Archive for August, 2007

Diana’s News Legacy

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Local TV news changed forever 10 years ago. I remember because I was there.

When Princess Diana died, I was a news producer at WDIV-TV in Detroit. That station did what others around the country did after the Paris car crash Labor Day Weekend – turned local news into celebrity news, for days.

They called us all into work – an “all hands on deck” as it’s known in the newsrooms – emulating the procedure for a jet crash or tornado or any other major local story. But, this time it wa a story with absolutely no local connections.

In the following days, save weather and sports, we and our competitors were in an “All Diana” format. Never mind that the Princess had never been to Michigan or, as far as anyone knew, ever even conjured a thought of our market. Sure, there was public interest and intrigue, but no local angles. So what did we do? We created them. We sent a reporter across the river to Windsor, Ontario, where, as one manager put it “the Queen is on money.” And then someone had an idea to put condolence books “that would be sent to the Royal family” at the station and encourage viewers to come Downtown to sign them. That staged event made for live reports in newscast after newscast.

Ten years ago this weekend, local TV news took another giant step toward becoming less local. Celebrity news dominated, as the pictures coming over the satellites trumped anything happening in the community. Some will say that we “gave the viewers what they wanted” and there may be ways to look at the ratings and believe that. But it was a watershed moment for the business, one that has an impact today.

Michael Vick’s Actions Infamous, Tragic

Saturday, August 25th, 2007

I’ve written here previously about how often we toe the line between unsubstantiated accusations of wrongdoing and front page headlines. Barry Bonds is one such example, I would argue, of an individual who has been largely deemed guilty in the court of public opinion.

And then there is Michael Vick.

This time, investigators, law enforcement officials and the media were spot on. Vick’s name will be forever vilified and sullied, and rightly so. What he supported and participated in—the brutal torture and murder of helpless animals for money and “sport”—is beyond reprehensible. Here’s the latest from ESPN.

Also tragic is the fall from grace of yet another talented athlete and hero to millions of young people.

Soon, Vick will trade Falcons red and black for prison orange. He will pay his debt to society. The wounds he has deeply inflicted, however, will not soon heal.

Planes, Pains and Automobiles

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

I promised an update on my adventure trying to get to Nebraska, so here it is. It seemed, at times, like we were shooting the sequel to the Steve Martin/John Candy classic.

In November, that movie will be 20 years old. Not much about business travel has changed since then.

My luggage, which I hadn’t seen since Sunday arrived home last night (Wednesday), 24 hours after I did, so the story is now complete. Without going into too much detail – my client and I endured a flight cancellation, three hours after scheduled departure (it was supposed to be a 2 hour non-stop). We ended up flying to Minneapolis on a delayed flight, getting in after Midnight. After a few hours in a hotel, we flew early morning to Sioux Falls and then drove 3 1/2 hours to Lincoln, forced to attempt an all-day meeting in less than two hours, followed by a shopping trip for clothes and other essentials. Those are the basics.

Without all of the typical detail of the customer service issues we encountered, I want to highlight positives and lesson learned of communications and service.

National Car Rental‘s superior attention to my needs enabled us to even get to Lincoln at all. They were flexible and understanding and best of all, their phone representative actually listened and didn’t just recite policy. The Men’s Wearhouse, as promised in their commerical, took care of me. They had me wardrobed, tailored and out of the store in about 1/2 hour. Best of all, their staff seemed like they really wanted to help a customer in need.

There was a price to be paid for service – but value was absolutely received in return.

I urge everyone in a service business (and most of us are) to remember your “trips from hell.” How did you want to be treated? Did anybody actually treat you that way? If so, that’s how you should communicate with your customers every day.

Ernie Harwell Deserves His Tiger Stadium Due

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007

Funny how sometimes it takes a natural treasure to save one. If anyone should have a voice in what ultimately becomes of the old ballpark, it is Ernie Harwell. His quotes in John Gallagher’s article today in the Detroit Free Press were priceless and right on: “In America, we have a tendency to knock down anything that’s over 30 years old and make a parking lot out of it. Whereas in Europe they preserve all these beautiful buildings and structures that have a history. I sort of like the European approach.”

George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., on the other hand, should have chosen his words more carefully, calling Harwell’s stance a “PR gimmick.” He added: “Our decision will not be based on a public relations campaign. It’s going to be based on financial substance, period.”

Isn’t that approach part of the problem with why this historic icon continues to sit empty after all these years, overrun by weeds, rust and vermin? Sure, economics will play a role in Tiger Stadium’s ultimate fate but should not be the sole determining factor.

I had the honor and privilege in a recent year, through a mutual friend, to have lunch with Ernie Harwell. Those two hours spent at a little Italian restaurant seemed like 5 minutes. A huge fan of baseball and broadcasting, I couldn’t help myself from asking Mr. Harwell questions he has probably heard a million times such as: “Who was the greatest hitter you ever watched?” (Ted Williams). He answered each one with equal parts class and unmatched knowledge.

