Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Patty Hearst & the SLA – Signs of Those Times

Monday, November 14th, 2016

8e433836ad4de5c4f0d2997ea14e37efOn February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of media magnate William Randolph Hearst – the man immortalized in Orson Welles’ seminal “Citizen Kane”- was forcefully kidnapped from her apartment in Berkley, California by the unorganized and unknown Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). In his new book, “American Heiress”, author Jeffrey Toobin examines the crime and, as importantly the times as they relate to communications surrounding the harrowing event and those that would soon follow.

The old adage: “We are all products of our environment” quite often holds true. In the aftermath of Watergate and the droning on of the Vietnam War, distrust for governmental and municipal authority was at an all-time high. Coupled with the San Francisco scene, revolution was in the air.  Looking for a high-profile platform from which to espouse their typically nonsensical yet dangerous and violent beliefs, they chose Hearst not for her money but for her association, for many, with the corporate elite. The media, as anticipated, paid attention and the SLA took advantage – issuing a series of written and taped communiqués and then demanding they be published and aired in their entirety.  With Hearst’s life potentially under threat should they refuse, print and broadcast outlets throughout the world complied. Perhaps only Jesse James nearly a century earlier played the media so masterfully.

Unless you lived in that era, it is almost impossible to comprehend how little those times resembled today.  Long before 9/11, bombings perpetuated by radicals against civic buildings and the police during that period were alarmingly common; in essence, homeland terrorism that many of that generation lauded. According to FBI statistics, in 1972 there were nearly 2,000 actual and attempted bombings in the U.S.  That trend would continue through 1974. The very fact that Patty Hearst eluded the FBI for two years spoke volumes.  The “common man” simply had no interest in being the agency’s eyes or ears. The distrust ran that deep.

So, how to stand out from that “clutter” of everyday violence and unrest by a myriad of radical groups? Again, for the SLA, it came down to Patty Hearst.  It was no coincidence, in fact, that the group chose to rob one of the few San Francisco-area banks with then-new security cameras.  Hearst was ordered to station herself,  machine gun in hand, directly in its line of sight. That iconic image became front page news across the globe and provided great fodder for a new television program on ABC, “Good Morning America” and Newsweek magazine, which placed Hearst on its cover seven times.

The Hearst saga also marked a watershed moment in news reporting from another perspective. In May 1974, six members of the SLA (Hearst not among them) were cornered by police in a house in suburban Los Angeles. Faced with how best to cover the story of the times from the scene, TV station KNXT took it upon itself to utilize a then largely experimental technology: a microwave transmitter that allowed a station to utilize a “minicam” to broadcast live from the field (rather than shooting film to be processed back at the station for airing at a later time).  With KNXT sharing the signal with other L.A. stations (and, as such, their nationwide affiliates), it would mark the first time ever that an un-planned, live news event was broadcast across the United States.

A different era. A different society. A different media.  And an outstanding new book that takes you back there.





Why Our Books Have Lost Their Spines

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 1.18.18 PMThere have been times in recent months where I almost feel like a kid again; and not in a good way.  I am an avid book reader and always have been.  Yet, if I want to go out and pick up a new book to read my options continue to dwindle. Which rhymes with Kindle. And therein lies the rub.

When a friend of mine recently learned that another Barnes and Noble had closed near her house, she was crestfallen. Until I reminded her that she and I were part of the problem.  She hadn’t bought a book in years, opting to always visit the public library.  I, on the other hand, was choosing the downloading route more and more.

Growing up pre-Internet and before the advent of the big box bookstores, I did have access to books via smaller bookstore chains. Yet, when Borders debuted some twenty or more years ago, the tome-buying experience was taken to another level.  With amazing, seemingly endless selections of new and classic offerings.  As importantly and akin to the Starbucks recipe for coffee enjoyment, there was the experience. Browsing over scones and hot chocolate. Discovering new authors and topics amid a sea of wooden bookshelves with nearly unimaginable magazine and newspaper offerings. Storytellers reading picture books to wide-eyed children.

