Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

Media Companies Mess Up PR… And It Matters

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Waters Delivers Another Brick In His Legacy

Monday, June 12th, 2017

E72A2147.jpgWith all due respect to the Beatles, if he didn’t invent the concept album he certainly perfected it.  First with Pink Floyd and later as a solo artist, Roger Waters has never been shy about expressing his emotions – if not kicking his audience in the teeth with them.  His latest rock LP released on Friday, “Is This the Life We Really Want?” – his first in nearly a quarter century – is no exception; a non-sugar coated look at the world today and its all too common and disturbing dysfunction.

1973′s “Dark Side of the Moon,” a tale of passing time, greed and mental illness told with jazzy instrumental flourishes and background vocals, is still considered by many as one of the greatest albums of all-time and, certainly, it is among the top selling.  Want barnyard animals to unsubtly communicate your disdain for the political elite? Look no further than 1977′s “Pigs.” Yet, for perhaps the biggest emotional ‘bang for the buck’ there’s 1979′s “The Wall,” a tale of disenchantment and isolation. Buying and playing this album for the first time in high school, I could not believe what I was hearing.  Like an individual coming across a bad accident, I was disturbed but could not look away.

This ability to force us to consider and then consume a sometimes-bitter pill is what Roger Waters is a master at. It is what we have come to expect – even embrace – from his work.  I just downloaded his latest and, through listening previously to samples and reading about some of the lyrics and themes, I am incredible excited to take a full listen and, it appears, from early reviews, with good reason. Stark, beautiful, poetic and humorous, “Is This The Life” is also bleak, angry and unapologetic with topics ranging from drone warfare to terrorism to refugees.  And, consider this line: “Picture a s-house with no f-ing drains. Picture a leader with no f-ing brains.”

When he arrives at the Palace of Auburn Hills later this year, Roger Waters is sure to give quite a show. Always theatric, I’ve read of on-stage visuals at recent shows that have Vladimir Putin holding a baby Donald Trump in his arms. Indeed, where Roger Waters is concerned, the phrase: We don’t need no education simply does not work.  Because, as Waters once again proves, we do need his commentary – be it no holds-barred or delivered with subtlety.  We just need it more often.

 

 

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.

Emphasis on ‘New’ in The New York Times

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

UnknownNo one will be shocked by the front page headline of the latest issue of Wired magazine titled: “The News in Crisis.” Equally ‘yawn-able’ infographics in the accompanying article inside show (a) the decline in news jobs for all media (10% in the past 10 years) and a generation gap where only 5% of 18-29 years olds get their news from print newspapers.  Tell us something we don’t know, right?  Yet, a sister article by writer Gabriel Snyder shines a light on how the venerable The New York Times is humping like never before to remain relevant.

Working in favor of the Times and other legitimate news outlets are the very times we are living in.  As, while ‘fake news’ is a ridiculous term coined by the current administration to describe anything it does not agree with, social platforms all too often cater to scribes and sources who put forth opinions and conjecture that is not fact checked and certainly not news. Most rationale individuals want real journalism from credible news sources..  In the wake of the recent presidential election, in fact, the Times reported that subscriptions had surged to 10 times its usual numbers.

To remain viable, however, the Times knows it has to continue to build upon its digital platforms. In 2000, print advertising accounted for 70% of revenues, with digital just 1%.  There was no digital news content at that time. In 2015, both digital and digital news encompassed 12% of revenues (24% total), with print advertising down to 28%.  Since that time, the “paper” has continued to build upon its digital platforms to offer a wide range of multi-media programming.  The centerpiece, or, starting point, is the print subscription. Readers are offered a small bit of ‘free’ content each month but then incentivized to pay for more news, information and fun. This includes a suite of apps, blogs and verticals on a range of topics with original content, akin to a Netflix or Hulu. There is Cooking and Crossword and, soon, Real Estate. Live streaming and text messaging are also utilized regularly for news and sports, and, the Times is also running virtual reality films. Regarding the latter, one early example has Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ben Solomon ‘embedding’ viewers with Iraqi soldiers battling Isis.

Is it working? Early returns are promising as more than 1.5 million people now pay more than $200 million for yearly subscriptions. Overall digital revenue is nearly $500 million.  Perhaps as impressive as the Times on-going informational experimentation to raise readership and revenue, reports Snyder, is management’s willingness to ruffle the feathers of tradition and ‘prim and proper.’ The time-worn mantra: ‘The Times wouldn’t do that’ is headed the way of the Dodo Bird.  And it has to.  The new rallying cry? Evolve or die.  It is a call that should be watched closely and imitated widely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Cassidy: A (Brand) Identity Lost and Found

Monday, February 27th, 2017

2545764400000578-2936558-image-m-6_1422890689144 I don’t know what I’m up against. I don’t know what it’s all about. I got so much to think about…This week, former pop idol David Cassidy announced to the world that he has dementia and, after nearly 50 years of performing, he is retiring.  His life has been an extreme rollercoaster ride that has touched many and, as much as any, tells a cautionary tale of a brand identity run amok, lost and later found.

