Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

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.

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.

Think Differently When Bad News Hits A Nonprofit

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

crisis-006Generally speaking, those who don’t work in PR or media aren’t particularly interested in what we do, with one notable exception. When something goes wrong, they become very curious.

It’s always interesting to take questions when speaking about crisis communications, whether it’s to a college class, an Optimist Club, a PR conference or a business group. Recently, I had the chance to present to a group of nonprofit leaders convened by the Plante Moran accounting firm on the campus of Lawrence Technological University. Several dozen attended but, reverting to the mentality of their college lecture days, all but very few sat in the back rows of the big auditorium.

When bad news strikes a nonprofit organization, the priorities are often different. Never was this more clear than a situation I helped with a few years ago when a prominent religious organization fired a longtime member of its clergy. The Board Chair’s husband, a corporate executive, had a relationship with a PR firm that worked primarily with manufacturing companies. The Chair and the firm drafted and then sent a letter to members and, despite the fact that this was a deeply emotional situation, it had the level of charm and compassion that only an employment lawyer could embrace. To say the communication fell flat would be an understatement. It helped create misunderstanding and discord that escalated to crisis.

When Board members came to see us for a “second opinion,” we offered a much different approach. Without getting into the complex details (it was a doozy, to say the least), we ended up taking a path, that was ultimately successful, including candor, listening and respect for the organization’s mission. The takeaway here is that for a nonprofit organization to survive “bad news,” the situation must be managed through a different lens than with a corporation or certainly a political scenario. There’s much more to this than can be covered in a blog post and thanks to Plante Moran and Lawrence Tech, you can watch the entire presentation (less than 30 minutes) and the one hour of live Q&A that followed (it was a really good group).

To watch the presentation in its entirety, click here. Spoiler Alert: I don’t rhetorically ask “Right?” after attempting to make a bold point, even once. Thank you for taking a look.

The Leaky Workplace Reflects Culture

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

leaky-bucket-thumb-400x427-536For those who try to read news stories closely, trying to figure how and why they come together, the past few weeks have been a case study in leaks. So much news coverage of The White House, not political analysis or opinion, but the actual reporting by those on the beat, has been driven by anonymous sources from the inside. Leaks have long been the stock-in-trade of political reporting, and business reporting for that matter. But the quantity of leaks, the consistency of them and the fact that there seem to be so many, so early, has led questions to come our way wondering what it all means.

We can’t pretend to psychoanalyze people we don’t know in an environment we have never worked. But, from first-hand experience, we have learned that deliberate leaks to journalists can be a reflection of workplace culture. In times of anxiety, we see leaks. But we especially see them when employees feel like they no longer have a voice and that leads to resentment toward top management.

A case in point is a client I worked with in the late ’90s. One of the underlying issues that ultimately resulted in monumental PR challenges for that company was serious tension between top corporate leadership and the company’s workforce. When the company had a phone conference – a single phone conference – to discuss whether to begin what would have been a lengthy process of due diligence that may have led to merger talks with a competitor, a leak made it news. Just days later, AOL and Time Warner announced a merger that had been kept a complete secret before its official announcement. The difference was as simple as cultures.

We have seen many other examples over the years, as texts and social media have enabled and empowered leakers. I once received a text from a reporter asking about something that had been tipped to him via text from a participant in a meeting, among people who weren’t getting along, that was still going on. Another client CEO who fostered dysfunction, whose emails were routinely published in news stories, asked “Don’t they know those are internal communications?” There’s no such thing when your direct-reports who feel alienated have access to the “forward” button.

A few years ago, an organization hired us to design a communications schematic to prevent leaks from occurring, as a piece of news needed to be communicated with precision. That foresight allowed the news to be broken on the organization’s preferred terms. That’s something every organization should consider in times of sensitivity.

If you’re concerned about leaks where you work, don’t blame reporters who are trying to do their job. Think about how to build trust on the inside. That will prevent those who have access to information from trying to turn to the outside.

New Business To-Do List Item May Have To Be Taking A Stand

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

Once upon a time, say, a few weeks ago, a business could take its time decidingA road sign with the word Choose and arrows pointing left and right whether or not it made sense to take a public stand, internally and/or externally, on a political or social issue. But events of recent weeks prove that you need to be ready now, in case a sensitive issue develops quickly.

In the wake of a White House Executive Order and the subsequent reaction, I had the privilege of representing my Tanner Friedman colleagues talking about these complex and emerging business communications trends with interviews in both the Associated Press and CBS News in recent days, both of which resulted in stories that appeared from coast-to-coast and across the Internet.