Today, my bookstore options, and perhaps yours as well, are a good 10 miles away in either direction.  The Kindle, meanwhile (or the Nook is you are so inclined – and at least that benefits Barnes & Noble) is always inches from my fingertips with a selection, available 24-7, that would rival fifty bookstores combined.  It’s how we consume more and more. Like our movement from CDs to MP3, we want what we want, when we want it.  Yet, there’s no denying that something is missing: The sense of community.

It is a dynamic lacking all too often in our society today. It is why we are still drawn to city centers and old-fashioned downtowns like those in Rochester, Ferndale and Plymouth while developers and DDAs continue to work to emulate them – in Wixom, Novi and Dearborn – quite often with mixed results. People still need people and shared experiences; or at least have the option.  Let’s hope that never changes.



“8 Track” Tale of Past Technology, Modern Application

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-27 at 4.59.56 PMIf you know anything about me, you know that I absolutely love music, radio and pop culture. You may also know that I wrote a book on all of those things called, ”No Static at All – a behind the scenes journey through radio and pop music.” As such, I have tremendous respect for authors and also count among my great passions writing and reading.

That’s why R.J. King’s new book, “8 Track – The First Mobile App” holds such great appeal for me.  Released in recent days by the longtime, award-winning journalist and dbusiness magazine founder and editor, “8 Track” takes readers through a multi-year journey of invention, innovation and consumer applications, much of which I had never heard of before.

In the mid-to-late 70s, I recall the 8-track player as being as much a temporary media fad as anything else.  Growing up with vinyl – first 45s and then 33 1/3s – the 8-track was an oddity that clicked between cuts and, at one point on each 8 Track cassette, faded out in the middle of a song only to fade back in for its completion, post-click.  My purchases of this medium were few with the Steve Miller Band’s “Book of Dreams” and Kiss’ “Kiss Alive II” being the only ones I can recall.  The smaller, more portable cassette tape (on which we taped music off the radio or record album) would soon catch on to a greater degree with my generation, in particular for mix tapes and car radios.

Ahh, cars.  King’s book recounts with detail how, in the 1960s, the 8-track player was originally perfected and utilized by and for the auto industry in conjunction with competing inventors Earl Muntz and Bill Lear; the latter of Lear jet fame. Lear, in fact, had originally dabbled in the technology for potential use in his corporate jets where radio signals were unusable. Muntz pushed a 4 Track option (again, I had never heard of), Lear the 8.  The technology would soon “wow” everyone from radio stations and record companies to manufacturers, distributors and, of course, the public.  First in automobiles where it outperformed air conditioning as an option then on to the consumer market where it caught on like hot cakes.

The book is obviously a labor of love for King whose dad, John P. King, was hired by Ford Motor Company in 1965 as the project engineer who would see the 8 Track project to fruition, including through collaborations with Motorola’s radio production facility and RCA’s record factory.  The story of the 8 Track is tumultuous and ingenuous, cut throat and cutting edge.  It was a technology whose time had come and would eventually pass but not before leaving an indelible mark on the history of music and engineering. King captures it well, like sound on magnetic tape, to be consumed and enjoyed.

Jason Vines Recounts PR Done Right, Rotten and Religious

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 4.18.27 PMWhen you’re home sick with the flu over the Thanksgiving holiday, you have a veritable doctor’s note to relax, heal and, it follows, do what I love to do: read.  It was in that context that I was finally able to sit down with a book I’ve looked forward to digging into, “What Did Jesus Drive? Crisis PR in Cars, Computers and Christianity,” by one of the ‘deans’ of the craft: Jason Vines.  Best known for his work guiding Ford through the Firestone firestorm, Vines also worked his magic at Nissan and Chrysler with a number of other stops amid his respected career, including Compuware during the Kwame Kilpatrick madness. Fascinating, all.

