Archive for October, 2007

“War of the Worlds” A Case Study in Crisis Communications

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Halloween Night at 10 p.m., Windsor/Detroit’s CKWW-AM 580 airs what is arguably the greatest radio hoax of all time: Orson Welles’ classic 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds”. The original radio show ran over WABC-AM in New York and across the country via the Columbia Broadcasting System network.

The ensuing public panic it set off is testament to the power of the media and an early study in crisis communications. The program, formatted as a series of news reports, dealt with an area alien invasion—hardly an event that could be planned for in advance. Still, despite roads jammed with fleeing citizens and switchboards clogged with calls, police agencies and the media worked quickly to secure and release the facts and calm the hysteria. The Associated Press took the lead, issuing a wire report while the broadcast still aired that events were fictional.

Even today, it is impossible to plan for all crisis contingencies; however, moving swiftly to deal with a particular issue, including diligent fact checking followed by communicating to reassure, still provide the foundation for effective adversity management. WWJ’s “Daily Dash” by James Melton discusses these principles and more with a few insights from me.

FEMA’s PR: A Disaster

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

You would think, with the scrutiny after “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” that FEMA would get its act together. Or at least make us think they have our act together.

But, no. Right now, the disaster management arm of the Federal Government is under fire for a faking a press conference last week in Southern California. Instead of journalists answering the questions, it was FEMA employees. Worst of all, several regional and national news organizations were duped, running portions of the event on TV, online and in print.

Now comes the apology. But what about the lesson? How about understanding what press conferences are for?

Press conferences should be designed to allow journalists access to newsmakers that they would not be able to get otherwise. Yes, they are opportunities to deliver messages via answers. But, nobody offering access to media should forget that such an event should be created for media and, in turn, the public to get information.

Count us in on saying “shame on FEMA.”

The IABCs of Communicating with Generation Y

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Today’s IABC luncheon featured a fascinating presentation by Leah Reynolds, national practice leader, Generational Change and Total Rewards Communication, Deloitte Consulting LLP, who discussed the characteristics of Generations X and Y, and why they respond to communication differently.

A lot has been written recently on the fact that, for the first time ever, four different generations are represented in today’s workplace. The latest is “Y”—a huge group (born between 1981 and 1993) encompassing 78 million individuals, nearly twice the number of Xers (born ’61 to ’81). Here’s Businessweek’s take.

Organizations, says Reynolds, are not ready for how to effectively “plug in” to this next generation—a street-smart group that does not want to be micromanaged nor tethered to a 9-5 desk but assessed by their results. With Yers, respect is earned, not demanded.

In the future, companies will be scrutinized more than ever by this entrepreneurial demo who will decide whether they want to work for a particular organization based on its reputation and values. Attracting key employees in the coming years will be dependent on a company’s actually practicing what they preach. Retaining and utilizing them effectively, further, will entail a willingness by the “old guard” to adapt to these new kids on the block in how they communicate day-to-day and operate in general.

Taco Bell Promotion Steals The Show

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

On the Tanner Friedman blog, we like to point out communications programs that work. Here’s one – and it might be more cost effective than you think.

Taco Bell is offering a free taco to “America” if any player steals a base in any game in the World Series. They are advertising this on TV and online (and probably via other platforms also). People are talking about it – wondering how the chain could possibly deliver on that promotion.

Leave it to CNBC’s great sports business reporter Darren Rovell to crunch the numbers. Here’s his blog posting. He predicts that Taco Bell will give away only about $4000 worth of tacos, nationwide.
Talk about promotional value!

A Newspaper In Hand (& Many More On The Web)

Sunday, October 21st, 2007

Though I am purported to be a “dying breed,” each day I, along with millions of others around the world, read the morning papers, including the actual newsprint variety. That said, throughout the day I also go where more and more individuals go to get their print news—the web—for updates.

Everyone gathers and consumes news and information in different ways. Not everyone likes to have an actual newspaper, or magazine or book in hand. I do. But I am also open to new media and communications platforms. Many companies, when marketing themselves, focus only on what they (or more likely) their top executives read or view. Rather, you should want your company’s messages placed where your customers, clients and referral sources go. And, more and more, that is online, including high-profile blog sources such wsj.com, where you’ll find well-written (and well-read) articles on a range of topics.

Today, traditional and emerging media can also be incredibly complementary. A story appearing in a newspaper lives on, beyond the publication date and geographic limitations, through its searchable online link available to the world. Moreover, TV, radio and print media all work to drive their audiences to their respective websites for content only available there.

One such example is Palm Beach Post reporter Leslie Streeter’s “Accent” column, only available via the world wide web. And, while she refers to me as “Dan,” (join the club), cyberspace allowed us to connect for what lead to an interview on marketing and music, nearly in “real time,” which I am now sharing with you. It is the future. It is now.