A working actor and musician in his teens, Cassidy always sought stardom, appearing on a slew of early 70s high-profile television series, including: “Medical Center,” “Bonanza,” “Ironside,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Adam-12.” But nothing could have prepared him for his role in the Cowsills-inspired “Partridge Family” that would, virtually overnight, elevate his status to one of the most famous and sought after pop stars ever while leaving him wondering who he really was.

For Cassidy, the fame would become both a blessing and a curse as he has described the phenomenon of “him” in interviews over the years.  Media of the day worked both for and against him.  At a time before cable, the Internet, MP3s and video games, there were only three national TV networks; as such, millions watched while millions more bought Partridge Family records (myself among them).  As such, to much of the world David Cassidy was Keith Partridge – whether on television, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine covers, lunch boxes or in concert (where he sang series songs).

Exacerbating the problem for Cassidy was that in a time before the Internet and cable, there were few media platforms to appear as “yourself” – no personal websites to tell the tale of who you really were as an artist rather than fictional character; no E! Entertainment cable network to run stories on a day in your life.  And, further, there were only a handful of network TV talk shows where one might appear “out of costume” as it were; the granddaddy being “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” although this aired late nightly and long after most teenyboppers went to bed.  As a result, David Cassidy lost himself with a personal brand and identity virtually hijacked by a TV network (ABC) that owned his likeness and a recording company (Bell) that owned his voice. It was a disastrous recipe for typecasting and, for many years, resulted in something akin to career suicide. Just ask one-time “Batman” star Adam West.

Cassidy eventually would resurrect his career and take his talents to Broadway and then Vegas and, in time, return to touring and playing (and enjoying) the songs that initially made him famous enough to sell out Madison Square Garden and Wembley Stadium, among others, back in the day.  However, it would take walking away at the top of his fame and drastic measures (appearing mostly nude on the cover of Rolling Stone).  Radio and music buyers would largely eschew his new offerings for years.

They say time can heal all wounds and hindsight is forever 20/20 and, to be sure, in recent interviews he has talked about the positives of extreme celebrity and how it has allowed him the opportunity to positively impact the lives of many. As he enters the twilight of his life and a difficult road ahead, perhaps David Cassidy has also finally come to terms with and accepted the pivotal role Keith Partridge played in his life.  One would think that, at the very least, he’s met him halfway. And you know what they say about that.

Ray Kroc’s Grand Brand Plan

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

raykrocnw2On Friday, at the kind invitation of PR pro and educator extraordinaire Dr. Linda Hagan, I guest lectured a class of young artists at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. In fitting with the curriculum of business and marketing trends and practices, I advised the group on how best to go about creating their own brand.  A significant slice of what I covered is evident in the excellent new movie, “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton.  Because when it comes to brands – iconic brands – McDonald’s best-known owner Ray Kroc was a true visionary.

I began the CCS class by asking students, ‘What constitutes a brand?’ In response I heard, ‘A logo’ and ‘A slogan’ before another chimed in with, ‘What you stand for.’  All correct, I told them, when taken together.  Because, I further opined, a brand is the sum of all attributes of a particular company, product or service – it is how you answer your phones, how you treat your customers, referral sources and employees. It is how you differentiate yourself from your competition – not just in words but also by delivering upon a value proposition and brand promise.

Ray Kroc understood this as well as anyone ever.  While peddling milkshake mixers to drive-ins across the country in the 1950s, he stumbled upon a little single shingle establishment in San Bernardino, California where an amazing thing was happening: families were waiting in line (and not long) for delicious hamburgers and soft drinks that took minutes from order to delivery.  This was in stark contrast to the traditional drive-ins Kroc had experienced that were littered with trash, loud music and smoking teenagers in their hot rods. Food often took 30 minutes or more and orders were routinely wrong.  The alternative restaurant? The brainchild of the McDonalds brothers.

McDonald’s was the model of efficiency, consistency and wholesome family dining. They offered a unique brand value proposition and delivered upon it each and every time.  Kroc saw the vast opportunity to take this badly needed model across the country via franchising. He likened the golden arches to the church steeples and city hall flags he saw in every town he visited on his sales travels. These arches would add another icon to the skylines of each and every town in America, he predicted.  And once these restaurant chain stores opened in their respective markets, Kroc worked tirelessly to maintain brand standards in operations, food offerings and, most importantly, customer service.