Though I have had the opportunity to chat with Jason on a couple of occasions I do not know him well nor have I had the good fortune to work with him. I have, however, admired him from afar, including his involvement in some of the most talked about vehicle launches ever – including 1992′s debut of the Jeep Cherokee through a plate glass window and the 2008 ‘cattle roundup’ introduction of the Dodge Ram – both at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.  Read his book, however, and his tenets for effective public relations are even more impressive.

I won’t go through them all as you really need to read this book for yourself.  Yet, a couple that stand out are among those that Matt and I tout loudly and often. First, it is essential that business leaders provide their PR advisors with a seat at the ”C Suite” table and a voice in company direction. Whether at Nissan with Carlos Ghosen, Ford with Jacques Nasser or Chrysler with Dieter Zetsche, Vines was plugged in at the top.  No surprises, total transparency, mutual respect and a true say in decision making.  Vines demanded it and then proved, through high-level performance and impeccable judgment, that he deserved it.

Second and just as important: A PR counselor has an obligation to tell those at the top what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.  And, while battles often need to be picked wisely, doing the right thing, with honesty, transparency and foresight, is paramount; as is acting in the best interests of your customers at all times.

Looking for the ideal stocking stuffer this holiday season? Strongly consider “What Did Jesus Drive” for an inside look at high-stakes PR with reputations, careers and lives hanging in the balance. You’ll have a new appreciation for what those of us in the field do and strive to do everyday.



5 Questions With The Man Who Got The Real Media Inside Story

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

home_ken_aulettaIt’s a privilege to have the opportunity to write about PR and media trends on this blog and generate conversation that helps our connections understand the changing environment. It’s an honor to be regularly asked by media outlets themselves to analyze their own businesses.

But there’s always room for learning. And no matter what you know, there’s usually someone who knows more than you do. I learned that this summer.

I remember in 1991, a book called “Three Blind Mice: How The TV Networks Lost Their Way” earned attention in media circles. I also remember ignoring it, because, as a budding broadcast journalist, I knew I wasn’t interested in the negatives of the industry. With the benefit of hindsight, I realize that back then as I was filled with optimism and determination, my head was, to a great extent, more comfortable in the sand.

23 years later, the fact that I hadn’t read that book began to gnaw at me. It was easy to find, because we have a one-of-a-kind, gigantic used book store in Detroit, John Kings Books, where I picked up the 1991 hardcover for $6, then devoured it on vacation. Author Ken Auletta was given unprecedented access to the executives, strategies, finances and emotions of ABC, CBS and NBC, when all three networks were sold in the ’80s. His 577 pages told, with remarkable detail, the inside story I had only seen from the outside. It was, to say the least, fascinating. I folded down pages, prepared to write in here about what had changed, how it had changed and how, somehow, these networks still exist, albeit in a much different form.

But my words can’t do this justice. I had to find Ken Auletta. Using what I assume are some leftover reporting skills, I was able to track him down. While I could have spent a weekend talking shop with him, just scratching the surface, I asked for five questions, to be respectful of his time. He agreed. And here they are. I hope you can learn from him, as I have:

1) When you finished “Three Blind Mice” how did you envision the three networks would look a generation into the future?

There’s always a problem writing an ending to a story that continues. What I wrote in the last chapter was that the financial problem the three networks faced was that they were reliant on a single source of income, advertising. But if they could tap other sources, including, I wrote, changing fin/syn rules to allow the networks to own more programming and benefit from syndication and overseas sales, they would be better placed. My book was published in 1991. In 1992, Congress passed the Cable Act, which compelled cable system owners to pay broadcast and other networks to air their programs. Today, this generates about $4 billion for various networks and stations. Then the fin/syn rules were altered, opening another revenue spigot for networks. And new digital platforms — Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, YouTube — appeared, paying for network programming. Last year, CBS and Fox each received $250 million from Netflix alone.

2) How remarkable is it that while there has been so much change and competition around them, so much of what they were doing then appears to be the same now?

