Attached

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

UnknownWhat did the self-proclaimed “social media guru” tell you last week, along with patting himself on the back for being a “thought leader?” Whatever it was, it could be outdated today.

Just yesterday, Facebook announced that you’ll be getting more in your news feed from your friends and family and less from “publishers,” such as traditional news organizations. That’s just what we all want in an election year, don’t we?

So before you fall completely in love with the results from Facebook Live, keep in mind that it’s going to change sooner or later. It’s tempting though. Facebook Live is creating some big audience results. While some are annoyed by the alerts, there’s no doubt it has created curiosity on the platform that some had viewed as stale.

Sometimes, it’s a neighbor bird watching on the deck. But other times, it has provided an opportunity to experience a live event or one-of-a-kind access. One TV journalist told me that a recent Facebook Live “broadcast” attracted more viewers than one of that station’s newscasts on TV that day. We have seen it too at Tanner Friedman, where our Facebook Live posts of press conferences have attracted views and shares like nothing else we have posted lately.

But remember not too long ago when “business” posts with photos were like that? Any post with a photo got seen more widely and seemingly instantly drew likes, shares and comments. Then what happened? Facebook started throttling that content and even some of your most fervent fans couldn’t see your posts unless you paid Facebook a few bucks to “boost” them. It’s safe to assume that’s going to happen with Facebook Live.

Right now, Facebook wants to get you hooked on Facebook Live. It’s only a matter of time before Facebook throttles Live content and hides it from major portions of your audience unless you pay otherwise. That’s no conspiracy theory. It’s just business.

So our advice on Facebook Live now is to sample with it. Get to know it. Give it a chance to see how you can use it to communicate. But don’t get hooked on it because, like everything else, it’s going to have to be a moneymaker for the global public corporation that owns the platform but can give you a false sense that it is yours.

Bringing Mental Health Out of the Dark and into the Light

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

head-brain-imageAre college students who seek mental health help looked upon as potential “bad PR” risks by their schools? That is the focus of a piece written by Sarah Beller and published this week in The Influence.  Her story examines the findings of a newly released 6-month investigation by NBC’s Today that indicates many students are being kicked out of school across the country for seeking such treatment lest something bad happen; thus, begging the question: are these kids being shunned rather than assisted?

According to data collected for Psychology Today by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one-third of college students report having experienced prolonged instances of depression with one-fourth indicating they have had suicidal thoughts or feelings. Moreover, half of those spoken to reported their mental health as being “below average or poor.” Alarming indicators all.

So what is a college or university to do?  In light of mental health issues often being related to instances of gun violence, it appears from the investigation’s findings that many are taking no chances. That is understandable. Yet, the investigation also seems to indicate that many schools take things to the extreme – placing students into treatment and/or quarantine when perhaps not warranted and, worse, dis-enrolling kids entirely without warning or recourse.

Thus it would appear that a case-by-case, diligent, cautious and thoughtful approach be taken by school administers and healthcare professionals in instances of student depression or distress. And, while the safety and well-being of the student population at large should always be of the highest priority, it doesn’t mean that students that make up that majority should be treated with disrespect or disregard when going through what could merely be a “bad spell”.

Rather than shuttling such individuals to an ‘out of sight’ backroom or removing them entirely from the equation, these schools should be promoting the resources available to its students and letting those they help serve as advocates and ambassadors to their peers to also enlist help if needed.  This cannot be about shaming or hiding.  This has to be about providing support, guidance and perspective to young minds still trying to figure out who they are and what they want to be.  After all, isn’t that what our educational system is supposed to be about?

 

 

 

 

PR Tantrum A Symptom Of Bigger Problem

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

tantrumEvery year, working PR at Michigan’s one-of-a-kind Mackinac Policy Conference, I feel like I walk away learning something. This year, it’s about the PR business, more so than any of the topics discussed on stage. It hit me on the last day of the Conference, based on what I saw first-hand and what I read as I was leaving Mackinac Island.

First, I witnessed a PR professional pitching a fit, the likes of which I had never witnessed, but had heard about from journalists. I saw a representative of an elected government official in full tantrum mode. After verifying this with one of the journalists present, I can confirm that it started when TV news video journalists slightly moved the set-up for a press conference because under the setup the PR person wanted, the lighting would have been poor.

Even though a move toward proper lighting would benefit everyone involved, this PR person didn’t like it one bit. When I arrived, this individual was verbally tearing into the journalists because it wasn’t set up as she envisioned. One of the journalists there to witness the entire display of toddler emotion described it as “immature” and “inconsiderate.” Just after the tirade ended, the government official showed up and the news conference happened in the setup that the journalists wanted. Everything worked well and looked good, in my estimation. But her behavior represented the antitheses of how Tanner Friedman interacts with the media.

Just a few minutes later, I read versions of this story sent to me by friends and watched the accompanying video of how deposed Baylor University President Kenneth Starr’s PR advisor, after not revealing her true identity to a news crew, interrupted an interview to provide on-scene scripting, including a changed answer to a question. What transpired was unethical. It was deplorable and, unfortunately, ill-represents what we do for a living. It shows what happens when a bad client pairs with a unscrupulous excuse for a professional.

These two incidents represent a bigger problem in today’s Public Relations business, particularly on the still-vital media relations side of the industry. Too many in it have too little respect for the job of professional journalists. Too many actually hold disdain for the media, failing to embrace the concept that journalists are their customers also.

If you think you can “control the media,” you should take control of your career and find another way to make a living. If you harbor a lack of respect for journalists, you should do yourself and them a favor, and do something else other than pretend to do media relations. If you think “protecting” the powerful person you work for means trampling over journalists, you are simply doing it wrong. This career path will work for you and all of those you serve if you at least respect the newsgathering process, but it will be best for you if you downright enjoy it.

And what of the CEO, elected official, board chair or, worse yet, PR firm owner who condones this behavior? The simple analysis is that it’s a sign of someone in real trouble.