Your business now needs to be prepared by having a deeper understanding of your customers than ever before and how they think, feel and react when it comes to your brand and the issues that are in the news. One of our clients recently researched 1300 consumers to get to know their customer better. But even if you can’t spare that type of expense, you should still feel an imperative to know their attitudes about your company, the role it plays in their lives and why they choose your brand. If it comes time to communicate a stance on a politically-charged issue, you and they will know if you’re acting for them in mind.

When it comes to the issue of immigration, Uber, by removing its CEO from a Presidential advisory committee, took into consideration that its customer is younger and more urban than most of America. That affects how the company is viewed in light of that issue. A company targeting rural, older consumers may have made a different decision, based on what is known about public opinion on that and other issues.

The other group to consider is your workforce. Several tech companies, which operate across borders and employ immigrants on work visas, spoke out early against the Order. Other companies less affected first-hand chose the same course after making a decision based on values. Many companies, of course, have chosen to stay quiet, not wanting to get into this mix and upset anyone.

Regardless of the decision a company chooses, events of recent weeks have proven that these decisions may have to be made quickly, without the luxury of long deliberation between executives, PR counsel, government affairs and lawyers. Regardless of the size of your business, it’s something every company should be thinking about now. How do looming government decisions affect our company and our workforce?

If you’re worried about taking a risk, one way or the other, think of the companies that risked ridicule from the President of the United States. Think of your customers and employees. Do they expect you to take a side? As I told the AP in another story this week, “No company has gone out of business putting their customers and employees first.”

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

Ghosting Doesn’t Just Happen In Movies and Dating

Monday, September 5th, 2016

ghostingThe time from the day after Labor Day until mid-December is really the last lap of business for the year. In the PR world, event season heats up quickly in September and goes through just before Thanksgiving. But across industries, projects procrastinated during the summer must be completed at the same time as planning for the coming year. Over the past decade, it has become clear that this dash to the finish line is the most intense time of the year.

It’s an annual challenge to look at the longest to-do lists of the year while also planning ahead. The one thing that simply can’t be done is to look backward as every milliliter of energy is required to be successful during “crunch time.” So, I share this story now:

In May, we received a referral to a company facing an uncertain business future because of some new competition. The referral source thought a strategic, focused PR campaign could be helpful. I met, on very short notice, with the company’s CEO and, after a friendly and thoughtful discussion, agreed to work together on a specific project to begin communicating in a new way. That initial project, as it should have, focused on developing a plan for a campaign.

Once engaged, we met to discuss the company’s situation, in more detail and protected by confidentiality, how that campaign could work. They had a relatively high sense of urgency, so we committed to a one month project, taking us through June. Within just a couple of weeks, my colleague and I developed a draft of the plan and sent it to the CEO and the company’s in-house legal counsel, who had become involved. That was the week before Father’s Day. I was on vacation the next week and was surprised not to hear anything back when I returned, so I checked in. On June 30th, I received this email:

“We are still reviewing your proposal and will be in touch after the holiday.”

That would be the 4th of July. I responded that was OK, but I thought they had a sense of urgency and tried to explain that I was not preparing a proposal, I was preparing a plan, as we had agreed.

By July 12th, I contacted them again with language that included the following:

“It has been another couple of weeks, so I’m just checking in.

My intention prior to Father’s Day was to present you with a draft of a plan that encapsulated our conversations to date and included a suggested roadmap on how to accomplish what we had discussed as the goals, which I also outlined, along with a draft of a “script” that would be needed (REMOVED TO PROTECT CONFIDENTIALITY).

At this point, I’m curious if you had a change of direction, a reprioritization or maybe what I provided did not meet your expectations. My intent was to give you something that would advance, not end, our conversation. If I did not set your expectations properly, I apologize.

I would appreciate an update, if you are able…”

That email received no response. On July 30th, I sent a handwritten note to the CEO along with an invoice for the time incurred in June. As of this writing, that request had not received a response.

I have heard from single friends about “ghosting,” when they’re dating someone and then all of a sudden, the other party just stops responding. That’s what happened here. I was professionally “ghosted.” This is yet another piece of evidence that business people today would rather do anything than engage in difficult conversation.

It probably would have been fulfilling to have been able to finish the plan, act strategically and help this company solve its problem. Instead, it’s time for them just to pay the bill and move on. It’s the end of the year and we have good, collaborative, communicative and dependable clients who need our time. We don’t have to call Ghostbusters because we ain’t fraid of no ghosts. We just don’t have time for them.

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.

“You Cut My Favorite Anchor.” “I Don’t Care.”

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Famous-Improvised-Movie-Moments-EMGN4When word got out this week that a highly-rated local TV station, owned by a global public corporation, was letting go three popular, respected on-air anchors and reporters amid other cuts, we started getting questions. Don’t they understand how much the audiences likes and trusts these guys? Don’t they get that they will lose viewers in the long term? Aren’t they concerned this will hurt their product?