My book was, in part, about how a new technology — cable — was disrupting broadcasting. Today, digital technology and the Internet are disrupting — and sometimes funding — cable as well as broadcasting. The disruptive aspect exceeds the new revenues. For the Internet allows Netflix and others to stream programs directly to viewers. It allows ad-free viewing, or viewers to skip ads. It tells advertisers how many of their expensive ad buys are wasted. It allows viewers to watch what they want, when they want, for as long as they want, and on multiple devices.

3) One fact I learned in your book is that as recently as 25 years ago, network news was a big money loser. I was surprised because in local TV, since almost its infancy, news has been a virtual ATM for station owners. How did the “public service” contingent in newsrooms finally concede they had lost the war?

The idea that news should not be a money loser gained traction when the new owners acquired the three networks in 1985-86. The previous pressure from the Congress for them to provide public service had lessened. And the new owners were corporate businessmen who measured success more by the bottom line, not intangibles like public service.

(Friedman note: In other words, they had no choice.)

4) I have a concept that I would love to see. Maybe you can give me a reality check? Can you foresee a day in which one or more of the old-line networks blows up at least a portion of the schedule that they have adhered to since the 1950s? For example, could you ever see any of them “stripping” news in Prime Time, to fill a void for a straight newscast free from political agenda and screaming heads, on what’s still the world’s most powerful medium, taking advantage of HDTV in a time slot in which modern Americans are not stuck in traffic? That newscast, in part and in whole, could be available on demand, for online viewing. Or will they still insist on a white man reading a prompter to a gray audience at 6:30 p.m.?

No, I cannot imagine the networks placing a newscast in primetime, as some nations — like Israel — do. Why? Ratings and demographics. And the Internet. The average age of the three newscast viewers is 65, thus the ad rates are low. And because the Internet has made possible for citizens to be exposed to news 24/7, fewer people wait to learn what happened today. More likely we’ll see broadcast networks air live and special events — sports, awards shows, the Sound of Music and Peter Pan movies, etc.

5) As far as programming, do you agree that we’re now, despite a lot of the “reality” trash on the air, we may now be in something of a Golden Age, because competition has led to, overall, a better quality of choices across the channel universe?

We have more choices, and better choices. Yes, there’s a lot of crap. But the Good Wife on CBS, or Friday Night Lights (then on NBC), are as outstanding as many of the best shows of yore. And then you have HBO, Showtime, AMC, Netflix, etc. Bruce Springsteen’s lament, 500 channels and nothing on, is wrong.

Researchers, Authors Maintain Hoffa Not Searchable

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

ap670118054-25f8a996a727848b3b1aa31e290fac0470cd8d6b-s6-c30It is one of “true crimes’” all-time greatest mysteries: What happened to Jimmy Hoffa? It is a case nearly 40-years old that, in all likelihood, will never be solved. Hoffa was no doubt murdered, most likely by a mob not happy with the prospect of his attempt at a return to union boss. Yet, where does his body reside? That is the question that continues to intrigue media and the public while eternally stymieing law enforcement officials.

When you are talking organized crime, such secrets tend to go to the graves of those involved, despite a number of deathbed, ‘conscience-clearing’ confessions that have occurred over the years. One of particular interest is that of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a longtime friend and associate of Hoffa’s who had close ties to the Bufalino crime family.  Prior to his death in 2003, Sheeran relayed to author Charles Brandt the details of that fateful late July day in 1975, when Hoffa was picked up in the parking lot of the then Machus Red Fox in Bloomfield and then driven to a house in Detroit where he assassinated Hoffa.  Brandt’s book “I Hear You Paint Houses” was published in 2004.

