Archive for the ‘current events’ Category

Social Silence Says It All

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 6.30.56 PMMannequins – growing up these were a staple of department stores, standing forever motionless while sporting the latest fashions. In 1987, Andrew McCarthy fell for mannequin-come-to-life Kim Cattrall in the movie, “Mannequin”. Years later, Will Smith would stave off emotional distress by talking to mannequins in the post apocalyptic film, “I Am Legend”.  Traditionally odd if not downright scary, mannequins, in recent days, have instread become all the rage on social media – at least humans posing as these plastic people wanna-bes.

Purportedly started by high schoolers from Colony High School in Ontario, CA, the craze has come to be known as the “Mannequin Challenge” with its own hashtag: #mannequinchallenge.  What is it, exactly? Put simply, groups of individuals filming themselves in a range of “frozen” poses who then post their mini-videos online. High schoolers, college students and, more and more, collegiate and professional sports teams have all been partaking in the fun. Not to be outdone, numerous sports announcers and sideline reporters have also been following suit. Even the crew of Fox’s “NFL Sunday” got into the act this morning complete with Terry Bradshaw in a faux-choke hold courtesy of a stationary Howie Long.

Unlike the “Ice Bucket Challenge” which raised awareness of and funds for ALS research, the mannequin movement at large has not (yet?) been affiliated with a  charity nor a particular cause. Rather, this latest activity appears to have more in common with the former fad of planking, albeit without the dangers settings and environments. So, what, then is the point?

The point here may be that there is no point. To date, in fact, it has all been nothing but good old fashioned fun. Stop the press - a social media endeavor without pressure or shaming or competition? Actions that promote cooperation, team-building, creativity and good old fashioned fun? The mannequin craze has resonated with millions because it is non-promotional, authentic, real. It works because it is genuine and the exact reason why marketers cannot merely create such an initiative on a drawing board and expect it to take flight.

They also say timing is everything. Leave it to our next generation to delivery to our society exactly what it could use right now: a sense of community and humor. And maybe even a message to stop for a moment and smell the roses. It all is very ironic, isn’t it? Promoting humanity by imitating display things who purportedly have none. Who are the real dummies here?

Election Talk Doesn’t Have To Be Boring

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

boring-content1This past week, there was actually a radio show that analyzed the third Presidential Debate without screaming, name-calling or, maybe best yet, no recitation of campaign talking points from predictable voices.

The show was Detroit Today on public WDET-FM and you can listen via this link to hear what it sounded like. It was a privilege to be a part of an independent on-air panel and the audience seemed to appreciate hearing far more than what it has come to expect from guests who represent the major parties, typically armed with the party lines and purely political perspectives.

Therein lies the problem as a consumer of media during this election. So much of it has been so predictable. From this vantage point, that has long been a characteristic of political talk, where predictable can turn, in an instant, to boring.

“Hmmmm… what’s Rush Limbaugh going to say today? Oh that’s right, Republicans are good. Democrats are bad. Got it.” “What’s Rachel Maddow talking about tonight? Oh ya, Liberals are correct, Conservatives are wrong. OK.” While there’s a proven business model behind the always-take-one-side content approach, for those of us looking some cognitive challenge this time of the year, it can be hard to find.

That extends across all platforms. By now, each of us on social media has figured out where our contacts stand. Their posts have become flat boring. But nothing seems more predictable and boring than some of CNN’s punditry. In the name of “balance,” they are paying political types who have essentially become actors to recite campaign talking points on their set. It’s an quick-grab of the remote every time Jeffrey Lord, for example, is called upon to deliver his rehearsed and well-compensated lines.

