Archive for the ‘Don Tanner’ Category

Patty Hearst & the SLA – Signs of Those Times

Monday, November 14th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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?

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

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2016 PRSA International Conference Delivers

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 4.49.49 PMAs the PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) 2016 International Conference carries on in Indianapolis through Tuesday, I have just returned home after four days and 32 hours of conference and travel time over its first couple of days.  And despite what you might think of PRSA National, it was time very, very well spent.  Allow me to elaborate.

An organization’s defining of and delivering on its value proposition is crucial – to delivering on its promise and mission and in retaining members.  And, it is no secret that the governing body at PRSA National has been called out in recent years on exactly that. What do our dues go toward? How are we, as PR practitioners and as Chapters, Sections and Districts benefiting from the affiliation?

Jay Starr, who is National’s head of Membership, was loudly called out on this dynamic during the conference Leadership Rally on Friday. To his credit, he kept his cool, explained that new tools and resources were coming and then delivered on this promise during Saturday’s General Assembly.  Announced were new online tools and templates for easily and cost-effectively creating new websites, award programs and direct mail and e-mail campaigns; a new, responsive, intuitive and informational website (with accompanying app); and a new e-portal (MyPRSA) which allows members the ability to share and discuss news, information, challenges and best practices. All look outstanding.

In addition to learning what is here and what is become, the conference serves as an ideal connector for PR leadership from across the country, as I spent time with numerous Chapter heads from everywhere from New York and Chicago to Atlanta and Silicon Valley.  I was also provided with a greater awareness of and connection point for the wide range of “Sections” that allow for staying in-touch with others in specific areas of focus throughout the year and from across the country.

In 2016, I am happy to say, my time both out of the office during the week and throughout the weekend in Indianapolis was very well spent; as an organization I and other members often had our doubts about listened, stepped up at the highest levels and actually did what they said they were going to do. And, what needed to be done – for this profession and for those who are carrying it forward.

That’s What Friends Are For

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

IMG_1992Knowing you can always count on me…for sure…that’s what friends are for.  In the winter of 1986 that song was a huge hit for Dionne Warwick along with Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder.  If I never hear that song again, it will be too soon but its message resonated like never before this past week in my (little) hometown.

30 years ago, I found myself nearly a year out of the University of Illinois joining forces with a band of other radio neophytes from Bloomington and Peoria, Illinois, respectively.  Some could say we were exiled to Joliet, Illinois – a depressed (formerly booming) river town best known for a penitentiary and the Blues Brothers.  For us, it was an opportunity for true, full-time on-air work at a little station that could: WJTW (formerly polka station, WAJP).  We were in a strange town, a new station and away from home for the holidays.  ‘Friends’ was one of the first songs we played on the station (and we played it incessantly). It still brings back memories good and bad.

John Weis joined the WJTW air staff from WBNQ in Bloomington, Illinois and instantly became a friend for life as we bonded amid separation from family and friends and worked side-by-side each day.  That friendship was reinforced this week as I found myself unexpectedly back in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois to tend to my ailing mother in the hospital.  Able to work largely from a room in the hospital where I was born (thanks to the hard work and support of my Tanner Friedman colleagues and friends), I found myself nearly 400 miles from the CBS Radio recording studio where, each month, I voice radio commercials for client The Suburban Collection.

A call to John, whom I would see in town on occasion during visits, soon led to lunch at famed Monical’s Pizza for radio reminiscing and an invitation to use one of the production studios at a former radio station (WLRW) where I had worked just prior to moving on to Joliet.  John programs and oversees the now seven-station cluster as well as mans Afternoons as “Jonathan Drake”.  It seemed like old times as that mutual respect, kinship and crazy irreverence was once again experienced with me voicing and him producing. The photo in this blog is me and John in the now (albeit different) WLRW (now Mix 94.5) on-air studio.  With voice tracks laid down and appropriately edited, John was able to then email them to CBS’s Doak Breen in Detroit for final production. After John posted the photo to his Facebook page, other former Joliet colleagues and friends chimed in.  A radio reunion indeed.