So where was Hoffa taken from there and where is he today? There are nearly as many rumors and myths as years that have passed; everything from ending up in the end zone of Giants Stadium (then being constructed) in New Jersey to a horse farm in Detroit’s far northwest suburbs.  The latest search, of course, is centered around a piece of open property in Northern Oakland Country. In his book, “Digging for the Truth”, author Jeffry Scott Hanson follows fellow author Brandt’s theory of local incineration, taking it a step further to an area funeral home with mob ties. In other words, Hanson says, Hoffa was cremated. Frank Sheeran had said all along that those ordering the hit had maintained in advance that Hoffa’s disappearance would be quick and permanent (“ashes to ashes” was literally a phrase used by the soon to be perpetrators). In other words, the author maintains, he was killed and disposed of within mere miles of his ‘abduction’.

If that is truly the case, Jimmy Hoffa’s body will truly never be found.  And yet, the secret  will live on as does any great ‘whodunit’ or unsolvable event. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it continues to fuel front page headlines, water cooler discourse and an ever-growing FBI file folder.

Yahoo! Should Consider The Power of Quiet

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

Increasing-ConcentrationIn recent days, Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer made major headlines with her decision to end full-time working from home for all employees, citing a need for greater collaboration and productivity. I had originally intended to write a blog based on ‘work-life’ balance but a piece this weekend by Miami Herald syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, running locally in the Oakland Press, presented me with a new angle for consideration: Is in-person collaboration always the best approach?

There is no doubting that when people come together, great things – in the area of innovation and creativity – can happen. In the world of information technology, for example, the need for greater proximity of software developers is fueling a major repatriation of jobs to the United States.  At the same time, Pitts reminds us, in a new book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” (one I am reading and recommend), author Susan Cain argues for and provides examples of the need for many to also work separately in their own space in order to achieve maximal results. In fact, the open, collaborative workspaces with little or no walls or separation from others – so trendy at one time is – according to Cain and recent studies, far from “all that.”

Before reading “Quiet”, I, like Pitts, struggled with my Myers-Briggs pegged introvert-ism.  After all, in our ultra-hyper, YouTube society where virtually nothing is private, the word conjures images of someone sitting alone in a dark room watching “Wheel of Fortune” re-runs. Rather, “introverts” (like me and millions of others) enjoy life, people, events and public speaking but also need quiet time to rest and rejuvenate, emotionally and spiritually.  I greatly enjoy interacting with my family, colleagues, clients and the media. I also look forward to closing my door sometimes to write, think and strategize – whether at the office or at home.

Thus, I would argue that Yahoo’s Mayer, considered a visionary working for a high-tech, creative-thinking company, is perhaps a bit ‘off’ in her recent decision regarding where her people can or cannot work. Certainly, her directive could have been better communicated and executed (Why go so public and so hard-hitting with the policy change. Is there not room for some flexibility and compromise)?  In the end, it would seem to once again be a stark indication of today’s competitive business landscape where CEOs must appease board members and shareholders – progressive image, culture , morale and brand be damned.



Detroit: Autopsy or Right Place to Be?

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 7.47.37 PMOver the course of the past two years, Detroit has become, perhaps like at no other time, an American curiosity – a microcosm of this country’s economic decay and fight for renewal.  It is quite apropos, then, that two books should appear in recent weeks, both of which examine the city’s histories, trials and tribulations, including what could have been and what might still be: Mark Binelli’s “Detroit City is the Place to Be” and Charlie LeDuff’s “Detroit: An American Autopsy.”

While both are extremely well-written and interweave Detroit’s history (dating back to its founding in the 1700s) with today’s headlines, the similarities largely end there.  LeDuff, the Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist, former Detroit News writer and current Fox-2 reporter takes a bleak, gritty, autobiographical approach.  By its very name, “Autopsy” unsurprisingly but sometimes shockingly is rife with dead bodies (literally) including an overflowing city morgue, corpses in abandoned buildings and his own family’s fatal failings fueled by alcohol and poverty on the city’s southwest side.

