Archive for November, 2008

AC/DC Latest Band to Turn Music Industry On Its Ear

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Just one year ago the Eagles broke new ground in an industry whose very foundation is crumbling when the band signed on with Wal-Mart as its exclusive retail location for its “Long Road Out of Eden” CD. 2.6 million copies flew off store shelves last year.

Now, another aging rocker band, AC/DC, is taking advantage of the Big Box giant’s 200 million annual customer base and 3,500 stories for its new offering, “Black Ice.” To date, nearly 1 million copies have been sold.

Not to be outdone, Best Buy has exclusive retail rights to Guns n’ Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” and the Police’s “Certifiable” boxed set, while, Target has snagged Christina Aguilera’s latest, “Keeps Getting’ Better.” The latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine tells the tale.

Alanis Morrisette raised eyebrows and the ire of the industry back in 2005 when she allowed Starbucks to sell her acoustic “Jagged Little Pill” CD—first—for six weeks before opening the door to other retailers. Today, that move seems quite tame by comparison. Yet, at a time when CD sales continue to fall, and illegal music downloading and sharing continues, this new retail model seems to be working for artists, retailers and consumers; the latter enjoying great prices (i.e. $11.99 for TWO CDs) like never before.

Hmmm. Where have I heard “Change or Die” before?

Abrams Update: More Controversy In The Face of Crisis

Friday, November 28th, 2008

We promised to keep you posted on the changes that Lee Abrams is trying to implement across the Tribune Company’s media properties.

This weekend, the Internet is buzzing, mostly with negativity, over a brainstorming memo that Abrams sent out earlier this week.  Some of the ideas are certainly “off the wall” and likely wouldn’t play well with either news-elites or potential customers.  But, hopefully, Tribune staffers are paying attention to the underlying imperatives.

Local TV news operations, which used to be the definition of cash cows, now face free-falling revenues.  Viewership has been eroding for a decade.  The model of “news, weather and sports with a man and a woman anchor at 5, 6 and 11″ was developed in a much different era of television, of business and in America.  And anyone paying any attention knows what is happening to newspapers.

Several years ago, Ford Motor Company executive Mark Fields warned his company by saying “change or die.”  Now, look where the auto industry stands today.  It’s time for the media business to look at Abrams, and others, and stop focusing on the brainstorming ideas (or the penmanship of the messenger) and start focusing on the message. Maybe “change or die” is a mantra worth adopting for more than just autos.

A Thanksgiving Week Thought

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Spending some time in recent days with my parents I am reminded how special and fragile human interaction and interpersonal communication can be.

At the age of 81, my father continues to battle Alzheimer’s. One moment he can recall the year, make and color of his very first car (a blue, 1947 Chevrolet convertible), the next he has to be shown how to button his coat or wash his hands. A conversation is possible one minute and impossible the next.

In town for the holidays, I treated my parents on Saturday night to Johnny Mathis at Caesar’s in Windsor. There, I was also reminded of the power of music, in particular where memory is concerned. As classics such as, “It’s Not For Me To Say,” and “Chances Are” (their song) emanated from the stage, my father responded with a knowing smile and nod of his head.

As we all face the stress and reality of an uncertain economy this Thanksgiving week, what better time to take a step back to examine what is really important. Sure, things could always be better; at the same time, they could be worse.

The PR “Chasm” Widens

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Last week, when appearing on Capitol Hill reading a stilted statement, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner spoke of a “chasm” that need to be bridged to the company’s financial future.  What he perhaps did not realize is that another “chasm” was growing in the room.  That between perception of the U.S. auto industry and the realities it is now facing.

Just before the historic testimony, I blogged about that enormous gap and how sound media relations is one way to bridget it.  But another would have been the testimony itself.  It was a challenge, for sure, to come together with competitors, outmuscle the attorneys and tell a unified story about people (because the best stories always are about people).  That hasn’t happened yet.

In this week’s Crain’s Detroit Business, I offer some commentary on what did happen.  The story is only available to subscribers, so I have pasted the portion of reporter Ryan Beene’s story in which I participated below.  Your reaction is welcome:

Matt Friedman, principal of Farmington Hills-based Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications, says part of the reason why most of the fervent criticism of the auto industry comes from outside the Midwest is the lack of a unifying story that defines the automakers as a whole.