As of this writing, my mom is out of the hospital and recuperating in a rehab facility. For nearly eight days I was able to complete work right next to her while also serving as an in-person advocate for her care – work/life balance realized (and not necessarily in that order). And all of this thanks to the generosity of others (like John),  family members, relatives (and, again, my TF colleagues) to give of and be flexible with their time, step up in a time of need and reaffirm friendship and the collaborative spirit. And, I found, I needed the camaraderie and support as much as anyone. Just like Dionne and her friends sang nearly three decades ago. Maybe the song is not so bad after all.

For WXYY, Sports Is Just The Ticket

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

sports-ticketsIn my many years working in and observing the business of radio I have pretty much, done, experienced and seen it all.  Yet, I was still struck in recent days at the miniscule level of discourse being afforded a key morning show personnel change at one of this town’s top stations, as Bill McAllister exited CBS sports juggernaut “The Ticket”.  Far be it from me to question the move, although it does beg a bit of examination.

First of all, there is no denying that, love him or not, McAllister is a true broadcast talent.  With CBS and previous iterations of WXYT-FM for more than a decade, he proved himself able to adapt and jive with a myriad of on-air co-hosts – from Jay Towers to Mike Stone – and formats – from music to sports.  His true strengths lie in an uncanny knowledge of music and pop culture.  And, having had the opportunity to guest with him on the music podcast, TrackAddicts, I can attest firsthand that he knows both well.

So what happened exactly? Why did we hear one week ago during the “Valenti and Foster” afternoon show that Jamie Samuelsen would be part of a new, revamped, all-sports morning program dubbed, “Jamie and Stoney”, which put McAllister out on the steet? There are a couple of theories to consider.

One is virtually every radio group’s #1 morning nemesis: WRIF’s “Dave & Chuck The Freak”. Their male-dominated, lewd, all-talk humor fest has proven too hot to dent for many. The Ticket often delved into similarly tasteless material albeit without the same level of crudeness. And if you can’t beat ‘em at their own game, you alter the game plan and play to other strengths – in the Ticket’s case: sports.

Another theory has to do with a ratings system that the industry is still working to adapt to: The Portable People Meter (PPM). With this tool, programmers can view online at any broadcast moment, what listeners are responding well to (and continuing to listen) and what is not resonating (and resulting in tune out).  So, this theory might follow, when the morning show talked sports (which it did on occasion) the PPMs showed that time spent listening went up, while, perhaps, non-sports talk was demonstrating more button pushing.  And, thus, the decision to go ‘all sports all the time’.

Finally, while former sports/talker 105.1 was never a real factor in the ratings, they did eschew sports in recent weeks for classic hip hop.  That move left crosstown WDFN (“The Fan”) as the only station in town focusing on sports in the morning. Why let that station get all the 105.1 fan fallout?

Only CBS knows for sure but no matter the true reasons or rationale, it is yet another example of how, in radio, talent does not always translate into longevity – at least not in one spot.  Samuelsen is also great at what he does yet started elsewhere (at “The Fan”). He will thrive while McAllister will revive and survive somewhere else.  In the end, this industry truly lives and dies not by the sword but by a little transmitter, worn by a very small sampling of listeners, recording, via soundwaves, who listens to what and when with the ‘why’ quite often a mystery.

Mylan Backtracks While Kaeperick Sits

Monday, August 29th, 2016

WjI5dlphVEV0YzNSdmNtVXVkMkZzYldGeWRDNWpZUzlwYldGblpYTXZUR0Z5WjJVdk1EUTBMekpmTVM4eU5qQTBOREpmTVM1cWNHYz0yeGxjM1ZqYTNNThis past week saw not one but two high-profile crisis communications stories – one in the area of sports and the other in pharmaceuticals.  The latter is alarming while the former is thought-provoking.  Both have sparked great reaction and underscore the importance of thinking before acting and considering the potential ramifications of your actions, both for your constituents and yourself.