I’m hearing what you are from those who know that they are “sick” of the election and “can’t wait for it to be over.” But media consumption levels are telling a different story. Ratings for news are up, clicks online are up and the election is The Story. So here are a few suggestions of places where you can get your election fix, give your brain a workout, and avoid boring content and paid acting:

-Sirius-XM POTUS Channel (124) – This is a political talk channel without a political agenda. If we didn’t have it, we’d want someone to invent it. I have been avidly listening since just before the Conventions this summer, after being an occasional button pusher the past few years. Particularly recommended are Tim Farley’s “Morning Briefing” in the early morning and Michael Smerconish’s show in the late morning (his trademark theme song is the ’70s Stealers Wheel one hit wonder “Stuck In The Middle”).

-The Axe Files – The podcast from former Democratic strategist David Axelrod is civil, insightful, multi-partisan interview and conversation. It’s simply worth your time.

-NPR – It’s often lumped into the “liberal media” category, probably more because of its audience than anything else. But take it from someone with a discriminating ear who spends a lot of time in the car, thorough political conversation has been paramount this year. Even the daily campaign news is put into context through on-site reporting. Locally in Michigan, the aforementioned “Detroit Today” and Michigan Radio’s “Stateside” talk shows are fair and, most importantly, interesting. NPR credits the election for a ratings bump.

If you’re interested in echo chambers that just tell you over and over again what you want to hear, I can’t help you. But there are a few options for those seeking something different for the coming weeks.

Debate Analysis Has A Conflict Problem

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

hqdefaultThe tens of millions of American households who keep the TV on after the Presidential Debate or go online for analysis will be a part of something that is otherwise not allowed in journalism or PR. Consumers looking for perspective will receive it from individuals who are walking conflicts of interest.

It’s one thing for a campaign strategist whose livelihood depends on one party or the other to provide insight as part of news coverage to explain why a campaign or a candidate does one thing or another, as part of a strategy. But when it comes to analysis of debate or speech performance – how a candidate delivers a message and connects with an audience – those one-side-or-the-other political types are asked their opinions even though they fit the definition of a conflict of interest.

It’s so predictable. After every debate, the “Democratic Strategists” say that the Democrat “won” and the “Republican Strategists” say that the Republican “won.” The analysts gets to keep their business with campaigns from their selected party and the news organizations can pat themselves on the back for “balance.” But did the audience get to take away anything interesting, valuable or even credible?

It is past time for news organizations to add objective, apolitical analysis into the most-consumed coverage. One suggestion is independent PR professionals, who spend their days counseling clients on message delivery and audience connection, but don’t have a business imperative to favor one party over another.

That is how it works when that type of analysis is needed otherwise by news organizations. During the General Motors Ignition Switch scandal in 2014, for example, I had the privilege of serving as the go-to analyst for multiple news organizations, including on the day when the company’s CEO was in front of Congress. I was asked by each newsroom if I did any kind of business with GM. Only because the answer was “no,” I was able to provide independent commentary. Nor was I paid for my time by any of the news organizations, unlike many of the post-debate analysis Americans see in 2016, many of whom are hired to provide particular partisan points of view (sometimes, with a non-disparagement agreement in hand about a candidate they are supposed to be analyzing).

The other exception to the rule made for debates is “The Spin Room.” It is perhaps the only time that journalists are encouraged by their bosses to seek B.S. rather than avoid it. They know they are being fed lines of bull and they eat it up. Day-to-day, they are encouraged and look forward to finding independent sources of credible analysis. But after a debate, the herd mentality leads them to a place where those they interview are required to talk glowingly, deserved or not, about whomever they represent.

As consumers, we accept a double standard. For many, it seems, they just want to hear someone of perceived authority speak well of their “team” and ill of the other. But for the growing segment of independent voters, it’s past time for more independent voices, not on anyone’s payroll, to provide some much-needed rational perspective.

How Will Radio Survive The Cars of The Future?

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

14485135_10155219735769908_8228594928117918541_nJust when we thought there might be a small stretch of relative stability in the media business, a new wave of change is already in the fast lane.

