Archive for July, 2008

To Change A Leopard’s Spots: AFDI

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

A few months ago, I told you how one of Tanner Friedman’s inspirations, Lee Abrams, is taking on perhaps the biggest challenge of his career as “Chief Innovation Officer” of Tribune – the owner of newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.

Now, Abrams is the subject of online controversy, in the wake of staff cuts at Tribune’s newspapers (along with newspapers nationwide, such as the Detroit Free Press and News where 116 employees are accepting new buyouts). A New York Times blogger, apparently a died-in-the-wool newspaperman, blasts Abrams for his style and ignores his substance. Among the blogger’s criticisms, a mantra that appears in my office – AFDI – which stands for “Actually F@#$ Doing It.” It means do more than just merely talk about ideas – it means working consistently with action and accountability. That’s something we try to do with our clients and within our culture every day.

Change is difficult in any business environment, particularly in large, public corporations (like the ones that own many newspapers). And , as the classic question goes, can a leopard change its spots? Psychologists will tell you that the leopard has to want to change. In the case, the “leopards” inside newspapers should have started wanting to change ten years ago. Unfortunately for them, as the recent blog demonstrates, too many of them are resisting the forces that are eliminating their jobs.

I wouldn’t hold up Abrams’ memo (reprinted in the blog posting) as a model of internal communications. However, pay attention to what he’s saying loud and clear. Newspapers – and other traditional media – are overdue to listen to their customers or the drastic changes will result in extinction rather than evolution.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on Abrams’ actions for you. They could just impact the future of media everywhere.

Kilpatrick and Parkman Not Doing Each Other Any Favors

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

In reviewing the increasingly tiresome and pathetic travails of still-Mayor Kilpatrick, one cannot help but notice that he and James Parkman III, Kilpatrick’s defense attorney, appear to be each other’s worst enemy, even nightmare.

Through their outlandish comments and behavior—from Parkman’s public contention that the possibly perjurous text messages were sent by individuals other than the mayor and his ex-chief of staff, to Kilpatrick’s more recent, alleged assault and racist rants towards Wayne County civil servants—they dig their shared “grave” ever deeper.

Who is advising these two—on how to act and what to say? Chances are good that a deadly combination of super-egos and grasping for straws is to blame and makes that point moot. Perhaps when you can’t explain away lies, the only resort, they feel, is to try more misdirection and untruths. Bad decision. Such tactics only erode any remaining credibility away to nothing.

Not telling the truth, as we all learned in nursery school, never works. Between them, attorneys Kilpatrick and Parkman have gone through another 36 years of education, collectively, since preschool, including earning degrees designating them to represent and uphold the law. Evidently, they both still have much to learn. If only they would do that on their own time and dime.

“Young Professionals” Get It

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

Thank you to Fusion  Detroit for allowing me to speak tonight to an engaged group of “young professionals” at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s headquarters. My co-presenter was Tim Smith, President of Skidmore Studio and an expert in graphic design and brand development. Our topic was “Marketing, Branding and Blogging.”

The audience included dozens of Fusion members from a wide range of businesses, all of whom gave up their evenings to hear a discussion about the trends affecting marketing and communications. Most expressed strong interest in learning more about blogs and “social media” – even though all said they read blogs and participate in “social networking” (which is still a term that means different things to different people).

The rules are changing and the applications are evolving – but this group understands, loud and clear, that the way we all choose to get our information is far different from how it was just a few years ago. Now, corporate executives need to listen to those in their companies who are closest, as consumers, to the dramatic changes happening in communications – their “young professionals.” That will help businesses stay ahead of trends in telling stories and delivering messages rather than fall victim to them.

TV On TV Online

Sunday, July 20th, 2008

Thanks to the recommendation of one of my Tanner Friedman colleagues, I checked out over the weekend. It’s one of the sites that hosts TV shows that you can watch online, whenever you want, and underscores the huge changes underway in the TV business, particularly on the entertainment side.