Fledgling San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, first of all, created a firestorm of controversy for himself over his defiant demonstration of one, choosing to sit rather than stand during a preseason game singing of the National Anthem. He was protesting, he said, this country’s oppressive behaviors and attitudes against people of color.  His actions blew up social and traditional media, with, interestingly enough, a fairly even split between those for and against his stance. Did Kaepernick consider his actions ahead of time? Probably. Did he consider the possible ramifications for himself – including his fight for the starting quarterback position and future sponsorship/endorsement deals? Or, was he instead more interested in making an important high-profile statement that he felt passionately about at any and all costs? After all, while some now view him as unpatriotic others now see a man often referred to in the past as brash, selfish and immature instead as an individual filled with conviction and conscience.

Of more importance to consider is drug giant Mylan’s announcement that they planned to raise the price of their lifesaving EpiPen by 400% as CEO and executive board compensation also rose to – by many estimates – obscene amounts.  In the wake of  the firestorm that followed, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch initially went on the defensive blaming a ‘broken healthcare system’ for the unavoidable price hikes. The next moment, however, 50% off coupons were being made available while the company also announced it would soon begin offering patients a much more affordable generic brand option.

Mylan’s actions tell me one of three things related to communications counsel. Either communications was not at the boardroom table when the price increases were being discussed; communications input against such action was discounted; or whomever is handling PR for Mylan didn’t have the balls to speak up. I’m guessing it was (1) or (2). The company’s initial actions, as such, reeked of stupidity and greed, in particular for a produce for which there is virtually no competition. Their response, in turn, to the public uproar was almost as pathetic, demonstrating they should never have gone down the path of price increases some were calling criminal in the first place.

The motto of these stories? Think before you act and don’t act before you think because there will be consequences one way or the other. The trick is careful considering ahead of time of what those consequences might be and then, if necessary, taking the path best traveled for ensure future credibility and reputation.

A Return to Radio Roots

Friday, August 19th, 2016

newyorktimes_rootsrockradio_wesduvallWith apologies to author Thomas Wolfe, sometimes you can go home again. At least I was afforded the unique opportunity to do so this past week – returning to my radio roots for an on-air thrill ride that was equal parts fun and hard work.

I have written previously and been quoted in Crain’s on Superstation 910 AM, owner Kevin Adell’s still young and well-timed venture aimed at providing a prominent media voice and forum for the African American/urban community.  As such, Tanner Friedman often seeks to book appropriate clients on station shows, including with midday man Cliff Russell and afternoon host Karen Dumas.  Interviews conducted on the station are typically in-depth, long form and enlightening; again refreshing and needed.  And then came the request.

As the station prepared to broadcast live earlier this week from Oakland Hills and the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship, the opportunity suddenly presented itself for me to co-host Dumas’s “The Pulse” Show on Tuesday. Now, some may know and others not that radio was my a first love and initial career – starting in college as a music radio air personality and newsman and continuing for 10-years after graduation. Following on-air stints on several stations in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, I moved on to suburban Chicago and then to Detroit.  In town, I was most known for reporting traffic and weather, including on WWJ, WXYT, WLLZ and others. That ended in 1994 as I entered the world of PR, and, while I still do voicework for radio commercials and videos, I have not worked in the industry in over 20 years. That is, until this week.

For those who have never before hosted a 3-hour radio talk show (like me) it is very hard work.  You need to be knowledgeable, upbeat, intuitive, engaging, adaptable and, perhaps most importantly, possess the ‘gift of gab’.  Really listen to the masters – Karen and Cliff among them – like Paul W. Smith and Frank Beckman and the crew at WWJ , and you’ll truly appreciate how good, smart and prepared they are. Thankfully, with a bit of handholding from Karen, the three hours went by fairly fast.  Yet, like running a marathon (something else I’ve never done), the long haul can leave you content with your accomplishments yet drained by the effort put forth. All applicable here.

Indeed it was a thrill but for now I will stick with my day job, free from massive amounts of show prep, headphone hair and the need, quite often, to extend an interview to fill time and accommodate a show clock.  At the same time, I remain eager to get back into the hot seat in the not too distant future to talk to the masses while quenching my own thirst for living on the air – at least every so often.