A brand, I told the class, works best when it is honest, genuine and true to who you are.   As current students and future employees or entrepreneurs in the world of art and film, I offered, they needed to be true to who they were but also mindful that their brand must also keep in mind the audiences they want to reach.  After all, a brand cannot be successful, ultimately, if it doesn’t resonate and compel. It must also stay open to evolution.  In fact, McDonald’s has gone through decades of changes to meet evolving consumer tastes and priorities, as evidenced by their expanded menu options, dollar value meals and healthier fare.  Ray Kroc didn’t found McDonald’s but he certainly honed and developed its brand, building the restaurant into arguably the greatest fast-food chain ever.  And to millions starting in the Cold War era, Americana never tasted so good.

 

The Greatest of All Time

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

muhammad-ali-zoom-cfb97fff-3b5d-4161-b998-6457c965a343Long before there was, “The Great One”, there was, “The Greatest”.  An iconic figure who was arguably one of the most revered and recognizable athletes the sports world (and the world) has ever known.  Why, exactly, was that? What was it that has made Muhammad Ali such an enduring and beloved figure? And why did we believe him when he proclaimed he was, “The Greatest of All Time”? There is much to consider.

First and foremost, he had true talent in the ring.  Outside of it, he was just as memorable. Even as Ali first burst upon the scene in 1960 as an 18-year old Gold Gloves Champ and Olympic prospect, he already possessed charisma and outspokenness along with the skills to back it all up. He would soon elevate heavyweight boxing to new heights – not just with his fists but his wit and uncanny skills at self-promotion. He didn’t just box, he would, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” while also employing the “rope-a-dope”.  And,  his fights were not mere fights, they were the “Thrilla in Manilla” and the “Rumble in the Jungle.”  They all lived up to the hype too, spotlighted further by his constant tongue-in-cheek(?) foil, Howard Cosell of ABC Sports.

Moreover, as Rolling Stone noted this week in a piece by Tim Grierson, Muhammad Ali was also the master of multi-media – and not just your typical magazine covers and sports shows.  Very early on (in 1969), Ali appeared in the Broadway musical, “Buck White”.  He would go on to release a children’s album (1976) and appear in: an animated cartoon series (1977), a comic book opposite Superman (1978) and in an episode of “Diff’rent Strokes (1979).  Biopic movies (in 1977 and 2001) helped fuel the legendary fire.

Perhaps most of all, Ali stood up for what he believed in, without fail nor apology.  Born Cassius Clay, he would object to the Vietnam War and being drafted into it, embraced Islam, changed his name and weathered the firestorm that ensued.  He always believed in himself and encouraged others to do likewise.  It was his ‘brand’ and who he was:  The face he called ‘pretty’.  The mouth he used to call-out his opponents.  The moves those opponents could never seem to figure out.  When they all worked in unison, it was pure poetry in motion. Today, those memories are still indelibly and pleasantly etched – in our minds and in history – and there they will remain.

 

 

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The Monkees offer “Good Times” for a New Generation

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Monkees-Good-TimesHey, hey they they’re the Monkees…and they’re not monkeying around.  In fact, the pop/rock band has just embarked on a 6-month nationwide tour as it prepares its first album of new material since 1997 (“Good Times!”) – all just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Monkees’ television debut.  Reporter Andy Greene recounts exactly what’s what in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

While far from being among the young generation (Micky Dolenz is 70), the band still has something to say, thanks in large part to a range of contemporary and historical songwriters who are contributing material to the LP, due June 10th.  That includes River Cuomo and Noel Gallagher as well as older tunes from the 60s, written for the group but never recorded, from heavyweight authors Harry Nilsson, Carol King and Neil Diamond.

Perhaps most touching will be the release of the Diamond penned song “Love to Love” which will feature vocals from the late Davey Jones.  To help ease the loss, Michael Nesmith (he of the perpetual stocking cap) has returned to record with Peter Tork and Dolenz for the first time since the band’s breakup in 1971, although Nesmith won’t tour.

From the iconic guitar-shapred logo to the breezy, catchy tunes, the Monkees brand has endured as have their fans who are sure to pack venues just as sure as they consumed the group’s music back in the day. Wikipedia notes, in fact, that the Monkees have sold over 75 million records worldwide, outselling at their peak in 1967 the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.

Nostalgia is a powerful and incredible thing.  Far from one-hit wonders, the Monkees run on TV and radio lasted a mere three years.  Yet, long before social media, the band’s promotional tentacles stretched to multiple platforms that included everything from teenybopper magazines to toys (I possessed a very odd-looking, multi-headed pull and play). Timing was also kind, as the group offered fun and escape and an alternative to the tension, drugs and revolution of the Vietnam era.  Best of all, their music made your toes tap and their antics made you laugh. Welcome back.