This past week, I had the privilege of working in media relations at the World Mobility Leadership Forum, a two-day conference that convened experts from around the world near Detroit to talk about the short-to-medium term future of personal transportation. The program featured the Chairman of Ford Motor Company, the CEOs of General Motors and Volvo and executives from Tesla and Lyft, along with government officials from the U.S., Finland and other countries.

The consensus among the participants was that autonomous (self-driving) vehicles are coming, as quickly as within the next 5 years. The technology is beyond most Americans’ wildest expectations. The other trend exploding and showing no signs of reversing is ride sharing. The experts predict that it will continue to grow fast – far beyond Millennials taking Uber to the bars in big cities.

All of this threatens the medium of terrestrial radio. While radio has withstood threat after threat, ever since the proliferation of television after World War II, radio has survived because of its primacy inside the American automobile. But what will happen when cars drive themselves and the driver is free to consume entertainment or information without hands on the wheel and eyes on the road? Or when a ride-sharing driver is increasingly in control of the dashboard while the passenger does work, goes online or even sleeps during the car trip?

The challenge for radio now is to make itself invaluable, especially for information formats that truly could be distinguished from music streaming services. Satellite radio has increased its level of portability, with a place on the phone/earbud combo beyond the car. But local terrestrial radio must create value to go with its audience into the next chapter of transportation. How will that happen? The largest owner of radio stations, IHeartMedia, is carrying more than $20 billion in debt. The largest owner of all-news stations, CBS, is spinning off its radio division into a new company. Could either afford to put new resources into the product to make it indispensable?

Throughout so much change, radio has proven to be powerful, personal and resilient. Now, it’s going to take what the auto and technology companies are making priorities to secure their futures – ingenuity and investment

The Best PR Example In Rio Will Likely Be An Announcer

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

ElliotteFriedmanFor sports fans who live near the Canadian border, we knew who Elliotte Friedman was before this week. Every once in a while, I’m asked if I’m related to him (I’m not).

He’s basically the Adam Schefter of hockey on CBC. A skilled broadcaster, he’s best known for his reporting and has become a trusted source of information on the flagship “Hockey Night In Canada” show and also online.

The other game, though, he gained international infamy by messing up the call of what was actually the 22nd Gold Medal of Michael Phelps swimming career. It was such a shame because, as those of us along the northern border know, CBC’s Olympics coverage is typically excellent and not deserving of ridicule by U.S. fans.

Immediately, that Mr. Friedman’s PR response was genuine, honest and exemplary. He immediately tweeted “I’m sorry everyone. I blew it. No excuses.”

Think about that for a second. What if every time someone public made a mistake, it was handled quickly like that? Think about an executive, even a celebrity or Heaven forbid a politician. That would completely change crisis PR, especially in this media environment. But it has to come from the heart and soul, two places not explored often enough in times of bad news and controversy.

When Elliotte Friedman says “no excuses,” he means it. As seen in this interview with Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg (read it if you’re even a little interested), he doesn’t blame the fact that he was only given the assignment with weeks notice, originally scheduled for Rio in his more comfortable role as a reporter. And he doesn’t blame a producer which, as a former producer of live television, I find especially impressive because I always believed a producer’s primary job was to protect talent. Thanks to the way he has handled this, his career is poised for continued success and this situation will be put behind him more quickly than it would have otherwise.

Of course, when it comes to handling PR situations well, we want you to remember Tanner Friedman. But, also, remember Elliotte Friedman.

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.

Carlson-Ailes Lawsuit Could Teach Litigation Communications Strategy

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

9780525427452_large_Getting_RealLitigation communications can be a challenging subset of our industry. It is often handled poorly, because lawyers can be resistant to anything that feels like giving up a fraction of control.

But, over the years, our relationships with multiple leading law firms have led Tanner Friedman to a significant track record of successful litigation communications, working with both plaintiffs and defendants on a consistent string of high-profile cases.