A Movie To Die For?

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Suicide-Squad-Joker-character-posterAll my friends are heathens, take it slow / Wait for them to ask you who you know / Please don’t make any sudden moves / You don’t know the half of the abuse.  Thus opens the new song by Twenty One Pilots, “Heathens” from one of the year’s most anticipated movies, “Suicide Squad”, in theaters this weekend.  It’s debut will take comic book filmmaking in a totally new direction while showcasing movie marketing at its finest.

Hollywood has a knack for repeating what works and, indeed, this flick will join a long line of still-popular celluloid representations of characters and story lines currently running in the funny papers. Yet, this is superhero-dom with a twist – as these stars are actually anti-heroes – for perhaps the first time ever.  Some might argue that the forgettable “Punisher” movies of yesteryear previously walked this ground, yet, this time, the individuals taking center stage in “Suicide Squad” are villains; some among the most dangerous from the Batman mythos.

Pre-promotion of “Squad” has been heavy and somewhat predictable with early screenings of previews at the country’s top Comicons.  The movie’s stars, including A-Listers Jared Leto (Joker) and Margot Robbie (Harley Quinn) have, similarly, been making appearances here there and everywhere, including on the late night “Jimmys”.  As important in the hype, though: the 2016 blockbuster Batman v Superman movie, which set the table for a new Gotham while TV’s “Arrow” and “Gotham” have both shined a light on members of the Squad and the mythical New York City, respectively.

Which brings us back to the music. If you liked the score from “Fury” or “Gravity” – both moody and atmospheric – you’ll similarly be drawn to this one, also composed by Steve Price.  Still, it’s the popular Twenty One Pilots and “Heathens” that really steals the show.  The tune has been rocketing up the charts via radio stations across the country and could someday be considered alongside Prince’s 1989 “Batdance” as one of the greatest super hero movie-related tunes ever.  This is the stuff of James Bond soundtracks and should further ensure that ticket buyers for the new “Suicide Squad” leave the theater both shaken and stirred.

 

There’s No Place Like Home Plate

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Minor_League_Baseball267Baseball has long been known as the national pastime and for good reason.  Nothing quite beats sitting in the stands on a long summer night, watching talented athletes compete on manicured fields while enjoying the requisite hot dogs, peanuts and a “cold one”.  And nowhere is the fun and frivolity more endearing (and enduring) than in minor league baseball.

This past weekend I crossed another ‘to do’ off my bucket list, embarking on a three-day/night, three-travel-state minor league baseball excursion.  This took me and a friend to Chicago for the Kane County Cougars and Schaumburg Boomers and then to Fort Wayne for the Tin Caps.  All three venues offered a veritable potpourri of marketing and promotional fun and value – just what that level of the sport is known for.  After all, where else can you see a pro sporting event today for as low as $5-$10 for admission and even less for spirits and dogs in most cases. And, speaking of “seeing”, there are typically no bad seats in any such house.

It’s family fun at its finest and getting more and more creative all the time, it seems. Where else can you enjoy people dressed up as sandwiches competing to add toppings to themselves (Tincaps), “Rock, Paper, Scissors” Night (Boomers) or monkeys riding dogs herding goats (our own United Shore Professional Baseball league teams – a client ) in Utica, Michigan?

Best of all, minor league baseball is about community. A place where, besides watching baseball and the festivities at large, you can also picnic, play and celebrate neighbors.  “Hometown Heroes” is a staple at most ball parks, including spotlighting and saluting area veterans and their families. Many clubs also have reading and scholarship clubs; variations include players serving as reading members to area youth as well as team acknowledgments of young scholar accomplishments at local schools.

Finally, many cite the purity of the minor league venue in that its players – typically earning anywhere from approximately $10,000-$12,000 a year – are playing as much for a love of the game as a paycheck.  To be sure, we as a society tend to gravitate toward  things that are (or appear) genuine, pure and down-to-earth.  Attending these games – many off the beaten path – felt like returning to my youth and a time spent on dusty, rocky infields and uneven outfields. It felt like nostalgia. It felt like home.