Yankees Win (PR) World Series

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

My longtime disdain for the New York Yankees is well known to my friends and colleagues who engage me in sports conversation. But, professionally, I have to give credit where credit is due. When it comes to public relations and stealing the media spotlight, the Yankees are on top.

Right now, baseball is headed to its marquee event – the World Series. The Yankees’ rivals – the Red Sox and Indians – are playing a Championship Series game as I write this entry. But, through a skillful and deliberate PR strategy, the Yankees are the biggest story in baseball and in sports.

It’s no coincidence that the Joe Torre negotitations and the A-Rod “line in the sand” all hit the media during this Boston-Cleveland series. The Yankees’ off-season became THE story while their rivals played the biggest games of the season. It’s almost as if the actual games are a distraction for the sports media, like ESPN and of course, the New York tabloids.

Then, there’s the kicker. They make Joe Torre an offer he COULD refuse, so he looks like he’s walking away. I hate to say it – but all hail the PR Champs.

Radiohead Once Again “Borders” on Innovation

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Thom Yorke and company can never be accused of being complacent or staid. To be sure, Radiohead thrives on innovation—lyrically, musically and from a business standpoint. The band recently announced they would allow new music from their LP, “In Rainbows”, to be downloaded from their website for whatever price consumers wanted to pay; be it $10, $1 or nothing at all. Record companies and retailers are, in turn, quaking in their collective boots as traditional sales of CDs continue to fall.

Yet, think about the wisdom of this move. Radiohead is poised to expose its music to a greater audience than ever before while controlling how it is distributed. A precedent was set earlier in the year by Prince who literally gave this latest CD away; in turn, spurring ticket sales for his concerts that sold out for big bucks. In its first two days of availability, 1.2 million copies of “In Rainbows” were downloaded.

Now comes word that bookseller giant Borders will innovate beyond online in stores, offering digital products and services while allowing customers to download digital purchases—including the ability to mix and burn CDs and snag e-books in store.

The multi-platform approach by both Radiohead and Borders is in synch with how visionary entities operate and what Tanner Friedman counsels to our clients. In an environment of change, one must also innovate and evolve or risk survival.

Izzo Holds Court, Sharpton Does The Right Thing

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

While it’s easy to second guess or ask why when witnessing a communications or media gaffe, it is so much more rewarding to comment on instances when someone gets it right. It happened twice this week—in the world of basketball.

First, Michigan State Head basketball Coach Tom Izzo held a first-ever media “practice” where 20 print and broadcast writers and reporters who cover the Spartans, including the Detroit News’ Dave Dye, were put through a 2-hour session at the Breslin Center. This included film review, drills and a scrimmage. Coverage of the event was incredible and exuded a new appreciation for Spartan preparation and conditioning. As Izzo said to those in attendance: “In some ways, this brings us a little closer to understanding each other.” A brilliant guerilla P.R. move.

I was similarly impressed with the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “calling out” of the New York Knicks’ Isiah Thomas, saying he must apologize for comments he made indicating a double standard between black and white men using a derogatory term toward black women. You’ll find more in the New York Times.

Considered by many a walking double standard, Sharpton instead demonstrated consistency of message a few months after his public “beheading” of Don Imus for similar indiscretions. Sharpton’s latest high-profile “watch-dogging” was the right thing to do and helps both his image and credibility for the future.

Celebrity “News” Examined

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

I’ve written quite a bit about celebrity “news” and how it not only dominates national news broadcasts, morning news programs and even local news in markets like Detroit.

That phenomenon has been noted in a new column in the Wall Street Journal - which is worth a quick read.

Author Jake Halpern, who wrote “Fame Junkies” – a book about America’s culture of celebrity worship, drafted the piece after being bumped from a scheduled CNN appearance because of “breaking” Britney Spears news.

Take The High Road When Faced with Adversity

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Effectively handling adversity often takes skill, forethought and the ability to properly keep your emotions in check.

I have found, over the years, that, sometimes, those that make their living “communicating” or counseling on communications make the worst communicators behind the scenes. Recently, I was appalled to hear of a workplace scenario where a supervisor totally lost his cool—verbally accosting and nearly physically sparring with an employee. This was during business hours, in the office! The employee took the high road when confronted, yet was still conveniently terminated.

Setting aside the possibility of lawsuits and/or charges being filed in such an instance, what could such a manager be thinking? What could possibly justify such outrageous, entirely unprofessional behavior? In times of crisis, we teach our clients to temper their public reactions—not react in public with a temper! At Tanner Friedman, we also counsel heads of companies that reputation management is paramount as how you act—or react—to a particular situation can have a profound and lasting effect on important constituents, including employees, customers and the business community at large.

To not think before you leap, or speak, or act—in particular when you are supposed to be setting an example at the top—is tantamount to skydiving without a parachute. It all trickles (or falls) downward and can be toxic to a particular environment or workplace. The view from 10,000 feet is much preferable to a 100 mph fall from grace.