I believe local management does understand that and is concerned about it. We know them and work with them. This is a station that takes its community role seriously and this has to hit hard. But, ultimately, in today’s media world, it isn’t their call. As one former general manager once told me about most local stations, “They’re an ATM for headquarters.” It used to be all about gaining ratings points and selling commercials. If ratings and sales were good, headquarters would leave you alone. Today, as with every public company, it’s about making a corporate spreadsheet look a certain way. Yes, management by Excel document dictates who you see on TV.

It reminds me of the famous scene in the movie “The Fugitive.” The escaped prisoner, played by Harrison Ford tells the Deputy Marshal, played by Tommy Lee Jones that “I didn’t kill my wife.” Jones, whose only job was to find him, responds, “I don’t care.”

In the powerful accounting and finance departments of big public companies, when it comes to things like customer loyalty, brand building and long-term reputation, they don’t care. They really only care about three things – hitting their numbers, hitting their numbers and hitting their numbers. It’s all about this quarter’s targets and meeting number expectations for this year. The cruel reality is that while journalists lose their jobs, headquarters bean counters will earn bonuses for making their marks.

This is just how it works with Wall Street. Several years ago, we did enormously successful work for a New York-based public company. While providing highly-specialized niche services, we received accolades from within the company and won awards within our industry. We accomplished this at a tiny fraction of the cost of the global firms the company used otherwise. But when corporate ordered cuts, our track record and relationships didn’t matter, nor did our efficiency. Someone took a look at a spreadsheet and cut our budget completely, along with some of the big firms’ work and multiple in-house, full-time positions. Not only was there a hole in our business, the company’s corporate communications was decimated and the company’s reputation suffered. But, that’s just not a priority in the modern corporate world.

We have seen the hard evidence from newspapers and radio that cutting aspects of the product that customers notice is not a pathway to growth or increased relevance in a fast-changing media landscape. TV follows this path at its own risk. They will hit their numbers now, but risk their long-term viability. The number crunchers just don’t care.

Everyone Needs A Murray Feldman

Monday, March 28th, 2016

hqdefaultI firmly believe that success in business and in life are not possible without mentors and role models. Looking back, I’m thankful that nobody had that better than me. I realize this now, as one of the professionals most instrumental to my early accomplishments in communication is, maybe for the first time ever, the subject of news rather than the one reporting it.

Murray Feldman has been at Detroit’s WJBK-TV for 40 years. I met him 30 years ago. He let me spend an off day from school shadowing him in the newsroom and out on stories. Just days after my 16th birthday, he invited me to spend a whole week off school doing the same. At the beginning of the week, I was opening his mail. By the end of the week, he had me at the typewriter, writing stories for air (on carbon paper).

A few months later, I landed what I thought was a big interview with a radio personality for my community radio station. But when I got back to the station, I realized the interview didn’t come out. It was a blank tape. I was devastated. As hormones pumped through my body, tears ran down my face. I got home, plopped on my bed and looked at the carbon copies of the scripts I had written not long before. I called Murray for advice. He told me it happens to everyone. It has happened to him. It’s part of the business of electronic journalism. Sometimes the equipment fails. My focus now should be looking forward, not back. So, I did.

I’d send Murray tapes, he’d send me critiques. When I got to college, he helped me get an internship at Channel 2, rare for a freshman (the photo here is from that year). I got to work half-time with him and half-time for his Executive Producer. That EP soon became the news director at WWJ Radio and gave me my first paying job. Murray has done business reporting for WWJ, in addition to his TV work, for about 30 years, so we became colleagues. He was always honest about “The Business” and never tried to do anything but help me chart my own path.

Murray was my first phone call after my parents when I got my first full-time broadcast news job. He was my first phone call when I became an equity partner in a PR firm. I talked to him on the first day of Tanner Friedman. He has always been encouraging, nurturing and in my corner.

Thanks to Murray, I have now been among news people for 30 years. I have never met anyone in the media industry with his consistent class, professionalism, attention to detail and commitment to teaching. After 40 plus years as “talent,” he has never thrown a tantrum, never acted like a stereotypical anchor. He has been anything but.

Now, Crain’s Detroit Business reports he’s leaving the station. Circumstances aren’t clear (Fox doesn’t allow its journalists to talk to reporters, keeping a “corporate employee” type policy). I just hope he’s leaving on his own terms. While I’ll miss working with him on stories, maybe we’ll have more time for lunches and dinners? I’m trying to be like Murray – to think positive, to look forward, not too far back.

Everyone who wants to be successful needs a Murray Feldman. I will be eternally grateful that mine has been Murray Feldman himself.