 

 

’16 to Mark Tenure of 10 Years

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 4.17.41 PMWhen the lights go on in our offices along Northwestern Highway in Farmington Hills on Monday morning, Tanner Friedman will be moving into its 10th year of existence. An unheard of milestone for a Metro Detroit business? No. An important reminder for our agency, clients, collaborators and friends that we have persevered and succeeded? Absolutely. And we could not have done it without each and every one of them.

Looking back, the uninitiated might consider leaving full-time, partner-level jobs behind in January of 2007 foolhardy if not downright foolish. Then again, the economic depression to come was still a year away and Matt and I had firmly decided on our desire to start a business, culture and environment from scratch that we believed in, could build upon and could stand behind.  We’ve never looked back nor taken a step back.

From the beginning we sought to be among the respected PR firms in Michigan. We continue to strive toward that everyday. Those are not words but, rather, a mission. And the recipe is very simple: treat people the right way - with honesty and integrity – no matter who they are. That means empowering and mentoring colleagues; providing the media with respect for the in-basket; and delivering true and sustained value and counsel to our clients.  Demanding is fine, we like to say, but mutual respect is demanded – of our partners and ourselves.

And those we want to work with and for get that.  Some clients have not and are no longer with us.  Most, on the other hand, have been with us from the beginning. And for that we are grateful.  As important are our people. In nine years we are proud of low turnover mostly borne of love (three have left to be with significant others in other cities).  We want Tanner Friedman to be the place not for a job, but for a rewarding career. Our staff is the best and we are proud of each and every one of them.

So, here’s to the next decade. May the years continue to be as successful and fulfilling for you as they have been for us.  Running a business is never easy. Nor is staying nimble and ever adaptive to evolving market conditions and industry dynamics. We will continue to learn and teach, adjust and move forward. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

Radiohead’s “Spectre”: Nobody’s Done 007 Better

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 12.25.38 PMOver the past five decades there has never been a movie series as enduring and for millions as endearing as creator Albert Brocolli’s James Bond films. Never mind Furious 7, How about 24 x 007.  And through those dozens of movies the expert melding of action and music remains integral to the franchise’s success, in particular the opening credits which set the tone for each flick.  As detailed in Wikipedia, the actual iconic James Bond theme – featuring the surfer-esque “Dum-de-de-de-Dum” guitar riff was created by composer Monty Norman and scored by the legendary John Barry.  It has been utilized in the opening credits from the very beginning, including 1962′s “Dr. No” and 1963′s “To Russia with Love” as well as many of the closing credits through the very latest film.

By 1964s “Goldfinger” however, the movie’s openings would be dominated by popular singers and groups of that particular era.  And so it was that Welch singer Shirley Bassey took on that title track and took it to #1 for a 200 week run on the Billboard charts (#14 in the UK), garnering a Grammy nomination as well. Bassey would return in 1971 for “Diamonds are Forever” and again in 1979 with “Moonraker.”  As the Bond marketing and promotions machine continued to churn with radio airplay and soundtrack sales for its celluloid offerings, the franchise officially entered the rock era in 1973 with perhaps one of its best known and successful themes: “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings. Composed by George Martin, it marked the first Bond song to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Best Original Song), reaching #2 in the U.S. and #9 on the UK charts.  The song also won a Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists).

Thus would begin a non-stop run of popular artists in every film that has included, most notably: Carly Simon, Duran Duran, Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow, Chris Cornell and Alicia Keys. To say nothing of a slew of top performers that have contributed tunes to the closing credits: Louis Armstrong, K.D. Lang, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Moby. And despite mega superstar Adele performing “Skyfall” in 2012, no Bond song had every topped the charts in the UK until Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” entered them at #1 in recent weeks on behalf of the latest 007 chapter, “Spectre.”

Which brings us to what I and many feel is one of the best Bond songs ever: “Spectre” by Radiohead.  Released to fans this past week online as something of a “Christmas gift” it does not appear in the film nor soundtrack as the hauntingly beautiful tune was passed over in favor of Smith. It’s not the first time top artists have lost out in favor of other options.  Consider these “losers”: Johnny Cash (Thunderball), Brian Wilson (for a James Bond theme song: “Run James Run” which would later appear on “Pet Sounds”), Alice Cooper (The Man with the Golden Gun), Blondie (For Your Eyes Only [Sheena Easton] and Pet Shop Boys (The Living Daylights). It would seem, then, that Radiohead is in very good company. And thought enough to make it available to enjoy through the power of social media.

Take a listen, decide for yourself and let me know what you think. You’ll find a link to the Soundcloud version here as well as a YouTube version of how it might have worked/looked over the actual opening credits here. And, with Radiohead four years removed from their last studio LP, one can’t help but get excited by the shape of things to come.