“This situation that the automakers are going through, it has broken down by where you sit, literally,” Friedman said. “If you’re on the coasts, or in the South, you don’t get it. If you’re in this part of the country, you get it.”

“As an industry, they have not worked together to communicate their collective situation, really, until their government affairs push two weeks ago. All of this is new to so much of the country, to citizens, to the press, to politicians, they’ve never heard the collective situation before,” he said. “They’ve had to fight an enormous perception-reality gap.

“The actual testimony was more scripted and less passionate than I expected it to be,” he said. “There was a lot of emotion on the side of the politicians, and no emotion on the side of the executives; it was emotional arguments versus rational arguments, and emotional arguments will always capture more attention than rational arguments.”

A Trade(ing) Post

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Matt and I are often sought out by PR students and others new to the industry on topics such as running a firm and overall ethics. I was recently asked how our organization handles client trade; in other words, in-kind compensation.

While such an arrangement can be worked out many different ways, at Tanner Friedman, we always make sure “trade” goes to benefit the “greater good”—in other words, the entire agency and all that work within it.

For a non-profit organization holding an event, for example, we tend towards a model where we are compensated in dollars for a portion of the work and then “in kind” dollars are leveraged in high-profile ways, such as logos on an invitation, event signage and/or program ads that promote the firm.

On the other end of the spectrum, some firm principals might instead earmark airline miles or restaurant trade only for their use or their family members. It does happen. However, I would argue that, instead, this trade should be provided to top performers throughout the agency as extra perks, incentives and bonuses.

After all, in building morale and a team approach, “all for one and one for all” can ring quite hollow when only one or two are enjoying the fruits from the labor of many.

How Good Journalism Bridges “The Gap”

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Ask anyone in public relations and they will tell you that bridging the perception-reality gap is among our biggest challenges as communicators.

It doesn’t matter your line of work, there are always misperceptions that are threats to your business.  For example, in PR, we are thought of by those uninformed or misinformed, as “spin doctors” like those they see in politics or, worse, on politically-oriented TV dramas.  Good public relations strategies that tell your stories and deliver your messages help, over time, to transform perceptions closer to your realities.  

Right now, no industry is working harder than the auto business to bridge its gap.  The future of their industry, thousands of communities and millions of jobs are at stake in this PR battle.  But, unlike many industries, the autos have beat reporters who get to know their business and develop an extensive body of knowledge.    One of those journalists, Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press, has worked for years to know the industry he covers.  So today, with myths about the car business flying all over America, Phelan plays “Mythbuster” with a front-page column that spells out the facts.

The “takeaway” here – if your business or industry is still covered by a beat writer that has not yet been lost to media cutback, get to know that journalist.  If they get to know your industry, your challenges and your myths, they can help you set the record straight.  It’s another reason to build relationships with,  not just push statements to, reporters who cover your company.  The auto industry’s woes are a good reminder of the remaining value of sound media relations, as part of an overall PR program.

David Wallace Foster—A Brilliant Communicator Gone Too Soon

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Great communicators don’t come along every day. When they do—and distinguish themselves—they are often deserving of accolades and review.

Such is the case with author David Foster Wallace. I recently discovered his books and the fact that he grew up in my hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois and is the same age as I am, 46. His father taught at the University of Illinois, my alma mater, while, his mom taught at Parkland College, where my mother worked.

While I didn’t know him growing up, I immediately identified with his observations, wit and eye for irony. I am far from alone. Revered as one of the great writers of his era for works such as “Infinite Jest,” “The Broom of the System,” “The Girl With the Curious Hair” and others, Wallace put forth a unique style all his own, including long, multi-clause sentences and substantive notes amid main narrative; in turn, setting himself apart and winning over a generation.

Sadly, like many artists who communicate their thoughts and ideas so brilliantly to the general populace, behind closed doors Wallace was unable to sort out his inner demons. A sufferer of depression for more than 20 years, he ended his own life just two months ago.

Some can take solace in the fact that his brilliant work lives on, including his ability to communicate with the written word like few others ever have or ever will.

Media Changes: Don’t Miss the Latest

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

If you think you “know the media,” but you don’t pay attention constantly to the changes unfolding in front of us, then start using the past tense and say that you “knew the media.”