As I have written before, the TV schedule still followed today was developed in the 1950s, when lifestyles in America were much different. But the business is still, for the most part, married to it. On Demand cable programming and Web sites like Hulu, though, let you watch what you want, when you want it and are major steps toward putting viewers first.

I sampled a show on the TV Guide Channel, via Hulu, called “Making News: Savannah Style.” It’s a documentary style show about a TV newsroom in South Georgia. If you are interested in what really happens inside TV newsrooms, beyond my tales, check it out. Based on my experience, it’s an accurate depiction of the personalities and realities and it brought back a lot of memories. I especially relate to the struggles of trying to get out of third place, at a station neglected by past ownership – the story of my second job in TV.

PR 101—Anything But Elementary

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

As anyone in public relations or marketing knows, one of the most basic of communications tools is the personnel announcement—a new person joins your company so you take their photo, write a press release and send it out to various media for publication. Simple, right?

Yet, many companies fail to completely think through all of the dynamics related to how a new hire should be properly brought on board.

It is not uncommon for a business to wait 90-days before announcing a personnel addition, just as they would award full-time benefits. From there, it might be another several weeks before the individual is then added to the company’s website. At Tanner Friedman, we take a different view—we are proud of every individual that joins our firm and announce them (via media and the web) within days.

I recall hearing of one company that took the road most commonly traveled plus two steps back. When new full-timers were brought on board at a particular salary, they were often informed that they would be “hourly” for the first 90-days. It was semantics, really, yet, the primary owners, rather than demonstrating confidence to the new employee, chose instead to dangle the full time designation carrot; attempting, I suppose, to “motivate” by fear. Further, it might be many more months before they were, subsequently, formally announced to the outside world.

Rather, to motivate you need to celebrate a new individual, internally and externally. A happy, appreciated employee not only brings fresh, new ideas, perspectives and creativity to an organization, they are your best ambassadors; IF they, themselves, are greeted with open arms and open minds.

The Era of Outsourced News Begins

Monday, July 14th, 2008

I just finished watching a phenomenon that has made its way across the country – outsourced news.

Detroit’s “My TV 20″ – WMYD-TV – debuted its new 10 p.m. newscast tonight. It arrived with such little fanfare, that I, not the station, talked to the Detroit Free Press about it over the weekend (read the lower right hand of this page link).

The newscast is produced and anchored in Iowa, with two local reporters providing stories that are inserted into the show. It’s all put together not by the station, but by a contracted “news for hire” company.

Opening night got off to a rough start. Detroit viewers saw the beginning of Rock Island, Illinois’ product, not our own. About a minute later, the Detroit broadcast came on, in the middle of a story. The newscast also ended abruptly when anchor banter ran over its alloted time.

As a former TV news producer, I notice things you probably wouldn’t when I watch TV. But, you may have noticed that one anchor said Northwest and Delta Airlines shareholders will “go to the polls” to vote on a proposed merger (ouch!) and that a radio station had a contest for its “viewers” (ouch again!).

A quick Internet search shows the Iowa based anchors, weathercaster and sportscaster also do the news for viewers in Columbus, Georgia (market 128) as well as Detroit (market 11).

With some practice, this newscast could make money for Channel 20′s owner, Granite, which is coming out of bankruptcy and provide an alternative by providing the relatively small amount of viewers who actually don’t care about personality, format or investigative stories and just want some local headlines before going to bed. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

iPod ePiphany

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Anyone familiar with me and my background knows that I am a diehard traditionalist when it comes to radio and music. On the former, give me a well-programmed local radio station with fun, topical personalities and a music mix that is varied and creative over satellite any day. As to the latter, I’ve been known to long for the days when record albums were equal parts art, history lesson and musical offering.