My point here is that we, as a society, are too quick to discount the wisdom and insights of our predecessors when they should be cherished. In the case of Tiger Stadium, it is important that we listen to Harwell and, beyond the economics, give equal consideration to history, tradition and culture. It would be a terrible thing if, someday, both Ernie Harwell and Tiger Stadium were “Long Gone.”

Bloggin’ From The Heartland

Monday, August 20th, 2007

I am writing tonight from Lincoln, Nebraska, where one of our clients has a major manufacturing plant.

It was an adventure getting here – something I’ll save for another blog post (the trip isn’t over yet). But, while I’m here, I want to let you know about some absolutely great radio I heard here today. Two examples of some of the best uses of the medium I’ve heard in a long time. Both happened to be on KFOR-AM here in Lincoln.

The first was in the afternoon, a statewide broadcast sponsored by the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, where citizens could ask Governor Dave Heineman whatever they wanted. Topics ranged from the seemingly trivial (mile marker signs) to the serious (property taxes), but the conversation felt honest, free-flowing and unscripted. Every Governor should do this – on statewide radio at a time when talk radio listenership is high- as long as they would share Governor Heineman’s approach.

The other memorable broadcast happened just hours later. A fast moving, powerful late afternoon Great Plains thunderstorm rolled through town. The broadcasters on KFOR were terrific in keeping the market informed, without any scare tactics. They described what they saw and detailed the warnings, without speculation or hype. They just painted the picture, as only radio could, until a terrible storm passed through as quickly as it came in.

Local radio, at its best, can be valuable and enormously effective, as it was today in Lincoln.

An Innovative Marriage of Radio and Web

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Greater Media rocker WRIF ‘gets it’.

One of the first stations in town and the country to effectively utilize High Definition radio with RIFF-HD2 and its online companion RIFF2.com, the station is now unveiling an updated web component featuring a social networking functionality that allows disc jockeys, bands and listeners a range of new, interactive functions that allows visitors the ability to blog as well as upload audio and video. Read more in today’s “On The Radio” column from Art Vuolo.

Hopefully, such inventive websites will, in turn, drive listeners to HD, which is off to a slow start despite its ability to bring new creativity and diversity to traditional, terrestrial radio.

No Surprise To Us: Internet News Growing

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

A new study is detailing how consumers are getting their news and it shouldn’t be surprising- it’s online. Tanner Friedman’s clients are learning that getting their message out via a traditional news outlet’s web site is good for their business. But that seems to be “breaking news” to the people who run local media outlets. That has to change.

It seems the national news outlets are getting the most of the increased online traffic, though. Why? They are investing in content that lends itself to the web platform, not just repurposing content online.

Here’s an important quote from the story in “Editor and Publisher” – the trade publication that reports on the study, “The Shorenstein report says that part of the reason local media isn’t seeing the jumps in traffic that national outlets are is because they were slow to respond to the shift in readership.”

Local news outlets need to understand this, loud and clear and right now, your customers depend on your content. They just want it delivered differently. And, as the saying goes, the time to learn that “is yesterday.”

Mining Disaster Made Worse

Monday, August 13th, 2007

Watching Murray Energy Corp. president and CEO Robert Murray comment to TV reporters as search and rescue efforts at Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah continue, one cannot help but feel even sorrier for the miners and their families. Working for such an individual cannot have been easy. The Salt Lake City Tribune confirms as much.

Rather than express concern for the miners and their families, I watched Murray espouse his theory that an earthquake caused the cave-in and that any formal investigation of the incident would find nothing irregular.

It is the second time within the past few years that a terrible mining disaster has been made worse by individuals ill-prepared to communicate with appropriate decorum, sympathy, respect and factual information. Those miners and their families deserve far better.

More News at 11pm

Friday, August 10th, 2007

It’s a business decision and a curious one. Detroit’s Fox-owned WJBK-TV is starting an 11pm newscast – meaning 90 minutes of news from 10-11:30pm.

The Detroit News’ Neal Rubin devotes his column to this today.

This decision comes in the wake of a Crain’s Detroit Business report by Bill Shea that details the tumbling ratings of longtime 11pm leader WDIV-TV. A loss of nearly 100,000 households in 10 years.

So why this move? It’s simple. Fox thinks they can make more money selling advertising in an 11pm newscast then in Seinfeld reruns.

So even if there isn’t a great market demand (when was the last time somebody told you they wished there was more local news on at 11pm?), it’s good for us in the public relations business. Another half hour might mean more time for our clients’ news.

One Year Until Ultimate Workplace Distraction

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

As technology improves and the majority of us are getting online with broadband connections, more and more video is making it onto the web.

Now, we learn that NBC plans to put hours upon hours of 2008 Olympics coverage, next August, on the web, for free, during the day here in the U.S. Want to bet you won’t be watching at work?

Here’s the story in USA Today.

At Tanner Friedman, we are counseling our clients on how to take a multiplatform approach to communications. NBC is showing that they understand the appetitte for information online, as well as on TV.