Archive for the ‘television’ Category

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.

A TV Guy Helps Radio Break Its Losing Streak

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

UnknownSometimes, being a fan of radio feels like rooting for a perennially losing sports team, decades removed from its glory years. The wins haven’t come often and when they do, you have to savor them. Now is one of those times.

This example of a victory for commercial, terrestrial radio is WJR-AM in Detroit, billed as “The Great Voice of The Great Lakes.” The station’s 50,000 watt signal can be heard in 38 states and much of Canada. In its heyday, it was a powerhouse of local flavor, national-caliber hosts and billings, lots and lots of bills. But under corporate ownership, the past decade has seen the station shrink, like just about every other across the country. While the station boasts strong talk personalities Paul W. Smith, Frank Beckmann and Mitch Albom, much of the airtime is taken up by syndicated national programming or paid shows.

WJR’s current owner, Cumulus, though, seems to be emerging from bankruptcy with the beginnings of a plan to stay out of it. Unlike others that have cut and then cut and then cut some more, giving new listeners hardly a reason to tune in, WJR is showing signs of investment. It bid on and won the rights to Detroit Lions broadcasts for this season. And now, they are dumping a nationally syndicated political show, Michael Savage, and hiring a trusted, proven local voice, really a household name, to host a daily, local news talk show. (Details in this Crain’s Detroit Business story, featuring Tanner Friedman analysis).

Guy Gordon is a professional news broadcaster. Prepared, polished, inquisitive and fair, Gordon has spent more than 30 years on Detroit TV. I competed against him when he was at WXYZ-TV (his 6pm newscast and the one I produced at WDIV-TV were neck and neck in the ratings, but we eeked it out more nights than not) and I have worked on stories with him at both WXYZ-TV and since his move to WDIV-TV over the past 18+ years. He asks great questions and tells great stories, with high respect for the audience. For the past two years, he has filled in as a host on WJR and has made it sound easy.

For now, Guy will be on 3pm to 5pm but I hear that could expand once syndicated programming contracts expire. Cumulus wants WJR to be more local and it’s a safe bet that advertisers and listeners will respond well to this void being filled. When was the last time we could say a station like this had something new to sell that customers actually want, not settle for? There just aren’t many places for news that emerges during the day to be explored on the air for commuters and even time-shifted podcast listeners. Guy’s reputation and Rolodex will mean his show will be a go-to place for newsmakers to talk beyond the headlines by answering his questions.

This is something for other radio stations and their owners to consider. What are you doing, other than cutting salaries, to sustain, or maybe even grow, your business? What investments in product could lead to more audience and more ad dollars?

Newspapers, you’re due for a win too. There’s something to think about here.

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.

 

 

 

 

Nobody Needs PR Now Like News Organizations

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

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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.

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.

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.

Take A Look At This Netflix Show. I “Dare-devil” You

Monday, June 6th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 7.55.27 PMThe world of television continues to get more interesting by the minute in terms of who is watching what, when and how.  Many TV executives have conceded that the traditional Neilson ratings have become obsolete, as, by some estimates, more than 50% of viewers are no longer consuming shows in real time thanks to DVRs, Hulu and On Demand.  And did you hear the one about the Netflix Show that may not be renewed – despite a solid following and rave reviews?

Rumors are flying that Season 3 of the Netflix original series, “Daredevil” could be delayed or even scrapped entirely; and not because of a lack of viewers nor disinterest by the show’s stars.  Rather, two of the show’s key production personnel have exited to work on another Netflix superhero offering, “The Defenders.” Which begs this question: With the network already running “Jessica Jones”, and preparing to launch “Luke Cage,” “The Punisher” and ‘Defenders’, has Netflix overextended itself in a potentially disastrous way?

In an industry forever guilty of “borrowing” from what has proven successful, fresh ideas, concepts and characters are often in short supply. Not to mention the creative talent necessary to bring forth those programs successfully. “Daredevil” could well be an unfortunate casualty of too much of a good thing without the resources necessary to keep that good thing going.

If you have not watched the first two seasons of “Daredevil”, prepare yourself for grim and grit.  Once again founded upon the storytelling of a bygone year from master scribe Frank Miller, there has never before been a superhero TV program which exhibits the violence and realism put forth in this version of Hells Kitchen.  In Marvel comics he is billed as: The Man Without Fear. Today, many Netflix fans are quite fearful that a return of the blind red devil to his world of ninjas, mafia bosses and mayhem may not happen. We’ll be watching. Stay tuned.

 

 

20 Years Later, How TV News Has Changed

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

WDIV20TV20420 years ago, I was on my way back home, after just accepting a job as a news producer at WDIV-TV in Detroit.

Thinking back to the newsroom I was hired into, it easy to see what the media business is challenged by change, as there has been so much of it. Beyond the obvious – such as the advent of online news – here are some observations as I think back on the WDIV newsroom in 1996:

-We produced newscasts on DOS-based computer terminals. A Windows-based desktop system was still more than a year away, along with laptops inside news trucks.

-All TV was still what’s now called “standard definition” (and is unacceptable to most viewers and incompatible with new TVs). I wouldn’t even see a demonstration of HDTV until three years later, while visiting Los Angeles.

-All news was shot on, edited on and played back from tapes.

-Reporters were generally given one minute and forty seconds “on tape” to tell their stories, plus, if it was a live report, about 15 seconds for an introduction and 15 seconds for a live close. “Tape time” is generally closer to one minute now and many stories that would have been live 20 years are are now “look live,” with recorded openings and closings.

-The only cell phones used to cover news were docked permanently inside live trucks. The only texting was from a keyboard terminal at the assignment desk that could send messages directly to pagers.

-If we went a crew outside of the immediate market area, it required a satellite truck to uplink news via a satellite in space in order to cover the story. Today, much distant reporting is done via Internet connection or even cell data.

-I was originally hired to produce the station’s Noon newscast. If I remember correctly, we had to earn about an 8 household rating to win the time slot. Today, an 8 rating will win Prime Time locally.

-The 11:00 news was often dependent on the network’s Prime Time lead-in. In 1996, “ER” would attract 30 million viewers nationally on Thursday nights for new episodes. By comparison, new episodes of the current Prime Time smash, Fox’s “Empire” attracted about 17-18 million viewers nationally.

What hasn’t changed is that in Detroit especially, TV news is highly-competitive – a daily battle for audience and attention in a news town that is diverse and compelling. 20 years later, it’s still a privilege to be a part of it, just from a different vantage point.