Perhaps inspired by the coming of the new iPhone, I have discovered the wonders of the iPod. I have often said (check out my book or my web bio): “If only life were set to music.” And, so now it is—at the gym, on walks with my dogs, at the grocery store, while doing work at home. 500 of my favorite songs culled from my extensive CD collection (along with 10 downloads thus far) at my fingertips, anytime, anyplace.

Why has it taken me so long to get religion like the legions of iPod worshippers worldwide? Perhaps a reluctance to eschew the local record store that continues to struggle with this new e-commerce model. Possibly in defiance of the millions of illegal downloads that continue to curse the music industry and recording artists. Definitely as sympathetic to dwindling terrestrial music radio station audiences.

In retrospect, however, I had it all wrong. The iPod has made me, once again, an active music lover and consumer; both going back and downloading songs from my past (and paying for them) as well as listening to the radio more for new product with which to populate my archives—and I still buy that occasional CD and, even more occasionally, concert DVD.

My only problem NOW with my iPod? A need for more memory for more music!

Anchor Scandal Draws Huge Interest

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

The most viewed stories on both the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News’ Web sites the past few days have been about the scandal involving local Fox TV anchor Fanchon Stinger.
The topic has also dominated talk radio and even led the newscasts of four Detroit evening broadcasts on Thursday.

That is evidence that, despite plunging ratings, people are still interested in the anchors on TV – the closest thing to “local celebrities” in most communities.

Now, what happens next for Stinger?

That what the Detroit News explores today, featuring quotes from Tanner Friedman. She has an opportunity to salvage her career, if she is able to talk soon.

The irony in this story is that Fox, which regularly points out companies that do not agree to on-camera interviews in its local newscast, is only releasing a minimal statement about this situation.

Anchor’s Scandal Is Bad News For TV

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

In recent days, since word that WJBK-TV Fox 2 anchor Fanchon Stinger was suspended from the air because of alleged involvement in a City of Detroit sludge contract being investigated by the FBI, I’ve been asked by several clients and contacts what I think about it. I didn’t have any opinion before, but now I do.

Today’s Detroit News details Stinger’s involvement in this scandalous contract. Her own station, also ran a story last night, with many of the facts and some observations by her colleage, Scott Lewis, one of the best reporters – regardless of medium – anywhere.

I have worked with Fanchon on stories over the years. I always found her to be professional, smart and very easy to talk to – everything you would want in a broadcast news personality. But, now, I don’t see how she could possibly have a career in Detroit going forward.

Her actions in this case lead to many questions:

-What was she doing thinking she, as a journalist, could buy advertising time for ANYONE?
-How could she do any “media consulting” as a visible anchor?
-Has being an anchor made her feel like more of a “star” and less of a reporter?
-What did management know and when did they know it?

Local TV news has a credibility issue. Many viewers tell me that watching the news these days is like watching a Saturday Night Live parody of the news. Now, the anchor of a #1 newscast in a major market is embroiled in scandal. This is the last thing her station and her industry need as TV news is in the midst of a pivotal time.

Francis Scott Key Records History—In More Ways Than One

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

As I watched the “rockets red glare” of fireworks celebrations across the area this weekend, I thought about Francis Scott Key’s masterful description of the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814. Recording incredible, historic events as he saw them unfold before his eyes, one might say Key was “twittering”—some 200 years before the concept was even conceived.

Certainly, even then, his masterpiece was presented to the masses through a range of mediums (dare we say, a multi-platform approach). First written as a poem titled: “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” Key’s work was published in “The Baltimore Patriot” newspaper before being transposed into its most famous incarnation: a song—all within days of the battle. Originally sung to the tune of “Anacreon in Heaven,” a Baltimore actor renamed it during a public performance the very next month to, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

After its meteoric rise to fame, it was another 117 years before “TSSB” became our national anthem in 1931. And, by the way, our “banner yet waves”—Since May 30th, 1949, a flag has flown continuously, by a Joint Resolution of Congress, over the monument marking the site of Francis Scott Key’s birthplace, Terra Rubra Farm, in Keymar, Maryland.