Within the last week, news broke about a “partnership” agreement between NBC and Fox that enables them to share news crews in markets where they both own stations.  A piece in the trade journal Broadcasting and Cable explains how it’s supposed to work.

The networks tell us that this arrangement will mean “more enterprise reporting.”  Until proven otherwise, I’m skeptical that it’s anything other than a cost saving measure.  Viewership for local TV news is down across the country, in many cases about 20% in 10 years.  That means less revenue for companies where the Owned and Operated stations (O&Os) used to be cash cows.  Coupled with the economic situation the nation is now facing,  broadcasters are putting unprecedented pressure on management to find new ways to save money and increase margins.

What does this mean for PR people?  The old-schoolers who expect multiple cameras to come out to news conferences are in for more disappointment.  For the rest of us, it means the same thing as all of the other changes we are seeing – fewer traditional media resources means less coverage in traditional media and a multi-platform approach to communications becomes even more imperative.  

“J.J. & Lynne” Become Latest Terrestrial Radio Casualty

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

While today’s latest radio news compels me to comment it is perhaps one of the toughest blogs I have ever had to write as I know, like and respect all of the participants well.

Jim Johnson and Lynne Woodison are about as good as it gets as people and radio professionals. I have had the good fortune of working with both; including JJ many years ago when we broadcast together over the former WLLZ-FM. Their unexpected firing today after their morning show on WCSX-FM (here’s Crain’s coverage from Bill Shea) leaves both without jobs and a personality void in this marketplace at a time when terrestrial radio needs all the ammunition it can muster in its on-going battle with satellite and iPods.

John Gallagher, on the other hand, is one of radio’s top management professionals with a lineage that includes AM radio legends WJR and WLS in Chicago. He knows and loves this industry well and, unfortunately, was tasked with being the hatchet man today on behalf of his latest company, Greater Media, Inc. I am sure it pained him greatly.

It is an unpleasant sign of the times and one not reserved only for the radio industry: when profits are down, oftentimes the most expensive talent is the first to go. We saw a similar move many months ago when Tom Ryan was fired by CBS’s WOMC. Yet, don’t these well-known, talented, locally-based personalities provide the only true differentiator for choosing traditional radio over other music options?

Of course they do. And that’s the real shame in all of this.

Lessons Learned From the Campaign

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

So, now we are free of “I approved this message” and all of the other grating aspects of the 2008 Presidential Campaign.  But, I’m still being asked what our clients can learn from the successes of the Obama campaign. There are lessons for communicators, but first, to borrow another campaign phrases, there are some “fundamental differences” between political PR and the rest of us that must be spelled out before looking at what could be learned from the winning campaign.

Importantly, political PR boils down to making your guy look good.  Often, to get there, it’s about making the other guy look bad.  They really aren’t as concerned with communicating to customers and stakeholders, because their relationship with voters is generally transactional.  Political types try to “win the day” rather than think long-term (because it’s all about a sprint to an election finish).  They also frequently rely on press releases to tout their candidates’ every move.

All of that said, there are some important takeaways from the Obama campaign that could help anyone’s communications:

-They developed an emotional message and stayed on message.  From the beginning, it was about “change” and “hope.”  It never wavered.  They developed their rational messages to support the emotional ones that got them the nomination.  Lesson learned: we recommend that clients develop messages and stick with them over time, because it often takes time for them to resonate.  Never mind that “change” and “hope” were the themes of Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992.  That didn’t matter because…

-They embraced the younger demographics and rode them all the way until November.  The 18-33 year-olds couldn’t vote in 1992, it was all new to them.  These Americans received the messages via every possible platform and many even opted-in to receive the messages daily (even becoming donors along the way).  Lesson learned:  Generations X and Y have power – political and monetary and influence online that can be a difference-maker for virtually any communications campaign.

-The brand.  The brand.  The brand.  The campaign created a brand – a logo, a voice, a face and that’s what the majority of Americans voted for.  Even if you couldn’t support Obama the man (and many couldn’t at first  because 5 years ago he was an unknown and his Senate tenure was too short to run on) – the majority of you supported the Obama brand.  In many ways, this was the most “corporate” campaign than any Presidential race in history.  The candidate, in this case, was the visible CEO of a deeply emotional brand identity. Lesson learned:  invest in your brand and consistently communicate it in every way.