The recent lawsuit that seized attention within the media business should also serve as example of how a law firm and a PR firm can work together in the shared best interests of a client. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued Fox News chief Roger Ailes, one of the biggest names in the media world, for sexual harassment that she says led to her firing. Carlson’s New Jersey law firm obviously trusted her New York PR firm and the two, in concert, seized the opportunity provided by the process to plaintiffs, who typically enjoy an inherent advantage in litigation communication.

As this Politico story details it, Carlson’s teams worked together to carefully plot a strategy and timeline and then seemed to execute it all flawlessly. They selected the right day, two days after a holiday when business news can be relatively quiet yet still draw an audience, and were able to get the news out before the defendant even had a chance to see the suit. The defense could only respond to a long list of impassioned allegations with the typical litany of cliches in a statement, “The suit is baseless and without merit and will be defended vigorously,” or something along those lines.

Now, Fox News is faced with a PR challenge, which is part of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ legal strategy. Sometimes a win in the court of the public can put pressure on a defense team in the court of law. The key for defense is to be prepared and it seems they could have seen something coming when the didn’t renew Carlson’s contract. But, it seems this didn’t happen here.

The lesson for anyone on either side of a potentially high-profile case can be learned here. Have a strategy, commit to executing it and make sure, above all, that your legal and PR teams can work cohesively with mutual respect.

America Must Think, Talk, Act as One

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.54.43 AMScary. Disheartening. Tragic. Wrong.  All of us can come up many, many more words and sentiments to describe what has transpired not just in past days but years and decades in this country. But what do we do with those words and sentiments – most recently with possibly race-related events in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas – in terms of putting thoughts and potential solutions into action? And, let’s not forget Orlando.

Detroit Free Press reporter Rochelle Riley’s article in this morning’s paper suggests exactly that in its headline: “Tragedies Should Fuel Conversation.” Importantly, she describes the senselessness of all of these deaths including those of the police offers gunned down, terming them acts of ‘domestic terrorism’ against ‘community soldiers’. Rochelle Riley is an outstanding columnist with a large following and reputation for telling it like it is.  She is also African American and, for this article at this time, that is important.

If you saw the movie “Selma” you saw recounted a pivotal time in the civil rights movement led by perhaps one of history’s greatest advocates for equality, Dr. Martin Luther King, King worked tirelessly to affect change – albeit accomplished peacefully. Violence, as he espoused, is never the answer on either side of this equation. Neither is merely conversation.  Positive, corrective action, however, is essential.

So how is this accomplished? Can racism ever be vanquished once and for all? We must start with an overriding principal and understanding that all lives matter. We must move beyond stereotypes based on race and socioeconomics. Communities and police need to come together to talk and listen to each other; to work to understand each other in an effort to un-do dangerous adversarial dynamics. And, of course, that coming together needs to happen at all levels of society.

As far as police procedures and tactics go (and I realize I am way out of my element here), stops and approaches have to be handled with a different mind set.  Any stop can be potentially dangerous for a police officer, however, if they are based on unfounded racial profiling, the potential for force is already there.  As for weapons (again, no expert here), what about (in particular for “routine” events) giving law officers a greater range of options, such as tasers and rubber bullets – articles designed to stun and incapacitate rather than maim and kill? More intense training overall appears to be sorely needed as well.

I am an expert in communications and, bringing this full circle and back to Riley’s column, it starts there: with communication.  Rational, open-minded individuals can find a common ground.  By talking. By educating. By working together. By identifying a shared purpose and potential solutions.  People are people. The key is to treat each other that way.

 

 

CBS Is Getting Out Of Radio? What About You?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

cbsradioCBS Radio owns many of the best radio stations and employs many of the best broadcasters in the country. Its top stations generate profit margins so large they almost don’t even seem real to business people when they learn about them. But yesterday, CBS announced to investors that it plans to get out of the radio business.

CBS? Out of the radio business? The business that started it all, as its logo brags, in 1928? Wouldn’t that be like Ford getting out of selling cars or Kellogg getting out of cereal?