Binelli, on the other hand, while exposing the underbelly of desolate neighborhoods, corrupt politicians and failed policies, gives equal time to the many visionaries and opportunities that exist and are being enacted in a town seeking to reinvent and rejuvenate. Ala Time magazine, which embedded journalists to report on Detroit’s “good” and “bad”, Binelli, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, returns to his hometown to live and write near Eastern Market, breathing in and reporting on in its sights, smells and especially its people.

Despite the differing approaches, both books are well worth reading.  While more dark than not, LeDuff is often a crusader against injustice – whether exposing police and fire department inefficiencies in the wake of a firefighter’s death, or writing a Detroit News piece that helps raise money for a grandmother too poor to bury her young granddaughter in the aftermath of a senseless shooting. Binelli, by contrast, takes a more ‘everyman’ approach with observations and assertions that allow us to form our own opinions – or at least contemplate what they should or could be.

I finished ‘Autopsy’ in a weekend (last) and am halfway through “Detroit City”. I strongly recommend reading them back-to-back as have I.  They are up-to-date, insightful and the ideal complement to each other and to Detroit’s current backdrop of emergency financial manager infighting and downtown business and residential living resurgence.  Perhaps, you may well think upon completing especially Binelli’s edition, Detroit City really is the place to be.






Kindle Loss Lamented

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

I miss my Kindle. I never ever thought I would say that but I do. I lost mine on a plane west last weekend and, after numerous calls and an actual visit to the United Airways “Lost and Found” in Phoenix on my return trip from San Diego, either it is still in the seat back of 15B or it is warming the hands of a slippery member of the airline cleaning crew.

Response to my loss from others has been mixed. Between expressions of sympathy I hear, just as often, “Never owned one…I like the feel of a real book in my hands” or, “I like to physically turn the pages.” Understandable thoughts, many once shared. Yet, from one longtime book lover to another, the old adage, ‘Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it’ definitely applies.

Just as I initially fought music downloading in favor of CDs, so too did I eschew reading electronics for the bound ink on paper tried and true. Yet, just as the availability of a wide range of music continued to shrink with the exit of the music stores, so too did the selection of written works as Borders put the corner books stores out of business before succumbing itself to market conditions and consumer preferences.

Today, I’m sold. Juggling 2-3 books at a time is now a breeze, especially when traveling. Download prices are more affordable and while the selection is far from ideal, it is growing every day. Inside its leather case, the Kindle is the same as holding a smaller book and, perhaps best of all, the Kindle store is always open. Want a new book on the Civil War at 2am? No problem.

Ala the iPod and video On Demand, the Kindle, and its friends the Nook and iPad, allows us to enjoy exactly the type of entertainment we want, when we want it, then archiving it in one convenient, portable location. I find myself reading more and learning more and while my office library may appear to be stagnating, my brain power is, in fact, doing just the opposite.

Words And Actions Prevent Kilpatrick Redemption

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

L. Brooks Patterson opined this week that it should be placed in the “Fiction” section of area bookstores. Many, like the Oakland County Executive, reviled in its blaming of others for his failings. Released last week online and to a select few area bookstores, “Surrendered: The Rise, Fall & Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick,” has been much anticipated and discussed – but will it serve toward rehabilitating the image of the man behind it?

In the world of adversity management, when one admits their mistakes and vows to do better it can go a long way toward eventually turning the tide of public sentiment. The key word here is “eventually” as time can heal all wounds. Yet, admitting wrongdoing and also taking responsibility for that wrongdoing are essential to the possibility of redemption. While I have not read the book (only outtakes and reviews), it appears that Kilpatrick is nothing if not consistent in his continuing to point his finger at the media, vindictive business leaders and racism. They, he intimates, are what conspired to bring about his downfall.

What I find most egregious is not what he has written but his return to court last week to try to have overturned Judge Groner’s previous ruling that all book proceeds go first toward paying back his more than $800,000 restitution to the City of Detroit, citing it as “unconstitutional.” It is further evidence that Kilpatrick will never take responsibility and, as a result, is poised to fail miserably as the motivational speaker he seeks to become. After all, how can you teach others when you can’t learn yourself.