Maybe it would, except ABC got out a decade ago, with Disney selling its radio division to a company called Citadel, which ended up in Bankruptcy. And NBC has been out of owning and operating radio stations since the late ’80s.

For CBS, like just about everything traditional media, radio has moved in recent years from “slow growth” to “no growth” to “declining revenue.” That means it has been treated as a failing business. There are many reasons for it across the board, including dramatically changing media consumption habits and a “moving target” approach by advertisers chasing elusive audiences, unsure of where to get the most for their dollars. But, among the reasons is a lack of investment in product and the inability to introduce the product to new audiences. Stations have seemingly been in cost cutting mode for almost 25 years.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, I posted this on Facebook last night: “Question for those younger than 40 who drive a car: What if there was a way for you to get updated on live news without a particular political focus – more than headlines but less than long-form reporting – get updated weather forecasts and traffic information and even sports information, all while you’re safely driving, rather than looking at your phone, piped through the speakers in your car. Cost to you? Nothing, as long as you’ll be exposed to some advertising. Would you be interested in such a thing? Why or why not?”

I got a few serious responses but the punchline here is that product exists in CBS’ largest markets in the all-news radio format, which has been a money maker and audience grabber for decades. But its audience is getting older and it makes me wonder if the younger audience was ever given a chance to find it and experience its usefulness and ease. Is there any chance there are more of them listening, just not being measured? Do they really want to carry around a pager-sized Portable People Meter? Those could be, quite literally, billion dollar questions.

All-news radio, when done well, can be the greatest form of media in the moments when you need it most. I think of last summer, driving from the Chicago suburbs to Detroit, trying to get in front of a storm that included a tornado. I could actually see the storm in my rear view mirror as I drove through Downtown Chicago in traffic, trying to get south then east as soon as I could. CBS’ WBBM kept me updated every step of the way, keeping me informed, calm and reassured between traffic updates, weather updates and “all hands on deck” coverage, with reporters, even those on days off, calling in from across the region. This all happened live, on a Sunday afternoon, while every other station in the market was playing music or syndicated programming. If CBS doesn’t do live news, who will? That’s a scary question. For some of us anyway.

Radio was my first communications love. The first paycheck I ever earned in communications was cut by CBS Radio. I remember an old timer telling me then, “As long as you stick with CBS, Westinghouse or Infinity, you’ll always have a job in radio news.” For the past 20 years, those have been one company. Soon, they won’t be a company at all. That, above all, illustrates the profound changes in media that just won’t stop.

Flint Demonstrates ‘He Who Hesitates Is Lost’

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 9.00.42 AMAmidst the ongoing trials and tribulations in Flint comes the latest news that the FBI is now involved, with the EPA and others, in investigating potential criminal aspects of the water crisis. It is yet another reminder how failure to act quickly in an adverse situation can have long-term ramifications.

I am reminded in fact of a recent client who came to us amid pending child pornography charges by state and local law enforcement officials against a youth soccer coach. The case was solid but the state entity wanted the soccer club to wait – perhaps as long as two or three weeks – to notify parents. The reason? The politician in charge needed to clear space on his calendar for a press conference. ’What should we do’ the club/client asked me. ‘Do not hesitate in taking action now,” I answered back.

Parents were immediately notified, as were, in turn the youth soccer players with club leadership available, one-on-one, to answer the questions they could while deferring those they could not to the police.  The coach was immediately fired. As such, the healing could begin and there would never be any question as to who knew what when and whether swift, decisive and correction action was taken.

He who hesitates is lost.  It appears to be at the very core of what went wrong in Flint.  Failure to take seriously the threat.  Failure to consider the health and safety of those you are responsible for. Failure to accept immediate responsibility and take corrective action.  I’m not piling on just underscoring the basic tenets of crisis communications and, in the end – no, at all times – doing the right thing.